A single example of past life: once upon a time, I lived in a little attic apartment just outside of downtown Lyndonville, VT. When I wasn’t at work or asleep, I was playing guitar. I remember evenings when I’d get off work, pop dinner in the microwave, pick up the guitar to play for a few minutes while my food heated, and then “wake up” hours later with the house dark and dinner long cold.
Once a week on Thursday evenings, I lugged my guitar down to an open mic at Avery’s, a funky little restaurant at the end of the block. It was a crowded little place with wonderfully mismatched furniture and walls crammed with the work of local artists. Once a week, I played there: me, solo, singing and playing guitar in public! I wasn’t very good, and on more than one occasion I started shaking so badly I couldn’t play the guitar and had to bow out. But I had the guts to get up there and fall on my face. Looking back, it’s hard to recognize myself.
My path and interests have wandered so many places since then. I picked up the mandolin, and started playing music with siblings. The restaurant that hosted the open mic closed down. I bought a house. Mom died. I started writing stories in my spare time. I lost one job, started another. I moved across country twice.
At varying times, I’ve been obsessed with music, writing, crocheting, gardening, calligraphy, bicycling, researching one topic or another. It frustrates me greatly that I can’t manage all at once. I want to be a poet and a musician and a novelist and a chef and an artist and a scholar. I want to know and do so much, and hold onto all advances I make. And I can’t.
It seems as though I have been so many people in my life, but I can’t fit them all into me at a given moment. Once I was a young musician in Lyndonville, VT. Once I was an airman in the United States Air Force, who ran up and down the stairs of Sembach, AB in Germany with a black memo book tucked into my back pocket and poems bursting in my head. Once I rode over a thousand miles on my bike in a season. Once I spent a year learning nearly a tune a week on mandolin and tenor banjo.
I should strive for more balance. But I think the honest truth is that I simply can’t pursue all interests with the same intensity on an on-going basis. And I got to thinking….it sounds kooky, but maybe this is, in part, what eternity is all about. Maybe we can’t fit all of our potential self into this finite life. Maybe we can’t truly become in this limited life. It’s an intriguing thought, in any case: an indication that, even humanly speaking, we aren’t meant for this world.
When I was a kid trying to mature past seeing heaven as all cotton candy and ice cream all the time, I couldn’t help imagining the beatific vision as a giant auditorium with God down there in the middle for everyone to gaze upon. I figured the holier you were in life, the better your seat in the afterlife. I imagined myself in the nosebleed section, lucky to have squeaked in at all.
It didn’t sound like all that much fun. But I figured by the time I got there, I’d appreciate it. Even if I got a lousy seat.
But writers a great deal more theologically astute than I am have (in fictional stories, at least) portrayed heaven as a glorified earth: not a misty place beyond a veil, but more real than our current life, more vibrant and complete than anything we can possibly imagine.
God is the source of all true good, all true joy, and all true beauty. We can encounter him in moments of music, in a mountain vista, in those dizzying breakthrough moments when we suddenly understand something we’ve struggled with for perhaps years. The joy we feel in learning, creating, interacting with others–all can be reflections of God. On the flip side, all of the desire we feel for those things is, in some sense, a desire for God, a longing for wholeness, for the one Reality, which we encounter only in reflections now.
Thinking about those moments–those glimpses–gives a whole different perspective on what the beatific vision might really be like, and what we might be like as we become what we are truly meant to be.