Heavenly Thoughts

The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven: A Remarkable Account of Miracles, Angels, and Life Beyond This World

I read Heaven Is for Real, the book that’s sometimes confused with the one pictured here, for a book club. Then I found The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven and read it too, to add to the book club discussion. I finished it the day before the meeting, which was the same day the publisher announced that it was all made up. The young boy had admitted he just liked the attention, and his dad/co-author Kevin Malarkey “elaborated” on his son’s stories of shining and brilliantly colored scenery and beings, with fluffy clouds and feathers and gold all around. The boy and his mom, regretting the deception, had been trying to recant for a long time. No one would listen. People who had invested their belief into it didn’t want to give that up. Finally, probably fearing legal action with a made-up story being sold as true, the publisher issued a statement that they had been hoodwinked and recalled the book.

Sigh of relief. Maybe, just maybe, fewer people will be taken in by the perpetuation of this kind of myth and fantasy. The boy in the other book, Heaven Is for Real (recently made into a movie) is sticking to his story. For those who want to believe the currently popular mythological view of heaven (not that there’s anything wrong with that) Heaven Is for Real holds together a lot better. The dad/co-author (Todd Burpo) goes to some lengths to show that his son, as the heaven visitor, was not guided by leading questions. But this one, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven — pfft! Dare I say it? (Even though it’s hardly original, how can I resist?) Malarkey!

Stormy and I have experienced a run of deaths near us lately. A dear neighbor from our California days, then in quick succession a fellow chorister we were close with, a book club member whose love we shared, an elder cousin of mine, and a close church friend of Stormy’s all within a week. That long week was within the near shadow of the passing of Stormy’s dad and all the adjustments and changes the family is going through from that. People we know comfort each other by speaking of being “in a better place” and the thought that the departed will greet their loved ones and that we will see them again too.

I do like the thought of a heaven — who doesn’t, one way or another? I like the thought that it is all around us but some limitation prevents us from seeing it. Perhaps I should say prevents our bodies from seeing it. Theologies have been built, wars fought, and lives dedicated or squandered, all on speculating about how that limitation can or will be overcome. If physicists and cosmologists deal in string theory to conceive of parallel universes or a multiverse, and if there may be something to out-of-body or past life experiences — even if those are all within the mind of the believer (is there anything that is not thus?) — the idea of another existence constructed in other dimensions isn’t far removed. It could be true. It could be here.

I recall a favorite moment on a bright spring day, in our adopted “hometown” of Panagyurishte, Bulgaria, in the little courtyard of a café.

Resting quietly there with friends, listening to the birds and with all the trees in their new spring clothes, I remarked that it was like a little bit of paradise. Krassi told us the story of how the Bulgarians got their land…

When God made the world, He made places for all the people, or at least He meant to. The Bulgarians tugged at His sleeve and asked, “Did You forget us?” God actually had overlooked the Bulgarians but did not want to admit it, so He gave them a piece of heaven He had been saving for Himself, and said it had been made for them.

Breeze, p. 168

Thinking that heaven is all around us, right where we are, doesn’t preclude there being what is called in eulogies a “greater yet-to-be.” Some believe it’s where we came from, and the state to which we will return. Some believe it’s a process repeating over and over, to infinity. Eternity. The idea that I am not a body that has a soul, but a soul that has a body, turns the question upside down and places my existence in that higher context. The Christian Bible asserts that “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor 2:9) That doesn’t tell us where that place (calling it a place for convenience, bear with me) might be. I believe, though, that we are a part of it, and that no one can tell us about it.

When we get the slightest glimpse of it, like on a bright spring day with a good friend in the sun-dappled cool courtyard of a café, or on a mountaintop, or hearing a loved one breathe, it is a memory worth holding.

The first bit of this post is from a book review. If it interests you, I have more book reviews. Books with reviews are annotated “with text.”

Glorious Color

A friend told me she would like to see the pictures from A Breeze in Bulgaria in color. Her original-issue NOOK only showed her the images in grayscale, even though the paper book and newer e-readers show full color. That hardly seems fair, since I’m so proud of my pictures and chose them with such care to help tell my Bulgaria Stories.

My digital camera, in Bulgaria in 2002-2004, was quite a novelty. It served as a great conversation starter and a means of exchanging stories. People would sometimes ask how many pictures I had taken. I was pretty shy about telling, since the assumed frame of reference was rolls of film where it would cost the price of a few lunches to get 20 or 36 prints. Hundreds of pictures would seem like a spendthrift’s extravagance in those mostly-pre-digital days. Now it can be told, and of course we’re all more blasé about digital pics; they accumulate like autumn leaves. I have almost 5,000 pictures from my time in Bulgaria! Anybody for a full slideshow? We’ll get together sometime when you have a few days.

If that’s too much to fit into your schedule, how about just the pictures in the book, like my friend asked about? Here you go, Linda… Breeze Pictures. Now you can see the pictures in glorious color, just like the “paper” book readers and the owners of those fancy new iPads, Kindles and new-gen NOOKS!

Valley of Thracians

Valley of ThraciansMysterious disappearances, betrayals, loyalty. Crooks, cops, an enigmatic archaeologist, helpful strangers. All these come together against a backdrop of beautiful Bulgarian vistas, crowded cities and down-to-earth rural villages. Then for good measure we have a Peace Corps Volunteer in the mix, in Valley of Thracians by Ellis Shuman.

Imagine my delight in finding this Bulgaria story, with so many aspects of that wonderful country that I had admired and described in my own book. Added to all that rich description and cultural narrative, giving it heart and nerve, is a top-rate mystery plot!

Ellis’ book can be described as a “travel fiction” since the story hinges as much on the setting as on the main characters. Both are developed expertly and the interplay is seamless as the story unfolds. As we follow the twists and turns of the plot we are treated to fascinating lessons in Bulgarian culture, geography, customs and folkways, mores and ways of thinking. The writer’s observations and revelations about the country are always relevant to the action, as well as being informative and fascinating.

The story itself is a thriller with all the classic elements of the genre. We have a missing person presumed dead; clues that don’t fit the official reports; a doting grandpa pushing against all odds to find his beloved grandson; contradictions, suspicions, surprises and reversals. We have bad guys and good guys swirling around a mysterious lost treasure, hide-and-seek chases all over the country, crowded festivals and lonely mountaintops, drugs and guns. There are enough plot twists to engage the diehard mystery reader, and enough human interest angles to warm anyone’s heart.

If it seems clear from the author’s detailed and colorful Bulgaria knowledge that he has “been there,” there’s good reason for that authenticity. His real-life Bulgarian story is told in his Bulgarian Adventure blog, written while he lived and worked in Sofia. For anyone who loves Bulgaria, and even more for anyone who has never thought about Bulgaria, Valley of Thracians is a delightful read.