Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Only Heaven Knows

"Is this heaven?"

"No, its Iowa."

This poignant sound bite from Field of Dreams is not merely touching visually: the serious young/old face of Shoeless Joe stepping out from history into the uber green of summer and posing this question to Ray, a fan suddenly possessed by past and vision, speaks to the inner longing of us all to know what is beyond the edge of our field of vision. It touches another chord as well. While we wait here on earth, and while we know intellectually and spiritually that heaven lies beyond, yet we have doubts: at our times of greatest happiness or quietest pleasure, we wonder how heaven can possibly be more beautiful than God's earth? If you are Ray Kinsella, or Shoeless Joe Jackson, or perhaps any one of a silent multitude of baseball fans, a day at the ball park may be about all one can wish for in happiness. Is it blasphemous to wish for verdant ball fields surrounded by fans with all the cheerful anticipation of spring training?

Mary Chapin Carpenter has a song about heaven too. "Nothing shatters, nothing breaks, nothing hurts and nothing aches" in her heaven. "No one's lost and no one's missing, no more parting, just hugs and kissing": a fervently desired outcome. But beyond that, "Grandma's there and Grandpa too, in a condo with to die for views" and "your childhood dog in Dad's old chair": homely, homey touches that we ordinary mortals can comprehend. What more comfort can we ask but that we keep our memories and good times and shed the parting, the aches, the hurts. I like the idea that my Granny and Grandpa, who loved the out of doors and travel, are spending their heavenly days looking out the windows at beauty beyond that of our lovely earth.

Years ago, in another season of loss, I came upon a song by Nanci Griffith. A young couple settles in the part of Texas, "the only spot on earth bluebonnets grow, and once a year they come and go, at this old house here by the road." He works the oil fields and she spends the summers alone, but their bond is deep and the refrain states, 'when she dies, she says she'll catch some blackbird's wings and then fly away to heaven, come some sweet bluebonnet spring.' They grow old together, tend their garden, and "set the sun", each year enjoying the all too brief bloom of the Texas bluebonnets, with the final stanza declaring, "when they die, they say they'll catch some blackbird's wings and they will fly awaytogether , come some sweet bluebonnet spring." That image has always brought a tear to my eye as I picture the husband and wife aging in body but remaining as fresh in spirit and faithful in heart as the bluebonnets that come back year after year to their old house by the road. No loneliness, no left behind, no loss, just an ascension together in the sweet season of the year on, not the wings of eagles, just the springtime's blackbirds.

This week the voice of Audra McDonald sang in my head. Here are words of query, of wonder, of hope, of comfort.

Is it warm against your face? Do you feel a kind a' grace inside the breeze? Will there be trees? Is there light? Does it hover on the ground? Does it shine from all around, or jes' from you? Is it endless and empty, an' you wanter on your own? Slowly forgit about the folks that you have known? Or does risin' bread fill up the air from open kitchens every where? Familiar faces far as you can see, like a family? Do we live? Is it like a little town? Do we get to look back down at who we love? Are we above? Are we ev'rywhere? Are we anywhere at all? Do we hear a trumpet call us an' we're by your side? Will I want, Will I wish for all the things I should have done, Longing to finish what I only just begun? Or has a shinin' truth been waitin' there for all the questions ev'ry where? In a word a' wond'rin' suddenly you know; An' you will always know... Will my mama be there waitin' for me, Smilin' like the way she does, an' holdin' out her arms, and she calls my name? She will hold me just the same... Only heaven nows how glory goes, what each of us was meant to be. In the starlight, that is what we are. I can see so far

In deep humility, admitting my complete inadequacy and lack of imagination, I love the idea of the fragrance of baked goods rising from the open windows of friendly kitchens. In the same way that I hope we will have the hearty work of gardening and live in complete certainty that music will fill the air. We know we see "only darkly as a mirror, but then will see face to face," but our loving Father knows our pain and gives us comfort. I smile when I think of those waiting for us, smiling, holding out their arms and calling our names.

But, as the song title reminds, "only Heaven knows how glory goes." The great mystery is beyond and we can but wait. Tom T. Hall had a few words about the heaven too, when he pondered the fate of Clayton DeLaney:

"it could be that the good Lord likes a little picking, too."

" A little picking" surely falls into the category of "every good thing and every perfect gift". Our loved ones know: we can but keep our eye on the prize and ponder.

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