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Hell or heaven  we make our own
by Rev. Howard Ray Carey

It is reported that Mark Twain, on being asked what he thought of heaven and hell, replied, ''I'm not going to tell you ---- for I have friends in both places.'' I could go him one better, for I have had experiences in both places; or rather, experiences in both such levels of consciousness.

For surely it is high time to graduate from the outgrown concept of heaven as an area 12,000 furlongs square, set apart somewhere in space. Likewise we need to shake ourselves free of the superstition of hell as an inferno, partitioned off in subterranean space where we are in danger of being fried for all eternity, having been sentenced thereto by an external deity. To this hell we are supposedly sent as penalty for some such offense as failure to be baptized in a Christian ceremony, or failure to accept the brittle theology set forth by some Christian churches. Let us take a look at these two familiar concepts: first, the notion of hell, and then of heaven. One Greek word which is translated as 'hell' in our English Bibles is 'gehenna', said to be derived from 'ge-hinnom'. Gehenna, we are told, was a smoldering garbage heap outside Jerusalem, the holy city. It was there that cast-off decaying matter continued to smolder and burn (''where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.'' Mark 9:46)

Perhaps this is a fitting symbol for the smoldering fires of resentment, hostility and hatred which we coax into flame within us when we choose to live outside the holy city of divine love and grace. Then later, when we come to face our responsibility for creating this smoldering mess of hostility or hatred, the fires become much more intense and painful, taking the form of acute burning remorse.

The other term often used to describe the hellish experiences we create for ourselves is the word 'darkness'. Jesus is said to have described this condition as 'outer darkness', where ''there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'' (Matt. 8:12) I believe it is one of the Masters, probably DK, who points out that men turn their backs to the light and walk in their own shadows, then complain that it is dark.

How true this is. The shadows can be pretty deep. The darkness we create for ourselves is only the absence of the light on which we have turned our backs. So the darkness is but an illusion. Yet I know by experience that the fears, anxieties and worries we conjure up can seem very real and threatening. But if we make the decision, we can turn around, face the light, and walk in its radiance. It really is a matter of choice.

Easter, which we experience as a particular day in April, is a prime symbol of this profound change. And we need to realize that without waiting for the calendar to present us with another day called Easter, we can right now walk out of our little self-made tombs of darkness.  All that is needed is to invite the angels of our better nature to roll away the heavy stone of our distrust we have so carefully placed there, then summon the courage to walk out into the light of love, joy and divine purpose, which is heaven indeed.

As we do this, one big surprise may await us. For while the hell we have fashioned in our consciousness is our own private hell, the heaven we dare to claim ---- if it is real ---- is not separate or private at all. For it has no walls of separation, no boundaries or outer limits. It is the experience we enter when we are ready to love all beings, to share all resources and to walk the path of unselfish service. It is the blessed experience of oneness with all.

As Sai Baba has said: ''Through Love you can visualize Truth. Love God and you see God in every creature.'' (Sai Baba Avatar, p. 184)

And in Christ's Message, while not using the words heaven and hell, He clearly sets forth the sharp contrast between these opposite levels of experience as He asks us:

ëëWhere are you going, My friends?  Are you with Me or forever against Me and your brother; for My Task is to show you that the way for man is the sure Path of Love.  Through Justice and Sharing, that Love, My brothers, will become manifest.   Take heed, then, of My words.

ëëLook within and find the readiness to share.  Remove from your shoulders the weight of guilt and suffering.  Remove forever the curse of separation, of loneliness and fear.  Take heed, My friends, and do this ---- do this now.   Know that My Love will support you.  My Law will guide you.  My Teaching will show you the future for all men, a future bathed in the light of Living Truth.   Take Me to your hearts, My friends, and know Me as a brother. Manifest that which I am and recreate the  world. Lift yourselves by My Love into the lap of God.'' (Message No. 117)

Let us together walk with joy in this heavenly way, with the Christ and all our brothers and sisters.

This article is a chapter from The Joy of Christ's Coming This book by the late Rev. Howard Ray Carey was published by Share International Foundation in 1988. It is not currently available in hard copy form. Copyright © Share International Foundation.  Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard version unless otherwise indicated. 

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First published April 1999, Last modified: 15-Oct-2005