Monday, August 15, 2011

The Third Heaven

 “If here two things, or any parts of them, could occupy the same space, why not 20 or 10,000? — But I dared not think further in that direction." —George MacDonald, Lillith

I took a walk on Spaulding's Farm the other afternoon. I saw the setting sun lighting up the opposite side of a stately pine wood. Its golden rays straggled into the aisles of the wood as into some noble hall. I was impressed as if some ancient and altogether admirable and shining family had settled there in that part of the land called Concord, unknown to me,—to whom the sun was servant,—who had not gone into society in the village,—who had not been called on. I saw their park, their pleasure-ground, beyond through the wood, in Spaulding's cranberry-meadow. The pines furnished them with gables as they grew. Their house was not obvious to vision; their trees grew through it. I do not know whether I heard the sounds of a suppressed hilarity or not. They seemed to recline on the sunbeams. They have sons and daughters. They are quite well. The farmer's cart-path, which leads directly through their hall, does not in the least put them out,—as the muddy bottom of a pool is sometimes seen through the reflected skies. They never heard of Spaulding, and do not know that he is their neighbor,—notwithstanding I heard him whistle as he drove his team through the house. Nothing can equal the serenity of their lives. Their coat of arms is simply a lichen. I saw it painted on the pines and oaks. Their attics were in the tops of the trees. They are of no politics. There was no noise of labor. I did not perceive that they were weaving or spinning. Yet I did detect, when the wind lulled and hearing was done away, the finest imaginable sweet musical hum,—as of a distant hive in May, which perchance was the sound of their thinking. They had no idle thoughts, and no one without could see their work, for their industry was not as in knots and excrescences embayed… But I find it difficult to remember them. They fade irrevocably out of my mind even now while I speak and endeavor to recall them, and recollect myself. It is only after a long and serious effort to recollect my best thoughts that I become again aware of their cohabitancy. If it were not for such families as this, I think I should move out of Concord.
This is an extract from an essay by Henry David Thoreau entitled “Walking,” in which he plays with the idea of “cohabitancy,” the notion that two realms of reality can exist in the same space at the same time.[1]

Was Thoreau right? Is there an alternate, parallel universe that is “cohabitant” (shares time and space) with our world? Bless my soul, there is! Some call it “heaven.” [2]

We know little about this realm, for little has been revealed. Perhaps that’s because there are no analogies for heaven in our experience.  Paul visited heaven, but could find no words to describe it: he “heard inexpressible things, things that no man is able to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:4).[3]

One thing does seem certain, however: heaven is not “over yonder,” as we used to say in Texas, but  here, all around us, sharing our time and space. We could see it if we only have eyes to “see.”

Read the story of Elisha and his servant, trapped in the city of Dothan, surrounded by the Syrian army—two against “horses and chariots and a great army” (2 Kings 6). Elijah’s servant cried out, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” Elisha replied with absolute calm, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then the prophet prayed, “Lord, open his eyes that he may see.” And Elisha’s servant “saw that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around.”

For a moment Elisha’s servant stole a look into heaven and saw the legions of God surrounding the city, an army of inestimable number, invisible to natural eyes, but ever and always present in the deepest sense possible, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.Hence, we need not fear “ten thousands of people who have set themselves against us all around,” for “the chariots of God are twenty thousand, thousands of thousands; the Lord is among (us)…” (Psalm 3:6; 68:17).[4]

Faith “sees the unseen” (Hebrews 11:27)—the realm of ultimate reality, invisible to those who look on the surface of things.

So keep your eyes open. As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by seeing.”


[1] Studies in theoretical physics support Thoreau’s thesis: To account for all physical phenomena there must indeed be an unobservable, parallel universe (or universes) lying in and around our own. (See Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos).

[2] The Bible actually speaks of three heavens: (1) the heaven of the birds and clouds, (2) the heaven of the stars and (3) the “third heaven,” the invisible realm of spiritual realities  (2 Corinthians 12:2).

[3] Paul’s phrase, translated “not lawful” in the Authorized Version, actually means “not possible.”

[4] The Hebrew text of Psalms 68:17 suggests an immeasurable number. Jerome translates, “innumerabilia.”

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