We’re spending the week in “God’s Country” – an informal nickname for the part of Minnesota where I grew up. We’re 70 miles north of the area people typically call “Northern Minnesota,” and we’re still three hours south of Canada. So it’s remote, but not that remote. We have wi-fi and groceries, so we’re not exactly off the grid.
I feel so lucky to be here. I’m the youngest of five, and we’re all here with our spouses and most of the kids. And my mom and stepdad, my husband’s sister, my brother’s wife’s parents and brother and his family. Some boyfriends are rumored to be coming up soon. My husband’s parents are coming for the day. When we were planning group dinners, the count got has high as 40.
We’re all healthy – we feel lucky to have “made it” to this point in the Pandemic, healthy. We were here last year but there was no hugging. No shared meals. We feared that even by being in the same space we might hurt each other. We wore masks before the governor mandated them. We still have six kids who are too young to be vaccinated, and they’re still wearing masks in the indoor spaces. For the most part, though, we feel safe.
There is a lot of nature here- loons calling, ducks swimming, flies, and chipmunks everywhere. We’re 25 miles from where I grew up, and it feels good to be near home. It feels good to sleep with the windows open because the breeze off the lake cools us enough. It feels good to sit around a fire with my brother until midnight while our kids play ghost in the graveyard, running around in the pitch dark. To be a stones’ throw from the people who love me most in the world.
I guess people call this God’s Country because it feels so far away, and there are definitely more trees than people. I know it’s not heaven, but it does make me feel close to God and filled with love. I like this Ascension homily from Father Clay, asking us to consider heaven as a state of being rather than a place. I will be sitting lakeside for the next few days, swatting flies, and swapping stories, and feeling God, and feeling loved, and feeling lucky.
Gotta go – my in-laws just arrived, and I have a lunch date with my stepdad in a little bit. I couldn’t be happier.
Heaven is a what, not a where
We think of heaven as a place where God lives. Even Pope John Paul II, who was not exactly a flaming liberal when it came to church doctrine, reminded us that heaven is not a place. It is a state of being, the state of being immersed and embraced by the love that is God. That is real. It is not a place. You see, when we die, we are spirit. We don’t need a place to sit, because we don’t have a butt.
I know there are things that make belief very hard for us. We need to understand that all these images of going up to heaven, descending into hell, and so on, are pointing to a wonderful mystery. The problem is, we tend to take them literally, and when we do that, we are going to have trouble.
You might ask, Oh, is Father Clay saying there is no heaven? No. I am just saying what heaven is. To my knowledge, it is not a place where we go, but it is a passage into the loving embrace that is God. Isn’t that much better than a place where there are golden gates and ivory palaces? Much, much better. So when you put away all that up in heaven stuff, don’t throw away the truth to which it points.
There’s no way that we can ever describe God, put God in a box, and say, This is God. This is the way that God is. Mysterious love works in mysterious ways. It works as love, a love that is infinite, which we really don’t understand. But this love is for us, and when we open to this love it can work in us more effectively and bring about more good in our lives and, through us, the lives of other people.
From the homily “Is it hard to believe,” in Awesome Love by Father John Clay, © 2013