Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

A foretaste of heaven in an ordinary neighborhood

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published February 20, 2020

A hawk raced through the sky, pursued by clusters of screeching birds trying to scare him out of their territory. Hundreds of red-winged blackbirds chattered from the treetops, perhaps sharing travel plans for their journey south.

It was just an ordinary day in a neighborhood usually busy with cars heading toward Emory University. But each morning there’s a lull in the traffic and an opportunity for a peaceful walk.

And that day, on my three-mile trek, I encountered an abundant array of the wonders of God’s creation.

I noticed with some humor that a redbud tree in full bloom had arrived early to the spring party. There were also Lenten roses in faded shades of pink bowing to battalions of proud daffodils.

Stopping by the creek, I saw the water hurrying over big rocks, on its way to keep an appointment with the river. The oaks, their trunks gnarled and knotted, watched me warily as I entered their territory and I half expected them to deliver a message.

As I walked, the words from Mass came to mind: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Hosts, Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.”

How easy to believe the landscape of heaven will differ radically from earth, but in so doing, we may overlook the glories of our world.

Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” And despite human efforts to tame tangled vines and prune bedraggled branches, that grandeur shines forth endlessly. As he wrote, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”

Birds sing, dogs bark, lions roar and crickets chirp. We may be mystified by what they’re saying, but Psalm 148 gives us insight.

“Praise him, sun and moon; give praise, all shining stars. Praise him, highest heavens, you waters above the heavens. You animals wild and tame, you creatures that crawl and fly. Let them all praise the Lord’s name.”

And why might animals sing and roar and chirp in praise of God? The psalm suggests it’s because of gratitude: “For the Lord commanded and they were created.”

How generous God has been with the creatures he’s given us. Really, what love there must be in a creator that sent us the dog as a friend. What humor in a creator who shaped the penguin, the hedgehog and the giraffe.

Every stripe on the zebra, every whisker on the tiger and every swirl on the butterfly reveal God’s artistry. Every song from the birds shows his generosity, since he could have created them without voices.

On that ordinary day, when I returned home from my walk, I was grateful for all I had seen. And later, when the curtain of night fell, the moon in full bloom graced the sky, beckoning like a Communion host, calling us to prayer.

St. Paul writes of the life to come: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him.”

What a lovely and enticing description of heaven St. Paul gives us! Let’s pray that here on earth, our eyes will also see, our ears will hear, and our hearts will embrace “the dearest freshness” of nature, which our loving God sends us as a foretaste of heaven.

Artwork is by Lorraine’s late husband, Jef Murray ( Lorraine’s email address is