Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Wondering About Heaven? Seek Clues On Earth

Published October 18, 2007

“What do you think heaven will be like?” people sometimes ask me, as if I had been there myself. Still, it is definitely a question worth pondering.

Because, let’s face it: If we are all going to sit around playing harps while lolling about on clouds, that’s not much of an incentive for making the trip.

Fortunately, there are clues about heaven here on earth.

Most of us seek quiet places when we want to “get away from it all.” The popularity of mountain retreats, seaside resorts and quaint, out-of-the-way villages tells us something about human nature, and what refreshes our hearts.

We are drawn to trees, birdsong, flowers, brooks, rivers and oceans. Although there are some exceptions, of course, monasteries generally exist in spots far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life.

In Scripture, there is no doubt about what a heavenly place Eden was. In Genesis it is all beautifully described: Adam and Eve took long walks in the cool of the afternoon, amidst plenty of birds and beasts, and they could hear God walking around as well.

Jesus gave us hints about heaven too: He escaped from the crowds, now and again, and took a boat out on the sea. He prayed in the desert and revealed himself to the apostles on a mountaintop.

He was seeking solace, quiet, peace and refreshment. A little bit of heaven.

“Home—that’s what heaven is,” writes Peter Kreeft in his book, “Fundamentals of the Faith.” And his words nudge us to unveil those special snapshots tucked away deep inside.

For me, home is the memory of childhood days when my mother, a schoolteacher, had time off and baked an apple pie. Home will always be that moment when I opened the front door and called out, “Mom! Where are you?” and she said, “In here, in the kitchen.” And then the rich rush of cinnamon hit me, and I knew there was a pie cooling.

Home will always be family gatherings, when the entire clan somehow managed to squeeze into Aunt Lillian’s tiny apartment in the Bronx. While the adults sipped cocktails in the kitchen, the older cousins invited the little ones to play cards, using a mirror-topped table to spy on the hands we’d been dealt.

Kreeft says that heaven “won’t appear strange and faraway and ‘supernatural,’ but utterly natural.” He writes that “heaven is what we were designed for.”

I know what I’m designed for. On fall mornings, I like to slip outside to the front porch, while the neighbors still snooze, and sit on the swing with a cup of hot coffee near to hand.

There I sit, ever so quietly, while the hummingbirds float over to the feeder, perch for a spell, take a long sip of sweet water and then vanish into a nearby tree.

The crickets still chirp in the hidden recesses of the yard, and a chipmunk emerges, very cautiously, from his underground den to search for treats in the underbrush. A squirrel zips down the oak tree, scurries up the side of the birdbath and dips his whiskery face into the cool pool of water.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we say the words, “Thy will be done on earth as they are in heaven.” These words, coming from Jesus, give us another hint.

In heaven, God’s will is done, every moment, unlike on earth, where human beings freely choose to turn their backs on Him and cause terrible disruptions. In heaven, there will be no wars, crimes and car wrecks. No heartache and heartbreak.

In heaven, there will be no thieves, murderers and rapists. No cheating, no lying, no crying, no dying. Satan will be noticeably absent.

Some say heaven might get boring, but I sincerely doubt it. What could be tiring about spending day after day in a lush garden with sparkling flowers and fresh fruit galore, and butterflies and birds?

When you are hungry, sit down and enjoy a feast of buttermilk pancakes with a heavy dose of maple syrup. You don’t have to count calories, fat grams or carbohydrates, because in heaven, there would be no obesity, no diets and no work-out plans.

For workaholics, heaven may be hard to envision. What would our lives be like without endless streams of e-mails, meetings and deadlines? The belief that getting ahead is life’s purpose has been drummed into our heads, but, in truth, there is a deeper goal that has nothing to do with paychecks, promotions or perks.

Everyone longs for heaven, even skeptics who think nothing exists beyond the material world. “Talk about heaven and you’ll get sneers,” Kreeft notes. “But talk about a mysterious dissatisfaction with life even when things go well—especially when things go well—and you’ll get a hearing from man’s heart, even if his lips will not agree.”

That mysterious discontent is another big hint. Here on earth, there is always the feeling that something isn’t quite right. In the midst of the most lavish party comes the niggling realization that someone you love is missing.

The person who wins the lottery can attest to the gradual sinking realization that even a huge pile of crisp bills won’t make life perfect. There are still health problems, relationship snags and a growing awareness that money can buy all sorts of things, but cannot fill the emptiness within.

So will heaven be harps and clouds all the time? Well, maybe for the musician who enjoys gazing at the sky.

But for me, when someone mentions heaven, I hear a door opening somewhere, and my voice calling out to the one who died 30 years ago: “Mom! Where are you?” Then comes the sweetest answer, “In here, in the kitchen!”

And the scent of apple pie tells me that I am, at last, really home.

Readers may e-mail Lorraine at Artwork featured in the print edition, “Shire Dreams,” is by Jef Murray (