by Jane Tawel
(Image by Dave Cutler for The Boston Globe, March 2020)
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Heaven Scorned
By Jane Tawel
August 3, 2020
Introduction: Reading C.S. Lewis and what some call the “Old” Testament (actually the Torah and Tanakh) is not for the faint of worldview. They aren’t for the faint of heart, either, but it is especially our worldviews that seem to have brought us to where and who we are in this particular moment on Planet Earth. Perhaps if it had been our hearts instead that were leading us, we would not have arrived at this Foucault’s Pendulum swing that may, like a Giant Finger on the World’s Balance, forever still the rotations of our world as we have known it. And still, those who can, fly off to space for a joyride, or build an empire for king but not kingdom, or insist on being the naked emperor, unmasked but unhumbled; while we let our children die and the wars rage and the planet burn and dry up into a husk of the Eden it was meant to be. If only we would all stand on the same side of that swinging pendulum and push and pull together to right the balance of this lopsided world. The discouraging beginning of this essay will hopefully resolve itself in the end. But this is our task, is it not? To look honestly and truthfully within and without at what is wrong, and then do our very best to right the wrongs, become upright ourselves, and then right the off-course ship of this great world?
Image credit: Yuri_Arcurs | Getty Images
I no longer fear the hell of Mythologies and Scripture. That hell is reserved only for those who choose it in this very present “now”; and if we are honest, we can see them choose hell for their souls and whatever souls they may desire to pull down with them. There is a “special place” reserved for those who would hurt others for their own gain, and we can see it in the world we live in; we do not have to believe that somehow, some God will either “send” people to that hell or that some God will not send any one to that hell because of some kind of supernatural love. While love is always a supernatural power, so are hate and greed, and those who choose hell have every right to live in it, just as those who choose to live in the perfect “heaven” of love have the right to hope for it in Eternity. We see the choices people make and we turn from the knowledge because it is too horrible to see any human being choose to live as a hellish creature, but also it can be too fearful to see the power and might of those who truly choose to live as heavenly ones. So we often turn from the knowledge that we can choose to live in a “heaven on earth”, an existence without the outcomes and consequences of our fear or anger or hatred or wrongs; we just do not really want to.
C.S. Lewis writes much about this choice between living into what I might humorously call, the now of Nirvana or the presence of Purgatory. In The Great Divorce, a fictional exploration of this idea of our choices in the view of Eternity, Lewis writes:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”
But it is Lewis’ book of essays in The Weight of Glory, that stun us into contemplation on this idea of heaven or hell as our ever present daily choice: In it, Lewis writes:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. … Next to the blessed sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” (The Weight of Glory, Lewis)
Besides my current “on steroids” fears of super-viruses and super-villains, there are other things to fear in one’s soul in the here and now. Instead of fearing a future hell, that lake of fire and pit of despair and place of torment, I fear instead that I will continue to exist in the now as nothing more than sinew and bones. I fear a death of becoming nothingness if I have lived a life that is full of the nothingness of the lies of selfish striving, and not the fullness of everything in truly bountiful, beautiful, generous being.
I fear that I will continue to think of my life and this world as stuck irrevocably in our human plight since Genesis, and that if I allow it and accept it without a fight, that “since from dust I was created, so to dust I will return” (Genesis 3;19) Oh, to me is there anything more fearful than to contemplate that I am soul-less by choice and that from molecules I was created to live as nothing more than hungry molecules, finally dying to the dust of molecules in death? I fear to continue living as I far too often have, and far too frequently do. Hell is the idea that I will die and be punished to live in something worse. But is it not more awful, more tragic, to never choose to live into the idea of being something better? Should we not more truly fear never knowing Heaven now, on this lovely, lovely Earth that we have been given to share with each other?
I fear death, but it is more and more a fear of never truly embracing the mindfulness of living, a kind of living that I have too seldom fully grasped and too seldom fully practiced. How can I fear a permanent end to my mind’s existence, if I have never truly been mindful while alive? How can I fear the stilling of my beating heart if I have never completely listened to the miraculous beat of that feeling organ, that organ that represents all that which we feel as humans, that life-force pumping away in our bloodstreams and symbolizing all that poets and prophets write of, that lovers dream about, and that mothers teach their babies to accept and expect? How can I be afraid of no longer seeing, touching, tasting, hearing, smelling if I have never enjoyed the heavenly sensuousness of my God-given senses? As the Good Teacher said, Oh, what does it profit me if I gain the world but I lose my soul in the process?
I do as all others, fear the cessation of what I may call “my soul” and the separation of myself from that “Otherness” which I may call My God. What has often kept me safe from despair and evil, that “Other Hope”, that Otherness as an “Eternally Existing Life-Force”, is only as real as I make it. It may finally ebb and never again flow back to the shores of that which I call myself. And yet, while I fear the cessation, how often as I live– how often do I choose– to stand on the shore and merely watch my life, rather than fling my life into the ebb and flow of this present ocean of existence as Goodness and joy in the journey? How often have I chosen as Lewis warns us against, to see my neighbor as “mere mortal” and not to see my neighbor as the “holiest of objects ever presented to my senses”?
But above, all I often forget all the love. I so easily remember the hurts done to me and the shame in the hurting I have done; harm done to me, and the harm I have participated in, to others and self; the painful silences of loneliness and my own pain-producing silences in the face of wrong and evil. I fear that one day, when my body dies, and everyone’s will, I fear that I will no longer love, nor have love. If Love is the strongest belief of all; the most real thing that exists anywhere in the Universe; the most unerring righteousness of all law and ethical philosophy; the greatest gift as well as The Giver; and if Love is the one thing that will remain forever, being real in an unknowable, mysterious Eternity, even if all else fades away; then all I truly need fear is the end of Love. And since that can never be; my fears are always at the mercy of Love. My fears can be conquered each day by the grace of my loving actions, by the very real presence of my loving others as I would love myself, and by the faith of my acceptance of a Love that has the power to defeat even the evils of death, and to live forever.
Today I can have Heaven on Earth. Today I can live an eternity in this moment in the destination of my choice. Will it be Heaven? Or Hell? Or will it be mostly the drudgery and soul-less-ness of dust? We are taught by The Master, to pray that we may have life today “on earth, as it is in a World of Perfection”. As another favorite guru of mine, Kathryn Schulz wrote, “The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t” (Being Wrong, Schulz).
All of my fears of the afterlife can be resolved when I put away my fears of tomorrow and live only for this day. But I also must continue to live for the future; not a future that is focused on myself, and the continuation of what I want, but focused on the future of that which is more than me and at the same time, makes me so much more than just a continuation of who I am and what I have today. I must choose today, between heaven and hell, but I also must make this day a “heaven on earth”, by not just enjoying for myself what I have, and not just “being all that I can be”, but by living with the knowledge and purpose and desire to create that world we were meant to live in as One. I must imagine a heaven on earth where all have what each needs, and the earth is returned to beauty, cared for as a child cares for an aging parent, with tenderness and love; and a world in which each child is my child, and where there is more than enough to share, and especially enough Love to share. Until every human on earth can live in the freedom and joy of that heavenly vision, then no one will ever truly live in it.
My soul is secure in The Presence of Goodness that is here and that is now. My soul is at peace in the hope that is alive even in the darkest moments, because hope is not a trophy earned, but a gift freely given. My soul is “in love” with the life that I have today and being “in love” with life makes me full of love to share freely with all others. My faith is an ocean flowing backwards and forwards in the Time I am allotted, but when I immerse myself in the flow, I am able to get a small, faint glimpse of the Heaven that lies on the Far Shore. It is my choice of where I shall live today, will it be that which is Good and causes good or that which is Suffering and causes suffering?
Today I will baptize myself in that river of healing – in that ocean of Love— and from the depths of almost drowning myself in the reality of my fears and hatreds, my hurts and harms, I will arise to that Reality which has no end, on earth, in heaven, or in that which I call my soul.
We are taught to pray for a world here and now “as it is everywhere else in the Cosmos – The Heavens” where Love and Light and Holy Joy exist as Reality Eternal. Heaven is Love and Love is available to all Life. Now. Here. Love is as small as the teardrop on someone’s face that I can wipe away. Love is as vast as an ocean which may obscure the Vision of The Other Shore, but is full of life and life-giving. And because Love is not a feeling, but an action, and an action that has the power to change even the worst feelings we humans may have – anger, hatred, and even fear –then Love is Heaven Come Down to us. As long as I can choose to act in the Love of this Moment, then I need have no fear. Love is Eternal, and if I love, so am I.
C.S Lewis had much to teach about the Judeo-Christian ideas and the imagined reality of heaven and hell. In his story about people having one last shot at choosing where to spend eternity, he has a prophet say to a seeker,
“Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.” (The Great Divorce)
When fear has us quaking or anger has us shaking, we must remember that it can be a God-send – a Heaven-sent, if you will—opportunity to let all that is wrong or broken inside of us, all that is untrue and un-straight, all that is hurting and hurtful – all of that “hell” to be shaken loose to fall away like so much sand in the mighty waves of the ocean. The Ocean of Love is unshakeable, and it is that which will remain in us and in our world and in our creations and from any of our meager accomplishments and that which will remain forever in those we love, including our very own selves. It is what will remain in earth, and in the heavens. And the reality of the heaven we seek is that heaven that we bring to this day.
If hell hath no fury like a heaven it scorns, then it is also true that heaven mocks our fears of death with the strength of Love. That Heaven which is among us, scorns the lies of hell, and scoffs at the weakness of hate. That Heaven is the most powerful thing in existence – Love.
All this will pass away, but Love – unshakeable, unerring, unfearful Love – that will forever remain. May our hearts lead our worldview and our love lead the world.
“Heaven or Hell?”
Hell is always in a hurry.
Hell is wrought with fury;
And the strength of it lies,
In the lies of hell,
those who choose it, tell.
Heaven is now;
For those living in Tao.
Around, within, above,
Forever in those who live Love.
~~ J. Tawel
May your Love, and The Love that can be yours today, dispel all your fears of living in the Heaven of this very moment. Together let us have faith in Love and faith in each other to bring heaven to earth. ~~ Jane
“There is no fear in Love, for Perfect Love, casts out all fear”. ~~From the Book of I John 4:18
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
~~ From the Book of Zephaniah 3:17
“The Kingdom of Heaven is closer than the brow above the eye, but man does not see it.”
Let your love flow outward through the universe. To its height, its depth, its broad extent, a limitless love, without hatred or enmity. Then as you stand or walk, sit or lie down, as long as you are awake, Strive for this with a one-pointed mind; your life will bring heaven to earth.” ~~ Gautama Buddha
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” ~~ Jesus