A few nights ago I sat, mesmerized, along with Steve and my nephew Andrew, as we watched the violinist Midori float above the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. To say she ‘performed’ would be like saying that nectar performs when it flows freely and sweetly from the honeycomb. Midori, elegantly draped in a demure, champagne-colored gown, had the look of a tiger in her eyes in one moment, the look of a dove the next, as she moved with her instrument – bowing, bending, stretching, reaching – melting us, making us blush for her fully engaged passion and precision. I am positive that many of those notes, in the way she brought them, have only been heard in heaven until that moment. The Colorado Symphony is a unit of tremendous artists, and for that glorious Mendelsohn sonata, the symphony humbly faded into a mist; became a tiny troop of street musicians, dutifully providing a foundation from which Midori soared to the seventh heaven. She took us with her, only to come back to earth with music saturated with that place.
This morning, nursing a cold in my flannel pajamas, I sat down with some steaming tea to watch a recording of the inaugural Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. I was not prepared – at all – for what occurred. Once again I was mesmerized; transfixed. Like many, I love this immensely talented guy (his imitation of Neil Young, while singing the lyrics from Willow Smith’s ‘Whip Your Hair’ is brilliant and my favorite go-to when I need a laugh). I suppose you could say the show was simply good entertainment. The reality is – it was the fullness of the hearts of the people on this particular show that took me to the threshold of heaven; they actually jolted me into the presence of God.
Jimmy Fallon was kind when he honored his parents in the studio audience, and even more so as he spoke of his wife and six month old daughter, but it was his eyes, unable to hide his gratitude, that began my undoing. I was warmed at the humble appreciation he expressed at the privilege of walking in the footsteps of Jack Parr, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno. And as star after star came to support him, the caliber and peer appreciation of his craft became apparent. Will Smith named it: it is Jimmy’s heart that has us watching.
The deference everyone showed each other; the genuine enjoyment they had of each other, undid me. Jimmy Fallon enjoying his dad in the audience, Will Smith enjoying Jimmy Fallon’s heart and saying as much, Jimmy drinking in the acoustic rendition of Ordinary Love, and then Bono genuinely, spontaneously and humbly inviting Jimmy’s band to join, and watching Roots join in without skipping a beat. They were having so much fun honoring each other. It was a taste of heaven. It came through folks who have allowed the weight of their substance, art and hearts to be unleashed, without shame. It came through Bono’s un-tethered offering of potent words, but even more through his humble posture. It came through glorious men drinking in the power of other glorious men. There was deep pleasure. Suddenly, there in my pajamas, the veil was pulled back, the threshold was slight, the corridor thin, the oxygen in our family room was filled with the atmosphere of heaven. It came through gratitude, humility, laughter. It came through the kind of beauty I glimpse in church occasionally on the face of a dancing child.
Ten weeks ago when my dad left this earth, it was just the two of us in the room – my dad and me. Many of my family members who had been keeping vigil were out for the evening at my niece’s college graduation. My sister and her family were away on a trip they planned around the anniversary of their son’s death. Some just could not come. Some did not come because the bond with my dad was not fierce enough to beckon. All of that was okay.
A few days before his death, dad had what hospice folks call the ‘surge of life’ – a time of cogent surfacing, and though he could not speak there was engagement and he was able to hear and express many rich goodbyes via the phone. After the surge, though, he was once again incoherent, unable to speak, and he entered the true process of dying. I call my dad a Greatest Generation’s Genius, because that is the truth. He added his intellect and courage to the band of scientists who helped contribute to the ending of WWII. He was a scientist, through and through. Watching him near death was fascinating in that regard. He began to see the other side. He did not have an explanation for the kind of beauty and freedom waiting there, but I sensed him delighting in formulas and fulfillments of every conceivable arrangement. Literally, for days, I watched his eyes as he slowly worked it all over in his understanding. For this man, heaven would be most fully felt in his keen mind and the deep enjoyment of engaging it. And yet, I could see affection beyond any formula was coming for him.
On the afternoon of his death, I sat quietly in the corner of his room. All the singing and praying and words had ceased, and it was very still. I was working on something on my computer, when out of the corner of my eye I saw that dad was very slowly – as in molasses slowly – reaching his arms, both of them, toward the sky. His eyes had opened wide and were looking straight up– he was seeing. I watched breathless for almost twenty minutes as he slowly reached, and reached, and reached, and puzzled, and saw.
After this long while, I came around to his bed and loudly asked him, “Dad… is what you are seeing beautiful?” This man who had been unresponsive, slowly, oh so slowly, nodded his head. “So are you seeing mom?” No response. “Are you seeing MARY (my mother’s name; his wife of 65 years)?” Another long, slow nod. “Are you seeing Dick? (my brother)” Slow nod. “Are you seeing Ryan (my nephew)?” Slow nod. “So you are seeing Jesus, aren’t you, dad?” My father broke out into a boyish grin that I am not sure I ever saw on his face while he lived his long 92 year-old life.
Of course we anticipate that heaven will be experienced, in part, in such a sacred space. The veil can be oh so thin, the mist clears away and we see. We’ve all heard of near death experiences. Of course we see – and even believe – in the corridor between here and there.
But that corridor is thin often. Midori often. Jimmy Fallon often. Birdfeeder often. Holding your laughing child often. An honest conversation toward forgiveness or an act-of courageous-intervention-in-the-life-of-a-vulnerable-woman often. The Kingdom is here more than we know.
We must open our eyes, open ourselves to the moments when the true place of Life comes crashing onto our shores. The Celtic Christians spoke of these as liminal spaces, those moments when we actually touch the truest reality there is: the beauty of God’s restored Kingdom, suspended in a place where theological timelines are struck mute. I believe with all my heart that these are the truest windows into belief.
We should not be surprised. Jesus prayed for it, and taught us to pray this way, after all:
Our Father, who art in heaven, holy is your name. Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
The Apostle Paul (Jewish scholar, Pharisee, hater and murderer of Christians who became a fiercely grateful friend and follower of Jesus) wrote to Roman Christians about this very thing because they were making the veil more complicated than it needs to be. He said:
“The message is very close at hand;
it is on your lips and in your heart.
And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
All I can say is: I confess. Of course I confess! How can I not be saved a thousand times over when the kingdom comes to me time and again, and usually not in the way I predict. I confess that Midori, Bono, Jimmy, and my dad have all made me a believer again in the resurrection. Life comes barreling through the mist. The message is close at hand; the kingdom has come, on earth.
Jan Meyers Proett has been a counselor for over twenty years and is the author of The Allure of Hope, Listening to Love, and Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me. She has worked on behalf of exploited women internationally, but also loves the trails of Colorado, where she lives with her husband, Steve. Follow Jan at her Facebook author page, and her blog.