An Eastern heaven

Daily Reading, May 6

Christians inherit two basic views of heaven. The popular Western version tends to be of the static angels-and-harps variety. I prefer the Eastern version. It has more of the flavor of dynamic continuity. We move “from glory to glory” right now, not simply after we’re dead. In the Eastern tradition, human beings long for the infinite. We are not fixed entities, but beings-in-process, defined by an infinite longing which pulls the soul forward in an infinite progression. We live out the questions, and it might take longer than a lifetime. For Christians, the best metaphor for heaven is a banquet. Heaven is not a place you go to when you die. Heaven is present now, all around us, a code word for where God is—in the music, in the feast.

So the question of heaven isn’t an intellectual puzzle which in principle has an answer. If there is life after death it begins now. At the moment, I find myself occupied by the question “Is there life after birth?” So, whatever heaven is, it isn’t about “the hereafter.” The danger of imagining heaven as a destination or a final resting place is that we miss the glory of the present. To quote the wise theologian N. T. Wright, if heaven is going some place it’s “going to be with God in the place where he has been all along.” It’s about presence or, better, Presence right now.

From “’I Tell You a Further Mystery’” by Alan Jones, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY.

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