Monday, June 28, 2010

Love and Death

A lot of books have been written about heaven. My favorite is A Travel Guide to Heaven, by Anthony DeStefano. The author speculates that God doesn’t create good things only to watch them die, so we will likely always have Paris. In other books, authors report actual experience. They have made a round trip, died and gone to heaven and come back to life. Ninety Minutes in Heaven, by Don Piper and Cecil Murphey, Flight to Heaven, by Dale Black, Return from Tomorrow by George G. Ritchie are among them.
I’m wondering why all these books are written by men. Do women not experience heavenly fly-bys? The men all express regret at having to return to earth; are women better at talking their way in?
There is surprising harmony among the accounts I’ve read. That God is light and love seems literal. He seems to speak a language of math and science. The eternal musical score is pleasing. The absence of sin is palpable. Newcomers are anticipated and welcome. It sounds as if Heaven hums with purposeful activity.
These accounts offer only peeks through the gates; different authors noticed different things – vegetation, villages, habitats, heavenly beings, but they all experienced unity and oneness.
In Heaven, we’re told by those who have tasted and seen God’s goodness, time doesn’t frogmarch a weary, frustrated population, nor does it stand still.
I haven’t read Ritchie’s book, written in 1978, but my friend Teri sent me this:
The last paragraph is "God is busy building a race of men who know how to love. I believe that the fate of the earth itself depends on the progress we make - and that the time now is very short. As for what we'll find in the next world, here too I believe that what we'll discover there depends on how well we get on with the business of loving, here and now."
When we watch the nightly news and wonder how we will ever dig ourselves out of an economic and moral deficit that threatens to undo us all, we would do well to remember that the business of loving is a profitable, high yield business with healthy returns that are not dependent on current economic and political conditions. That’s good news.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


On vacation in the Southwest we walked the dusty roads through the Taos Pueblo, trailing a fresh-faced young Hopi who reminded us that though his talk was free donations would help with his college education. Later he confided to us that actually, he was about to join the Army.
We bought a painting of the pueblo in relief against a sunset descending on the landscape like time overshadowing an ancient people, and apparently it has. Our Indian guide explained that the pueblo has been continuously occupied for over 1,000 years by the Red Willow people. Well, continuously in the sense that the condominiums are owned by Indian families and passed down from generation to generation. In fact the current generation lives elsewhere, choosing to visit occasionally for a religious ceremony or community event. The upcoming generation has even less interest and some properties are falling into disrepair.
Summers, some young people sell crafts in living quarters turned store fronts and tell stories of learning to pot, paint or make jewelry from their elders. The artist who sold us our painting told us he was going to be featured in Southwest magazine in August. (When I heard a similar story for the third time in as many art galleries, I figured this must be the latest art marketing ploy, but still, I believe him.)
The charm of the pueblo is the discipline of maintaining it as it has been for a thousand years with no running water and no electricity – a sanctuary for the preservation of cultural beliefs. As I reflected on the value of doing this I wondered how my own life would be different if I lived in spare circumstances. I imagine that people who live in simple dwellings would spend more time with each other building community and passing down tradition.
More than the weather that wears away the adobe walls and must be plastered annually, it seems that technology has worn away the young people’s desire to invest in this way of life short of an occasional pilgrimage to the pueblo, like the fun family camping trip that creates good memories of simpler days.
Much as we want to preserve culture, life is a contaminant. New possibilities fire the imagination. Our children forge new connections. They move away. Perhaps they carry with them some of the old values that will inform new generations.
Adobes must be tended to survive generations. They are merely earthly dwellings after all. The soul of a people must be tended as well. Keeping the Kivas hidden creates space for the sacred. What does sacred mean, but “do not touch?” Sorting out what remains worthy of reverence, which values are untouchable is soul work.
In the welcome warmth of the sun after unseasonable cold, a young Hopi girl circled my husband on her bicycle. “Great day!” she commented with a wide bright smile, and rode on. I think she knows.