This past week has been exceptional and will live long in my memory. Teresa and I travelled to Invercargill last Sunday to support our son and his team at a (field) hockey tournament, and journeyed back yesterday. The story of the tournament and the fortunes of the team is worth telling in its own right, but I cannot presume that readers here are sports followers (suffice to say that the team came 6th in the highest ranked secondary schools tournament, which was a very high achievement in the context of the team's progress through matches during this past winter). My reflection here is about the nature of heaven.
Invercargill is our southernmost city, lying within a few kilometres of the bottom of the South Island (in a province called ... Southland - in case you were wondering from afar, our northernmost province at the top of the North Island is called Northland). It can be the butt of certain Kiwi jokes based on an underlying theme of 'the place we would least want to live in.' I realised being there this week that, despite a few visits in the past, I did not know the city. This week, being there for several days, having a car, and needing to find my way round to shops, physiotherapist, restaurants, and a church office, was an excellent chance to discover that Invercargill is a very easy place to live in, with some great facilities* and generous and kind citizens.
Further, not far from Invercargill are two special places, Riverton ('the Riviera of the South') which is a beautiful village on the banks of an estuary, and Bluff, our southermost town, where State Highway 1 ends. Teresa and I were able to visit each on warm, sunny days. At Howell's Point at the end of the estuary, just beyond Riverton Rocks, the sea crashes relentlessly into large rocks against the majestic backdrop of Stewart Island - standing on one of those rocks the beauty of the raw wildness of nature struck me. I could have stood there for hours and not exhausted the profound depths of the vista before me. On top of Bluff Hill, standing in a very well planned lookout, one of the more spectacular views one can experience in NZ (or the world?) lay around us in a 360 degree panorama. What to spend most time taking in? The majesty of Stewart Island (from a different vantage to Howell's Point) or the bottom of the South Island, including bays and estuarys in the foreground, Invercargill just beyond, and mountains in the background or the tiny islands creeping outwards from Stewart Island, including the famous Mutton Bird Islands?
It is possible to experience 'heaven on earth'! Peace, time stopping still, perfection of beauty, brilliant light seem to be hallmarks of heaven. They were part of the experiences of the two visits we made. I knew I was still on earth, however, because I was also aware of a further experience, of comparing what I experienced with other 'heavens on earth' (especially in the spectacular Top of the South (Golden Bay, Nelson, Marlborough) I lived in for the years 1993-2010). Here on earth, if given complete freedom to choose, I would not know where to choose to live permanently. In heaven itself, I presume there will be no comparisons as to whether this heaven might be bettered by another, and no indecision as to whether this is the place we want to be!
*Invercargill organises its facilities, including some outstanding sports grounds and stadia via the Invercargill Licensing Trust which controls the sale of wine and liquor in the city and uses the profits for the benefit of citizens and visitors.