from St Anselms Chapel Center @ USF
That question was the start of our most interesting conversation yet last week in our book discussion group. We’ve been talking about Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” and his views on heaven and hell. It’s been a great book for discussion but we are nearly at the final chapter and I for one am beginning to feel like we’ve said all we can say on the subject. Time to move on. After all, when we talk about the afterlife, at some point we are speculating. As one of our members said: “We really just don’t know, won’t know until we get there.”
You may agree or disagree with Rob Bell but you can’t prove or disprove what he is saying. (And most of our group tends to fall in Rob’s camp, so there’s not much for us to argue about amongst ourselves….)
However, this week we were talking about Jesus as our Rock and the group was asked where and how Jesus has shown up for them in this life. For some members of the group, Jesus had surprised them with a sense of peace and calm at times of great personal tragedy. For others, the stories were less dramatic but his presence no less sure and certain.
For me, Jesus has shown up in surprising ways through people around me. Sometimes it has been that person who stops long enough to really see me, really listen to me, when I need help. And sometimes it is that person who gives me the word I need to hear, the word that makes me realize I need to get up and move. Time to stop waiting for the bus.
I remember an incident that happened to my daughter when she was traveling to a graduate school audition. On this particular trip, she ended up going by herself to a strange city. She did really well, negotiating the airport, catching a bus to her hotel, getting to the various appointments at the university. Finally, on Saturday morning she checked out of the hotel and went to the bus stop to catch the bus back to the airport for her flight home.
But the bus didn’t come.
She waited and waited, increasingly anxious about getting to her plane on time. Finally, a strange looking young woman with rather wild hair approached her and asked: “Are you waiting for the #35 bus to the airport?”
My daughter said she was.
“Well, that bus doesn’t run on the weekends. You need to cross the street and go up two blocks. Wait on the opposite corner. The bus that comes that way will get you to the airport.”
She did and it did.
When my daughter told me this story, my first reaction was that she had indeed encountered the divine. (An angel, perhaps? Not a scary New Testament Gabriel sort, but to a young girl sitting alone on a deserted city street, just as unsettling and awesome.)
Rob Bell says our belief about the afterlife–our eschatology–affects how we live our lives here. Perhaps it is the other way around. I may not know with certainty what heaven will be like but if I know the sure and certain presence of a loving God in the Here and Now, how can I do otherwise than believe that I will be with that loving God in the Yet to Come?
Wishing us all a blessed Lenten season ahead on this Ash Wednesday evening….