Well I finally made it through the book of Matthew. In honor of floating by this landmark I decided it was time for a Rabbit Trail. Something that the current COVID-19 pandemic has made abundantly clear is that people have very different ideas about what may or may not be beyond this physical existence. Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? What comes after this Land of Oblivion in which we live? Is there an undiscovered country to discover?
There are so many movies, books, songs, art pieces and other creative works that explore what comes after this life here on earth. One of my favorites movies about this subject is called “What Dreams May Come” starring Robin Williams. This is definitely a departure from his comedic roles. This strikingly beautiful movie is all about choices, good and bad; and how choices shape our journey here on earth and perhaps in whatever comes next. I don’t necessarily agree with all the theology of the movie, but it is thought provoking none the less. Without ruining the movie for those who have not seen it I will say that despite some poor choices and incredible challenges the endpoint is a message of hope. It is clear from this movie that the choices we make have consequences that shape our lives. I think we would all agree that this is true. It is just difficult to know, or sometimes understand, how our choices ripple through time and space while we are making them.
I happen to believe there is an undiscovered country to discover across that great river no one can cross we call death. I have been reading some poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson recently and he explored the idea of “crossing over” in a poem entitled “Crossing the bar“
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
– Alfred Lord Tennyson
I am not sure to what extent Tennyson believed in God or was able to articulate who or what his “pilot” was, but he does seem to allude to the idea that there is someone or something piloting the boat that we are all riding on as we navigate our lives here on earth. I remain convinced that this pilot is God, but I will concede that the objective proofs of this are mainly to be found in my own heart and soul. But isn’t this true of other equally important aspects of our lives like love for one’s spouse, children, or family? Can I prove objectively that love exists outside my own heart and soul? I am not sure that is possible either but the world would surely be a darker place without it.
Tennyson also alludes to “the boundless deep”. In some ways this sounds like the secret place from which we all originate described in Psalm 139:1-18. This sea of water is both the origin and the destination for our souls – part of the spiritual cycle that defines the landscape of our souls.
Another amazing picture of the undiscovered country is a book by C.S. Lewis call the Great Divorce. In this fictional musing Lewis envisions a metaphysical bus that arrives in the “grey town” to pick up those who have “crossed over” (died) to go on what is essentially a field trip to heaven. The choice to board the bus is up to each person and once on the bus they make a miraculous metaphysical journey and discover that the entire world we have called home is unsubstantial compared to the radiant reality of heaven.
The bus riders arrive in “heaven” and are faced with another choice, get off the bus and explore this strange, and as it turns our initially painful, world or get back on the bus and return to the comfortable coffin that is the grey town. Those that make the choice to get off the bus are met by people they know from their life on earth. These “guides” help the “ghosts” to become more solid and so they can remain in heaven. It turns out that most of these “ghosts” are choosing to hold onto some aspect of their existence which is keeping them from heaven. These blinders and shackles must be removed by those who wear them before they can see and experience heaven.
So back to my original question, why are we obsessed with oblivion? Why do we cling to earth even when heaven is in our reach? Perhaps it is because we are all cave dwellers who have become so comfortable and adapted to living here in the spiritual “dark” that we are afraid of the adjustments that might be required for us to dwell in the light. Jesus made it clear that some radical changes are necessary for all of us who seek to faithfully follow Him. These changes will require sacrifice and sagacity if we are to be ready when our bodies and souls have “crost the bar”.