"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, Scene V
I am a firm believer in Heaven. I can feel it with my heart and my soul and within the essence of my spirit. Although atheists may believe that the notion of Heaven is "opiate for the masses", I remain firm in my contention that there is another realm of being after this life on earth. Life is far too precious and far too short to simply end unresolved. What I've found most fascinating, after years of studying the subject, is that all religious traditions have similar beliefs in a post-life experience. The language each one uses may be different, and therefore, may lead to disagreement and confusion. However, the fact that, just as with the Great Flood, this notion exists at all in cultures around the world, leads credence to a universal, human belief and universal memory of Heaven.
In Larry Libby's wonderful children's book, "Someday Heaven", the author explores his own opinion, mixed with Christian tradition and Biblical references, about the possibilities of what lies beyond this life. When I was the Director of Education for our church, I used this extraordinary book as the basis for a unit study, as well as with my own young children when my father passed away. "Someday Heaven" paints a beautiful picture, describing Heaven in metaphors that children can relate to. Mr. Libby asks his readers to imagine having a wonderful day...the best they had ever had. He goes on to describe that feeling of having to get off your favorite swing, put your toys away and to say goodbye to your friends. He then invites us to imagine never having to say those goodbyes, never having to end a game, and never having to relinquish that delicious feeling of having the time of your life. The truly inspiring aspect of this book was how much it has touched every adult I've ever met who has read it, and been uplifted by it. When a children's book, even one on spiritual matters, can be understood at a deeper level by grown ups, I believe it has exceptional merit. The picture "Someday Heaven" paints is one of hope, of comfort and of a delightful eternity...as a "good day that lasts forever".
Painting, the art form, is often the medium that best captures different individuals' ideas about Heaven. Reubens, Da Vinci, Micheangelo, Botticelli, El Greco, Velazquez and countless others created the artistic equivalent of a snapshot of their own beliefs and opinions as to the nature of Heaven. The extraordinary Mandalas created by Buddhist monks evoke "visions of Heaven", as they envision them. The beautiful aspect of the Mandala is its circular nature: it has no beginning and no end. The images we see of Heaven are as varied as human beings themselves. Just as no two artists imagine Heaven in quite the same way, neither do no two people. We bring with us our own preconceived notions, our own imaginations and our own belief traditions. We bring with us, as we create our personal imagery, our childhood ideals, our adult concepts and our religious training. We carry forward our unique personalities and our special preferences. The artistic impression of Heaven is neither right nor wrong. It is that personal, exceptional and individual concept of Heaven that I find so captivating.
I believe no film has ever had a greater impact on me than "What Dreams May Come", starring Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Far from the usual Robin Williams flair for off the cuff comedy, this brilliantly and beautifully created film captures the horror of what happens in one family, and the exceptional world in which they reunite. Using one family member's paintings as the impetus for Heaven, Robin Williams takes a journey throughout the next realm to find his loved ones once again. In taking up this quest, his character comes to understand a great deal more about life on earth, about his role as husband and father and about the power of love. Buddhists might use this film to establish the concept of Enlightenment. Christians would clearly see the metaphors for how we live on Earth effecting our existence in Heaven. And yet, specific religious traditions aside, the stunning concept of stepping literally into a painting, as the basis of Robin Williams' idea of Heaven, comes closer to my own personal beliefs than any I've encountered.
The Maoris believe in levels of the afterlife, closely resembling the ideas accepted by the Hindu faith. The Jews picture the"World to Come" and the Baha'i tradition believes Heaven is an eternal alignment with God. Christian views differ greatly, depending upon the tradition of any particular school of though, but all see Heaven as an infinite existence of everlasting joy. Plato saw our world as mere shadow of the idealized, perfected world that awaits us. But, what do my own personal beliefs tell me? I believe my own conception of Heaven has been created by my own life experiences, my own tastes and sensibilities and my own hopes in what I wish to see. I do believe that I have created my own reality in how I perceive "The World to Come" with an Episcopalian twist. But, deep down, I submit that most people have probably done the same thing. For my husband, a lover of nature and especially of the steep hills and woods of New England, I see a Heaven of extraordinary trails and mountains views. For my mother, I envision an idealized Europe, full of art, music, culture and all the dogs she's ever loved welcome at every outdoor cafe. For myself, I picture a mixture of all the eternal worlds of those I love. I see myself able to travel between them all with ease. I see a magnificent English library, containing floor to ceiling books, and eternity to read them all. I imagine the world's most comfortable chairs, a roaring fire, my precious pets at my feet and a cup of perfectly brewed tea at my elbow at all times. I envision a lovely conservatory off to one side with sweeping views of the places I love best. Perhaps I will see Notre Dame Cathedral one moment, and Sugarloaf mountain the next. Maybe I will see the beautiful foothills above Santa Barbara, the canals of Venice or the bright lights of Broadway. I can just as easily picture our own quiet cove in Maine, as I can my honeymoon spot in the extraordinary Austrian Alps.
That's the amazing part of "My Blue Heaven"....it's ever changing, it's dynamic and it's unique to me. In the same way, I imagine your own Heaven to be unique to you. Regardless of whether or not one shares in my beliefs, I find the subject and idea of Heaven to be a true delight. Whether Heaven is "a good day that lasts forever", "eternal oneness with the Divine", "a peaceful way station before the World to Come" or simply another doorway, I believe each of us have our own stamp on what part of us goes on forever. For those who believe this world simply ends, and we cease to exist, that too, is a concept of closing a chapter. But, in my C.S. Lewis belief fashion, I look forward to my own journey of "Onward and Upward".