Losing Grip on Eternity, Part 4: Feeling Infinite

This post was originally published on July 30, 2015. It was re-uploaded as part of the Archive Restoration Project.

“Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity.
We can be like they are.” –Blue Oyster Cult, Don’t Fear the Reaper

To the surprise of many people, I never read Rob Bell’s Love Wins until this year. When I did, I appreciated how simple and poetic Bell’s ideas were, and how they sidestepped controversy with their simple honesty.

As part of losing grip on eternity, but still appreciating the conflict between heaven and hell as forces of creativity and chaos, I came to understand feeling infinite in a new way. There are benefits to not believing in eternity, and not just in the weightiness of dealing with grief. Another benefit is an appreciation for the intensity of individual moments.

Though I’ve distanced myself from Christianity and the Bible, I still find things like Rob Bell’s commentary and study of the ancient holy text of the Christian faith interesting. I don’t see this as contradictory – I would do the same thing with a modern Buddhist writer like Thich Nhat Hanh, or a Hindu philosopher like Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

Bell writes that when the New Testament uses the word “Forever,” or “everlasting,” it’s translated from the (presumably Greek) word Aion. The original meaning of this word is very technical and difficult to grasp in English, but Bell highlights a few possible interpretations in layman’s terms.

He writes that Aion is most basically translated to the word “forever” or “everlasting” in English, but it doesn’t mean a literal length of time. This is from his book:

“Another meaning of aion is a bit more complex and nuanced, because it refers to a particular intensity of experience that transcends time…Let me be clear: heaven is not forever in the way that we think of forever, as a uniform measurement of time, like days and years, marching endlessly into the future. That’s not a category or concept we find in the Bible. This is why a lot of translators choose to translate aion as ‘eternal.’ By this they don’t mean the literal passing of time; they mean transcending time, belonging to another realm altogether.”

I noted while I was reading, “So when Jesus says they will have eternal life, he means transcendent life.”

Jesus’ claim that “the kingdom of heaven is within” makes a lot more sense in this context. So many things qualify to make heaven manifest on earth if life is supposed to feel infinite.

The moment of realization when I bring my spirit fully into my body, when I practice mindfulness and meditation – that gives me extra time, it makes every day last longer. I’m practicing presence, being fully alive.

The moment when I breathe in the smell of the beach, or taste the complexity of a fine tea or sushi – that is eternal life, it’s when I transcend the ordinary.

When I come to a new realization, get a creative idea, or notice the oft-overlooked details in people and their art, I’m making heaven just by observing it – paradise in a moment.

One of my favorite rappers, Eyedea, wrote this: “You see, heaven isn’t some place that we go when we die, it’s that split second in life where you actually feel alive.”

For weeks, I couldn’t keep myself from crying every time I heard the song “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult. I didn’t know why for a while, but I let it happen, especially when it came on the radio. Then I realized that it was in the line “Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity – we can be like they are.”

Two lovers, dead young in one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. If heaven the afterlife does not exist, can it be true that those who die in love are together in eternity? Yes, it can. The love they had, those short days of intensity, was an aion of eternity. They are together in eternity, and we can be like they are, my spirit cried out to those I’d loved and lost. What we had, and what is over and final, was eternal.

The phrase “feeling infinite” comes from the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In it, the main character and his friends are driving at night and they hear a song that means a lot to them. The book never says what the song is, which I think is a nice touch from the author.

There’s a moment of perfection, of transcendence, of being fully alive and fully present. It’s a high, in a way. It feels in that instant, even if it’s brief, that it will never end. That’s what it means to experience infinity.