I grew up with a Catholic grandmother. The idea of Heaven & Hell was polished into the furniture, sprayed into the air, and shovelled down my throat with every mouthful. Was my grandmother devout? Nah. But keeping up appearances was vital, including the passegiatta to Saturday evening Mass when we stayed with her over weekends or school holidays.
In my child’s eye, Heaven was very similar to the Philadelphia Cream Cheese advert, all white, fluffy and clean. My grandfather would be hanging out by the smörgåsbord, handing me titbits of delicacies. Hell was obviously very hot, with no delicious nibbles, only the lumpy custard I had refused to consume (which the starving African children had rejected as well).
I stopped going to church when I was about ten. I knew by then things were a lot more complex than the simplistic explanations which were foisted on me (blame it on the reading). I devoured all kinds of mythology. Norse mythology probably hit closest home; all the incredible characters, every single one of them flawed & human-like. Men & women as equals, in balance. I could relate to them, and I developed my own world view pretty early on. It’s still my world view today, interspersed with other learning.
Heaven and Hell are what we make here, today. How we deal with anger, pain and shame are as telling as how we accept grace, love and kindness. How we treat the random stranger when no one is looking. Raise our voices when others cannot. Take ownership for our actions. I’d like to believe reincarnation is a possibility; to see my daughter and husband again in another life would be magical. But what I do with my life now, is what keeps me going every day.
Have you followed, rejected or adapted the teachings of your childhood? How do you explain Heaven & Hell to your children?