But today - the 25th conversation between Fr. Tischner and journalist Jacek Żakowski looks at Heaven. Fr. Tischner begins with St. Augustine's assertion that our restless hearts all seek peace in God. The key question, says Żakowski, is whether "living in heaven we maintain there - what's more - we rediscover - our true identities - or do we dissolve into some expanse?"
This is, I think, crucial to the question of the afterlife. Does our individual consciousness persist after physical death? One thing is scientifically certain - the atoms of which we are composed will be recycled. This is a process that begins before birth. Atoms, molecules, enter us, as air and water and food, then stay within us for some while (apparently hardly any molecules in our bodies has been with us for more than nine years), then out again - with exhaled air, excreta, urine, tears, sweat, cut hair and nails, shed skin, spilt blood, all carrying away from our bodies molecules, atoms that were once an intrinsic part of us. The rest, the atoms that comprise us as life departs from our bodies, will likewise find a way back into the universe. And these atoms have been around for billions of years; they have been inside stars, they have travelled across space to be a part of us now, this instant in time, as we read these words. And these atoms will persist. Do they carry anything other than mass and energy? Science doesn't yet know.
But back to individual-vs-whole. The catechism says that "heaven is the happy community of all those, who are perfectly united in Christ." But are humans ready to be united in a community? Their very nature is competitive. they dream, they strive, they plot conflict; they want to be winners; but for every one champion there are scores of losers. Striving for happiness is all to often in our lives at the expense of others. So how will happiness look in heaven?
Fr. Tischner talks of a tailor-made heaven, according to one's own vision; an aesthetic heaven, infinitely pleasing to the aesthete's sensibilities; the catechism uses the word 'harmony'; 'heaven is where an infinite and eternal harmony reigns'. But the catechism's vision of heaven is not so much an aesthetic one as a philosophical one, says Fr. Tischner. "There will you find truth. Those who strove all their lives to find truth, will finally discover how it really was," he says.
"In one lifetime?" I wrote in the margin. One lifetime of being good, avoiding doing bad things, and bingo! your consciousness, maintaining its current, earthly identity, will get to know the truth of everything? And while Fr. Tischner and Jacek Żakowski go off on a slight tangent to consider heaven as a Góral wedding feast, I find myself pondering my notion of heaven. Namely, its being the Memory and Understanding of All Things, Ever, Everywhere. Being IN God rather than WITH God. Part of a continuous whole. Being everyone that ever was; having their consciousness. Being as concerned about everyone as you currently are about yourself. This is how I see heaven - merging as one into God, pure and total understanding and will.
Fr. Tischner talks of the foundations of heaven being built on earth, heaven being the continuation of earth (presumably also the continuation of life on other planets bearing sentient life). "Here on earth the miracle of turning evil into good... Heaven is the work of God and man," he says.
Żakowski asks whether there can be a heaven in which there is happiness without hope. "Indeed, can there be perfect good without hope," he asks, posing a very philosophical question here. Fr Tischner replies quoting St. Paul: 'Faith passes, hope passes, love remains'. Hopes have been fulfilled. Hope has melted into love. 'Neither the eye has seen, nor the ear has heard, that which God has prepared for those that love Him'. Heaven grows with the measure of our love today. Our loves on this earth undergo various trials. After every trial, love deepens, grows. Our love is a down-payment on heaven. Heaven does not appear from nowhere. We have something of heaven within us. Something that we pass on to others. We can be a little bit of heaven to one another. Unfortunately, we can also be a bit of hell."
And so, with 'hell' being the final word in the chapter about heaven, we reach the end of the book; a final paragraph ends with an admonition to read the catechism. Nothing in the chapter about hell (more in the catechism indeed; which says that hell is the abode of those 'deprived of the vision of God').
I can partially buy into that metaphor, though eventually, though it take some of our consciousnesses longer, we will all merge into God as we grow towards ultimate understanding. Though not in one lifetime. It's not a one-shot game; it takes an eternity to grow from zero to one.
This time last year:
A wee taste of Edinburgh
This time three years ago:
First long bike ride of the season
Life returns to Jeziorki
Early spring dusk