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Posts Tagged "Union with God":

Chopsticks In Heaven And In Hell

Photograph by  alamodestuff (

Photograph by alamodestuff (

“A great warrior who had lived with honour and truthfulness died and was greeted by a gatekeeper of Heaven, who was to be his guide.

He was taken at once to a gigantic banqueting hall and saw that everyone sat at long tables laden with the finest food imaginable. The most peculiar aspect of the feast was the chopsticks. These were five feet long and made of silver and teak. The warrior asked his guide about them, because it was impossible to eat with them.

‘Ah yes’, said the guide. ‘But see how we do things in Heaven’. The warrior turned and saw that all the banqueters were using the chopsticks to feed the person sitting opposite. Later, the warrior, being deeply curious, asked his guide if he might be given a glimpse of Hell.

‘Of course’, said the guide, and led him back into the banqueting hall they had just left. When the warrior pointed this out, the guide replied, ‘To look at, Hell is no different from Heaven.’ The multitudes sat, as before, at tables groaning with the finest foods. The warrior was confused. It seemed exactly the same as Heaven. ‘Observe’, said the guide, ‘No one can trust his neighbour.’ The warrior saw that the people with their long chopsticks were trying only to feed themselves, and thus, amidst plenty, they starved.’


favourite 001Last week, we had an extract from one of Deborah Cassidi’s anthologies. My copy of this one, first published in 2003, is now falling apart from extensive use.

The above extract was chosen by the actor Richard Griffith, who says of it:

A Buddhist story – often told at O Ben services held in August to commemorate the lives of those who have died during the previous year. It may have originated from Korea or Japan and has many different wordings. There is also a similar story in Jewish tradition.



I find this intriguing, and have been wondering whether there might also be a Christian version of this story. Here is another Buddhist version of the story:

A woman who had worked all her life to bring about good, was granted one wish: “Before I die let me visit both hell and heaven.” Her wish was granted.She was whisked off to a great banqueting hall. The tables were piled high with delicious food and drink. Around the tables sat miserable, starving people as wretched as could be. “Why are they like this?” she asked the angel of death who accompanied her. “Look at their arms,” the angel replied. She looked and saw that attached to the people’s arms were long chopsticks secured above the elbow. Unable to bend their elbows, the people aimed the chopsticks at the food, but missed every time and sat hungry, frustrated and miserable. “Indeed this is hell! Take me away from here!” She was then whisked off to heaven. Again she found herself in a great banqueting hall with tables piled high. Around the tables sat people laughing, contented, joyful. “No chopsticks I suppose,” she said. “Oh yes there are. Look – just as in hell they are long and attached above the elbow, but look… here people have learnt to feed one another”. She saw the difference between hell and heaven; that was the helping hand.

According to the story, it shows that hell and heaven can be seen here and now; anywhere there is selfishness or the selfish, there will be restlessness, hunger, crimes, civil war etc. that can be called ‘hell’ and wherever there is generosity or help, there will be happiness, joy, harmony, unity etc. that can be called ‘heaven’. In each moment of our life, we can see hell and heaven; whenever we are selfish, that means we are in hell and life can be miserable. Whenever we are generous to others, we are in heaven and life can be happy. Have you ever experienced hell and heaven in your life here and now?

I find the conclusion interesting – it is not quite the one I would have drawn, which is that heaven and hell may indeed look like the same place; how we perceive it depends on our closeness to God. This thought is partly prompted by C S Lewis’s ‘The Last Battle’, when ‘those who will not see’ still perceive their surroundings as a stable:

But not everyone found this new land to be so appealing. To get there, Narnians were thrown through a stable door, with the belief that they would be killed (inside there was supposed to be a guard who would kill anyone sent in – but had, before this time, been taken out by a good Calormene). A group of dwarves who, in the midst of the last battle of Narnia, sided only with themselves, made it clear that they didn’t want to do anything with King Tirian, the last king of Narnia, nor with the Calormenes, the evil followers of Tash who had invaded Narnia and were destroying it . These dwarves fought against both sides, and in the end, had been captured and thrown into the stable by the Calormenes. Despite the fact that Aslan had enchanted the door so it would bring the people into this safe, realer, better version of Narnia, the dwarves could not see it. They believed they were in a stable, without light, and anyone who tried to suggest anything else was tricking them. Even Aslan, with the gifts he was willing to bestow upon them, could not convince them otherwise:

Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a Stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said, ‘Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.’ But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said: ‘Well, at any rate, there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!’

‘You see,’ said Aslan. ‘ They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.’

Wednesday in Holy Week: Union With God – Evelyn Underhill


All gardeners know the importance of good root development before we force the leaves and flowers. So our life in God should be deeply rooted and grounded before we presume to expect to produce flowers and fruits; otherwise we risk shooting up into one of those lanky plants which can never do without a stick. We are constantly beset by the notion that we ought to perceive ourselves springing up quickly, like the seed on stony ground; show striking signs of spiritual growth. But perhaps we are only required to go on quietly, making root, growing nice and bushy; docile to the great slow rhythm of life.

When we see no startling marks of our own religious progress as our usefulness to God, it is well to remember the baby in the stable and the little boy in the streets of Nazareth. The very life was there present, which was to change the whole history of the human race, the rescuing action of God. At that stage there was not much to show for it; yet there is perfect continuity between the stable and the Easter garden, and the thread that unites them is the hidden Will of God. The childish prayer of Nazareth was the right preparation for the awful prayer of the Cross.

So it is that the life of the Spirit is to unfold gently and steadily within us; till at the last the full stature for which God designed us is attained. It is an organic process, a continuous Divine action; not a sudden miracle or a series of jerks. Therefore there should be no struggle, impatience, self-willed effort in our prayer and self-discipline; but rather a great flexibility, a homely ordered life, a gentle acceptance of what comes to us, and a still gentler acceptance of the fact that much we see in others is still out of our own reach.

The prayer of the growing spirit should be free, humble, simple; full of confidence and full of initiative too. The mystics constantly tell us, that the goal of this prayer and of the hidden life which shall itself become more and more of a prayer, is union with God. We meet this phrase often: far too often, for we lose the wholesome sense of its awfulness.

What does union with God mean? Not a nice feeling we enjoy in devout moments. This may or may not be a by-product of union with God; probably not. It can never be its substance. Union with God means such an entire self-giving that the whole of our human nature is transformed by God, irradiated by his absolute light, His sanctifying grace. Thus it is woven up into the organ of His creative activity, His redeeming purpose; conformed to the pattern of Christ, heart, soul, mind and strength. Each time this happens, it means that one more creature has achieved its destiny; and each soul in whom the life of the spirit is born, sets out towards that goal.

Evelyn Underhill

The School of Charity

The illustration is Miraculous draught of fishes by John Reilly via Veritasse

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