Monday, May 25, 2009

Of Heaven and Earth

On the way to work a couple of days ago, I heard Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton on the radio singing, "When I Get Where I'm Going" (written by George Teren and Rivers Rutherford)...

Yeah when I get where I'm goin
There'll be only happy tears
I will shed the sins and struggles
I have carried all these years
And I'll leave my heart wide open
I will love and have no fear
Yeah when I get where I'm going
Don't cry for me down here.

It's a well-written song, beautifully performed by Paisley and Parton. But even while I was enjoying the music, I found myself thinking, "Why have I never felt that way?"

Even when I was trying to walk a Christian path, I was never focused on "where I'm going." I always felt like I was already there. Here. This is where I'm going, where I am.

As a child, I went to the Baptist church. I sang the Sunday School songs and colored the pictures of angels. Even then, the notion that this life is merely a trial to be endured on our way to our "real home" left me cold. Later, when my mother moved us from Baptist to Jehovah's Witness, the idea of a "new earth" made a little more sense, but not so much that I ever felt like I was just marking time, suffering and hoping to make the grade to get there.
Why is that? I am a southern American and our culture is saturated with Judeo-Christian (mostly fundamental Protestant Christian) references to streets of gold and mansions on the hills of our heavenly home. How is it that I never, not once, bought into that vision of our future or longed for the day when I would shed my earthly bonds and fly heavenward? I don't recall ever feeling burdened by sin and struggle, nor have I ever looked homeward toward angels.

Some will undoubtedly see my lack of heavenly focus as evidence that my heart is hardened and I'm lost to the sin and struggle. But I gotta tell you, my heart doesn't feel hard. My heart feels joy and pain. I feel bad when I do something that doesn't uphold my values. I hurt when I hurt others. I'm not evil. I'm not mean. I'm not cruel. No, I definitely don't buy the depraved sinner theory.

I don't know why I have always known that living this life is more important than focusing on some future state of supposed perfection. Maybe I've lived enough turns of the wheel to have figured that out. Maybe not. Whatever the reason, it's allowed me to find delicious joy and beauty every single day. When I'm in pain, when I'm struggling, the next beautiful thing is right here, right now, not something to hope for after I've suffered until I'm dead.

Regardless of why I've always believed this way, one thing that's crystal clear is my life is richer, fuller, more joyful, and more blessed because of it. Gratitude doesn't always require an explanation.


  1. I'm a Christian (alas, not a good one, but it's a journey) and I'm gradually more frustrated with the continual emphasis on the afterlife in Christian teaching and music. I recognize that logic + theology = trouble, but logically I don't know why God would put us here -- for a relatively an infinitesimal period when compared with eternity -- if we're supposed to focus solely on the endless life that comes after. It would seem the opposite should be the case: we're here for a blink, so we should savor it and make it as good for those around us as we can. As best I can tell that's what Jesus said, anyway.

    On the other hand, I am a fan of several of these songs, and not entirely for their lyrics or melody. As you said, there are some beautifully written songs out there, and some of them seem to touch a place somewhere in my soul that speaks of a transcendent peace, one that can be difficult to attain here. We can still work for peace here on earth, but the hope for true peace is much easier to maintain with some good music.

    Lastly, since many of these songs also serve as dirges that give peace to the mourning and strength to the dying, I guess a lot depends one's perspective at a given moment. So it's good news, I suppose. We're just particularly happy folks in the here and now!

  2. Thanks, Seth...always good to hear your voice in the choir.

    I agree on a lot of points, especially about the use of these songs to "give peace to the mourning and strength to the dying..." If the songs bring comfort to those whose beliefs mirror the words, then they're worth their weight in gold. Whatever the "truth" is, I don't believe it can be offended. It simply IS...and it will remain so whether I understand it fully or not. My perceptions are limited, as are everyone elses. We do the best we can to describe and understand what we can see from our limited vantage point and view.

    In the end, I think John Lennon had it right, "Whatever gets you through the night, it's alright, it's alright."

  3. One thing I've finally learned (and rather abruptly), there can be a little bit of 'heaven' in every day, whether it's stopping to stare at the clouds, stand in the rain and admire a rainbow, or sit quietly and watch the bunnies & squirrels play in my own back yard.

  4. So very true, Indigo Satin! And it seems to me that the more such moments I notice and appreciate, the more present themselves to me, and in the most unexpected places. Gratitude opens all kinds of doors.

    Thanks for singing along!

  5. Hi there :)
    I have to say I can relate to a lot of what you have said here. I was brought up in the Church of England faith, Sunday School was a regular event, hymns sung every morning at school and we even went, as a school, to the church each Wednesday.

    For me however, things didn't really make sense. I see myself as a very spiritual person, but not religious. Maybe it is wrong of me but I can separate the two. Spirituality is how I live my life and incorporate my beliefs into being a good person to others, nature and the world around me that said I would never judge people who go to church and sing hymns once a week, and also find this help them to live their life.

    Not sure if I made sense! But then I never am..


  6. Lily-Wren, you made perfect sense to me. I, too, think of myself as deeply spiritual but not at all religious.

    I think of religion as an attempt to put form to something that is essentially formless. At its best, religion serves people by giving them a place to belong, a company of believers to share with, an identity. At its worst, it is divisive, often claiming to be the one true way, with believers who behave more like rabid sports fans than spiritual seekers. When religion encourages or even tolerates such behavior, spirituality is no longer part of it. Sad.

    Thanks for singing along, Lily-Wren...always happy to have your voice in the choir. Pick up your pen and stop by more often!

  7. Anonymous1:07 PM

    Your blog resonates loudly! I never yearned for "heaven;" in fact, I found the whole concept, as it was described by the church, cold, stark and passionless. Regardless of what the church taught, I didn't feel shackled by the bonds of sin, or even evil by nature. Then came college...enter Mark Twain's 'Letters from the Earth.' Finally! Someone penned (quite whittily) what I'd been thinking all along! We're not in bad company, after all! ~Zephyr

  8. Anonymous1:46 PM

    Just giving you a good old writing-sister nudge to tell us a story, what you've been doing the last few weeks since this post, and so on.

    Don't worry about it not being good enough to express or if it's not catchy blog-worthy stuff. SOMETHING in the last month has moved you. Take us on the journey.

    Love ya!


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