I hope there is a heaven. I truly do. I would love to see my parents again and meet my sisters. Problem is I’m not sure. More doubts. I can’t seem to avoid them.
The afterlife was a big part of the spirituality of my youth. As much as I wanted to make it to heaven, I believe I worried more about going to Hell. We Irish Catholics were good at that. It didn’t help when I told one of the nuns to go to hell and she suggested that I ought to worry more about the future of my own soul in hell!
In time, I came to question the existence of hell. I never could square that with a loving, forgiving God. In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce he suggests that even after death, we are given the chance for forgiveness. A few arrogant souls turn that opportunity down, believing, I suppose, that their sins were too great to be forgiven.
Then I began to question the existence of Purgatory, that unpleasant “waiting room” for heaven that appears to be peculiar to Catholicism. But then I had a dream. A man I’d counselled for a year committed suicide. A year later I had a dream where I met up with him. We had a good talk. I asked his forgiveness for being unable to help and he was very reassuring to me. But then he got up and started to leave. I asked him where he was going and he said “I’m supposed to wander for a while.” That became my concept of Purgatory, a form of existence where we can come to grips with what we’ve done to hurt others and perhaps in some way to atone.
Other bits and pieces give me hopeful views of an Afterlife. There is Dali’s painting of the Last Supper. There is the conclusion of Les Miserables as gentle Jean Valjean is led to eternal reward. I even take comfort from the film Ghost.
The third act of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, however, probably comes closest to what I feel about the Hereafter. In the third act he suggests that in the afterlife we lose interest in this world as we wait for whatever happens next. As the Stage Manager says: “Yes, they stay here while the earth-part of ’em burns away, burns out, and all the time they slowly get indifferent to what’s goin’ on in Grovers’ Corners. .. They’re waitin’. They’re waitin’ for something important they know is comin’. Aren’t they waitin’ for the eternal part of them to come out clear?”
So the best I can do at this point in my journey is to hope. I hope there’s a heaven. I hope to see my parents there and to meet my sisters. I hope the love I feel goes with me. I hope…
Reflection: Where if anywhere do beliefs about an afterlife fit into your spiritual journey?