Have you ever been someplace that took you so far out of reality that you found it hard to re-enter real life? Apart from Spain? Sometimes, I think we get a glimpse of heaven here on earth, in terms we can understand.
You may not think of Universal and Walt Disney World as heaven, but they each offer an escape from the daily grind that can be surprisingly transcendent. A recent business trip took me to Orlando in between hurricanes. Our group did a week-long site inspection of various resorts and theme parks. Despite missing our families, braving a rigorous schedule, and coping with various medical issues, we had to drag ourselves out of the parks and back to the real world. Was it visiting the magical village of Hogsmeade or experiencing the thrill (and nausea) of flying over Pandora in true virtual reality that kept us in thrall? Why were we all having such a good time – and such a hard time leaving it behind?
Scientific American offers one explanation, proposing the importance of storytelling in the theme park experience, and concluding that a complex, detailed, and intense experience is required to entertain our large brains. The article continues its conclusion, stating: “When we experience an instance of storytelling or humor or music with someone else, we’re creating a bond through that experience that helps define our places within our network relative to each other.” The bond is important. Our little group did get along very well and, by the end of the week, we had enjoyed not only the stories presented to us, but had also bonded over our own shared experiences. Those on the trip with me will understand: It’s Jimmy Fallon’s fault (long story). I imagine it will be the same in heaven, where we have all had an intense shared experience of the gospel story that has led us to bond in a perfect way, we have yet to fully understand. The type of bonding experience shared in this highly controlled, idealized environment may give us a glimpse into what lies ahead.
I had a similar feeling during a recent visit to the Apple campus in Austin. Mere mortalsare only allowed in the cafeteria, which has got to be an imagining of the cafeteria in heaven. All surfaces are gleaming white. You can change your seating with every course, as you pick up each plate. It feels like a progressive dinner party. Everyone seemed friendly and happy. The place was pristine. Glass cubes showcased chefs of various cuisines. The gelato varieties changed daily and has cute names. If this isn’t heaven on earth, I don’t know what is. I never wanted to leave. My friend who works there has waxed poetic over the years about on-site massages, happy hours, and Japanese tea ceremonies. Apple views its business plan, with employees and customers, as a full experience. Being there generates the feeling of being apart, in a special environment.
In the book, Start With Why, Author Simon Sinek discusses the concept of a company’s “why,” opining that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. He uses Apple as an example, saying its why could have been ‘We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. Wanna buy one?’ Instead, the Apply “why” is much further reaching: ‘Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. And we happen to make great computers. Wanna buy one?’ When you are putting down that $1000 for a new iPhone, you are buying the Apple experience, the why. It’s part of a much larger experience. And we can’t get enough of it.
Now, I am not maintaining that heaven will be like Disney World or the Apple Campus but I am saying that, sometimes, we get glimpses into something transcendent that pulls us towards paradise. It is different for all of us but, eventually, we will all be bound by a common good. In one of my favorite books, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis writes about the meaning of our earthly experiences: “When you painted on earth – at least in your earlier days – it was because you caught glimpses of heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too.”
I think it is these glimpses of heaven that bind us together and keep us moving towards it, even if we don’t have the key to it just yet.
P.S. Of course, in our fallen world, sometimes evil interrupts these glimpses of paradise, reminding us we are locked out of heaven. Waking up this morning, we all heard of the deadliest mass shooting in US history. What was meant to be a large, family event turned into a horrific attack. I was up watching my favorite morning show, Morning Express with Robin Meade, as she interviewed an extremely articulate 21-year old man named Taylor, who was in the crows. For him, this was a defining experience: “I was an agnostic going into it, but now, I can honestly say I believe in God because there is now way I would have made it out there without His help.” When asked how he would move forward, Taylor responded, “There’s a lot of bad people in the world and the only way to move forward is to try to not look back at events like this but just be thankful for what I do have in life and count my blessings” Wow. By the way, Taylor plans to enter the US Airforce in the next few weeks and spoke of his renewed commitment to service, inspired by this event.