My wife and daughter went for a walk and along the way my daughter, Callie, laid out a world view that must have had the ancient Greeks and Romans turning over in their graves. The conversation got serious as they walked past the cemetery.“Mommy, I don’t know why people are afraid of cemeteries. There isn’t anything there.” After a little give and take about bodies, bones and boxes Callie took the conversation a step further. “You know, people’s spirits go through the ground all the way down to heaven.” My wife kept asking questions and my daughter kept talking.
Q: What is it like down there? A: It is where all the people’s spirits meet and are together with God.
Q: What happens if people are buried in a different cemetery from their family? A: They take a ride on Jesus heart to be in the same part as their family.
All of this was spoken with a seriousness and confidence that exemplifies the deep faith of children. While my wife and I are both ordained ministers, there is no doubt in our minds that our children have a depth of faith equal to ours. Now, I could go on and on about how the faith of children can teach us. Instead, I want to focus on what was actually said. I don’t want to miss the beautiful theological nugget Callie offered up.
What if the ancient flat earth worldview we often make fun of and the ancient mythology that heaven is up and hell is down are backwards and inside out? What if heaven is found in the heart of creation itself?
Theologians have produced great works on the Earth as the body of God. Caring for the earth is one place Christians of different theological camps seem to finding some common ground. But Callie’s idea is a little different.
In the late 1980s Belinda Carlisle sang, “Heaven is a place on Earth.” We talk about God’s kingdom come “on Earth as it is in heaven.” But Callie’s idea is a little different.
What if the great cloud of witnesses isn’t somewhere out there looking down on us. What if the death isn’t an escape from this physical place. What if heaven and earth are intertwined with the spirits of those who went before us dwelling in the very heart of stage on which we act out our faith today. What if “Jesus is in my heart” is more than a sweet saying, but an anthropomorphized metaphor of a bigger truth. Heaven, the place people imagine living eternally in the presence of God, might actually be within the heart of the creation itself.
Now, before I get labeled as a crazy person spreading some new fangled blasphemy, based on the imagination of a child rather than grounded in scripture or apostolic tradition, let me be clear.
The real beauty in Callie’s words is two fold: 1. The power of personal testimony. When one person shares their faith and another listens, no matter how strange or uncomfortable it sounds, everyone grows. If the listener eventually gets a chance to share their faith in return, not as rebuttal but as personal testimony, the power of the moment grows even deeper.
2. The power of questions. When we are presented with something that makes us think and ask wondering questions we are filled with the wonder and mystery of God. Too much of our faith life is spent trying to lock down the existential and forge it into structure and tangible teachings. Questions and mystery help us grow closer to God while reminding us that we are not God. What a blessing!
One day, I will die. Maybe my spirit will sink through the ground and find its place in the heart of God. One day, Callie will die and maybe she will take a ride on Jesus’ heart strait to my waiting arms. Maybe we will find ourselves on a cloud looking down on the earth saying, “wow, I really thought the view would be different.” Who knows?!
What I do know is that the testimony of a 7 year old has got me thinking and writing and growing in my faith.
I wonder what beautiful images are trapped on the tongues of adults because they are too shy or insecure to share them?
I wonder what powerful testimony is unheard because adults don’t feel they know enough about God to speak?
I wonder how the church might be renewed by the asking of questions rather than the answering of them.