Almost Heaven

I just got back from a week at a dance and music camp in the California redwoods. The music was outstanding, the dancing ecstatic, the people open-hearted and the trees majestic. It was, in short, almost heaven. (My version of heaven does not include meatloaf prepared by the staff of a YMCA camp, but you can’t have everything.) Really, I think it’s as close to heaven as I’m likely to get.

My theology, and that of most Unitarian Universalists, doesn’t really run to a notion of a heaven that you arrive in after you die. The Universalist side of our heritage declares that a loving God would not consign anyone to eternal torment in hell. But when it comes to the question of what does happen to us after we die, most UUs tend to come down on the side of figuring that there’s no way to know until we get there, so there isn’t much point in worrying about it now.

Sure, every now and again I wonder if some consciousness might continue as my body fades to dirt, and what that might be like. But mostly I wonder why more people don’t dwell in heaven now. I wonder why so many people have to scrabble for the barest existence, when it would take so little to move them toward that heaven we call “enough.” But more than that, I wonder why so many people who dwell in the land of Enough seem so far from heaven.

Of course, maybe I’m missing it. Maybe it’s possible to find heaven in a shopping mall or in front of a TV screen, and it’s just never happened to me. But it looks to me like an awful lot of people spend an awful lot of time working jobs they don’t like to buy things they don’t care about, escaping at the end of the day into the world of people who don’t exist. And I know that heaven isn’t a place you can dwell all the time. For every moment of wordless delight when your baby looks in your eyes and grins there are an awful lot of diapers to be changed. But still, I have to wonder, how much effort have you put into the pursuit of heaven?

Not the pursuit of heaven that means following all the rules now so that you go Up when you die, but the pursuit of heaven right here and now—those moments of expansive joy,  deep connection, a bubbling over of delight. The heaven that comes when you laugh with your best friends late at night, or let the music roll through you as you sing in a choir or when you plunge into a lake on a hot summer day. The heaven of burying your face between the neck and shoulder of your sleepy child, or in the deep fur of that same spot on your dog. The heaven of creating a bowl or a sentence or meal that will nourish someone you love.

I don’t pretend to know what heaven looks like, not in this life or the next. In either case, I suspect it won’t look the same for you as for me. But whatever your heaven looks like, feels like, tastes like, I hope that you go out of your way to find it – not by walking the straight and narrow path, but by dancing down the wide road of joy.

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