Amongst the gifts my parents purchased for me was a beautiful writing journal entitled 642 Things to write about. And just as it proclaimed to be, the journal contained 642 writing ideas and scenarios with which to activate and entice my writing tendencies and turn them into creative and bizarre narratives.
Instantly I began to flip through the journal enthralled by each and every writing suggestion, especially the more bizarre ones that asked me to consider and pen 'the perfect crime', 'a teacup's perspective' and 'an ode to an onion'.
Yet amongst these totally quirky ideas stood some truly profound writing scenarios that demanded me to explore my deepest fears and instances of doubt, sadness and shame. These writing suggestions asked me to me delve into and explore parts of myself that I wanted to keep hidden from others, especially myself.
After attempting several stories I flipped the pages before being confronted by my next creative expedition…describing heaven.
As a Christian I thought this writing task would be simple. I didn't have any allusions or cartoonish conceptions of heaven; there were no floating clouds or golden harps or even togas. I knew that heaven was not that simplistic, featureless or even that dull.
Rather heaven, or at the least the one I fantasied and dreamed about was a place unlike any other. It was spectacular and glistening and delightful. As a child I would bombard my father with questions about heaven, such as would I get my own house in heaven or could I have a pet lion and how would I look compared to my earthly form.
Whilst my perceptions of heaven have broadened somewhat since childhood (particularly in regards to the pet lion), I have sadly lost my youthful enthusiasm and visions of heaven.
Instead adulthood has created a warped vision of heaven, which has largely manifested into a place that heightens my fear of dying and of the unknown. How tragic is that!
Re-Configure, re-Imagining and Reconnect
To reconfigure, re-imagine and reconnect with the place that God has been preparing for his followers, I flipped through one of my favourite childhood storybooks, Someday Heaven, by Larry Libby.
In a section entitled, Will there be room for me? Libby writes that "the bible says Jesus created everything in just seven days. He created every kind of bird, every kind of fish, the deep blue oceans, the tall, snow-topped mountains, the vast green forests, the rolling fields of golden grain, the mighty rushing rivers, every star that sparkles in the night…AND so many worlds and wonders and amazing places scattered across the wide, wide miles of space that we could never even get a tiny peek at all them in a billion years".
He did all of that in seven days! And as Libby states "And He has been working and working and working on our new home in Heaven for…how long? Almost two thousand years. Oh, what ever could it be like?"
In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan explores the wonder and overwhelming experience that heaven would have been for both John and Isaiah; two prophets who personally experienced glimpses of heaven. Both John and Isaiah saw God in his complete glory; a sight that was utterly overpowering and almost indescribable. Indeed after reading John's account of heaven Chan admits that he "would probably pass out" at the terrifying sight of these beings in heaven; beings that had six wings and bodies wholly covered in eyes.
So after reading these passages I again contemplated the writing assignment that asked me to describe heaven. How could I possibly describe heaven and our Lord in any way that could possibly do it justice? As Francis Chan states "imagine the most stunning sunset you've ever seen. Remember the radiant colors splashed across the sky? The way you stopped to gaze at it in awe? And how the words wow and beautiful seemed so lacking? That's a small bit of what John is talking about in Revelation 4 as he attempts to articulate his vision of heavens throne room".
Although I intended to write a creative response to all 642 writing ideas in the journal my parents purchased for me in America, I will refrain from exploring the "describe Heaven" writing suggestion.
Although I am not averse to imagining heaven, I feel that any narrative I create or conjure would only ever be a cheap and lifeless imitation of the real thing. However I now realise that my perception of heaven changes quite a lot as I have grown up. I lost that child-like ability to fantasise and anticipate heaven with immense joy and ecstasy.
Like the prophets Isaiah and John, who both gained glimpses of heaven, I know that heaven will astound and delight and shock me in every fibre of my being. And I very much look forward to experiencing that one day.
Alison Barkley lives in Newcastle and is a post graduate student at Deakin University.
Alison Barkley's archive of articles may be viewed at: www.pressserviceinternational.org/alison-barkley.html