During my retreat I started reading Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. I wish I could remember who recommended the book to me so I can thank the person; it is a really wonderful book. The title comes from Rohr’s conviction that it is by falling down that we grow from a first-half-of-life spirituality and way of being to a second-half-of-of-life one (a move not everyone makes).
One of the things Rohr talks about is heaven and hell. He talks about hell in a way that is not dissimilar from some others I have read and that resonates with me. Indeed, it is the only way I can understand hell. Rohr writes
God excludes no one from union, but must allow us to exclude ourselves in order for us to maintain our freedom. Our word for that exclusion is hell, and it must be maintained as a logical possibility. There must be the logical possibility of excluding oneself from union and to choose separation or superiority over community and love. No one is in hell unless that individual himself or herself chooses a final aloneness and separation.
I confess this is not a understanding of hell that fits well with those who prefer to see those they label as sinners cast down into punishment. But it is one that is consistent with a God who has unconditional love for us.
That explanation of hell also helps appreciate an important reminder Rohr makes in the chapter: that heaven and hell are “primarily eternal states of consciousness more than geographical places of later reward and punishment.” That reminder helps us understand why we can taste heaven or hell during our lifetimes.