Heaven or Hell?

Posted by Scott Foster on

So I chuckle as I write that title out because this probably isn’t going in the direction you’re assuming. Not even close. Heaven? Or Hell?

Presbyterians. One of the things we don’t do very well, and have never done very well, is talk about our spirituality. We always kinda cache our spirituality in really vague terms. Even when it comes to prayer—the most basic of Christian practices. It’s just not that often you’ll hear someone say, “I need to pray about that.” Or, “I have been praying about…” In practice, it happens for sure. But we don’t hear a lot about it—not that often, anyway.

All that said, when it comes to spirituality, I’m actually happy to talk about it. I do talk about it. A lot. It’s kinda my job to talk about it. Promote it. While I’m probably not the gentlest person you know about most things, I do take a gentle approach when it comes to spirituality.

I’m sensitive to “Presbyterian spirituality” which is very chill in most cases. It’s so chill that most Presbyterians can bristle at the first blush. This is one of those things you learn early as a Presbyterian minister. You don’t be shy about it, but you gotta be chill about it.

And personally, I have a pastor’s sense and care for my own spirituality, for my practices. I have shared before that I have a daily routine. Never fails. Every day. Time with God. It’s how I start my day. Quiet time. I pray for you. I pray for our church. Every. Day. I read the Daily Lectionary Bible verses. Oswald Chambers (who I quote a lot). Phyllis Tickle. J. Phillip Newell. And I read Richard Rohr.

Fr. Richard Rohr is a highly progressive Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you read any progressive theological articles or books at all, Richard Rohr is often quoted and a highly sought after conversation partner. Only within the last couple years, I learned he does a daily devotional and I LOVE HIM! Turns out, a number of my colleagues across the denominational lines love him, too.

So—he has really been pushing my buttons lately in this current series on Heaven and Hell. I have for at least a decade theologically agreed with him on the entire concept of Heaven and Hell and it’s simply this:

Heaven and Hell aren’t places. They are states. Present current states. Heaven and Hell are here and now. In this life, on this Earth, in our lives. Always in all ways.

Here are a couple broad strokes at it:

Heaven is heartfelt and found in and among the peaks of light living life as a follower of Jesus Christ. Loving others unconditionally as Jesus loves us. Building community and taking care of our neighbors as described in the early church by actions of the Holy Spirit (in the book of Acts).

Hell, on the other hand, is also heartfelt and found in and among the valleys of darkness that surround us. Evil. Heinous acts. Tough times. Hard life events. Loss. Depression. All that is Hell, obviously.

Heaven and Hell. Sometimes they are of our making!

Okay, that’s plenty enough to make your brain hurt.


Today’s Richard Rohr deliberately gives me pause. He quotes a poet David Whyte, from the collection Fire in the Earth (Many Rivers Press: 2002).

Take a moment and read this giving yourself pause. Like, read it and sit in the Mystery for a while. Just sit and be. Wow!

“The Old Wild Place”

After the good earth
where the body knows itself to be real
and the mad flight
where it gives itself to the world,
we give ourselves to the rhythm of love
leaving the breath
to know its way home.

And after the first pure fall,
the last letting go, and the calm
breath where we go to rest,
we’ll return again to find it
and feel again the body welcomed,
the body held,
the strong arms of the world,
the water, the waking at dawn
and the thankful, almost forgotten,
curling to sleep with the dark.

The old wild place beyond all shame. 

Just sit with that for a while.

You’re welcome!

Grace & Peace,


to leave comment