One of my confessions is that…I believe in the after-life. There is also a further confession later on.
I believe that everyone one of us continues on, in another place and another time – that many call heaven, shamayim, summerland, or Janna. But, please put aside all those notions we’re bombarded with, that we see on tv, which come to us from medieval paintings and Dante. Great works of art with puttis flying all over the place, and great drama, too, but not-so-good on the theology front.
The moment you ‘step out’ of this physical existence, upon death, I believe, the notions of place and time alter radically. Such notions serve us in this physical realm well, but they will have to be re-defined when considering the world to come.
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” said Jesus. John 12:32
At the point of physical death here on Earth, I believe, we close our eyes, and then immediately open them to see the most wondrous of sights. Those we have left behind may grieve, but we have entered a realm where everything is altogether different. A place of love and light, a place of peace and activity, a place that is painless, ageless, a place that is vibrant, awesome, blissful and alive, a place of Pure Presence.
Just for a moment, think of what heaven will be like? And then take some time to know that it will be infinitely better, bigger, bolder, and altogether much more lovelier than we can, at present, ever imagine with our limited senses.
It’s a walking with God in Eden.
There, we may track the passage of time and observe things unfold in order, and yet we won’t be subject to the ‘ravages’ of time. Indeed, as regards time: travel into the future or past would be possible, though those terms too, might have to be redefined, as it could be viewed, there, to be ‘forever now’. The problem with that term, from our perceptive, is that it conjures up in the imagination the word’ stasis’, inactivity, that everything is ‘frozen’. No, time may pass there so that things occur in order (although I’m not even sure if that would be important to us, then), but restrictions relating to time and geography, and indeed, all other restrictions are removed. Bliss.
It is liberation.
C S Lewis in ‘The Great Divorce’ writes eloquently about a young lady entering heaven. A man, given the ability to peek into heaven, witnesses her arrival. As she walks down that heavenly street, there are huge numbers of youthful shapes described, singing and dancing in welcome celebration. That man, who had the privilege to peak into heaven asks his guide if it is…well, we’re never told, but it’s inferred he thought that she may be the Virgin Mary.
The guide, seemingly with a northerner’s accent, replied, “Not at all. It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”, the man said.
“Aye. She is one of the great ones”, his guide replied.
The man goes on to describe this glimpse, and asks, “And who are these gigantic people…look! They’re like emeralds…who are dancing and throwing flowers before her”
“Haven’t ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her,” the guide said.
Isn’t that excerpt from,that story, wonderful? Each one of us, then, are the ‘great ones’ in that story, we all matter, and each one of us is lauded in heaven in the most delightful manner. Ministered by angels, too.
We don’t need to be ‘big’ on the earth or successful in the eyes of others, we only need be human, and to hammer home that point the woman in this story is just ‘ordinary’ Sarah Smith, but as we’ve also had a glimpse into this heavenly story, and so we know she is anything but ordinary. You are anything but ordinary.
You are one of the great ones.
One of my favourite poems is by Gerard Manley Hopkins. At the end of one of his poems, he writes about the busyness and toughness of life on Earth, and when it seems to be at its most active and ends in death, he says:
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ‘ joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam.
Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.”
Okay, so he may be somewhat severe in describing the mortal body, but it’s the contrast compared to the status of the next ‘body’ he wants draws attention to. Whatever we were in the eyes of others, in our own eyes, in our occupations, in our physical prowess, or conversely whatever we endured by way of sadness, illness, loneliness etc, all that changes.
You are an immortal diamond, now, and will be revealed in all your splendour one day.
I’m not sure if you believe in Christ, but if not, please stay with me, for I truly believe the awesome principle applies to all. The belief is that all Christ is – holiness, purity, empowered, liberated, and the sum of all good things – is what you and I will be, and some would say, already are. That’s grace.
It’s the Divine swap.
Back to C S Lewis. He wrote, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest, most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship….There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit…”
Here’s where I might now be called a heretic.
All these mystics speak as though immortality has already started – and I believe it has. At the point we call physical death, the ‘mask’ is released.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid… Genesis 3:8a
The illusion of separation vanishes at the point of physical death. No longer hiding. Free. Authentic. Real. Connectedness, not duality. Some see the body, like a cage but now with the cage door open, and the soul flutters free after death. I’m not too sure about that idea. There is a change, for sure, but there’s some continuity. The spirit is already alive and in that heavenly realm.
Still with me? Let’s go deeper. Suppose, at that point we close our eyes to the physical world, and immediately open them to an unobstructed realm of light and love. We ‘awake’ to find our loved ones waiting for us. But, we also see those we left behind on Earth. Yes, they are there, also. Maybe, that whilst we’re all on earth, living the illusion of separation, we’re also at ‘home’ already. It’s like living two lives from our point of view, until we get there. Such is the illusion of duality.
That means right now, you’re reading this, so you’re alive in the physical world, but also subject to the illusion of separation. However, in the Other Realm, you’re also there, as are all your family, past, present and future. I think that’s one reason why I personally don’t use the services of a spiritualist – and no disrespect to my charming spiritualist friends. I don’t need to know how Aunt Ethel is. She’s in bliss and having a wonderful time, and from my theological point-of-view I’m right next to her engaging in a hugely long and enjoyable conversation.
And, there’s more. At the point of physical death, you and I go ‘home’, to a place that you and I formerly ‘left’ (in one respect when we stepped into the physical realm), but didn’t leave in essence, if you’re still with me.
Yes, my second confession, allied to the first, is that I believe in pre-life – not to be confused with re-incarnation.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…”, God. Jeremiah 1:5a
Yes, I believe in pre-life.
So here’s a fictional scenario that hopefully explains: You and I are in some kind of eternal ‘pre-life’ café and we’re stirring our respective coffees, and looking out of the window, and in the sky we see a rather small blue-green planet, barely perceptible. We’ve been in that eternal realm forever – but if you want, from an earthly viewpoint to put a figure on it, then how about 14.6 billion years? For some reason it’s important or beneficial to ‘step’ into the physical realm and inhabit the Earth. We rise to the challenge, convinced of the needs and benefits, look at each other, smile, blink and ‘whoosh’, we’re here on Earth. Part of the ‘deal’ is that we wouldn’t remember the reason for coming, once here. And, so we’re born, we live, we laugh, we cry, we witness new birth and smile, and our hearts are broken into a million pieces as we witness the demise of loved ones. We live life to the full, and then we die. This life, I do believe, is real and must never be diminished in any way, but we do die. We close our eyes, and then we open them. Suddenly, we’re back. We’re still looking at each other in that eternal café, and we resume stirring our coffee. What was 80, 90 or 100 years on Earth is but a nano-second in the eternal café. We note that our family, friends, deceased loved-ones are all around us, too. It’s heaven! Whatever, needed to be done, made sense before we left and when we returned it had been done, but the illusion of separation dulled our memory whilst on earth. But, all things work to the good, here.
This is a glimpse of pre-life. We were there, we still are, we return. But, the illusion of separation takes its toll when we’re on Earth.
In ‘Intimations of Immortality…’ by William Wordsworth, he writes:
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home”
So, there you have it. My confessions for today. I feel better already.
The above-mentioned is something that some may agree with or may disagree with. I’m happy to take positive and heartfelt comments about your opinion. Rather than ‘sword-fence’ with holy text, and rather than write 5000 words telling me I’m a heretic and how wrong I am, I would ask that whether you agree with me or not, that you let me know what is on your heart as regards pre-life and the afterlife. I want to hear your opinion, not a holy text and a preacher’s view on that, not someone else’s second or third-hand opinion, but I really am interested in your views. They matter to me. So, what are you looking forward to?