Alice died last week at the age of 99. She lived in the nursing home, and over the years I had watched her get frailer and frailer. She was really tired; ready to go. There wasn’t much left to her at the end. The one thing that was still there was her love. There was such warmth when she spoke of her family. Her eyes shown when she saw me, and her lips curled in that little, cute smile. There was love there, that’s for sure.
Love never ends; that’s what St. Paul tells us. Everything else passes away. The love passes through the refiner’s fire, and it comes through pure and bright. Everything else gets left behind.
John Wesley believed in the possibility of being made perfect in love in this life. He didn’t claim this perfection for himself, and was reluctant to claim it for others. He believed that for most of us, perfection comes in the moment of death. That makes sense to me. We find ourselves before the matchless light and love of God and letting go of all the stuff that gets in the way of the love suddenly, finally becomes possible. Maybe even easy, in fact. That is, if the love that was within us has grown steady and true over the course of our lives, as it seemed to have done with Alice.
It makes a difference how we live our lives in preparation of that moment. It seems conceivable to me that a person could grow so attached to substances within their souls that are not of love that when the invitation comes to enter the light/love, letting go seems inconceivable.
This is how I imagine what we refer to as “hell”. Not as a place of punishment to which God casts us, rather, it is where we find ourselves if our inner attachments keep us from accepting the invitation to come into the greatest of all parties. Hell is where we find ourselves when we are trapped inside the prison cell of our own tiny self, holding on tightly to our pride, bitterness, resentments, greed, superiority, etc., because we have concluded (wrongly) that we couldn’t live without these things.
Superiority is a favorite attachment that often comes accompanied with being “religious.” Religious folk often smugly imagine themselves alone in heaven and don’t realize that their fantasy is part of the very thing keeping them out of heaven.