Tag Archives: heaven

“…this feeling in being in one’s own place”

Willa Cather’s 1931 novel on Quebec and the last days of Governor General Louis de Buade de Frontenac (1697-1698) is not one of my my favorites, but there is this passage that pulls  at me.

She put the sled-rope under her arms, gave her weight to it, and began to climb.  A feeling came over her that there would never be anything better in the world for her than this; to be pulling Jacques on her sled, with the tender, burning sky before her, and on each side, in the dusk, the kindly lights from neighbour’s houses. If the Count should go back with the ships next summer, and her father with him, how could she bear it, she wondered. On a foreign shore, in a foreign city (yes, for her a foreign shore), would not her heart break for just this?  For this rock and winter, this feeling of being in ones’ own place, for the soft content of pulling Jacques up Holy Family Hill into paler and paler levels of blue air, like a diver coming up from the deep sea.

from Shadows on the Rock, Book 2, VII by Willa Cather

Day after day Cecile had walked about those streets trying to capture that lost content and take it home again. She felt almost as if she no longer had a home; often wished she could follow the squirrels into their holes and hide away with them for the winter.

from Shadows on the Rock, Book 5, IV by Willa Cather

It is not only Cather at her most eloquent and poignant, but it also bruises my soul with its beauty and love for a home never fully realized. Just as Cather endured homesickness for Virginia as a child when she was uprooted to the vast plains of Nebraska at age nine, so often did her characters feel the tug of nostalgia and the yearning for ties to land. In fact, land and location were primary characters in many of her novels. It did more than provide back drops to stories, but rather shaped the characters, sometimes even overshadowing them.  Antonia Shimerda from My Antonia, though born in Bohemia, was inextricably tied to Nebraska’s wheat and wind. Here, in the above excerpt, little Cecile born in faraway France, pulls the tiny, illegitimate Jacques through the snow on her sled, and knows she belongs to this “rock.” Quebec has claimed her.

There is a longing we all have to belong that will never be fully satisfied. We may feel awkward and foreign no matter where we go. Whether we fear leaving our hometown or whether we have an insatiable wanderlust, it all comes from the same place – a deep yearning for what is truly home. Last year I wrote about this here more at length using other favorite examples from literature.

Cather may not have recognized this as a spiritual quest, but we see her characters’ repeated struggles with belonging and place. One day, we will be there, never more looking around us, never more torn between belonging and being the “other,” never straddling coming and going. We will simply be in our own place. That place which has long been prepared for us. To which our hearts long. Home.

It was promised

“I am going there to prepare a place for you…I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the place where I am going.”

John 14:2b-4

 

 

Where I Belong

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Although I was predominantly raised in Arizona, I have lived in six states and five other countries.  It creates awkward pauses and half-truthful answers when someone poses the question, “Where are you from?”  To make matters worse, everyone seems to think my husband has a foreign accent.  Their guess is usually German or Russian.  Really, he speaks with a standard American accent, albeit in deep tones.  My response may be based on whether I suspect they are wanting to know the origin of my birth, the greatest number of years lived in one place consecutively, where my extended family currently live, or even more complicated, where my heart longs for when I hear the call for “home.”

A true sense of belonging is something that has not been with me for years now.  Yet I don’t say this full of self-pity, but with a better understanding about myself.  I don’t expect to ever feel that I am of any one location.  There are several “homes” in me.  Several places I long for until I may be there again, and then a different “home” may arise in my thoughts.

I have lived in the Midwest longer than in any one place, yet as much as I love that my family and I are here, it is not “home” in the sense that most people think.  For this reason I find it unusual that the classic novels I am particularly drawn to feature characters who possess an almost fierce loyalty to geography.  If I cannot share with them their love of country, soil, property and culture, where does my delight come from with these masterpieces?  Although their attachment to land and soil may seem unlike anything I have known, they appeal to me deeply in resonant tones.

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The following are examples of some of my all-time favorite classics.  As foreign as the idea of genuine belonging may be to me, it is not difficult to appreciate the loyalty and passion with which these people meet the world and create a sense of “home” and belonging.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.  While most readers are more familiar with the title character’s story thread, I gravitate more toward the story of Levin.  Written from the author’s own heart, Levin is an awkward aristocrat, sensitive, questioning, and more connected to his property and peasants than the parlor.  It is a beautiful scene Tolstoy paints with his words as the scythe moves  rhythmically, determinedly.

He thought of nothing, desired nothing, except not to lag behind and to do the best job he could.  He heard only the clang of scythes and ahead of him saw Titus’s erect figure moving on, the curved semicircle of the mowed space, grass and flower-heads bending down slowly and wavily about the blade of his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the swath, where rest would come…Levin lost all awareness of time and had no idea whether it was late or early.  A change now began to take place in his world which gave him enormous pleasure.  In the midst of his work moments came to him when he forgot what he was doing and began to feel light, and in those moments his swath came out as even and good as Titus’s.

pp.250-251

 

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O Pioneers! by Willa Cather details the struggle, loneliness and victories of a Swedish immigrant family in Nebraska, particularly of the headstrong and reliable daughter Alexandra Bergson.

When the road began to climb the first long swells of the Divide, Alexandra hummed an old Swedish hymn, and Emil wondered why his sister looked so happy.  Her face was so radiant that he felt shy about asking her.  For the first time, perhaps since that land emerged from the water of geologic ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning…The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.

p. 37

They went into the house together, leaving the Divide behind them, under the evening star.  Fortunate country, that is one day to receive hearts like Alexandra’s into its bosom, to give them out again in the yellow wheat, in the rustling corn, in the shining eyes of youth!

p. 173

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The Good Earth by Pearl Buck recounts the life of poor farmer Wang Lung in pre-revolutionary China.  It follows Wang Lung from the morning of his modest marriage day through gut-wrenching personal and political events as he and his family are swept along as victims.  Wang Lung, however, refuses to give up what he has slaved so desperately for; he will not lose his land.  Here, the soil, a plot of ground, is as much a character, a driving impetus for story arc and plot, as are Wang Lung, or O-lan or Ching.

The weakness of surrender in him melted into an anger such as he had never known in his life before.  He sprang up and at the men as a dog springs at an enemy.

“I shall never sell the land!” he shrieked at them.  “Bit by bit I will dig up the fields and feed the earth itself to the children and when they die I will bury them in the land, and I and my wife and my old father, even he, we will die on the land that has given us birth!”

Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric.  There is no other book on this list, nor arguably in literature that presents an inanimate object, an architectural structure, a man-made piece of the country as the main character throughout the novel.  Spanning centuries, the bridge emerges.  It is a part of the country, as is the Nobel Prize winner, Ivo Andric.

Hiding their emotion, they bent over the map which showed the future partition of the Balkan Peninsula.  They looked at the paper and saw nothing in those curving lines, but they knew and understood everything, for their geography was in their blood and they felt biologically their picture of the world.

p. 229

Everything appeared as an exciting new game on that ancient bridge, which shone in the moonlight those July nights, clean, young and unalterable, strong and lovely in its perfection, stronger than all that time might bring and men imagine or do.

p. 234

 

As momentous and thriling as these novels are, the sentiment behind them eludes me.  Yet not the desire.  Even though I will never labor over land, I see the beauty of these novels to be in their metaphors.  They are, for me, metaphors of a true home.  I feel blessed NOT to feel attached to any one place alone here on earth, because I have hope even more certainly in a place that has been promised to me.  Over there, far away.  There I will one day be “home.” For such a home the geography pulses within me because of His blood, and with His eyes I can feel the landscape of that world.

By faith [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country….he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God…they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one…

Hebrews 11:9a, 10, 16a

But our citizenship is in heaven…

Philippians 3:20a

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Talking FAITH and ETERNAL LIFE to your preschooler

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Several weeks ago S unceremoniously flushed a pet platy down the toilet.  He was fond of the little fish, though, and I could tell he was hoping for a replacement.  At breakast he announced to his brothers that “Mango” had died.  A expressed his disappointment, but G wanted to know when he would be coming back to life.  When we reminded him that when animals or people die they don’t come back to life, he protested.  “But Jesus came back to life.”  As if that settled the matter.  This is when I was reminded of the fact that preschoolers are still trying to make sense of the physical world around them.  Metaphysical issues are not comprehensible if you do not have a firm grounding in the basics.  In other words, to a certain extent, a miracle is not glorious or spectacular or joyful unless you first know the reality of pain and sorrow.

Below I have listed a few ideas on how to share with your preschooler your understanding of death and the afterlife, i.e. life with God. Two caveats before I begin: first, these ideas are shamelessly Christian in nature.  For those who do not believe in God, or in Jesus, specifically, please feel free to share how you comfort and reassure your child.  Second,  these are not meant to address little ones who have suffered real loss or who are experiencing emotional difficulties.  Instead, this is simply meant to describe how G and I (and his brothers) have talked about death, God and heaven at home as it comes up in natural conversation.  As the “Mango” illustration above shows, he hears about death in relation to pets, , insects, through stories, movies, etc. in everyday conversation.

How to talk to preschoolers about death when they “do NOT want to go to heaven.”

All three of my boys experienced this aversion to talking about heaven or living with God during a certain period in their preschool years.  As adults, we might imagine how wonderful such an existence will be.  To a child, however, this may just sound strange and scary.   Here is what we do:

1.  Listen and ask questions.  Their fear of death or heaven may not be a real worry, but more of a curiousity at this stage.  Likewise, it may mask another concern, like having to move to a different neighborhood, or not knowing when they will be able to see a family member from out-of-state.  Make sure you listen for the root of the concern.

2.  Stress happiness and family being together.  They need to know you all plan on being together, and they will not need to be without you.

3.  Speak openly without vague language.  Phrases, such as “when we rest in peace,” or “living in the clouds” will likely only confuse them.  Let them know that you, too, recognize the sadness of someone dying.  We all know someone whom we loved that has died.  Let them know that even though we will be happy to see them one day when we live with God, they will never return IN THIS life.

4.  Ask your child how he imagines heaven to be.  Give them the opportunity to explore the possible answers through their own speech and imagination.  Their theories just might astound you and inform your own theology.

5.  Allow yourself a few “I don’t knows.”  Admitting you are wrong or don’t know an answer may seem counterintuitive, particularly if you are the parent who wants to have all the answers, doesn’t it?  However, by opening up to the possibilities that we just might be living on the same planet in the afterlife with new and improved trees to climb, we are inviting our little ones to look forward excitedly to his promises.  It may even speak to the comfort and reassurance they crave at this stage.

In any case, do any of us have definitive answers?