just one breath away

Some years ago I was introduced to a small book with a rather odd title: The Great Divorce. Written by the marvelous English author C. S. Lewis, it is an extraordinary meditation upon good and evil, grace and judgment; a beautifully woven allegorical tale of a bus ride from hell to heaven.

In the preface, Lewis begins with mention of William Blake’s book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and thus explains his own rather odd title.

Heaven and Hell

Heaven and Hell

Of the many roads of life Lewis writes:

“Even on the biological level life is not like a river but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection.I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, ‘with backward mutters of dissevering power’—or else not. It is still ‘either-or’. If we insist on keeping hell (or even Earth) we shall not see heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”

What resonates in the reading of this book is how well Lewis captures human nature with its insatiable appetite for all that is not good for the soul.

Anyone can catch the bus from hell to heaven. When you get there you even have a choice to stay or return to hell. As Lewis tells it many choose to return to hell. Which in and of itself begs the question, why? Why would anyone choose hell over heaven? Here again, Lewis suggests a possible hypothesis.

Those who find little use for God or who for their own purposes make themselves to be god, have little fear of what would follow death. Their lives are filled with the here and now and they live as if there is no tomorrow for in truth that is what they so ardently want to believe. Nothing changes upon their entry into hell. In his allegorical tale, Lewis describes how whenever a denizen of hell moves to a new place all one has to do is think of a house and it is instantly constructed. Of course not surprisingly the houses they think into existence are rather insubstantial as they are mere figments of their imagination. They are no more real than their self-proclaimed godhood, which is to mean, not real at all.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Even God could do nothing for someone already full. You have to be completely empty to let Him in to do what He will.” The more self-satisfied one becomes, the more desirous of earthly pleasures and possessions, the more self-important the less room there will be for God.

Why would anyone prefer hell over heaven? Because in heaven their delusions of grandeur and all that they have come to hold dear are laid bare, stripped of all substance, nothing but transparent shadows; “They were in fact ghosts: man-shaped stains on the brightness of that air. One could attend to them or ignore them at will as you do with the dirt on a window pane.” Only in hell can they hold onto the false realities which they have self-created.

George MacDonald once wrote “No, there is no escape. There is no heaven with a little hell in it—no plan to retain this or that of the devil in our hearts or our pockets. Out Satan must go, every hair and feather.” For many that is very difficult to accept, for to rid one’s self of the devil one must empty one’s self of our obsession for earthly things, those pleasures and possessions which possess us and fill our soul of all that is not God.

Jesus said to the young man who asked what he lacked in order to gain eternal life “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”1 This was the one thing the young man was unwilling to do, “for he had many possessions.”

The young man, in many ways, is emblematic of many who express the desire to live a good and virtuous life and obey God’s commandments but are unwilling to let go of all that precludes them from becoming perfect in the eyes of God. We have many possessions and are possessed by far too many things, unwilling to let go or to be exorcised of all that will lead us away from God.

The world is like a candy store, stocked floor to ceiling, wall to wall with sweet delightful things and like children we are easily beguiled, we want to satisfy our need for pleasure and possessions. But it only leaves us hungry for more.

When they arrived in heaven, those who took the bus from hell could not bear the thought of losing all that they had, even for eternity with God. They had for too long gorged themselves on devil’s food and simply had no room left for God. Are you already full or have you left room for God?


1 Mt 19:21-22.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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