“High about the clouds.” This is our common image of heaven, of the Ascension. Heaven is in the clouds, up there in the cosmos; far away, like aliens on a distant planet. It’s almost like Jesus went through a Star Gate.
Of course, how can we be faulted for this limited imagery; both Christian and non Christian reflections have constantly been using the image of the clouds to show transcendence. It is a reality that is totally other, and what better image to use than the sky.
However, heaven is not a place. Jesus, the saints, our loved ones are not in some “place” far far away. God is not somewhere near a black hole or nebula. On the contrary, heaven is the most present, immediate, constant, and closest reality to us. Heaven is relationship with God; we are in heaven in so far as we are in relationship with God. Heaven is right here.
It is not heaven which is far away, it is us who are far away from heaven.
Let me clarify so that there is no misunderstanding. I am not discrediting the physical departure of our Lord. I don’t want to reduce it to an emotional expression, scripture says he was raised into the sky. This is the physical manner by which his leave was taken; the means by which the form of his relationship with us was changed. He is no longer visibly present. However, he also said; “I will be with you always.”
Heaven is a spiritual reality, but to say that something is spiritual is not to say that it is less real. We are to often approaching the word “spiritual” from images we get from movies and art. To say that something is spiritual is not to say that it is emotional, translucent, without substance, less real. No, spiritual realities are the most real. Heaven, that is relationship with God, is the only reality that truly matters, the only one that has substance, importance. It is not the spiritual realities that are less “real” but it is the ever changing material realities that are less real. Or, more accurately, they are only real in so far as they participate in spiritual realities, not vice versa.
We are meant to ascend with Christ; to live ever related to spiritual realities. It is not so much a physical ascension as a transformation in the way we relate to the world. A proper ordering where we see material realities as fulfilled when they reveal heaven to us.
However, ascension is not an indifferent detachment; not an escapism. It is not a lack of caring. On the contrary, materialism is the real escapism, the real avoidance. In fact, we can say that living everyday with the reality of heaven is to actually begin living, to begin caring.
Which comes to the other point; if we are to ascend we must descend. We must become involved, connected, incarnate. We must grow in humility, that is, living in the truth. They must increase and I must decrease. To live in community; communion with heaven and earth.