Since three people are watching me as I enter the portal, I decide to forgo the hand-first approach that earned me a ribbing from Seneca the last time. With my back to them, I close my eyes and step into the mist with its swirling flecks of gold. As soon as my feet touch down on the other side, I open my eyes to the most spectacular view I have ever seen. I do a 360-degree turn to see it from every direction. There is perfect beauty everywhere I look. After taking a deep breath of air, I feel a rush of both relief and joy.
Eighty percent of people on Earth believe there is an afterlife “haven,” where souls go when they die. Most people envision a place of beauty. These people will not be disappointed. The other twenty percent are in for a shocker. Heaven is better than anything they can imagine. If I were traveling alone right now, I would dance across these beautiful grounds and shout out, “Heaven is real. Almighty is real. And, I made it!”
The powder-blue skies make a great background for the twinkling lights. The twinkling gives the place a magical feel. As far as I can see, this heaven is softly lit with a warm white light. As promised, I am standing on a street made of gold. I lean down and run my hands across its smooth surface. It’s warm to the touch. The gold is so finely polished that my fingers do not leave a mark. It’s so light in color I can see the smallest details of my reflection.
In between the streets of gold, there is a surface of white where you would usually find green grass. Unlike Earth’s grass that grows upward in blades, this ground covering is braided. This lawn is about six inches high and pure white. There isn’t a single mark on it anywhere. The white ground cover extends in every direction. It looks like my childhood neighborhood right after newly fallen snow. I run my fingers through it. The blades are soft and cool to the touch.
The rest of the nature scene is much like one you would find on Earth—except this one is perfect. There are fruit-bearing trees ripe with fruit, and streams of clear water flowing and gurgling over rocks. I dip my hands into the cool water and take a sip. It taste amazes me. I have forgotten what water tastes like without chemicals and plastic bottles. I look over a valley of beautiful shrubs and flowers. There are birds of every color flying overhead, and small, furry animals play together in the white lawn.
I see a city of sorts at the bottom of the valley. I walk towards the cliff edge to get a closer look. The few steps I take feel light and airy. Oddly, my steps move me forward about twelve feet. From here, I see four sides of a city square. Rows of alabaster seats rise high on every side. It looks to be eight or nine hundred feet. From where I stand, the arena looks like a massive sports stadium. There are small groups of people socializing on every level. This place can probably hold over 200,000 people.
My newly enhanced eyesight allows me to see a group of musicians on a center stage playing tunes on at least ten different instruments. Their music is bouncing around the terrain. It reaches to the top of the hill on which I stand. To my relief, the music is great! I listen for a harp among the instruments, and yep, it’s there. I laugh a little. I’m pretty sure it will grow on me in time.
“What do you think, son?” Seneca and the rest of the group join me.
“It’s unbelievable. Absolutely incredible! I’m looking forward to going down to the city for a closer look. I have a question though. I can’t seem to be able to see the lay of the land here. As I move around, I’ve noticed it looks like there are slopes to the ground. But, when I step, it doesn’t feel like I’m walking on a tilt. I also appear to be covering about four feet per step. Is this an optical illusion?”
“That’s a great way to describe it. Many things will appear to be optical illusions to you until you adjust to living here, especially the ‘lay of the land.’ The great Irish blessing plays out here—the road does actually ‘rise up to meet you.’ As far as the long steps go, you are moving about four feet forward each time you take one. It’s due partly to the lack of gravity and partly to the larger stride your enhanced legs are taking.”
“I like it!”
Seneca shoots me his toothy grin. “Well, I’m glad you approve. We are only stopping here briefly, but I wanted you to be familiar with the Seventh Heaven before you begin the Mission. I want you to fully understand what you are fighting for.”
“Fighting for? Whoa, wait!” This mission just got real. “Are you telling me there’s a possibility of losing all of this? I had a sense this engagement was a covert operation. That’s my specialty. How high is the risk? Is it possible for this team to be injured—or even killed in the line of duty? What does this mean if we have already passed over from death? Where do we go if we are killed?”
“First of all, we say ‘life-ended’ rather than died or killed. You aren’t going to like my answer to your questions.”
“Let me guess—‘they’re complicated answers and I will understand in time?’”
“Hey, you got one right.”
I don’t respond to Seneca this time. Cloaked operations always bother me. My concerns grow and my trust is diminishing. As Seneca leads the way to the arena, I fall back. Sterling taps me on the shoulder.
He leans close to speak softly into my ear. “You have to trust everything here, Grayson, or it’s going to be a very rough ride for you. I know. I was you a few years ago. I questioned pretty much everything—especially the science and sociological aspects of this life. I will tell you, all my questions were answered in time. In hindsight, I could see why I didn’t need the answers when I wanted them. It’s not much different than how this works on Earth. I guess it bothered me more here because I thought I was entitled to the answers. And like on Earth, I eventually saw when the answers came, they were perfectly-timed. Just remind yourself this isn’t about deception or withholding. Mostly, it’s just a case of us not being ready to receive the information.”
“Yeah. Thanks, man. You’re right. I’ll let it go.”
“And enjoy the ride. This heaven in which we stand is too amazing for even the enhanced human mind to consume in a single visit. You’ll have to come back here after we complete the Mission. The best way to take it all in is to sit down, lean against a tree, observe, and think.”
“…For how long?”
“Ah, Grayson, there’s no time here.”
“Ballpark it in Earth time.”
“I’d say a year.”
“Seriously, lean against a tree for a year?”
Sterling laughs. “I see you’re going to be one of those guys.”
“A rebel—a man who starts pushing a limit the second it is given to him—a man without patience.”
“Yep, sounds like me. Is that going to be a bad thing?”
“Not for us. You’re the one who deals with your head. It will be entertaining for us.”
“Ha! Well, Seneca is getting some good laughs at my expense—what’s a few more? Hey, sideline question…what’s the deal with Seneca?”
“What do you mean by deal?”
“Is he solid? Can I trust him?”
“You can trust him with your life.”
“Ok. That’s all I needed to hear.”
“You mean it’s all you needed to hear for now. You’ll be back with more questions later.”
“What makes you think that?”
“He hasn’t started to set any limits yet. You’ll see.” Sterling pats me on the back. I look over at him and we both begin to laugh.
After walking a short distance, Seneca turns to gather us around him. “Alright team, I want to go over some ground rules before we enter the city.”
Sterling makes eye contact with me and mouths “limits,” and I tense. I guess I learned something about myself today—I am a rebel. Military training was supposed to beat all that out of me. I guess it didn’t take. I shake my head at him.
“Grayson, with this being your first time here, most of this is directed to you. This is not a social visit for us—it’s an information gathering visit. The people you see are aware of the impending Great Mission, so there’s no need to discuss it. Yes, they know what’s at stake. While you are on Earth, every man, saint, and angel in the heavens will be in non-stop prayer for your strength and safety. Since we’re only half-way through our journey, we will not stop for conversation. If you have any questions, direct them to a team member or myself.”
“I can do that.”
Every step I take down the mountainside advances me about four feet. The astronauts have probably had this sensation, but it’s new to me. There are two sets of gates into the city. The first is made entirely of pearl and guarded by seven angels who float back and forth carrying swords. There is a man sitting on a throne that is perched above the gates. “That’s Saint Peter,” Seiko whispers. “He stays there constantly. He is the official greeter for Heaven. He has an infectious, joyful demeanor. He is the perfect one for people to meet when they arrive. Everyone loves St. Peter.”
“I didn’t get the opportunity to meet him when I arrived.”
“Yeah, I heard. But you will. He’ll seek you out. He meets everyone who lives here.” Once we step through the main gates, all my senses go off at once. There is a beautiful symphony for my ears, and an intoxicating floral mixture for my nose. My mom would say it smells like the Rose of Sharon. She likes to use biblical references when she can. She’ll love it here. There is excitement in the air that makes the hair on my arms tingle. The temperature is perfect, and my feet feel light when I step.
Over the years, I’ve visited some of the most beautiful cities on Earth—but nothing comes close to this. There’s a mixture of gold, crystal, and white marble from the streets to the highest row in the coliseum. The colors of fabrics in the curtains, cushions, and table settings, are a mild mixture of earth tones—mostly blues and beiges. There are white roses lining the streets and white blooming trees spread across the open areas. Tree blossoms lift into each round of the light breeze. I watch one drift through the air—swirling in a figure eight pattern—and landing on the white lawn. When it touches the ground, it turns into a drop of water and is absorbed into the woven ‘grass.’ I look back to where the bloom left the tree branch and see that another bloom has already grown to take its place.
The people are sitting in small groups—talking and laughing. Some of them wave to us, but stay focused on their activities. Some are painting. Others are playing board games. Many are writing. While they are doing their thing, angels hover above them. They appear to be suspended in mid-air, aided by the opening and closing of their tall white wings. They bring the people bowls of fruit and goblets of drinks. “Do we eat here? I haven’t felt hungry.”
“You can eat if you want to. Your body no longer needs food, but the enjoyment of taste is something Almighty gave us. Most people partake regularly when they socialize. You can eat anything you want and stay at your ideal weight. Your new body absorbs all the food and liquids you take in. There is no waste to necessitate bathroom breaks.
“I like that plan.”
As I look behind me, I see animals mingling with the people. Most of them are the animals we tame and keep as pets on Earth. I see cats and dogs playing together. There are sheep and goats nibbling on the white ground covering. I see horses galloping across the fields beyond the gates. Seiko elbows me and directs my attention to the set gates on the south side. A lion has just entered them and is walking in our direction.
“Don’t be alarmed by the lion. When I first saw one here, I jumped behind a boulder and hid. It found me and licked my neck. I thought for sure it was going to eat my face for lunch. All the animals here are docile, even the dinosaurs that live in the outlying edges of your Warrior Heaven. The lions will lie down and purr if you run your fingers through their manes. The animals are here for our viewing pleasure and companionship. You can even claim one as your own if you like. I have my childhood dog living with me again.”
“Seriously, you’re telling me that dogs go to Heaven?
Seiko laughs. “They do not have souls as we do. It’s more like they are remade here if we want them.”
“Nice! This place is incredible. It is beyond my wildest imagination. The people are beautiful. The scenery is stunning. It’s ‘Nirvana.’”
“Nice choice of words. The name of the city is New Eden.”
“New Eden? Very nice. I would like to come here with my parents and catch up on life. I can see the three of us strolling here with my mother on my arm.”
That sounds beautiful. You’re a lucky man to have both parents here—or on their way here. I am not so blessed. My welcoming ceremony didn’t include either of my parents. Evidently, they made some wrong turns in life.”
“That’s rough. What happened?”
“It’s simple really. They didn’t believe in Almighty, and they lived as if there wasn’t a Creator. As kids, we were punished if we even discussed religion. They brought a lot of pain upon themselves—and us. When money ran low, they would steal. Sometimes, they made us steal. In time, they figured out they could make more money by dealing drugs. They were found out when they blew up half of our house while cooking meth. They both died in the explosion. Family Services separated the three of us and put us into orphanages. Though my siblings were adopted out, I wasn’t so lucky. I grew up pretty much on my own, but two of my siblings are living here now, so that helps. Eternity is a long time to not have your parents, you know?”
Seiko is new in my life, but I am certain this unflappable demeanor is her baseline. The shift to introspection, while in paradise, is deserving of my attention as a leader. “You know Seiko—my mother told me one of Almighty’s promises is He will relieve us of our grieving in the end. She said he’s going to wipe away every tear and ease the pain of being separated from the people we love.”
“That helps. Thanks.”
Though I would like to stay longer in the Seventh Heaven, Seneca’s wave reminds me we must move on. He gathers us close as we step back through the entrance gates and shares some information obviously meant for me. “Our next destination is the Eighth Heaven. It is the heaven of the Idealists. They are the opposite in nature of the Strategists. Idealists and Strategists should work well together as their talents complement each other: Idealists can conceptualize amazing things, and Strategists can bring those amazing things to fruition. It doesn’t always work out. The Idealists tend to think that Strategists are much too serious. The Strategists tend to think that the Idealists are irresponsible, and unrealistic in the development of their concepts.”
“Do they argue?”
“No. There is no arguing here, but they tend to avoid each other.”
“Ha! There are cliques of ‘mean chicks’ in Heaven too. Who would have guessed?” I look around to see if anyone picks up on my attempt at humor. No one has. Why am I the only one enjoying my exaggerated analogy?
Sterling shakes his head and pats my arm out of pity. I hope these guys lighten up a bit. If not, this is going to be a tough ride. War and covert operations are very intense once they begin. The only way to survive—and keep your mind in tack—is to engage in some humor along the way.
“Here is our portal.” Seneca steps through without hesitation. I step back to allow Seiko to go in front of me. I’m not sure if the gender rules apply here, but I’m going to play it safe by sticking with my mother’s training. She thanks me and follows Seneca. Sterling follows her. I am the last one through to the Eighth Heaven.