I’ve been writing about emotions and the freedom we have to welcome emotions as messengers that guard our wellbeing. But new questions arise. What is the relationship of emotions to spirituality? Can we talk about spirituality in as concrete terms as we talk about emotions? The week between our celebration of the Ascension of the Lord and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the perfect time to consider these questions.
Luke recounts the Ascension event in Acts 1: After Jesus’s so-called post-resurrection appearances, he was lifted up into a cloud and disappeared into heaven. This is a signal event in our memory of the Jesus story that points toward the coming of the spirit on Pentecost. On its face, this ancient language—lifted up, the cloud, and even the word heaven—leaves me nonplussed. To my 21st Century mind, this word picture doesn’t make sense. To a person with a scientific, urban, secular mindset, Jesus just seems to disappear without explanation.
Our founding father and mothers would not have been nonplussed; they would have been awe struck. For them, heaven—the place from which God ruled—was above. As Jesus’s followers were to make disciples of all nations, Jesus needed to be available everywhere to everyone. In the world of the early church, heaven was just such a place; even though Jesus had disappeared, he was in heaven and thus available to the whole world.
Remember, this story tells a truth: Jesus and His Father Abba are everywhere and available to everyone. What story might tell the same truth in a way that could be heard by people with a scientific, urban, secular world view? For me, the answer was as simple as turning the picture 180 degrees. Up isn’t about disappearing into the sky or climbing a ladder to heaven. Up is about going inside ourselves and discovering that God is what animates our entire being. Down is about entering the world and discovering that God is the creator and sustainer present in all that is. Up means in and down means out.
This is a revolution in thought that points to a new vision of God: God is the name we give to the creating, animating power that is embodied in all that is, including ourselves. Sit quietly and consider this image. Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore the implications for such an image of God and Heaven for our sense of ourselves as spiritual beings.