And why it's a great conversation to share with your kids.
One thing about writing for Catholic media is that you get to have some very interesting conversations with your colleagues. Conversations that might make you look at your faith in a whole new light or reinforce your thoughts on a subject.
Recently we had a chat about what we imagine Heaven is like. After all, it’s where we all hope to end up for an eternity!
As a child I distinctly remember believing heaven to be clouds made of marshmallows — they were my favorite sweet treats. I also have a vague recollection of white beards, which I’m assuming belonged to some key religious figures. Overall, it was a very fluffy place to be.
I’m not sure how, or when, this perception changed, although I know marshmallows are no longer involved. However, a few years ago when I interviewed a mother whose son had severe cerebral palsy and was physically disabled to the extent that he could only communicate through his eyes, that I began to reflect on what we believe Heaven to be.
The young boy in question, Jonathan Bryan, had had a near death experience. Once he’d learned how to write using his eyes and a board — a painstaking process that his mother relentlessly worked on — he was able to share in precise detail what had happened to him when he arrived in heaven for a very short stay.
In his recollections he’d arrived in “Jesus’ garden.” There he was able to climb trees and play with other children. It was a place he didn’t want to leave, and he even shared with his mother in a bittersweet moment that he couldn’t wait to return.
Jonathan, whose father is a member of the Anglican clergy, is a child who writes with incredible intellect and perception. Even if it takes him hours to be able to share a simple message.
His mother, Chantal Bryan OBE, shared with me at the time how his description had unsettled her. It was so precise. Her son was adamant about what he’d seen and experienced.
I must admit that hearing this story made me question my own perceptions of Heaven. Are our Heavenly homes all the same? Do they reflect what is important to us in this life?
This is an especially great conversation to have with your kids. It can actually feel very reassuring for them, especially if they’re feeling anxious about death. It’s also a fun topic to bring up with friends, if only to see how differently we all think about something so significant in our faith.
And now, here are our team’s thoughts on what Heaven may be like:
For me Heaven is family. A place where I can see my loved ones any time I like. Oceans and seas no longer divide us. However, my mother would still be very much in charge of the food — if there is any! The overall sensation is lightness. Burdens are gone and replaced by loving moments. Friends are around the corner, it’s never too hot, and I walk a lot in the grass barefoot.Cerith Gardner
This is such a fun conversation with my kids. We get to ride on eagles or cheetahs or whatever we want. Our mansions can be connected with fun passageways. We get to go from one place to another instantly (or maybe just be in more than one place at once?) And I like to tease them that Mama Maria is as smoochy as me, and they don’t buy that one bit.
I also like to think that because we’re outside of time, we might somehow be able to relive those precious moments with the little kids… what it feels like to rock your child to sleep, or even to hold Baby Jesus … that somehow we might be able to do that.Kathleen N. Hattrup
Big family dinner table and everyone is family. Or Paradise in the original Persian sense of the word — a garden like this:Joanne McPortlandPublic Domain
I don’t really envision it as a place as much as a feeling. I don’t expect much if any of our personalities or consciousness would remain, as the spirit leaves the brain behind. More like your spiritual energy returning to join with the source of all energy as it shifts from one plane to another.J.P. Mauro
I think of the “new heavens and new earth” (knowing it’s just an image) as a beautiful reality where God’s loving presence is perceived as clearly as our own existence, where we can talk to Christ in person (and share a big hug with him).
Communion of minds and souls, feeling loved, recognized, and welcomed, while loving and rejoicing in the beauty of each person. I hope we’ll still be creative and explore our God-given talents, sharing them and enjoying the talents of others, rejoicing that God lets us take part in His creativity. Being together whenever we want, playing, singing, or sharing stories (with people throughout all history!), spending alone-time with God … Always rejoicing and praising Him through our joy.
“Looking” directly at God will be unlike anything we can image. We’ll also explore His creation through all ages in all its beauty and perfection. (Seeing dinosaurs and other extinct species, rain forests and deserts, the ocean depths, the rings of Saturn and distant nebulae…)Matthew Green
I’ve always imagined Heaven to be grand, like the West Highland Way. Majestic beauty and total, pure happiness.Caroline FischerIris Joschko | Shutterstock
I catch a glimpse of what Heaven must be like every time I watch my all-time favorite musical Singin’ in the Rain. Whenever I see Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor (a trinity!) dancing together in perfect unison and joyfully belting out the song “Good Morning,” my heart cries out, “That’s it! That’s heaven!”
You may think I’m crazy, but I seriously hope to be singing and dancing with all my loved ones, and my worst enemies, along with Gene and Don and Debbie and St. Peter and all the saints and angels, in an amazing number spontaneously choreographed by God and performed in Technicolor-to-the-Infinite that goes on forever because the number just keeps growing more fun and beautiful and no one wants it to stop. To me, that’s Heaven.John Touhey
While our reflections, (especially the marshmallows!), might be a bit more imaginative than theological, even Benedict XVI stopped to consider some human delights of eternity.
In the Last Testament, the book-interview with Benedict XVI, he reflected on Heaven:
Q: The believer trusts that ‘eternal life’ is a life fulfilled.
Benedict: Definitely! Then he is truly at home.
Q: What are you expecting?
Benedict: There are various dimensions. Some are more theological. St. Augustine says something which is a great thought and a great comfort here. He interprets the passage from the Psalms ‘seek his face always’ as saying: this applies ‘for ever’; to all eternity. God is so great that we never finish our searching. He is always new. With God there is perpetual, unending encounter, with new discoveries and new joy. Such things are theological matters. At the same time, in an entirely human perspective, I look forward to being reunited with my parents, my siblings, my friends, and I imagine it will be as lovely as it was at our family home.
We’d love to hear what you think Heaven is like! Share your thoughts in the comments below.