Andrew Greeley once suggested that we might profitably meditate the following vision of heaven:
“What will the resurrection be like? . . . The condition of physical ecstasy and emotional satisfaction which results from intercourse between two people who are deeply in love is the best anticipation currently available to us of our permanent condition in the resurrected state.
“The powerful inspirational value of sexual electricity and the awesome splendors of the human body will not be inhibited in the resurrected state as they are by the weaknesses of this world. The resurrection joys, then, will be interpersonal, physical, sexual, and corporate because we will enjoy them with each other.” (Life for a Wanderer, pp. 161-162)
More than a few people are shocked by this kind of imagery when it is applied to heaven. However, it is precisely this image, sexual intercourse, which is dominant in the way the great Christian mystics, including John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila, describe heaven.
More importantly, when one looks at how some of the prophets, notably Isaiah, fantasize about “the end times,” one sees a remarkable similarity between their vision of what constitutes salvation and the sexual imagery of the mystics. In both cases, in the end, the vision is one of wholeness, of consummation, of love without limit, of normal life turned upside-down, of a final peace that is ecstatic.
Thus, for example; when Isaiah suggests that, in the last times, the wolf will lie down with the lamb, the panther with the kid, and the cow and the bear will make friends, even as the lion eats straw like the ox, and when he fantasizes the end times as a great banquet of all the best foods and the choicest wines, his fantasy is different only in image, not in substance, from what Greeley suggests.
In either case, a delicious and deeply sensual image, one that is meant to delight the imagination, is used to describe what things can be like, and will be like, if we are open to the gift of salvation.
I highlight these fantasies here because too seldom are we ever taught that our fantasies, indeed even and especially our sexual ones, can be the place where we intuit the meaning of salvation. We are the privileged exception if we have been taught that our fantasy-life can, potentially at least, be a deep rich source for spiritual insight and growth.
How so? In our favorite daydreams we picture most of the essential components of salvation. Thus . .
Our best fantasies are always ultimately images of consummation and wholeness. In them we are consummated and consummating, made whole and making whole, knowing fully even as we are known fully, face-to-face (as Paul describes this in 1 Corinthians 13: 12-13).
In our daydreams, we don’t lack for a perfect marriage nor for deep sexual embrace. In our dreams, we can unreservedly and truly make love.
Our best fantasies too turn reality delightfully upside-down and, in them, lions eat straw like the oxen. In our daydreams, the normal rules of the world are bypassed and we are able to perform great and noble things, irrespective of our athletic, artistic, educational or practical limitations.
In our fantasies we are never limited by our body, our race, our education, our background, our situation or our intelligence. Nothing is impossible in our daydreams. We can have what we yearn for. In our fantasies we can fly—and be that one-in-a-million artist, novelist, athlete, movie star or saint.
Moreover, in our fantasies there is justice and vindication. Just as the prophets imagined a great day of reckoning, when the inflated will be brought down, the cruel will have to answer for their meanness, and the hidden virtue of those suffering silently will be revealed, so too in our daydreams.
A good fantasy, in its own delicious manner, always brings about justice. In our fantasies, we intuit a new heaven and a new earth.
Finally, in our healthy fantasies we are always at our best and our noblest. We are never petty, narrow and small in our daydreams. There we are always paragons of virtue and nobility—generous, kind, deeply loving and most gracious.
Thomas Aquinas distinguished between two kinds of union. For him, you could be in union with something either through possession or through desire.
In our fantasies, indeed most often in those that are so sensual, so narcissistic and so private as to make us ashamed of them, we are given the privileged opportunity to intuit what salvation looks and feels like.