Heaven and Hell


When the human soul becomes aware of itself, it develops a marvellous desire to grow.

It seeks spiritual food.

In the early stages, most of us seek sweetness – what I sometimes call “Spiritual Pavlova.”

I fed on righteousness, beauty, goodness, affirmation holiness.  The amazing grace I sought was very sweet indeed.

I read positive verses of Scripture, sang positive hymns, and considered all this to be heavenly.

Hell was something I pushed away.

It was a long time before I discovered that while I needed the comfort of the heavenly, it was the hellish things in my life that were the best spiritual teachers.

We all have our “Hell” list.

Here are a few that are part of my history.

  1. Someone I trusted betrayed me.
  2. There has been unaccountable loss.
  3. People are saying things about me that are not true.
  4. My best efforts have gone unrewarded.
  5. I’ve tried to be a good person, so why did this illness/accident happen to me?

It took a long time for me to come close to an undivided faith, and I’m not there yet.

The first steps were to realise that my hell list was actually about “poor me.”  The prison of my ego was being attacked.

Was this needed for spiritual growth?

Then came the awareness that many of the judgements I made about other people, could also be applied to me.

I tell you, it was quite a journey and not without resistance.

Discovering that heaven and hell are both food for spiritual growth, a balanced diet of comfort and teaching, is difficult.

It demands truthfulness and a sense of humour, and without prayer, these can be hard to find.

In this season of Lent, we are invited to deal with the divided self.  How do we understand the shadow as light waiting to be born?

At the same time, we realise that the outcome is all blessing.

That’s how Jesus describes it in the Beatitudes.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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