Sight, Sound and Beyond

Posts tagged ‘Heaven’

The Tortoise

I have a confession to make.  I get a bit intimidated when I meet people who are younger than I am and are more successful than I am.  Yup, there you have it.  I will often meet someone younger than I am that has an amazing career, their own home, their own family, etc.  Feelings of inadequacy will often creep in and I will feel like an epic failure.

As you may already know, I was a late bloomer.  I started Kindergarten at the age of 6 instead of the typical age of 5.  Therefore I was the oldest in my class.  I was the oldest, but you would have never guessed it because I was behind on so many levels, especially socially.  My classmates in many ways were light years ahead of me.  Everything came so easily to them whereas I always felt like everything was a challenge.  Even, my own older siblings reached all their miles stones before I ever did.  I often felt quite defeated being the youngest child since both of my sisters were always such tough acts to follow.  I always thought that in time I would catch up with everybody and have my glory day when I could say: “At last, I have gotten further in life than expected.”

There is an old Italian proverb that goes like this:

Chi va piano va sano e va lontano.  Chi va forte va alla morte!

This translate to:

The one who goes slow, goes safely thus far.  The one who goes fast will die.

I often repeat this proverb to myself when I find myself falling behind in life.  It reminds me of the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  The hare was quick, but he was overly confident and fell asleep during his race against the tortoise.  As a result, the tortoise crossed the finish line first.   The story encourages one to believe that everything adds up in the end.  As you can guess, I truly identify with the tortoise because I move through life quite slowly.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I would not say that my entire life has been a complete failure.  Sure, it took me a bit longer than most to achieve things, but I got there eventually.  I may not have had numerous successes in my life like my contemporaries, but the successes that I have had, I attribute to the Lord.  For example, it is because of God that I stuck with music for most of my life.  Ironically, it was actually more difficult to quit making music than to continue doing so.  If that is not divine intervention, I don’t know what is.  Furthermore, I believe that God wanted me to be a musician to bring people closer to Him.  There is something about the arts that can take one to a new world of discovery.

So how does a tortoise like myself experience and view the world.  Well, when you move at a slow steady pace in life, you are better able to understand the world in a different way.  I have learned a lot by watching others pass by.  Let’s just say that as a tortoise you have time to think a lot because it takes long for you to reach your true destination.  If you are wondering where I am going, don’t ask.  I don’t really know.  I am just trying to follow where the Lord leads me, but often times it’s not very clear to me if I am actually following Him.

I often strive to live my life with as much detachment from the world as possible, focusing as much as I can on the wonderful living creations that God made.  I have found that attachment to man-made things has been the root cause of much of my own suffering in life.  1 John 2: 15-17 states

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world.   And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.

I try to live life keeping my eyes toward God and heaven, but all too often I fall and become distracted with things of the world.  I see the many hares speeding by me and I think to myself, “Aw man, they are so far ahead of me.”  They are certainly doing great things and receiving recognition.

It is very easy to view success through the eyes of the world when it comes at you from every angle.  Our culture is filled with celebrities who flaunt their wealth and talk about their million dollar contracts.  I am surrounded by people who are advancing in their careers or maybe even the founder and president of their own business.  All around me I hear of people buying houses, getting promoted, making more money, getting married, having children, etc. These things are obviously not bad in themselves.  In fact these are good things.  However, it seems that we celebrate what a person gains rather than what a person gives.  If a person has a spouse and children, they are viewed as successful compared to the single person who tries to make a difference in his or own community.  A person who has their own home is viewed as successful compared to the person who lives with parents or other family members.  A person who makes $120,000 a year is viewed as more successful than the person who makes a fraction of that, and a person is who is loved by the world is viewed as more successful than a person who is after God’s heart.

Since a young age, I was unintentionally taught that to gain is to be successful.  If you get good grades in school you are successful.  If you make friends you are considered successful and the more friends the better.  I can still remember my Sweet 16.  It consisted of me and two friends, not a real sweet sixteen like both my older sisters had.  My oldest sister had 35 friends at her party.  My other sister had 75.  Because of my lack of friends, I felt rather pathetic and had no desire to even think of having a Sweet 16 party.  However my two friends took it upon themselves to throw me a little surprise party to celebrate my 16th birthday.

Once I entered the work force the notion became this: the more money you earn, the more successful you are.  If you have people working under you, you are even more successful.  Then, there is the relationship status.  When people hear you are single, they think there must something wrong with you.  In my case, people either thought I was gay or entering religious life.  I must confess that even in my own family I often feel inadequate because I am the only child of my parents who is not married with children.  I just have two birds that most people could care less about.

Because of both my sisters and their marriages, my parents have grandchildren.  I have not added to the family at all unless you count my two 13 year old birds, but it is not the same obviously.  About a year ago, I recall a woman speaking to another woman about her children: “They are all married, thank God.”  Hearing that remark was quite hurtful to me.  If that is what makes a child successful in their parents’ eyes then I must be a huge disappointment to mine.  Not only am I not married, but I am totally fine without ever getting married.  My biggest focus in life is getting with God and improving my spiritual life.  I believe that God is the only source of true happiness and success.  To love and live in relationship with God is to gain everything.   To the world I may appear to not have much, but in my heart of hearts I know I am very rich.

The one thing that the tortoise had in the story that I wish I had was self confidence.  Despite being ridiculed by the hare for his slowness, he still maintained focus on the goal.  He accepted himself as he was and possessed much wisdom and mental strength.  How I wish I could be like that.  If there is anything I wish God to give me, I wish to gain is the wisdom and mental strength that the tortoise possessed in that story.   Perhaps someday, I will experience such a moment.  I sure hope so, but perhaps the greatest moment that I can wish to experience is that moment I leave this world and come face to face with almighty God.  How I wish to cross that finish line and enter into Heaven with Him for all eternity, and as I enter that wonderful kingdom of pure love and bliss, how awesome it would be to hear our Lord  say something like: “Well done my good and faithful daughter.  Welcome home!”

 

 

Animals in Heaven, One Catholic’s Perspective

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St. Francis Preaching to the Birds – Gioto di Bondone (c.1267-1337)

“We were taught that animals don’t go to heaven because they don’t have souls, ” my mother once told me.  She and my father had attended at 12 years of Catholic School.  My father also continued on to attend a Catholic College.  Then there is me who attended Public School and attended regular college, so what do I know right?

As a Roman Catholic, one of the things I struggle with the question of whether or not animals are included in God’s plan of salvation.  In other words, do they go to heaven or do they cease to exist all together after physical death?  I have received mixed answers from various sources.  Some people have told me that animals do not have souls because they lack free will.  Some, like St Thomas Aquinas, have mentioned that while animals do have souls, their souls are not immortal.  Therefore, when they die, their souls die as well.  Then there are a couple priests who have told me that, yes, animals do go to heaven because God is Love and thus He would never destroy that which He creates.

The thought of animals, especially my two avian companions, ceasing to exist after physical death is an upsetting thought for me.  I don’t know why I am so sensitive about it.  I am probably the only Catholic who prays for animals.  Animals have been a great service to us, providing us with transportation, clothing and food.  I pray for them all because like us, they are God’s creatures too.  Whenever I learn of an an animal companion who has passed away, I pray he or she has been reunited with God in Heaven.

One friend once said something like, “Oh I understand why you feel this way.  It’s okay to love your birds.  After all, you don’t have children.”  Perhaps, if I were married with children, I might sing a different tune about animals right?  Nah, I doubt it.

Another friend of mine said: “Well, you believe that your birds go to Heaven because you can’t stand the thought of never seeing them again after they die.”  I have to admit, she was partially right, but my ideas are not purely based on emotional attachment.

The Garden of Eden

In the bible, there are examples of God’s love for animals.  In the book of Genesis, God created everything: time, space, land and sea, vegetation, birds, sea creatures, land animals and human beings.  God created everything and everything was good.  Why was it good?  Everything was good because God created it.  It was not something that to be earned.  Prior to the fall of our parents, Adam and Eve, everyone lived in perfect communion with God.  You could say that all living creatures were in a perfect state of grace where there was no separation between God and them.  It is quite beautiful to think about, but this paradise didn’t last long.  After the fall of our parents,  the world became cursed and evil began to spread.  Thus we human beings became separated from God.

I imagine Heaven to be an extension of the Garden of Eden, which was meant to be an eternal paradise for God to live among all creation in perfect harmony.   If this is how it was in the beginning, why would God not want to include all creation in His kingdom yet to come?  The book of Revelations tells us that there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth.  Surely at the very least, our non human brethren would be included in the New Earth.  Wouldn’t you think?

Noah’s Ark

Everyone is familiar with the story of Noah, the guy that was chosen by God to build an ark or large boat for his family and himself to escape the great flood that God was going to send in response to humanity’s wickedness.  Because of Noah’s righteousness, He and his family would be spared.  Oh and wait, quite a few others were spared as well.  Who else came along for the ride in Noah’s ark?  Animals of course.  Remember that?  God told Noah to gather two of every kind.  This is quite interesting don’t you think?  God can create anything out of nothing.  I mean that’s how the earth came about right?  He could have easily told Noah to forget about the animals and just gather his family.  I mean after the flood ended, God could just recreate new animals right?  Why would God include the animals to be part of Noah’s ark?

This story illustrate God’s mercy and saving power for not just human beings but for all creation.  God is a lover of all creation.  His love is inclusive, not exclusive.

Someone once told me that animals reflect the innocence of God.  Sure, they don’t have a free will as we human beings do, but animals have something that we as human beings lack: the ability to live in the present moment.  Animals don’t fret about the future or get stuck in the past the way we do.  They live completely in the present moment and to continuously live in the present moment is to truly be in the presence of God.

St. Francis of Assisi

Why did St Francis address animals as his brothers and sisters?  Why did he treat them with such respect?  St. Francis viewed animals as part of God’s family.  He said of animals:

“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission — to be of service to them wherever they require it.”

It is his love and respect for animals that makes him one of my favorite saints.

I had Sunny and Nikki blessed the day prior to the feast of St Francis to confirm their membership of God’s Family.  I got a lot of laughs from people but it felt like the right thing to do.   To learn more about Sunny and Nikki’s blessing read “To Bless or Not to Bless”

Why Do I Want Sunny and NIkki to Go to Heaven?

When you love someone, even a small bird whose head is smaller than your eyeball, you want only the best for him or her.  Many cannot understand what it means to love a small creature like a small parrot.  It is really not that much different from loving a human being.  Sure they do not have our intelligence, but they have the integrity, innocence and curiosity of young children.  Living with Sunny and Nikki is like living with two permanent two-year-old children!

Sunny and Nikki will both be 13 years old next year, and I love them more now than I did when I first adopted them.   I often include them in some of my spiritual practices, which include reading passages from the bible.  This probably sounds ridiculous to many, but in Chapter 16, verse 15 in Mark’s Gospel Jesus did say:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news] to the whole creation.”

Well, the last I checked, the whole of creation included birds.

Anyway, I digress from the question at hand.  Why do I want Sunny and Nikki to go to Heaven?  I want the best for them, and what could be better than to be in eternal and perfect communion with God?

My wish for the girls going to heaven does not primarily stem from my wish for them to be with me, but rather to be well taken care of by God and be included in His plan of salvation.  I have had dreams about what it will be like after I die.  The dream is set in the future, and I do get to heaven.  In the dreams I do see those who have gone before me: family, friends and the animals I have known and loved.  For a short moment I see the girls.  All my loved ones are there, but they are not the main focus.  My main focus is being with God, the source of all Good and who is Love.  I believe that when we go to Heaven it will be exactly like attending Mass.  We will be in attendance as one family, which includes the angels, saints, and our non human brethren, but our focus will be on the one who has created us.  He is the reason that we love in the first place.

At the end of the musical, Les Misérables, a memorable line is sung:

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

To love anyone, including something as small as bird is to know the love of God.  Like animals, we human beings are creatures.  We are all of God’s creatures and compared to His infinite power and love, we are but a speck of dust, but like I love two little birds, God loves all his creatures both great and small.

On Being Special

you-are-special_2500_1024x768I have a confession to make. Quite often in my life, I feel the need to be special. Yes, at my age, I still dream of being special and influential. I dream of being loved or just being liked by other people. I still enjoy being praised for a job well done and yes, I even enjoy a complement. I also enjoy receiving physical affection from those I care about. Children are not the only ones who like to be kissed, cuddled and fussed over.  I am very fortunate that Sunny and Nikki give me little feathered cuddles, beaky kisses. and greet me with happy chirps when I walk through the door.

When I was a child, I would dream about being liked and recognized as a great person.  I was the only one in my class who had both a hearing and visual impairment, but I wanted to show everyone that I could still be great despite my physical challenges.

As I teenager, I dreamt about being a hero and making a difference.  I am sad to admit that my motivation for greatness was for my own personal pleasure.  I always felt like I was standing in the shadows and I wanted so badly to stand in the light. I wanted to be valuable and viewed myself as a kind of diamond in the rough.

I think all of us want to have an interesting story to share with the world.  I did and a lot of times I still do. I am the youngest of three girls and my eldest sister was often hailed as a legend and inspiration.  Like me, she has a hearing and visual impairment, but the oldest child always goes first and she did everything before me.  I grew up hearing about how wonderful she was from teachers and would be greeted with phrases like “I don’t know you, but I know your sister.  She is a amazing.” After hearing that, I wanted to be amazing too.

In my twenties, I become more competitive trying to make my mark. It was during my twenties when I become very serious about my music and wanted to be recognized as a pianist and composer. I wanted to get ahead, and I still wanted so much for others to like me. I have learned that getting people to like me or what I do isn’t that easy.  However, ticking people off is a piece of cake!

Even at the age of 34, I sometimes still find myself wishing to be special and when this happens, I stop dead in my tracks because I don’t want to get caught in that vicious cycle again. To run after this idea of being special is foolish because while we think that achieving it will bring us piece, it really does not. It is a trick, an illusion, much like many of the commercials we see on television that convince us to buy stuff we really do not need.

Yes, we all experience this need to be special at some point in our lives. Being special is linked to wanting to be loved and everyone wants to be loved. But I have noticed how the things of this world change and if we cling to the things of this world, we will never find peace.  We must seek something or more specifically Someone who is unchanging and remains constant in our lives and this Someone is beyond this physical world.

It is amazing how many people have come in and out of my life and how my dreams and life circumstances have changed throughout the years. As a child I dreamt of being accepted and liked by everyone. As a teen and as a young adult, I dreamt of challenging the conventional ideas held by our society and making a difference in the world. And now as I emerge into a fuller adulthood, my goal is be to know, love and serve God and to demonstrate Christ’s love through acts of kindness and service to others.  My dream is to become a saint and to go to heaven.  To achieve these things will be very difficult, but in the end it will be well worth the effort.

I often still recall the words my mother said when I was a young: It all adds up in the end. Yes, God has last word in the end, not the world and for the last couple years, I have been asking our Lord for His much needed assistance:

Lord, help me to see myself as you see me, not as the world sees me and help me to become the person that You created me to be.

Perhaps we all should stop concerning ourselves with being special to the world and focus more on the reality that we are already special to God. We are all so small compared to Him and yet He loves us so much. Compared to the infinite power and wisdom of God, we are a bunch of airheads and yet He loves each one of us. To him we are so precious, so precious that He came down into our own existence and died for every one of us. If that cannot make each one of us feel special, I do not know what else can.  It is the perfect love story.

After leaving this world, I wish to be remembered, recognized and loved by none other than the one who is responsible for my existence in the first place, the one who died for me so that I could live forever with Him. I hope that what I do in this world does not matter so much to those who live in this world, but to He and all those who live in Heaven because in the end, that is where I want to be.

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