Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Creative Writing Assignment: What is Heaven like?

Today, I had an engaging conversation with a gentleman who is going to help our students, at Piqua Catholic School, with a creative writing project. His proposed topic? "What is heaven like?"

He asked my suggestions, and I suggested providing the children with some resources for their preparation; my thoughts strayed beyond the more obvious resources of the Catechism or the Compendium of the Catechism, to examples of literature that might fire the students' imagination. That led to suggesting not just literature, but also: films, artwork, poetry, and music.

After all, not everyone thinks along the same lines; some folks will connect better with artwork or music, others will say, "just give me the facts," and still others, with literary images.

I didn't have many suggestions off the bat: beyond Scripture itself, I offered C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce and, from the Chronicles of Narnia, the Last Battle. The only artistic image that came to mind was Michaelangelo's Last Judgment, painted in the Sistine Chapel.

So, I turn to you, dear reader! Would you like to help?

I would ask, before you post suggestions, to be mindful of the following:

* This is for children from first to eighth grades, so be mindful that things not be too hard; and that we have some easier things for the younger grades.

* Obviously we want things that reflect a Catholic sensibility -- i.e., contrary to a lot of popular depictions, we don't become angels! -- and it would be good to offer things that go deeper.

* Suggestions in any and all fields of art and creativity would be welcome: again, art, poetry, music, written sources, both discursive and literary.

Our hope is four-fold: to expose them to really good quality stuff, to have that feed and shape their imagination, to help them to learn something about heaven, along with having them learn something about writing as well.

My collaborator on this reads this blog, so he will be able to take your suggestions directly from the comments. I don't mind if a discussion ensues, but I do ask for concrete suggestions, and thank you!


Maria Neva said...

The first thing that popped into my head is SLIGHTLY unorthodox, in plot line anyway - remember the movie a decade or so ago that had Robin Williams in it, I think it was called "What Dreams May Come"? The theology behind it is a little fishy (God really isn't dealt with much at all, oddly, and while the humans don't become angels there is a bit of the whole new-agey-reincarnation junk), but the artistic depiction of heaven's beauties (and hell's uglies - and they got hell EXACTLY right I'd say, theology and all) and some very imaginative twists (the "painted" heaven is an image that will stay with me, for example!) would probably be very appealing to the imaginations of the kids.

I'd suggest you watch it (or rewatch) it first though, to see how you might want to present it (perhaps just a short clip of the section where Williams first gets to heaven and is running through the painted landscape?) I'm sure the IMDB would have all the info you could want if you're interested.

I'm sure there's tons more great resources, but that's the first one I thought of that might be fun for the kids to play with.

Rachel said...

Darn, you already took my two ideas, Father. :) There's also Tolkien's great short story "Leaf By Niggle" that's an allegory (or whatever he would call it) of death, purgatory, and Heaven. As I recall, our hero spends most of his time in Purgatory and I don't remember much about the paradise part of it, and it might be a bit too obscure for all but the older kids anyway. But I sure liked it. :)

Anonymous said...

Some of the older kids may have seen Field of Dreams which could have an interesting take on it.

Fr Martin Fox said...


I saw "What Dreams May Come?" and -- to be totally honest -- hated it.

That said, I will grant you its depiction of hell was interesting, and it did have some interesting images of heaven.

What I found very striking -- in a bad way -- was that heaven seemed so solitary: perhaps I misunderstood, but it seemed to suggest each of us has a mostly private heaven. That, of course, is very problematic.

The other striking thing was who went to hell: suicides! While I'm not denying they risk hell, that seemed a curious choice, of all the sinners the movie could have sent to hell. I think I know why they did that, but it does reinforce something not terribly helpful.

the Joneses said...

There's a painting by some modern Christian artist that shows Jesus embracing a man against a blue clouded background, while the hands of God and a dove surround him. Although it is individual, it's one of my favorite thoughts of the entrance into heaven.

Kasia said...

Forgive the off-topic post, Father, but I was wondering if your parish still needs an organ? I just heard about one that someone is trying to donate to a good home. I believe it's up here near Detroit, but with what organs cost, it might be worth your while to look into it. E-mail me at clamrampant at yahoo dot com if you'd like the contact information.

Anonymous said...

Can I just share an image you can work with - with children and tell you a little bit how I came to really like this image of heaven and purgatory....

Years ago I asked a man I worked with who was instrumental in me coming back about purgatory. And he said think of it like this:
There is a home where there is a fireplace, it's warm and cozy. Your family is there and they are enjoying each other's company. And you - in purgatory - are outside looking in a window and you can't get in yet.

For me, that image really can grow with a person. Ofcourse, for some this image may be difficult to conceive and perhaps that is where it falls short.

But with maybe third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders - home images (Norman Rockwell?) might be fruitful discussion or contemplation. Heaven is our home...

Months ago on intentional disciples blog there was some posting about heaven - what would you do when you get to heaven - and there was discussion about a guy who said he'd play basketball with Jesus. And I thought about it and I thought of heaven as just being a hug - or perhaps an embrace is a better word. For some reason I can call to mind a few hugs that meant so much to me. Just imagine that for eternity.

So what I'm thinking is that my two suggestions get kids to think beyond the concrete syrupy depictions they see in the mainstream. Maybe someone can adapt them for even younger children.

Oh, and this fits perfectly to the gospel reading for Nov. 11 (which I'm trying to prepare a lesson for....)

Magnifikid for Nov. 11 has a painting of Christ's descent into Hades for contemplation, which is cool, too.

Anonymous said...

Fr, we use Seton Home Study curriculum and they have some AWESOME pictures of paintings in them. I would tend to go with paintings, you can find them on the internet and maybe read scripture with them.
This Rock Magazine has a beautiful picture of John's vision, heaven, in it.
I will look up the internet site that we use when looking up paintings if you like.

mgibson; I try not to be scruplous or a puritist but given all the horrible things Robin Williams has said lately about the Catholic Church, I wouldn't even allow a film with him in it in my school! That is how I feel about him.

Anonymous said...

Also, didn't the little children of Fatima have a vision of heaven? There were saints who did.
Maybe stories could be read to them?
If I think of any titles I will let you know.
God Bless

Anonymous said...

One online site for pitures of paintings is
it has the sistine chapel you where referring too.
I have written to Mr. Bert Ghezzi, who is the author of many saints books, for his suggestion for a saint who had a vision of heaven, for kids of course.
God Bless

Dad29 said...

Play the In Paradisum from the Faure Requiem...

The harp line describes angels descending and ascending, the rising line of the voice depicts 'ascension,' and the chorus' Jerusalem, as sung, depicts restfulness and peace.

For contrast, play the Gloria Patri from JSBach's Magnificat. The rhythm is triplets contained in a 3-beat measure (3, get it, 3!! I say...) and the ending is a joyful but not frenzied dance--

Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

Perhaps the older children could read a bit from Dante's Paradiso?

Anonymous said...

Gustave Dore's illustrations of Paradiso are cool.

Anonymous said...

These impressions may be too old, even for the oldest children, but I will pass them on.

Imagine Albert Schwitzer playing newly composed Bach on the grandest organ in heaven.

Imagine new Van Gogh's

Imagine lakes of their favorite beverage. (That works for adults, too.)

Anonymous said...

My favorite image is from C.S. Lewis's Perelandra:

"In the plan of the Great Dance plans without number interlock, and each movement becomes in its season the breaking into flower of the whole design to which all else had been directed. Thus each is equally at the centre and none are there by being equals, but some by giving place and some by receiving it, the small things by their smallness and the great by their greatness, and all the patterns linked and looped together by the unions of a kneeling with a sceptred love. Blessed be He!"

"All that is made seems planless to the darkened mind, because there are more plans than it looked for. In these seas there are islands where the hairs of the turf are so fine and so closely woven together that unless a man looked long at them he would see neither hairs nor weaving at all, but only the same and the flat. So with the Great Dance. Set your eyes on one movement and it will lead you through all patterns and it will seem to you the master movement. But the seeming will be true. Let no mouth open to gainsay it. There seems no plan because it is all plan: there seems no centre because it is all centre. Blessed be He!"

"Yet this seeming also is the end and final cause for which He spreads out Time so long and Heaven so deep; lest if we never met the dark, and the road that leads nowhither, and the question to which no answer is imaginable, we should have in our minds no likeness of the Abyss of the Father, into which if a creature drop down his thoughts for ever he shall hear no echo return to him. Blessed, blessed, blessed be He!"

And now, by a transition which he did not notice, it seemed that what had begun as speech was turned into sight, or into something that can be remembered only as if it were seeing. He thought he saw the Great Dance. It seemed to be woven out of the intertwining undulation of many cords or bands of light, leaping over and under one another and mutually embraced in arabesques and flower-like subtleties.

Each figure as he looked at it became the master-figure or focus of the whole spectacle, by means of which his eye disentangled a1l else and brought it into unity--only to be itself entangled when he looked to what he had taken for mere marginal decorations and found that there also the same hegemony was claimed, and the claim made good, yet the former pattern not thereby dispossessed but finding in its new subordination a significance greater than that which it had abdicated. He could see also (but the word "seeing" is now plainly inadequate) wherever the ribbons or serpents of light intersected, minute corpuscles of momentary brightness: and he knew somehow that these particles were the secular generalities of which history tells--peoples, institutions, climates of opinion, civilisations, arts, sciences, and the like--ephemeral coruscations that piped their short song and vanished. The ribbons or cords themselves, in which millions of corpuscles lived and died, were things of some different kind. At first he could not say what. But he knew in the end that most of them were individual entities. If so, the time in which the Great Dance proceeds is very unlike time as we know it.

Some of the thinner and more delicate cords were beings that we call short-lived: flowers and insects, a fruit or a storm of rain, and once (he thought) a wave of the sea. Others were such things as we also think lasting: crystals, rivers, mountains, or even stars. Far above these in girth and luminosity and flashing with colours from beyond our spectrum were the lines of the personal beings, yet as different from one another in splendour as all of them from the previous class. But not all the cords were individuals: some were universal truths or universal qualities. It did not surprise him then to find that these and the persons were both cords and both stood together as against the mere atoms of generality which lived and died in the clashing of their streams: but afterwards, when he came back to earth, he wondered.

And by now the thing must have passed together out of the region of sight as we understand it. For he says that the whole solid figure of these enamoured and inter-inanimated circlings was suddenly revealed as the mere superficies of a far vaster pattern in four dimensions, and that figure as the boundary of yet others in other worlds: till suddenly as the movement grew yet swifter, the interweaving yet more ecstatic, the relevance of all to all yet more intense, as dimension was added to dimension and that part of him which could reason and remember was dropped farther and farther behind that part of him which saw, even then, at the very zenith of complexity, complexity was eaten up and faded, as a thin white cloud fades into the hard blue burning of the sky, and a simplicity beyond all comprehension, ancient and young as spring, illimitable, pellucid, drew him with cords of infinite desire into its own stillness. He went up into such a quietness, a privacy, and a freshness that at the very moment when he stood farthest from our ordinary mode of being he had the sense of stripping off encumbrances and awaking from trance, and coming to himself. With a gesture of relaxation he looked about him. . . . (C.S. Lewis, Perelandra, pp. 218-219)

Anonymous said...

The last chapter of Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday" also has strains of heaven.

Anonymous said...

This may sound odd but how about some pictures from the Hubble telescope or the Cassini mission to Saturn? Might as well believe that the heavens are gorgeous even when they aren't "heaven". Their creator awaits us.

marcy said...


This was a wonderful question to think about this morning. Thank you.

I wonder if we go for the general overview of what heaven may be like we might forget or play down the fact that heaven is very close actually.

The Sacraments are of heaven--they are divine invitations to share in/of our lives with God.

There is a song called "I can only imagine" that can stimulate the queston of a closeness of heaven and for me as a Catholic it generates a peaceful sense of a Sacramental life. We are so blessed in this life as Catholics.

God bless,

Marcy M

Here are the lyrics:
I can only imagine what it will be like, when I walk by Your side...

I can only imagine, what my eyes will see, when Your Face is before me!

I can only imagine. I can only imagine.

Surrounded by Your Glory, what will my heart feel?

Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of You, be still?

Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall?

Will I sing 'Hallelujah!'? Will I be able to speak at all?

I can only imagine! I can only imagine!

I can only imagine, when that day comes, when I find myself standing in the Son!

I can only imagine, when all I will do, is forever, forever worship You!

I can only imagine! I can only imagine!

Surrounded by Your Glory, what will my heart feel?

Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of You, be still?

Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall?

Will I sing 'Hallelujah!'? Will I be able to speak at all?

I can only imagine! Yeah! I can only imagine!

Surrounded by Your Glory, what will my heart feel?

Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of You, be still?

Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall?

Will I sing 'Hallelujah!'? Will I be able to speak at all?

I can only imagine! Yeah! I can only imagine!

I can only imagine! Yeah! I can only imagine!! Only imagine!!!

I can only imagine.

I can only imagine, when all I do is forever, forever worship You!

I can only imagine."

Anonymous said...

You did say you suggested scripture already but here are some of my favorites describing heaven...
psalm 19:1-4
Psalm 8
Psalm 78:23-25
Psalm 73:23-28
The story of Lazarus and Dives
Mt 18:10
Revelation 21:1-5
Revelation 4:1-11

Anonymous said...

There is a good book about Heaven by Peter Kreeft (the Catholic apologist who has done a lot to reach out to Protestants). Also, I second someone's nomination of Tolkien's story "Leaf by Niggle."

Anonymous said...

Mozart's Requiem -

It calls to mind the awesome majesty and dominion of Christ, as well as our need for His mercy.

I played this for the 2nd graders when i taught CCD at St B (i was a senior at LCHS), and they asked me to play it for them over, and over, and over, and over.

Something transcendent about music that's been written for the glory of God!

Anonymous said...

C.S. Lewis' "The Problem of Pain" has a nice chapter on heaven at the end. That might be good meditation for the older kids.