After having been away for a few days last week near the ocean, I thought I might offer a few reflections here, as you may have come to expect by now. Probably I’ve already said in previous posts over the past couple years all that I can say in describing the sea and the other natural beauties of the Northern California coast, so I won’t try to wax poetical about all that again. But the sea makes me think about Heaven, so maybe I’ll have a few words to say about that.
Not having had any mystical visions of Heaven, I can’t hope to tell you what it is like, but knowing some of Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, maybe I can say something about what it is.
There are hints in Scripture and in other spiritual writings that Heaven will in fact be a divinely transfigured and hence eternal Earth, the “new heavens and new earth” that we read about. That may very well be, though I don’t think we should imagine Heaven merely in exalted earthly terms, as if it will simply be a place of endless earthly delights without all the earthly woes. For Heaven is primarily about communion with God, and not merely the eternally pleasurable stimulation of our glorified senses. God far transcends our earthly experiences, and He will fulfill our whole being in ways that no amount of terrestrial enjoyment could.
Yet I don’t think Heaven will be an utterly “ethereal” place, either, populated by joyful wraiths in blessed intellectual contemplation. Scripture tells us there will be some sort of continuity between our earthly bodies and our heavenly ones, so we can assume there will be some sort of continuity between our earthly and heavenly experiences. But precisely what that will be we can only speculate.
When I sit by the sea I seem to be as close to Heaven as I can get on the Earth. One of the most beautiful and delightful things in this world is the sight of the sun sparkling in dazzling designs in perpetual motion on the surface of the sea. To me it has something of the character of looking at the sky on a starry night. I never tire of it. It is entrancing, yet for all the flashing movement on the water it is not agitating or disturbing. This, I think, is an intimation of Heaven, whose beauty is simultaneously breathtaking and restful.
There’s a kind of “environment” created by the ocean that fills the senses and creates a feeling of wholeness and contentment. The rhythmic sounds of the surf, the distant echo of soaring sea-birds, the fresh and cool salty air, the abstract brush strokes of wispy clouds, the sense of eternity engendered by the unbroken blue horizon: all these tend to “wrap around” you and insulate you from the hurly-burly of the surrounding world, with its pressures and its noise. It’s almost like entering a huge church that silences the sounds of the city—not one of those modern multi-purpose “worship spaces,” but a real church, full of candles and stained glass and high ceilings and dark corners through which angels come and go.
I read an account of one mystic’s vision of Heaven, and it was noteworthy in that she said that she saw the Mother of God and various saints there, but she didn’t see Christ. The reason was that He was not merely one heavenly figure among others, however much more glorious. She didn’t see Him because she was filled with Him, as was everything and everyone else, and his presence was more powerfully felt than that of all the saints. This doesn’t mean we won’t see the bodily image of Christ in Heaven; it’s just a way of letting us know that in Heaven “Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). As all the blessed and peace-giving elements of the oceanic environment fill and surround us, Christ will do so in Heaven, though infinitely more perfectly and fully. Fullness, yes, that’s it. Heaven is utter fulfillment. We don’t have to worry or wonder if it’s going to have all the features we’d include in our own fantasy-paradise. Our own aspirations will pale before the magnitude of what we will find: the love that pulses like precious blood through our hearts; the joy that is beyond all conceptions of happiness, all exhilarating experiences; the complete opening of our being to infinite wisdom, knowledge, and life; the endless wonder in ceaseless discoveries of beauty and glory; the utter delight in everything; in short, the embrace of God, which He’s been waiting countless millennia to grant to us.
As the westering sun approaches the horizon, it’s reflection on the water changes from the white light of the dancing coruscations to a warm gold that shimmers in a narrowing path on the rippling surface. It almost seems as if one could walk along that bright and undulating corridor and reach the sun itself, the source of the marvelous light. It’s like an invitation, a symbolic illumination of the path to the Kingdom of Heaven. The Source of Life and Light awaits us at the end of a long path, but one that is illuminated by his own light, one that leads us directly into the Presence—if we are bold enough to step out on to the water as Peter did when the Lord said “Come.”
Evidently I’m not yet allowed to go to Heaven, but when I want catch a glimpse of it, breathe a breath of it, feel something of the peace of it, I go to the sea. There’s something eternal about the ocean: it’s endless succession of waves, it’s apparently infinite extension, and the mystery of death and life that it bears in its secret depths. There’s something fresh and clean, delightful and inviting and fulfilling; yes, it’s a bit like Heaven.