Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Heaven Can't Wait II

[From a book of 23 essays called "Heaven", edited by Roger Ferlo, Seabury Books, April, 2007. See link to Church Publishing.]

Heaven has never been an option for me, at least not the domesticated heaven of sentimental writers, nor the judgmental "make your choice between heaven and hell" of self-righteous preachers, nor the wishful-thinking heaven of being united with "loved ones" whose subtext frequently concerns the tragic consequences of toxic relationships. Most of what I hear adults say about heaven seems uncomfortably like the stories they tell themselves when they are trying to avoid reality.

Perhaps a childhood brush with death rendered these heavens implausible. Perhaps awareness of the unrelenting squalor of post-Depression slums, or photographs of concentration camps, or the nuclear threat—any of these could have turned me off speculation about heaven.

On the other hand, I am glad that people can take comfort in ideas of after-death heaven, even people who often feel as distant from its clichéd representations as I do. One such is a friend whose beloved border collie was nearing the end of his life. Jim had been a rising star until he lost a foreleg, but his spirit remained intact. Until the end of his life he radiated the burning intensity, intelligence, and energy that is the ideal of his breed—qualities that characterize his companion and owner as well.

It was near midnight when we walked out into her cottage garden for a breath of air before bed. Stars scattered in their billions across the bowl of the sky, hanging low enough to touch, receding one behind the other to infinity, heaven and earth in a single frame. The little bear turned on its tail around the pole star, Orion pursued the Pleiades in hopeless desire, Sirius strobed its glory directly overhead. My friend asked if I knew which one it was.

". . . also known as the Dog Star because it follows Orion faithfully across the sky."

We stood there in the piercing cold, caught by immediacy, a felt sense of the starry dance. We leaned instinctively against the wind created by our small earth turning at speed through the pattern.

"Right," said my friend, suddenly, quietly, with a slight firm nod of her head, "Jim is going to Sirius when he dies."
Her words went deep.

Sirius is now the abode of all good dogs who have died (and bad ones, too, who there will come to their goodness and truth). From Sirius their loyalty and love shine down on us as they return their star-stuff whence it came. Sirius has always made my heart leap, but in the wake of that conversation its presence has taken on a particular kind of gladness—even as I wryly acknowledge the absurdity of this mad mythology.


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