Yesterday, while I was reviewing some religious content for a project I have been working on at church, I stumbled across a video called “VITA” by Father John Burns (http://www.ahavaproductions.com/vita/). After watching the video, I felt this overwhelming sense of joy. Joy in knowing that I am working towards an inconceivable goal; heaven.
I wrote about “my glimpse of heaven” a little over a year ago when on retreat at Gethsemani Abbey. When I was on retreat, I experienced God in a way I had never before and I may never again until I see Him again in eternity. I hope I can convey the feelings that I had in words.
The retreats at Gethsemani are silent. During my retreat, I spent five days with approximately thirty people, complete strangers, in silence. The silence allowed me to hear God’s voice. God spoke to me in many ways that week showing me the beauty of His creation and what life with Him can be. It was through my experience at Gethsemani that I believe God gave me a glimpse of heaven.
While on retreat, every day, seven times a day, you meet in the sanctuary for prayer with others on retreat. You hear the wonderful church bells calling you to prayer. No matter where you are; in your room, in the dining hall, taking a hike, or sitting under a tree, you are called to worship. You arrive in silence. You see the monks arrive, one by one, to take their seats and prepare themselves to praise God with beautiful chants and prayer. They sing at a slow pace that is almost hypnotic. This pace allows the words to penetrate your soul. The prayers are simple and beautiful.
Morning prayer is followed by Mass. Mass at Gethsemani is unhurried. You enter the sanctuary early to sit in silence and prepare to enter into the most intimate relationship of your life. When Mass begins, the tune of the hymn is simple but sweet to the ear. It is sung at a slow pace for you to really enjoy and listen to the words while lifting them to His ear in praise. Even the responses are said slowly.
The first mass I attended felt strange. I was done saying the response while the monks were still on the first few words. As I started to slow my responses and really listen to the words and their meaning, I felt a deep sense of love for the liturgy come over me. When it came time for the Gloria and the Lord’s Prayer, they were sung slowly and purposefully. This was like angelic voices being lifted to heaven. The slow, intentional voices of men who have dedicated their entire lives to living as Christ lived was like the sweetest choir of angels surrounding our Lord in heaven. For the first time in my life, I understood Mass and how every Sunday when we are celebrating Mass, Jesus and all of the Saints are in heaven doing the same thing. We are in union with our most high God and all of the angels and saints.
On the last day of the retreat, I was overwhelmed with love. Love for God, love for the monks, and love for the others on retreat. It is a kind of love this is difficult to explain. It is the purest kind of love I have ever experienced. I didn’t know any of their names, races, how much money they had, sexual preference, political persuasion, etc. All I knew was that seven times a day we were united in one goal; loving Christ with the utmost of our being. I miss the monks and the others on retreat. Many times, if I am feeling low, I sit and remember their faces. I recall each of them and the love I have for them. I remember the people I sat next to in prayer and at Mass: each one uniquely wonderful, created in the image and likeness of God. I left changed. I left longing for heaven, longing to see God’s face. I am home sick for sure. Home sick for the day I too will meet our heavenly Father face to face. I believe the experience I had at Gethsemani is a glimpse of what heaven is like; pure, unchanging, unconditional love found in perfect communion with God and His beloved. A love that is hard for humans to comprehend because it is such goodness and mercy beyond our understanding.
I struggle to express what my encounter was like because in this life, we will never achieve the kind of love waiting for us on the other side. Heaven is like a mother nursing her child where two become one with life giving food. It’s like the wedding night when a husband and wife join their bodies together in oneness and love. It’s like pure joy that radiates from a child’s face when they discover something new and wonderful. It’s like the sweet smell of a baby’s head when they first get out of the bath. Heaven is pure, perfect, unblemished, sweet, joy filled love. That is what we are working towards. Heaven makes every moment of every day worth it when we are growing closer to being with Him in eternity.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” – Colossians 3:1-2