“Can Heaven be a place on Earth?”
What began as an interesting question became a quest to: 1. learn what people of various faiths and backgrounds believe about Heaven, 2. to learn how we are connected in our needs, hopes, and values, and 3. to find a way to connect these concepts with life in the present moment, right here on Earth. What resulted was a compilation of concepts about Heaven from a variety of religious faiths and philosophies. From that list I was able to identify seven meaningful characteristics of Heaven that we could strive to accomplish living on Earth…
Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21 (New International Version)
One of the recurring notions about Heaven that appears across religious traditions is the concept of “Heaven as reward”. We believe that if we live a good life, obey rules or commandments, show kindness to our neighbor and refrain from sin, then we will be given an eternal reward of life in Heaven. Likewise, we fear the alternative; living a wicked life, breaking commandments, and committing sin will earn us eternal damnation to the “Other Place”. It seems simple: work hard now, play later; play now, pay later.
Yet it’s not so simple. Life is filled with challenges and conditions and we are constantly faced with choices and decisions. We are emotional creatures who are often influenced by our feelings rather than our intellect. Sometimes we make wise choices and sometimes we make ones that we bitterly regret. If only we could have the type of wisdom that only hindsight can offer us when often it is too late to act. Unfortunately, we do not possess this kind of vision, and our lives are lived from one moment to the next. We use the information, knowledge and understanding that we have acquired over time to make our decisions, and we filter our experiences and observations through our emotions and intellect at the present moment we are experiencing and observing. Maybe today we will see a situation one way, and maybe on another day we will view it in another way.
Despite appearances to the contrary, we are always changing and coping with the challenges that life presents us. We are not static and we are not always directly and consistently progressing towards perfection or an ideal, though we may strive to. We are human and we make mistakes. We can use our experiences to learn how to live better, happier lives. We can find purpose in our unique experiences in life, letting each one become more than just a challenge.
Returning to the quote from Luke, if we live as if the kingdom of God, or Heaven, is within us, we can create the rewarding life we would like to live. Instead of living a life of working for delayed reward, sometimes missing our mark and regretting our mistakes, we can live a life of happiness and fulfillment here and now. We can derive joy for ourselves in bringing joy to others. We can live in a community that supports us as we offer support to others. We can experience connection with God and our natural world today. We can discover peace and wellness for ourselves by nurturing our bodies, minds, and spirits. And we can learn to accept our human selves; imperfect but always able to learn and evolve. Ultimately, we can apply the wisdom we gain toward new situations, whether in helping ourselves or others.
When I set out to contemplate the idea of Heaven as a place on Earth, I really had no idea where my thoughts would lead me. I wondered “What is Heaven?” and “Why do people cling to the concept of Heaven?” and “What is it that people want and feel they are missing now, on Earth?”
What I discovered were ideas that really weren’t new. For the most part, they were values that I have believed in and at times have practiced. What I learned is that establishing a Heaven on Earth is diligent work! We can strive to create a Heaven here and now, but it will not be earned as a reward or given as a prize. We need to make conscious choices and follow through with deliberate action to create a heavenly world. And we don’t need to be perfect. Sometimes we will falter, but it’s okay. Heaven on Earth is about recognizing what we value and striving for it, even if we don’t get the lesson on the first try.
While I was researching the topic, I found this piece that touched me. It is described as the American Indian Commandments. I’d like to share it with you. I think it expresses much of the sentiment of my posts:
Sacred Instructions Given By The Creator
To Native People At The Time Of Creation
Treat the Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect.
Remain close to the Great Spirit.
Show great respect for your fellow beings.
Work together for the benefit of all Mankind.
Give assistance and kindness wherever needed.
Do what you know to be right.
Look after the well-being of mind and body.
Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater good.
Be truthful and honest at all times.
Take full responsibility for your actions.
This and other teachings from a variety of religions has shown me that we really are more alike than different. We share many of the same ideals and desires. We share the same needs and fears. We can share a Heaven on Earth, too.