Thursday, July 28, 2011

Paradise Fragment: Last letter to Beatrice (Heaven)

Dear Beatrice,

I feel a change happening in me. For a long time, I valued teaching, running the gallery, doing community stuff in a sort of abstract/theoretical way. But lately I have begun to embrace more of the relational aspect of what I’m doing, and it adds great richness.

When I’m in class, I am interested in not just teaching concepts about writing, but in making connections with my students. I even feel this when I am grading papers. I’m not just objectively making comments, but I’m actually helping Jorge or Sharital or Kevin to write better.

When I’m putting together an art show or a poetry reading, I’m drawn to the people I get to work with, to exchange ideas with, to learn from.

It’s strange that it would take so long for this relational aspect to hit me. I guess I am, by nature, an introverted person. But the more I embrace the various relationships in my life (friends, students, colleagues, artists, writers, etc) the less alone I feel, the more connected I feel to myself and to this world.

I think about community a lot these days. I hope that what I do is help build community.

In this book I have spent the past ten years or so writing, the last section is called “Paradise.” It’s not about heaven (not necessarily), but about what makes for a good life here, in this world. I have, I think, caught glimpses of paradise.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a conversation with a young priest. I don’t know many priests, but I’ve known this guy since high school. We were sitting on my roof drinking cocktails and smoking cigarettes and we got talking about heaven. I told him I had always had this idea of heaven as an essentially spiritual place—angels flying around and us with insubstantial bodies floating in a kind of ether, praising God.

But then I read the book of Revelation and it talks about, at the end of the world, the kingdom of heaven being established here, on earth, the dead rising again with physical bodies, like Jesus. This idea of an eternal, earthly paradise, I said, seems a lot more interesting and enjoyable to me, as a physical being.

I asked my priest friend what he thought of heaven and, to my surprise, he agreed with me.

“Why then,” I asked, “are we taught to think of heaven as this cloudy, spiritual place?”

“I’m not sure,” he said.

I wouldn’t characterize myself as a strong believer, but I like to think of heaven as a physical place, and I think the Bible supports me on this. I also believe that, as messed up as this world is, that we can get glimpses of heaven here, in this life, in this world.

After all, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is within.”

Sincerely,

Jesse

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