We shall sing on that beautiful shore
The melodious songs of the blessed;
And our spirits shall sorrow no more,
Not a sigh for the blessing of rest.
In the sweet by and by…
May the circle by unbroken,
By and by Lord by and by
There’s a better home awaitin’
In the sky, Lord, in the sky.
Who invented heaven and when and why? I imagine that it was a great comfort in the Medieval Days, when life was “nasty, brutish and short,” peasants toiling in the fields under despotic overlords, the plague sweeping through and such. I can see how it must have been the only glimmer of consolation to enslaved Africans in a day-to-day existence with not a single crumb of happiness or hope. (What did their Christian masters tell them? Were there plantations in Heaven where the masters continued to beat them accompanied by harp music? How would later white supremacists answers questions about Jim Crow in Heaven? Were there “separate but equal" accommodations there?).When things are not going well on this planet, wouldn’t it be pleasant to think that finally there will be melodious songs, spirits spared from sorrow and a better home awaiting? Makes sense to me.
As for myself, after another glorious day at The San Francisco School, I can report that my sweet by and by is right here and right now. No heaven with floating white-robed harp players could be more comforting or magnificent than my 8th graders learning ragtime pieces on xylophones, my 5-year olds mastering Miss Mary Mack and dancing joyfully and expertly around the room to Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Grow. No seat at the right hand of God could be more splendid that the old pink chair at Singing Time with a 100 children singing The Rattlin’ Bog.
All the cameras of the nation point to large overgrown bullies spouting lies and hatred and dragging us down to the lowest form of our human incarnation, but over in the Southeast corner of San Francisco, heaven is real and hope is touchable and wee folks run to the music class (and all classes) with joyful anticipation that everything that makes us whole and healthy and happy awaits them and leave with that promise fulfilled. Of course, heaven is not all obedience and perfection and 24/7 niceness. Kids and teachers get cranky, get feelings hurt and hurt other’s feeling, get frustrated, mad or even occasionally bored. There’s space for it all, but it’s a space that knows how to contain it and hold it and help us endure it and help us transform it and learn how to climb the chakra scale, move our base animal instincts up the ladder to joy, redemption and communal conviviality.
No need to wait until Death stalks you and grips your throat to rip you away from your loved ones to greet St. Peter (who, after a lifetime of waiting for some peace, may send you in the other direction). Just drop by my school, sit next to the kids and pick up a xylophone mallet. It’s all the heaven anyone could need.