Couric There be a Heaven?

After work today I plopped down on the couch and tapped on the tele, just in time to catch the tail end of Katie (Katie Couric’s new talk show).

On the screen, Katie walked across the stage, which was lined with intricate pieces of art, as she asked the pretty young artist, named Akiane Kramarik where she gained the inspiration.

Akiane explained that the amazing artwork displayed had been created when she was only a young  girl (she had paintings on the show from when she was age 8 and up). She was inspired to pick up the brush when she heard voices from Heaven and interacted with a ‘presence’. As the child of an atheist and an agnostic, her suddenly religious talk and orientation came as a shock to her parents. When asked if his daughter’s experience had changed his opinion on God, Akiane’s father nodded with an incredulous look on his face and said “There is life after death”.

Akaine speaking to Katie with one of her amazing paintings in the background (katiecouric.com)

While I was blown away by the detail and emotion in her work, as well as Akiane’s story, I couldn’t help but be reminded of an article that I’d read just weeks ago on BBC, regarding the proven link between creativity and mental illness.

I wondered, “If this beautiful young artist’s visions had been of terrifying things instead of a peaceful God in the kingdom of Heaven, what would society have done with her?”

I suspect the answer is that her fate would have been much different. Much less talk show and much more straight jacket.

Unfortunately, as a writer, I fall into the BBC’s risk group for “creative crazy” as well, and strangely, I think maybe they’re onto something. It always amazing me how a dichotomy can exist for my own emotions. Even while I was wondering if Akiane was legitimately certifiable, I also had a tiny wave of compassion and hope.

Like many people, I’ve often struggled with taking a stand on the notion of God and the afterlife…  Throughout my life, the question of what to believe has evolved into a journey.

As a young girl,  I attended and loved Catholic school. From the bible stories to the ceremony and smell of church – I adored it all. There was something very unifying about being a part of something “larger” and something so comforting about learning that an otherworldly, all-seeing being had both love and a plan for me.

In my young mind, Jesus was like Santa Claus – only supercharged, super young, and of course – sporting that neat little brown beard.

It was always a close match in my young mind

The change in my religious feelings came suddenly – like someone hit a light switch. When I hit grade eight – the religious studies that I had enjoyed so much for the crafts and stories suddenly took on a juvenile tone. The idea of eternal condemnation for some of the so-called sins, like saying the Lord’s name in vain, seemed like nothing but an antiquated attempt to control the masses.

So, fittingly for my teenage years,  I revolted against religion. I was the only one in my class to say no to confirmation (i.e., the ceremony through which one confirms their belief and servitude in God). In my opinion, the only way to go one better than “sticking it to the man” was to refuse to acknowledge the “man’s” existence at all.

Lucky for me and my changing views, I grew up in a very religiously liberal household. Even though my father was Catholic, he wasn’t devout. The motivation to enroll me in Catholic school in the first place actually had more to do with its location (a stone’s through away) than it did for religious teachings. In my childhood home, religious exploration was encouraged. Spirits, seances, crystals and all of the connotations that went with them were widely reviewed – but in following with turning my back on Catholicism, I also shut the door on everyone else’s mumbo jumbo too (if you’re going to shun, do it properly).

My mind remained that way – solidly wedged shut – until someone I deeply respected, a prof at my university, made a very bold and inappropriately religious statement in an environmental ethics course.

I can’t even remember the context in which he said it – but when the he said it, his conviction cut through the rest of the lecture like a blade of truth through the inconsequential. He said “You will find religion. You may not think so now, you may not think you will ever – but trust me, there will come a time in your life when you will suddenly need to connect with something greater than you.”

I was outraged by his statement. How dare he? In our liberal, non-denominational education institution? How dare he make a blanket statement like that? Besides pissing some students off, I’m sure the university would have given him a hard slap on the wrist.

But, it must have been that no one spoke up about it. Everyone, me included, stayed mum.

Something about that day, that lecture and those words stuck to me and later in life, I remembered them. They came back to the surface as words that couldn’t remain suppressed.

I know that for me, the bell that tolled and made my prof’s prophetic words ring true was the same bell that rang out on the night of my father’s death.

There is nothing like losing someone that you love to make you seriously take stock of what you feel in your heart. Maybe, it’s just that, to see your heart clearly – it needs to be ripped out first. Either way, when I knew that all that was left of my father’s body was just an empty pod destined for the crematorium’s kiln, an odd sense of knowing came over me. I felt in every fibre that he wasn’t truly, 100% gone.. and that same switch that I had turned off in grade 8 got tapped back on again. The difference between religion and faith became clear.

While I respect and value and sometimes miss the church, I always keep a sense of faith tucked away like a feather in my cap now. Like so many books and movies (like the Celestine Prophecy) suggest, you can still do justice to your spirit and feed your soul without having to gather beneath a steeple.

I’m not sure if there is a God or what the truth about life after death really is but I know that keeping an open mind and an open heart certainly can’t hurt.

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