By guest writer Nick Chui.
The title of my post might sound a bit weird but this thought comes to me whenever I finish an enriching conversation with somebody. My definition of enriching means that the conversation contained no gossip, was intellectually stimulating and humanly deep, and done in an atmosphere of mutual listening and sympathy. It need not always be explicitly about God, though God and religion are very often (at least for me!) one of the most interesting topics to talk about.
Will heaven be like that? I sometimes wonder. Or is my talkativeness (and I can be very talkative, just ask Grace my wife!) simply a symptom of my deeper restlessness for deep and abiding communication with God?
To be sure, the Christian tradition places a lot of emphasis on silence and with good reason. We are reminded constantly to slow down amidst the busyness of our lives, to still our hearts and quiet the noisiness in our souls. After all, the prophet Elijah did not discover God’s voice in the earthquake or fire (noisy events to put it mildly) but only in a gentle breeze. (1 Kings 19:12-14). And when we reflect on the times we have mis-communicated with someone, we know that it is very often because our minds are so preoccupied and cluttered that we have heard but failed to listen to the other. And we proceed to give advice and to talk even before we have truly listened.
Does that mean the talkative people are to repent in sackcloth and ashes? Well I think that they should repent of being talkative without listening and try to cultivate a capacity for silence. Yet being talkative in itself, when properly understood, is not a bad thing at all. In fact, the ability to communicate is really a participation in the eternal speech of God. Jesus is the WORD of God, as we are reminded in John’s Gospel. And when the Word became flesh, hosts of Angels were singing hosannas to frightened shepherds.
Pretty chatty if you ask me.
Indeed, redeemed in Christ, we are able to speak to each other as heirs to the Kingdom, adopted children of the Father. Our sharing is characterized not by boasting but by mutual concern for each other. Conversation becomes enriching as it is free of jealousy, one-upmanship and pride. One genuinely wants to listen to the other, as the other is a brother in Christ, of infinite interest.
We know however that this is not possible on earth. To begin with, we are unable to have conversations with everybody we respect for extended lengths of time as time is finite (though with Facebook, the possibilities are extended!). So we are usually limited to conversations with close friends. And an enriching conversation in which there is mutual vulnerability and friendship seems to me a participation in the eternal conversation of the Trinity in which we are also invited. (Indeed, that’s Fr. Robert Barron’s definition of prayer.)
When I was studying theology, the joke which went around was that when talkative theology students (the kind who can spend literally hours talking about the processions of the Trinity for instance) pass on to the life to come, there would be two doors awaiting them. One would be labeled “God”. The other would be labeled “seminar about God”. Guess which one the theology student would choose?
I began to panic as I realized that I might choose the second door. I remembered St. Augustine’s passage that the restless heart can only rest in God and know that I must be careful not to mistake theology for God Himself. Nevertheless, will that mean that I won’t be able to talk about theology in heaven if and when (God willing) I get there?
Then I read St. Gregory of Nyssa. His idea of the afterlife is a bit different from Augustine’s, as he holds that there will be no rest in heaven as we will be constantly stretched onwards and upwards towards God. “No limit can be set to our progress towards God; first of all, because no limitation can be put on upon the Beautiful, and secondly because the increase in our desire for the Beautiful cannot be stopped by any sense of satisfaction,” as Gregory puts it in one pungent sentence.
If I understood Gregory correctly, I would have an eternity to talk about theology and an eternity to communicate deeply with the Blessed Trinity and all the saints in heaven. That would include not only the hall-of-famers like Our Blessed Mother, Sts. Peter and Paul, but also our loved ones and others whom we hope have also placed God or following their conscience their top priority.
In the book of Revelation, heaven is portrayed as a wedding feast where guests will be at table, and served by the Lamb Himself. (Revelations 19:7-9)
I presume there would be lots of talking at a wedding feast.
And I do hope that you and I will accept the invitation.
Nick Chui is happily married and teaches history and Religious Education in a Catholic secondary school in Singapore. He has a Masters in Theological studies from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne.