Saturday, April 25, 2009

Reaching the Kingdom

Artist: Joachim Patinir

The image of crossing a river at death in order to reach the life to come is common to many, many belief systems. Here we see how it is understood by a great Christian master of the pschology of prayer:

And I saw the river
over which every soul must pass
to reach the kingdom of heaven
and the name of that river was suffering:
and I saw a boat which carries souls across the river
and the name of that boat was love.

-- Saint John of the Cross

If your understanding is that heaven is not only available to us after death but that we enter it in the here and now, then we cross that river many, many times during our lives. Let us be willing to see how beautiful that is.


  1. If suffering is necessary to enter heaven whether after death or in the here and now, then Mother Theresa's alleged practices were correct. By alleviating suffering would not one be blocking a person's entrance to heaven if St. John of the Cross' view was correct?

  2. No, I don't think it means that at all. I think it's more in the the sense that suffering is a GIVEN - rather like the "First Noble Truth" of Buddhism. Love, on the other hand, includes the sincere wish to RELIEVE suffering.

    (Which is why I think Mother Teresa was very wrong indeed not to give her patients pain relievers.)

  3. I agree. Suffering in life is inevitable, but when it is allowed to continue needlessly it becomes cruelty. I like the image of suffering as a river. Yes, it does exist, but we can drown in the suffering or swim for the shore or, if we are very fortunate, that very special friend/teacher/spiritual guide comes to row or show us to the other side beyond suffering--the ultimate gift of love. Many times the journey through the suffering can seem insurmountable though--especially when there seems to be one river after another to cross.
    Carolyn L.


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