William J. Vande Kopple is professor of English at Calvin College and author of The Lure: Still More Stories of Families, Fishing, and Faith, which is scheduled for release later this month.
Don’t we all muse about it from time to time? That is, don’t we all occasionally wonder what heaven will be like? For me, such wondering has actually led to moments of extreme anxiety. Yes: the whole matter of eternal life profoundly unnerves me.
Hearing this surprises many people, because they relish the prospect of life without end. One man that I know misses the daughter he lost in a horrific car accident so much that he actually thinks she occasionally appears and talks to him, most commonly shortly after he wakes from sleep. It’s clear that he looks forward almost desperately to being with her forever in heaven. Other people talk about spouses they loved for sixty or seventy years and how they long to be re-united with them and never have to endure a separation again.
But the whole notion of existence without end has been scary to me. Who would want to spend ten thousand years and then look ahead ten thousand more years and see no conclusion whatsoever? In general I like being me, but the thought of being me forever, of having no conclusion to the weight of self-awareness, brings on the deepest fear. How could I always and irrevocably be? And this is heaven that fills me with such anxiety — I can’t even bear to ponder an eternity in hell. Even as I write these words, I’m on the edge of tremors.
It shouldn’t surprise you, then, to know that I have had numerous sharply focused conversations with God about how aware of the passing years I will really be Heaven. Wouldn’t it be possible to exist in Heaven and continuously be, as they say, “in the moment”? Couldn’t we enjoy the wonders of an ever-present now? That sounds really good to me. Eternal life isn’t nearly as scary for me when I imagine it this way, in part because I have had some somewhat similar experiences in this life.
Most commonly I have experienced a taste of this “ever-present now” during moments of excitement and hyper-vigilance while fishing. Thus, one big thing I wrestle with God about is whether it wouldn’t be possible for at least some of us in heaven to be allowed to fish.
The way I imagine things, the waters available in eternity would resemble the waters I admire every time I drive around Lake Superior and reach the northwest coast, a bit past Marathon, Ontario. From the bluffs and cliffs along that coast, I see verdant islands set in turquoise seas, islands with horizontal whispers of mist brushing their highlands. These islands are separated from one another by glistening channels. They have rocky spits extending from them in capricious arcs; they have pickup-sized boulders resting imperiously in water off their coasts; they offer bays on all sides, so that there is always some possible lee. Down from the mainland into the waters cradling these islands flow rivers, one every few miles. These pour from dark pools over small cascades through chattering riffles and into roaring rapids. If I follow these rivers upstream, I find mazes of connected shallow lakes, blown-down fir trees all along their shorelines, or large inland seas that drop off quickly from gravel-studded beaches to black and frigid depths. In all of these waters swim all the kinds of freshwater fish, each kind in its ideal environment. If I get on some of these waters in a boat or canoe or kayak, or get into some of these waters in waders, I know I will feel a continual sense of beckoning, of being called around another point, into another cove, to the edge of another pool.
In such heavenly waters, perfect angling will be a possibility. This would be angling in which I make every cast with constant expectancy. I won’t get a hit on every cast, but hits will come often enough that I will never stop believing that one is about to come. I will fish in a state of constant belief and focus.
Time, eternity, and perfect fishing — these are typical of the sorts of issues that I explore through narrative in my forthcoming The Lure: Still More Stories of Families, Fishing, and Faith.
In these stories, I reflect on what it’s like to be the one who shows up to famous fishing spot after famous fishing spot only to hear “you should have been here yesterday.” Or to be the one on whom three sons were once entirely dependent for fishing success but who now often feels frail and clumsy in contrast to their stamina and skill. Or to be the one whose mother was such a strict Sabbatarian that even after sixty years he feels tinges of guilt when he fishes on a Sunday night.
I’ll be eager to hear what you think about these stories. Perhaps at some point — if not on earth, then in heaven — we can meet and you can regale me with some of your own fishing tales.
Click to order The Lure: Still More Stories of Families, Fishing, and Faith by William J. Vande Kopple.