Heaven, Hell and Reality

I wrote that I am in Heaven and Hell. The beauty of the world overwhelms me. The threats I face terrify me.

CS Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.’

Lewis related Heaven and Hell to the afterlife, but also to acts and experiences in life. I treat them as metaphor. Hell is the pain I cannot bear, Heaven the delight that seems incredible or impossible. Not my acts, but the world that surrounds me, other people doing their thing which I might not influence. For Lewis, my own acts, in Love or meanness create my place.

What is the name of the golden mean between selfishness and self-abnegation?

What would it mean to take responsibility for my brokenness? Not denying it. My complete loss of confidence just stops me acting. I should do this, I say to myself, it is a simple thing, and I find myself not doing it.

I do not see others for what I can get out of them. Instead, I see them generally as implacable, unsatisfiable. So I do not act, not out of fear of failure but fear of destruction.

I might find simple things to start on, I will take just this one step, but find myself not doing it. Or, having done it, I think, well, that was nothing, no-one would have had any problem with that. I have difficulty assessing how difficult any particular act will be for me, because I have imbibed others’ judgments of what should be easy or difficult and my own different judgments have been suppressed.

Marlowe’s Mephistopheles said, Why this is hell, nor am I out of it. But then he goes on,
Think’st thou that I who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?

After Heaven, everything else is Hell. Of course he is a deceiver and predator, seeking to destroy Faust, possibly incapable of truth even to himself. One wonders what his experience of Heavenly bliss was, if he left it, or thought there could be something more.

What is Heaven, for me, here, now? Standing in front of art and relating to it, especially with my dear friend as our feelings and words together reach critical mass and explode. And feeling my pain, knowing my pain, for it is me and I will not deny any part of myself.

Audre Lorde, in her conversation with Adrienne Rich: One thread in my life is the battle to preserve my perceptions- pleasant or unpleasant, painful or whatever…
AR: And however much they were denied.
AL: And however painful some of them were. When I think of the way I courted punishment [throughout my life], just swam into it: ‘if this is the only way you’re going to deal with me, you’re going to have to deal with me this way.’

Heaven is acknowledging the feeling self I denied. Heaven is being a whole human. Not just delight, but also pain fully felt and owned. Or Heaven is freedom and Hell oppression.

Having habitually denied my feeling self, and got on with it, whatever the it of the time was, I don’t know how to be my doing self and feeling self both at once. It’s like having to carry two large bags of groceries without handles. I can embrace one and carry it, but if I try to embrace both things fall out the top and the bags slip through my arms.

And, I am in Reality. Heaven and hell are not future states, or even metaphors for possibilities now, but an expression of the range of my experience, of delight and terror. This world now is bigger than both, containing things more Heavenly and more Hellish than I can imagine.

So I will release my feeling self. I will permit myself to feel, and to experience the feeling, whatever the feeling is. I practise this in the Quaker meeting and in the Silence in my own ritual space at home. I am carrying her, or needing to learn to walk again, in a new way- but it is getting easier.

Heaven in London

Trans women don’t like each other very much, certainly not in real life. If there was a group of us we would all be staring at our shoes periodically hissing “Stop it, you’re embarrassing us”. In the tube the day before there had been a poster advertising “Photography on the Edge” with a picture of a trans woman or drag queen, looking not very happy. Then there was one on the Underground platform, at least 6’6″ tall, in a light summer dress, with a manly tattoo on her arm- rather gorgeous, actually, that unapologetic “I am here,” with a slight hardness, I thought, as sometimes people would notice her. I scuttled away, frightened that they would read her then notice me.

I turned the corner by the east end of St Paul’s, and the scent of the blossom hit me with insistent beauty. I paused to enjoy it, but even though I stood still in the place where I had first smelled it, the smell was still lessened. It had overpowered me for a moment, and then the sensation was gone though I tried to make it last. Just the way the air currents were, or the blossom, or even my own nerve cells.

It was a beautiful sunny day and I sat in the dappled half-shade of a tree in front of Tate Modern, listening to the saxophonist in a wheelchair. He’s good. The tide was out and I could go down on a sandy beach. Then I saw you and stood for a long close hug. I took in your style- necklace and two pendants on separate chains, flowers embroidered on net over skirt over sloppy jeans and trainers. Unique. We went to the abstract art and photography exhibition, and admired a Kandinsky, excitedly. We stimulated each other, seeing each part of it together, how it was made and how it showed movement and stillness in balance. The alarm sounded, insistent, and people wandered, compliant but unconcerned, to the exits. Outside, the man in the wheelchair had a harmonica and was joined by another saxophonist in a tight twelve-bar blues, improvising in dialogue within the structure of the form. We waited until the crowd had dissipated, then walked back in.

In The Last Battle, Jill Pole and the dwarves all go into the stable, which Jill finds is the gate of Heaven. She sees it, beautiful countryside, the foot-hills of something more wonderful, but the dwarves think they are in a smelly old stable. So she picks flowers for them to smell, and they say, Why are you pushing mouldy old straw in our faces?

We sat in the shade, in the warm air on the fifth floor balcony, looking over Thames to the cathedral. These shapes, the bridge, the river, could be a Kandinsky: looking at art and making it has taught you to see. I told you my poem, you said I should be remembered for it, and I was abashed, saying there is such an abundance of talent about.

I am starving. I need this friendship. This- this process, this creature, is Beautiful. I affirm that. I know it and I can say it, because it is true, yet I cannot say “I am beautiful”- though I can say “I am trussed up”. I am trussed by my fears and illusions. I need this friendship, not to be a momentary scent of blossom but growing the flowers, the work to know and be known, talking of the weather and politics as well as of such high-flown, real things.

We agree we are in Heaven. Seeing that trans woman, unapologetic, unashamed, is heavenly. How strong she is! Yet it could also be mouldy straw, the fear I felt of discovery. And the scent of the flowers, a moment of delight comes and goes and my efforts at rediscovery cannot lure it back. If I know this is a world of abundance, and such delights are quotidian, never the same and endless in succession, I am happy enough to move from one to the other; and if I feel tantalised by the aroma, teased and not satiated, it is hell. Even in this lovely day of the best of company in the beautiful places I am tantalised, and the next day, freakishly colder as I cycle, cold, in strong wind to see Richard the contrast depresses me.

The knack, or trick, might be Fear and Love. If I love the Earth it becomes Heaven, if I fear it it is Hell, but that cycle ride was difficult in the wind. I starve for beauty and connection.

I walked to the centre of Swanston from the Station, and Umar came up beside me and started talking. His job is making model aeroplanes, then putting them in wind tunnels to test their aerodynamics. Wind tunnels and computer models complement each other. I was happy enough to talk. I said I was going to the supermarket, he to the bank, and as he got there he asked if we could meet again- “Just as friends,” he said, plaintively. I thought about it. I decided against, in fear and mistrust, and am not sure I decided correctly.

The Kin-dom of Heaven

The Kingdom of Heaven is here. All we need to do is recognise that, and then we will live the eternal life fitting in God’s kingdom, and help others to do the same.

God saw what God had made, and behold it was very good. God made us all male and female, each a complex mix of both, in God’s own image: loving, creative, powerful, beautiful. God knit me together in my mother’s womb- God’s works are wonderful, and I know it well.

Christ came as the seed which brought forth a hundred-fold, the seed which grew into a tree in whose branches the birds nest, the yeast which worked through all the dough. He told us not to worry what we will eat or wear. He told us to go out and make disciples of all nations, and promised to be with us as we did.

Jesus told us our neighbour is every human being, even the despised foreigner. He chose Paul “to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel”. All will be made alive in Christ. He is our great example, a light to the nations, that [God’s] salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

Death is real in the Bible, but there are many deaths before our hearts stop beating. We die, and are born again. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. Our redeemer lives, here, now, and so shall we: we have eternal life! Eternal life, life partaking in the life of God, here, now, not after we are buried, not in a place where the laws of physics do not apply. To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

I had not realised that “The lion shall lay down with the lamb” is a misquote, though preserving the sense: but these animals are people, ceasing to be predatory on each other, but living together in love and unity here on Earth, led by the child Christ, by his great example. We are all kin, children of God.

We must take up our cross, if needed, and follow him. He did not resist when arrested and executed, but healed the ear of the man sent to arrest him. Non-resistance, the way of Peace, here, now, opens the eyes of all to the Kin-dom of heaven, for everything that was made by God is kin.

This is the Kingdom of Heaven, here, now. Open your eyes and see it. Love, and enter it.

The painting is by American Quaker Edward Hicks. More on peace, shortly.

Edward Hicks, the Peaceable Kingdom

For Michelle Lesley, with whom I had a long discussion. And, because I can find no better place for it, here is the alternative view of Biblical Christianity:

Biblical Christian Principles

It is all the more striking, in that if you image-google Dixon Diaz you see how right wing all his other cartoons are.

What I believe

John Martin, The Last Judgment detail- Gabriel and the WhoreHaving been challenged that what I believe is rubbish, I should say what I do. Two Christian beliefs particularly offend atheists as ridiculous and groundless: that there is a God who acts in the world, and that after our death something of us survives in Heaven or Hell.

Afterlife first. Jesus quoted, there will be neither marrying nor giving in marriage. So any afterlife would be very different from what we know now. There is an old line, recently quoted in Doctor Who, that speculating about it is like unborn babies speculating about what the World is like. How could we know? Official Catholic doctrine is that there is a bodily resurrection: even our “mortal body” will come to life again. Our lowly bodies will be like Christ’s glorious body- so no illness, possibly no tiredness after effort. Would there be anything I could not lift?

Much of my conscious thought is irrational and repetitive. Right now, Witch Hunt by Rush runs in my mind as an ear worm. When I cycle, at one moment I notice my surroundings, especially if a car calls my attention or my effort, or an ear worm, or a worry. It is not at all like writing. Unconscious perception becomes conscious where necessary. A lot of it relates to other human beings. A lot of it relates to needs, hunger, thirst, tiredness- if all that was taken from me life would be boring, yet Heaven can’t be boring either. The being in an afterlife would be so different from me that even if it retained some of my memory and experience, even some of my characteristics, it would not be me.

I am happy to say I don’t know, don’t anticipate resurrection, and am focused on life here. Hell does not exist, though, except in human imagination- the North Korean prison camp, the serial killer- again, here on Earth.

Arguably, Jesus was focused on life here, too. Repeatedly in Jewish texts between 600 BCE and 135 CE the Story of Israel is told. God chose God’s people, rescued them from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land after forty years in the Wilderness to do 420 miles. They made a covenant, that the people would obey God, but the people never did. God used Babylon and Persia as God’s instruments, and Israel was in exile. The release from exile had not happened, but God’s anointed King would come, and all the World would worship the One True God in Jerusalem. Spurious Messiahs arose, up to Simon bar-Kochba, to lead the Jews to miraculous conquest.

Jesus used Death as a metaphor most clearly in the lines “Let the dead bury their own dead” and “My son was dead, and is alive again”. Jesus sought to bring people into the Kingdom through example and in Love. No, the Jews would never conquer the world militarily, but the idea of Jahweh might- God is Love, worshipped now by 2.18 billion Christians. The Kingdom of Heaven is Now, in the hearts minds and acts of all of us seeking to create it here on Earth.

Improper story

View of Toledo, El GrecoI expect and desire stories to be Moral, and am surprised when they are not. The Man who wasn’t there ends with the murderer’s conviction for murder, which is satisfying. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means, said Ernest’s housekeeper or aunt or someone- Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess, Google tells me. Anything else would be A most improper story to tell to young children, undermin[ing] the effect of years of careful teaching- another aunt, this one in Saki.

This changes the way I see old stories. Arachne boasts she can weave better than the Goddess Minerva, so Minerva challenges her to a contest, and turns her into a spider for her presumption. Hubris- nemesis, a good Moral story. Except in Metamorphoses she doesn’t. Arachne wins the contest, but hangs herself with her threads: Minerva turning her into a spider saves her life. This is more difficult to pigeon-hole.

I like to have sympathy with the main character, so dislike Brighton Rock. I wanted Pinkie’s schemes to succeed, but they are silly and pointless- marrying, so that the witness cannot testify, indeed.

Inspector de Luca, in a dark world, finds the murderer and survives, but no more. Not exactly a happy ending, but the best possible.pixabay 1

This is the effect of Christianity as a religion of moral control, with church and state together working to keep the populace Good for nearly seventeen centuries. Sorry, atheists, if I am telling you what you already know. But it is not the Christianity of the Gospels- eg the unjust steward, where a bad man does a bad thing, and loses his job- Disaster! So he does more bad things, and is commended. So strange. What can it mean? In proper stories, the bad end unhappily, even if not in life.

The Kingdom of Heaven is here and now. This is clearest in the Gospel of Thomas: Jesus says: “If those who seek to attract you say to you: ‘See, the Kingdom is in heaven!’ then the birds of heaven will be there before you. If they say to you: ‘It is in the sea!’ then the fish will be there before you. But the kingdom is within you and it is outside of you!” 

Also in Luke: The Kingdom of Heaven is among [footnote: or, within] you.

Matthew could be read both ways, that the Kingdom is “at the end of the age”, when the wheat is gathered into God’s barn, aka pie in the sky when you die. Or, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure in a field which a man buys- not an analogy for death. It is as if the writer is aware of two understandings and two kinds of Jesus quotes, and mingles them.

We are in the Kingdom of Heaven, if only we see it. It is Reality.

World views

Everdingen- girl in a large hatOn the telly, a group of British creationists was taken on a road trip across America, having their beliefs challenged. At one point, they saw the Grand Canyon, and said it was laid down in the Flood. Dialogue between world-views does not happen, generally: blog debates are something like this:

-Scientific Rationalism!

and however much they repeat these steps, with whatever expressions of derision and contempt, both go away thinking they have won. Perhaps they have sharpened their own understanding of their own position, and so go away more solidly in their own camp. It is the same if I debate with people who think Trans is Wrong, or that my religion must involve silly beliefs, however much I say it is about practice and attitude. We talk to ourselves.

Everdingen- WinterA “Side B Christian”, who thinks gay people should be celibate, but does not want gay cure therapy, might be more able to persuade others against gay cure therapy than I could. Because they are so similar, they might listen to nuances of difference.

I might tentatively enquire what they get out of the world-view. The TERF is transphobic, having a disgust reaction to trans people, and she gets validation: her dislike is rational, and Feminist. Those who do not share it need consciousness-raising. On no account should her phobia be challenged. One holds an irrational world-view because it achieves something good in ones eyes. But this must not be acknowledged: I must assert that my world-view is rational, or else I will lose that good thing.

Here is the Kingdom of Heaven. First clutching my filthy rags about me, which do not clothe me at all, I suddenly throw them away to stand naked and unafraid.

Everdingen, Elisabeth van KesselMy world view is different from what I inherited, and the same. That fight with the Director of Education which led my father to be forced into early retirement- I see it, and say, “Completely ridiculous! Why did you have to stick your heels in?” And I can see myself in the same self-harming fight. In different circumstances I have been in it.

My parents kept themselves to themselves. I have had serious friendships, but I do not form them easily. I think of “Auntie” Bess and my mother, who kept in touch though Bess stayed in Falkirk, and see similarities. After my parents retired they visited Malta for six weeks with SAGA holidays, met two couples from Berkshire and Kent respectively, stayed in touch, and spent weeks in each others’ houses. It felt like a wonderful opening, like new freedom and flowering.

In my first post, here, I wrote of Pupating, and that claim was premature. I still cling to my rags. The power of illusion is that they appear to be warm clothes, showing me off to my best advantage.

Question. What do I want, but take no action to get, because I imagine I have it?

There may be other ways into this.

Travelling light

1226px-Fra_Angelico_069I died last night.

I know what you’re thinking, but who would go to Heaven if it didn’t have wi-fi? Pulmonary embolism, terrible pain in the chest on trying to breathe in, then I saw this bright light, moved towards it and now I am here. I hope someone finds the body soon: the bedroom window is open, so they should notice the smell. It doesn’t normally smell like that, honest.

Anyway. We have wi-fi. Typing with a “spiritual body” is a bit of a chore, but you get the hang of it. Opening the laptop, it looked a bit funny, but I soon got to understand Linux.

So why me? This great world-changing announcement, There Is A Heaven. Why my little blog? Six page views yesterday (eight likes, I am not sure what that is about) and this post will get no more page views than the others. Well, Tucking gets lots of page views, with searches for “adhesive tape tuck penis,” “inguinal canal tucking” and the like.

Why me? Precisely because this is a little blog. You read it, you think it’s a joke, no-one else reads it, they go on thinking there is no afterlife. I am not the first. Lots of bloggers, even brilliant writers like me, proclaim our ideas to the World and get ignored.

There Is A God. I’ve met him, you know. Well, seen him from the back of a crowd, but he looked straight at me, and it was just me and him, then he smiled and it was awesome. No, really awesome, not like when an Australian- oh, never mind.

You may be surprised by the word “him”. The Queen of Heaven was in another room, welcoming another lot. With 150 million coming to Heaven every single day, they have a lot of welcoming to do. Some of the Catholics were really really angry about this- why believe all that rubbish, and do all those silly things, if everyone gets in? Some of them get put in a separate place, only with Catholics, because they would not be able to understand why, and they would just be rude to the LGBT folks. They used to come here, but eventually their whining made the Buddhists angry.

Later on, I am going to get a tour. Heaven is very, very big with 107 billion people here. Adoration of the Godhead is popular, bathing in the light of their Countenances- they pop out, do a bit of quick welcoming, but wherever you are in that huge crowd, they look at you and it is like it is only you and them. I might try to get a piano. Celestial harmonies are all acoustic, of course. We have technology, but we have taste.

I understand it is so good I might not want to blog again.

Heaven and Hell

File:Last judgement Bosch.jpg

Last judgement Bosch (left panel)If the division for eternity [between Heaven and Hell] is all about accepting Jesus and nothing about how you behave, it is a silly and arbitrary division indeed, was the challenge. So, what is the division?

There is not one Christian view. Origen, a theologian from the third century, believed in apocatastasis, the idea that that which God creates, returns to God. This was declared heretical in 553AD, but some accept it now. My former vicar said that he believed Hell existed but no-one actually went there.

The division being about accepting Jesus makes great sense in a personal context. I have heard of Jesus. The gospel is that I cannot be good on my own efforts- which fits reality, I make mistakes all the time- but that Jesus reconciles me to God by his sacrifice. There is forgiveness if I only believe in it. To me, that makes good psychological sense: I keep trying. Despite all my past failures, what matters now is what I do today.

Antinomians, such as extreme Calvinists in 17th century Scotland, said if one is predestined to Heaven or Hell, there is no point in behaving morally.

Why divide by belief? Belief is enough. I am accepted by God the parent. We hope this belief will change the person: loved, we respond with love, for God and others.

The division makes far less sense in a world context. The child of Chinese Communist Party members may have heard of Jesus, has not got the excuse of ignorance, and yet has grown up knowing that Christianity is ridiculous. He never enters a church. Yet, if he lives well, why should he go to Hell? One could multiply examples. The man who joins a gang, because it is the only way to be safe, and is ordered to do vile things, may be living as well as is possible in his circumstances. 2.3 billion Christians, now, means 4.7 billion non-Christians, and the idea of them all going to Hell is repellent. Last judgement Bosch (right panel)

Christians usually answer this by saying judgment is between God and God’s creature, and not up to the speaker. Romans 1:20 speaks of people being aware of the reality of God from their experience of creation:  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. This applies at least to those Paul saw worshipping idols. Despite that, we are squeamish about Hell- though not all of us, and in the past there has been enthusiastic damning of the Outsider.

The Reformation rejected the former idea of Purgatory, perhaps because the sale of indulgences. Someone not bad enough to be damned went to Purgatory (of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars) for a time, and the church sold time off. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 gives a scriptural basis for this; but I think Protestants believe those the Catholics destine for Purgatory get straight to Heaven. The Catholics do not sell indulgences now, but claim they can be gained by Freely abstaining in a spirit of penance from something licit and pleasant. So they encourage asceticism.

Limbo is not an official doctrine of any church, but the idea that at the edge of Hell there is a place for those who lived well but did not have the chance to turn to Christ: Dante places Virgil there. There is no punishment other than separation from God.

My answer, which is a strain within Christianity, is that damnation is between God and each person, and that I can only apply any threat of it to myself and to no other person; but I follow Origen. There is no eternal separation from God. Last judgement Bosch (central panel)

Bad Jesus

File:Egger-Lienz - Sähmann und Teufel.jpg

Gregory of Nyssa may have believed in Universal Salvation, the idea that all are saved. I certainly do. Lavrenti Beria, Mao Zedong, anyone. Did Jesus? Matthew 13 seems to indicate not.

 24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Württemberg und Mömpelgard Mömpelgarder Altar

Burned in Hell? Verses 37-43 make it unequivocal. Jesus says,

“The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age,and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Mark 4 and Luke 8 have some of the same parables, but not this one. It is only in Matthew. I reject the explanation. Only this and the parable of the Sower are explained in the Gospels, for the other parables and sayings we are left to make up our own minds. “I say unto you” that I do not believe Jesus believed in Hell, and if he did he was wrong. It is not the thought that people are going to burn in Hell for eternity: it is that here, now, they are weeds, sown by the Devil. Just, No.

To me the Kingdom of Heaven is here, now, and is like a man who made his plans and carried them out, and when he became aware of problems chose the better way of dealing with them, reassuring his labourers and guiding them well. And so he achieved his goals.

If the clobber passages against gay people appear horrible, they have nothing on the Blood Libel, Matthew 27:25-

Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.

Antisemitic church fresco

Even if that “be” is a subjunctive rather than an imperative, they are quoted as acknowledging responsibility for killing God. It is the Biblical basis for persecution of Jews over two thousand years- expelled from England and Spain, murdered in the “German Crusade” as well as the Holocaust. It is monstrous. I reject it.

And- rejecting this, and the clobber passages, and bits implying there is a Hell, and bits justifying slavery- does not mean that I need to reject the Bible itself. I am a cafeteria Christian. I keep the bits I like.