As some of you know I have recently been in hospital several times which brings its worries but also its privileges of seeing the dedication and humanity of so many people brought together to do so much good to others in need, often in pain. When you are in it and among it you can’t help but catch the heavenliness of it all. I can’t count the number of times I have heard people say that “those nurses who looked after me were just like angels”.

While I have been in hospital I have been working some of the time on an indexing of many of our church teachings to make them accessible in a much shorter version. The second one I worked on said this: “Jesus Christ is the invisibleness of God made visible. Everything spiritual must be seen by us through natural forms.” Through what’s seeable, through what we’re familiar with, and through things we can understand. Jesus Christ is personal, like us, but perfect like we aren’t, and Jesus told parables that used sheep and seeds and birds and houses which the listening crowds would ‘get’ because they knew them daily.

So, back to the hospital as a picture for us of heaven. Every time my hospital room door opens, it’s someone who seems to be saying on their face that I am the most important person around. That sounds heavenly! Yes, they will go next door and do that again but that’s not the point. They haven’t been trained to care, they are caring. I haven’t yet met a day nurse who took up nursing because they didn’t know what else to do.

One of the impressive things about hospitals is their staggering co-ordination between different departments. Of course, today a lot of middle-level hospital workers and others have it all to hand on a computer screen and can find in a flash when someone was tested for ringworm. That has made things more efficient but any hospital has to have its systems in place, even those that were around in 1919!

In Swedenborg’s work ‘Heaven and Hell’ there are many descriptions of heaven (and of hell). A lot of these pictures of how it goes in heaven talk about principles, like being useful, being wise, acknowledging the Lord, everything has its place in the scheme of things, and they often add a visual description to make it more personal. I found myself thinking that you could wander around a big hospital with a copy of ‘Heaven and Hell’ and see so many instances of what we’re told heaven is like. Hell? Well, you might have to go somewhere else to do that but I’d better not say more.

So here are three chapter headings from ‘Heaven and Hell’ as I wander round the hospital seeing various heavens with my own eyes…

Heaven is made up of countless communities. This is an obvious one because all hospitals are packed with their -ologies (haematology, neurology, oncology…) each one with its expertise and function but none any less than any other.

The Divine of the Lord makes heaven. Perhaps not as easy as the first one but let’s give it a try. The Lord’s Divine really means what the Lord is like in himself plus what the Lord gives out and shines forth with, which is his love and wisdom. So where do you see that the most in a hospital? Perhaps it is in everything and everyone who works for the welfare of all. But I think I felt it when I waited for my op in the surgical department, this large space full of doctors, nurses, anaesthetists, admin, porters, each looking busier than busy, but all driven by the desire to heal and make it better. It’s that which shines forth in surgery.

Heavenly Joy and Happiness is basically the idea that while we enjoy a lot of worldly things which seem, we think, to make us happy, the real joy and happiness is something else, something purer, finer and which moves our deeper levels of our soul and spirit. In terms of the hospital, this would be the occasional but powerful feeling, “What a wonderful place this is,” adding perhaps, “This is none other than the house of God.”

Julian Duckworth

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