June 18, 2024

Heaven

Do you ever think about heaven? I do.

I ask, knowing full well that heaven can be a loaded topic. Age-old questions loom large over its very nature. Is there a heaven? Where is it? What’s it like? Are there entrance criteria? Are dogs and horses allowed?

According to Wikipedia, heaven is a transcendent supernatural place where beings such as deities, angels, souls, saints, and venerated ancestors are said to originate, be enthroned, or reside. No mention of dogs, horses, or people like me, unless we slip in as lowly souls.

The Dictionary of the Episcopal Church describes heaven thusly:

Heaven has been equated with the beatific vision, and described in terms of perfect bliss and union with God.

I imagine heaven as an ethereal oasis for all souls.

Writes theologian Ilia Delio:

Each living being gives glory to God by its unique, core constitutive being… To be a creature of God is to be brought into relationship in such a way that the divine mystery is expressed in each concrete existence. Soul is the mirror of creaturely relatedness that reflects the vitality of divine Love.

I did not have to wonder whether or not Mango (Ilia’s cat) had a soul. I knew it implicitly by the way he listened to me talking or thinking aloud, the way he sat on my office chair waiting for me to finish writing so he could eat, or simply the way he looked at me—eye to eye—in the early morning, at the start of a new day. Soul existence is expressed in the language of love…

Love makes us something; it makes us alive and draws us in to the dynamism of life, sustaining life’s flow despite many layers of sufferings and disappointments… If God is love, then the vitality of love, even the love of a furry creature, is the dynamic presence of God…

——

When my daughter Erin was in sixth grade, I got her a horse for Christmas. Peggy got her first horse in sixth grade, as a surprise on Christmas morning so, being the fun-loving dad that I am, I got a horse for Peggy, too. Twice the fun, and who wants to ride alone.

In case you are wondering how I could afford two horses while paying off medical school loans and Erin’s orthodontist, all while opening my private practice, it’s simple really. I got the horses for free.

The unhorsed people reading this are likely thinking, “what a clever, thoughtful, resourceful guy. ” The horse people (of which I am now one) are smirking and shaking their heads, muttering “there is no such thing as a free horse.”

Erin’s horse, an aging and cantankerous Morgan called Po, was leased in exchange for his upkeep. Jericho, known affectionately as Jerry, was an injured off-the-track thoroughbred with nary a competitive bone in his huge, clumsy, sweet body. He finished dead last in both races of his storied career. Jericho came with a promise that we would take care of him and love him until the end of his days.

Having horses that you care for yourself is a tremendous commitment of time and resources. Twice daily feeding and watering (before and after school), grooming, exercising, mucking stalls, injuries at all hours. And when the water freezes in the barn or the electricity for the pump goes off, it means hauling water up a long, steep, snow-covered hill.

Our horses were part of the family and therefore the responsibilities were shared. When William was slated to ride a white horse called Patricia during his Barat, many incredulous friends asked if he had ever been on a horse. Little did they know.

When Erin went off to college, Po returned to his owner. Jerry remained part of the family for another 15 years. He lived to be 28, long past his ability to graze and chew grass effectively. Jerry whiled away the days in a giant open field with his best (horse) friend of 10 years. 

In the end, Jericho developed an infection in his hoof that resisted treatment and he needed to be put down. The vet met Peggy and Jeff, the farm manager, in the field. Jeff held Jerry’s old (horse) friend facing away while the vet (also named Jeff) peacefully injected Jerry who slumped to the ground in near silence, still chewing a carrot.

After a moment, Jeff the vet told the other Jeff to let his horse off the lead. Jerry’s old friend turned and walked slowly towards Jerry, dipping his head for a closer look. In an instant, his head was arched toward the blue sky as he let loose full-throated braying, followed by eerily anguished moaning whinnies. He galloped and whinnied in ever-expanding concentric circles, head to the heavens, lamenting Jerry’s departing soul.

Jeff the vet told Peggy that he has seen this before when the horses have been close. Peggy was at a loss for words, awestruck, and could only describe the whole occurrence as holy.

——

A peaceful oasis of souls, bliss in union with the perfect love of the Creator God, radiant light with a full spectrum of colors, a divine, eternal holy mystery.

I don’t know how heaven works. I will say that imagining what happens in heaven is fun for me, and to be boldly truthful, the exercise is oddly comforting. 

I do have one concrete wish for the heavenly existence of all souls. If you are reading my blog, Oh, Creator God, this is my fervent prayer. Let there be music in heaven. I’ll trust you to ban the soft rock that plays continuously in the dentist office. In heaven, we need music that rocks the soul. Music that is magnetic and mind-blowing and fun. Heaven needs to be fun. Wouldn’t you agree?

———

I’m curious. How do you imagine heaven?

I have decided to end the blog with this post, dedicated with love to Peggy, Erin, Hal, Rowan, William, Monika.

16 Comments

  1. Liz shifflett

    This is a beautiful post. Horses are amazing creatures and I am glad your life was touched by them. I hope heaven is one of peace and love. Thank you for sharing your beautiful writing.

  2. Anna Jesus

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, words, voice. There must be music in heaven, both that rocks the soul and gives peace. Thank you for writing. Thank you for being

  3. Karen Bowman

    Hi Jim! I think about heaven quite often as well. I’m convinced that there will be music in heaven! In recent years as I’ve with ALS, I have prayed to God many times that I will have a beautiful singing voice in heaven. It would be pure bliss for me to spend my days in eternity with song! … Thinking and praying for you, Peggy, and your children in the coming days.

  4. Sonia

    I’m laughing and crying at the same time. “Love makes us something” – your family is the best example of this. Thank you for the words… and god I hope there’s a Taylor Swift dance party in heaven.

  5. Pat Stenger

    Jim, as usual I throughly enjoyed your post. It was beautifully brilliant I often wondered if upon entering heaven will we be so overcome with the magnificent love and joy to be in the presence of God that is all we need? I certainly hope I can visit with all the family and friends including the three grandparents I never knew. I too hope all my past dogs are there to greet me including a couple goats that were our high school mascots that I cared for. Also I should include the few girlfriends that endured riding in my car with a goat!

  6. Jay Ogan

    Heaven is a place of comfort & care. And yes I believe a place for all souls, both animal & human. My experience as a minister has always been blessed when I had the privilege of being near a person reaching the end of their earthly journey. I also feel the presence of love that still remains from bonds of family & friends. The beauty & mystery of God enables both the souls of the departed & those that remain to have the ability to move on in peace. I love you Jim & have been blessed to be included with your family. Jay

  7. Renee Fuller

    When I think of heaven, all I think of is the opportunity to once again be with all the beautiful souls that have gone before me. I envision the chance to be there with them again, laughing and dancing and singing in a place where there’s no more pain and no more sadness, only pure joy. Thank you for sharing this post Dr. Ogan and for your beautiful and deep thoughts. It has been such a great experience to learn more about the creative side of you through this Blog. Yet another amazing facet of an amazing human being! Namaste

  8. Karen Ball

    Yes, let there be music. So much music. For me I hope for mixed tapes (or whatever angelic technology exists) made by our loved ones, like the many playlists Mike has made for me over the years, the ones we listened too as we drove aimlessly through the countryside after his diagnosis and we didn’t know how many days we had together. We didn’t have the words but we had music. Our music. Mike’s musical taste, as I’m sure you would appreciate too, showcases a vast array of genres from Prince’s little red corvette to “this must be the place” by the talking heads to “these arms of mine”by Otis Redding to “you’re the inspiration” by Chicago to “if it’s the beaches” by the Avett brothers and so on. I remember listening over and over to your and Peggy’s crowded house cd when I housesat for your wonderful family a couple of decades ago. Perhaps that is why Mike put “fall at your feet” on one cd. That is the beauty of music – it transports you to moments and people and eras and other worlds, maybe heaven. Thank you for sharing your words and your heart with us all of these years. We love you.

  9. Molly

    Jim, you will bring music to heaven. We’ll be listening.

    Love you.

  10. Peter, Nicole & Agustín

    Music is indeed truly special and transcendental – we handpicked a number of cherished songs to accompany us as Agustín arrived into this world. Each piece full of memories and affection for people, places and times of our lives. You are in our hearts, Jim – we love you so much

  11. Erickson Smith

    When existence as a human is confusing, or hard, or exhausting, animals, music, and the love of my friends and family are what keep me going. I have to believe that the best parts of this world must be in the next. When I am in the field studying wildlife, sometimes I forget that I have to go back to the office. Maybe heaven feels like never needing to leave the places you love, or never having to turn the music down or off, or never having to think about the next time you see those you love, because they’re already there.

    Katie and I are sending our love to you from Colorado, Jim. Thank you so much for sharing this blog with us.

  12. Erika Viccellio

    I imagine heaven as a place of reunion, renewal, beauty, and yes, music. And flowers. And water. And each person’s favorite things.

    I was thrilled to be told today that there was another post. Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to share your beautiful words and your ever present humor. And the beautiful photographs.

    You have been a blessing to so many in countless ways. I’m glad your words and wisdom will always be accessible through these archived blog posts.

    Jim, I’m in awe of all that you and Peggy have accomplished. Your advocacy has been life-changing for people.

    Your legacy will live on in so many ways and continue to inspire more people than you even realize.

    Sending love and peace and your favorite playlist on repeat 😊
    Erika

  13. Breyette Lorntz

    Dr Ogan,

    Thank you for helping me write the music with which I parent.

    Thank you for blessing us with your story, with your kindness.

    May love and peace be yours,
    Breyette

  14. Joyce Hanscom

    You may think your blog has ended but in reality is will go on and on to bless many. 🎶 I’m not sure what heaven is all about but if I go there some day, I’ll be looking for you at the concert. 🎵

  15. Matt Reynolds

    Dear Jim,
    Thank you for this beautiful and mystical post. I truly appreciate how you embrace that there is so much that we don’t know about what happens after life. But what I appreciate even more is how you acknowledge and reflect on the deep current that connects all living beings.
    I also am a lover of music and your blog post makes me think about Iris DeMent’s song “Let the mystery be”. May we all be so humbled and awed by the great mystery as you are. And I’m going to start working on my playlist for Heaven right now.
    Onward!

  16. Claude Coller

    I had the blessing of being Jim’s High School Band and Orchestra director and, as usual, learning far more from my student(s), than they ever learned from me. You are in Heaven, Jim, Because I Believe that God loves us all so very much that He brings us home to be with Him forever. You had the gift of music before I ever met you. You will be sharing that gift with your (and all of us) Holy Father forever. I’ll look for you.

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