I am sitting on my Mother’s couch looking out at the garden that my Father planted. It is mid- afternoon in the Summer and the neighbour’s cat has faithfully visited to stretch out peacefully upon the lawn. A robin notes the visitor from the branches of the birch tree that shield the driveway. Gentle clouds drift across the sky, etching out some distant rhythm of nature for all to see. In the quiet afternoon, everything glows with a patient intensity.
In sacred moments, heaven itself can be glimpsed in the everyday wonders of our world. It waits for our attention. Every living thing in the garden is responsive to the light whose radiance seeps through everything we can see. I offer prayers, ancient invocations from my heart, to heaven which is not so very far away.
My elderly Mum sleeps peacefully comforted by dreams of untold stories. Her sitting room is a shrine to the sacredness of life, the nature paintings, the family photographs, the small statues of saints, the guardian angel candle and the bottles of holy water ready for every occasion. It is welcoming, this small sitting room that I have come to know so well once again.
My father passed away in Springtime just twelve short years ago. Sitting in his favourite spot looking out at the garden, I can sense his presence more keenly. It’s as if he has just left the room a moment ago. I can hear him speaking softly in my heart describing the wonders of the garden. At the same time, it feels like an age since I’ve seen him. He is both with me and not with me.
Some afternoons, my Mum and I visit the graves of our ancestors. We sprinkle holy water, say a prayer and retell stories of the past that made us. There is a strange sense of peace to be found in the shared stories of our ancestors. A spirit of transformation weaves its way into our hearts bringing with it an abiding sense of healing and wholeness.
It is not so unusual to turn away from loss, to avoid any mention of death for fear of causing upset. Whatever we tell ourselves, death is always with us. Whether our lives be long or short, it is the living that really counts for death must follow life.
In the graveyard, I can see clearly that death is only a very small part of the overall story. Each grave speaks to me of the creation of a soul, of a life lived within the larger web of God’s creation and of the profound dignity of a Christian burial. Outside of death, there is the landscape of a life lived in God’s beloved world. The grave is not the beginning of life nor is it the end of life.
There is also the afterlife, whether this simply be the memories and rituals of those who follow the deceased or the ultimate fulfilment of heaven where souls are reunited in blessed communion with God. We cannot know what God has prepared for faithful souls, but some words help us to contemplate what lies ahead: life, light, peace, feast, joy, paradise or home. This is the destiny of the saved, the ultimate purpose of our lives.
In my parent’s sitting room, I glimpse the light of salvation reflecting off the crucifix in memory of the loving sacrifice of Christ. From the mantlepiece, St. Francis beams down upon the hearthrug. The Holy Family gather beneath the light from the star of Bethlehem. A benevolent St. Nicholas looks generously upon the scene reminding us of two thousand years of Christmas celebrations.
In the stillness of our hearts, we come to appreciate each other’s dignity for God makes it possible for us to honour each other as brothers and sisters of Christ. It is this inner journey of the human soul that brings peace and joy. As I watch my Mum sleep peacefully, I am filled with love, an incomplete yet beautiful sense of God’s glory. At such times, it feels as if heaven is close at hand calling to our deepest selves.
Heaven fully reveals God’s life, but we don’t have to wait for heaven to experience divine reality. It is all around us. Standing at the threshold of death holds no fear when we have already glimpsed heaven. When we cherish a deep love in our hearts, we have found a little piece of heaven where our prayers speak of the profound love of God. For those who have come to know something of God’s love, heaven is always near.
Most days, we visit a church to light a candle and say a prayer. There is something indescribable in the well-worn words of ancient prayers. When we light a candle, we add our stories to the providential story of humankind, a sacred tradition treasured by the long history of the Church.
To visit a local church for prayer or the Sacraments is to let go of the noise of living and rediscover the very heart of living. The joys and sorrows of humanity permeate the very fabric of the whole Church through which our human limitations are transformed and elevated heavenwards.
Christ directs our hearts towards the love of God in whom we come to know that true love is not a burden. It is a blessing. The seed of faith germinates beneath the radiant light of the Blessed Trinity to yield the flourishing fruits of goodness. The life of heaven calls to us constantly through the wonders of creation, through our everyday experiences and though our inner lives.
When I gaze upon Christ on the Cross, my heart sees that anything is possible and that the only barrier to God’s love lies within me. And so, God invites us to know ourselves more deeply. Over time, we can each unburden ourselves by repenting our failings and seeking God’s forgiveness and reconciliation.
Atonement brings us closer to God and closer to each other. This is why we ask our Heavenly Father to forgive us our sins as we forgive others. Love flourishes where forgiveness dwells.
It is through faith that I have come to a deeper understanding of the poem ‘Little Gidding’ by T.S. Eliot:
‘With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling,
We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started,
And know the place for the first time …
And all shall be well,
And all manner of things shall be well …’
I see my Mum stirring in her armchair and interrupt my contemplation to put the kettle on. Returning to the sitting room with a mug of tea and a biscuit, my Mum looks at me and asks: ‘Did you see the light?’. I am briefly tempted to respond with a question, but my heart knows the answer. ‘Yes Mum, I saw the light’.