a new day dawns in the desert
A recent post on the "CNN Belief Blog" featured a discussion about "heaven." A blogger made the observation that churches today hardly ever (or never) talk about heaven any more. I actually think the blogger is probably correct. There isn't a lot of emphasis given to "heaven" in churches today - far different from earlier times.
When I was a boy growing up and attending parochial school, the underlying theme of my religious education was "How to get into heaven." We were taught that everything we did in this life was a preparation for the life to come.
Heaven was portrayed as an idyllic place in the sky, a beautiful place with green pastures, flowing water and angelic harmonies. Jesus and all the saints (including our dead relatives) were living up there. If you wanted to go there when you died, you had to earn your entrance ticket while still down here.
So, when you follow the rules (or at least confess your faults when you stray), when you say your prayers, or attend church, your "go to heaven" card is punched, until you turn it in for the big reward when you die.
I do think it's true that many churches no longer talk about heaven in this way, and to be honest, I'm glad they don't.
I don't believe that heaven is an idyllic resort you get to attend after you die (if you have enough reward points.) I think this view of heaven is basically a fairy tale supported by a medieval theology which was useful for the church in maintaining control (do what the church says if you want to get to heaven.)
I also don't believe that the idyllic resort image of heaven is very scriptural. Jesus never talks about heaven as a future destination. In fact, he teaches his disciples, "The Kingdom of Heaven is among you." - we are already in heaven, but our own self-centeredness keeps us from that awareness.
The Christian monk, Thomas Merton (who was highly influenced by Buddhist teaching) suggests that most of the time we are asleep in our everyday life. Every human being is dynamically connected in one harmonious relationship of love fueled by the Holy Presence, but we usually live in what he calls, "an illusion of separateness," focusing on our individual selves as separate from others. When we wake up from that illusion of separateness, we experience our "true self" - a harmonious relationship.
Heaven is a state of awareness - a dynamic experience of the harmony of all creation bound together in the energy of Holy Abiding Divine Presence.
We can be in heaven "now." The fullness of this experience is what awaits us when we die.
Eckhart Tolle puts it this way:
Death is the stripping away of all that is not you.
The secret of life is to "die before you die"-
and find there is no death