The Hidden Heaven
Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day… because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16,18
Over the past few weeks I have focused on images and descriptions of heaven, primarily those found in the Bible. I have attempted to point out that our traditional views of heaven are not necessarily biblical, nor are they consistent with the fingerprint we witness elsewhere in creation. Heaven is described as the abode of God and of angels. Jesus calls heaven the kingdom and insists it is very near. Biblical allegories of heaven include the Garden of Eden and the Promised Land. Although some references to heaven imply it is a specific place, many references – particularly those from Jesus – describe it as a state of being that is here and now, in this life and as this life continues after death.
No description of heaven satisfies our desire for certainty. There are no clear rules for getting into or being exiled from heaven, either here or in an afterlife. There are, however, cryptic hints that point us in a direction, not to a place, but to a state of being. I believe that state of being is one of contentment. In other words, learning to be content in the moment is the key to entering heaven. When we are discontent in the moment, heaven is not accessible to us – heaven is near, but we are not there. Obviously, this image of heaven is one in which we may enter and exit based on fluctuations in our level of contentment. An old proverb states, “If you cannot find contentment where you are standing, where do you expect to wander in search of it?” Ultimately, there is nowhere but here and no time but now.
I describe heaven as hidden because it is not a place we can see, touch, smell, hear, or taste. Rather, heaven is the degree of conscious presence and acceptance we bring to any given moment. Our heavenly or hellish experience of our moments is dependent on how we react to what our senses perceive. When we react negatively, we impose negative energy on the moment. An old guru was asked the secret of happiness. He replied, “Don’t mind too much what happens.” In the context of Jesus’ teachings, this is not a call to inaction, apathy, or passivity. Rather, it is a call to non-attachment. It is not a justification for accepting that the current circumstances are acceptable going forward, only that what is now is what is now. Certainly, we should work towards improving circumstances that need improvement. We are better prepared to do so, however, when we receive what is with equanimity.
Teacher and author, Eckhardt Tolle, says that humans long for freedom from limitation. For most of us, the biggest limitation to contentment is not the current circumstances we find ourselves in but our belief that we need something different in order to be content. Our house is too small, our car has a dent, our children have not lived up to our expectations. When we feel limited by circumstances, we are not content and we long to be free. We feel victimized or trapped by outside forces when we ignore the truth that underlies contentment. In John 8:32, Jesus says to his followers, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” As he testifies before Pilate, just prior to his crucifixion, he says, “My kingdom is not from this world…I came…to testify to the truth” (John 18:36-37), to which Pilate (representing us) responds, “What is truth?” The kingdom (heaven) to which Jesus refers runs parallel to this world. As we learn to be content with what is in this moment, the curtain between the worlds rips open and heaven is revealed here. This is the truth of which Jesus spoke.
The Israelites believed they would be happy once they reached the Promised Land, only to find that the land they expected – one in which they would be content – was not the physical area west of the Jordan River. The problem was not the land but their internal level of discontent, which they carried with them wherever they went. As we mature into the understanding that our external discontentments are reflections of our internal states of being, the gates of heaven open. The question is not what else I need in order to experience heaven in this moment, but what must I change in myself in order to experience the heaven hidden in this moment.
This is the 20th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.
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