Bennie was a Psychiatrist at Grady hospital when COVID-19 hit. She was black and round, with hair buzzed close to her head. And she had an abnormal prayer life. She saw things others didn't see. She got messages sometimes that she didn't want. In other cultures she would have been a great witchdoctor. If she weren't raised Christian, she'd probably fall into being a psychic because it seemed the dead could communicate through her.
Instead of being a psychic, she became a psychiatrist. And like was said before, she was a psychiatrist with an an unusual prayer life.
It was near the end of her 28 hour shift, on Wednesday at 3pm that it happened. She had just finished her rounds, and was so discouraged. They had 14 deaths that day, 12 of them directly from COVID. And it looked like there might be another one tonight. This was the worst day any Atlanta hospital had had in the epidemic so far.
She closed the door of her office and sat down. She slid her N95 mask off her mouth and down to her neck. She pushed up her glasses and rubbed her eyes. A whisper slipped from her mouth, "Why all this, god?" Her mind quickly drifted toward sleep.
But suddenly a woman stood there with her, just inside the door. But there had been no creak or click. She had a smile on her face. Her shoulder-length, white hair gleamed. Her arms were crossed and feet planted. Maybe 45? Bennie didn't know her. . . she didn't think.
"Bennie." The woman said.
"Leslie!?" Bennie suddenly did recognize her. "What--?! What are you--?" She fell silent.
"I came to talk to you, and show you some things."
Leslie had been her mentor in Bennie's doctorate program, and had died at age 65, 2 years prior. They had been close. "Sorry, I totally didn't recognize you, so wierd. But I heard you, well, died. I guess not. And how'd you get in here?!"
"I know. It's a trick with these bodies." A secret smile crept across her face.
"Resurrected ones. Remember how you and I would just chat in my office way past when the building would close."
"About what the new heaven and new earth would be like.“ Then she shuddered under her breath. “So you are dead."
"Yes." Leslie's smile was grand and beautiful. "I know now is a rough time for a lot of people, and you're feeling the weight more than most. I just wanted to check in on you and give you something."
"Answers." She let her arms down to her sides. "Want to take a walk with me?"
Leslie turned the knob and opened the door for them.
Bennie’s old patronizing humor kicked in and said, "Why didn't you just walk through the door, doc?" Bennie used to say things like, why don't you use that tenure rank to just take all the cookies in the cafeteria.
Leslie chuckled, her true and full smile coming out with it. "Actually, if you'd like to know, I just thought why would I go through a door when I can open it. The coolness of the knob, the small creak of the hinge. The stiff mass of this wood moving. It is all so pleasant. God has built these constraints into this world for our senses to cherish. So why wouldn't I respect them if it pleases me so much?!" She smiled back at Bennie.
Bennie replied, "And this from the one who couldn't take a Saturday morning off of work to take a hike with me."
"I know. I regret that so much now." Sadness suddenly flowed over her face. Her emotions were so true and rich, no need to hide or temper them. "I wish I had, but that regret has been redeemed. Now I love touching doorknobs." She smiled.
Bennie slapped her arm and laughed. Her arm under her cardigan was so soft and strong. And warm.
As they walked away from her office Bennie asked, "Why didn't I recognize you?"
"Now, on the other side, we know the physical earth is just a means to stimulate our hearts and minds, to show what's in them, and then to transform them if needed. Remember Jesus on the road to Emmaus, his friends didn't recognize him until he broke the bread? Remember Mary thought he was the gardener until he said her name? He knew that teaching them now that things are not as they seem, was more important than breaking the rules of earth. Plus it wasn't really a law of physics he broke. Those are harder. It was more of a bending of the mind. People are always trying to change their perception to others' in your world. I just have more power to do it with this body. God trusts us with that power with each other because there’s just not much motivation to deceive in a place where we share a common vision."
They walked past the overwhelming pile of flowers by the automatic sliding doors and Leslie bent down and took a long satisfying smell of one of the big lilies. "Oh, and the other purpose of the rules of earth, is to give us something to enjoy." She sighed. "It was partly the limits of gravity and genetics and even disease That have strengthened and evolved this flower to be like this. Like if there were no rules to a soccer game it would be chaos to watch." She winked at her friend.
Bennie smiled. She had forgotten how much Leslie liked watching soccer.
"And those are part of the answer to your first question." Leslie pointed her thumb back at the pile of flowers."
Bennie couldn't remember what she had asked.
"You had prayed, 'Why all of this, God.' Remember how I said the point of this world is to reveal and transform what's in our hearts? Well, those flowers wouldn't be here for all of you if COVID hadn't hit."
"A lobby full of flowers hardly justifies hundreds of thousands of deaths, Leslie." Bennie was suddenly serious.
"Babel. Babel. Babel."
"What?! If you take all this that lightly I don't know if I can--"
"I'm teasing, but that's actually the answer. Again all this is right there in the Bible. Remember the tower of Babel? The people were unifying and accomplishing amazing things. God realized that was bad."
"I've always wondered about that. Why was working together to accomplish something great so bad?! It seems like a dad knocking over his kids' LEGO castle."
"Right, well that would have been good if the purpose of this life were to progress in our accomplishments and increase our comfort. Unity isn't so bad, but God was not involved in it. They were forgetting that he had given them everything. They had taken it for granted and did what they wanted instead.
"Like now, all our resurrected bodies work as one organism toward one end but Christ is our animating force. He is basically the food these bodies run on. The blood Pulsing through us that gives its oxygen so that we may live. We are really extensions of him, each with our own unique tasks. Like Paul's talk about an ear not being able to do what an eye can do or a pinky toe. And we are very united in mind and hearts; we all want the will of Jesus, because he just casts such a severely beautiful vision.
She continued. "But the mission is not to necessarily build something. It is just to operate as a body, the joy we get from simply working with such tight bonds of love and understanding. It is why we do what we do. To be united with Christ, each other, and through Christ, God. The task isn't so important. But there are definitely tasks to do in your world, like helping people get well, but again it is for the purpose of the evolution of the human hearts involved."
A cough came from one of the rooms they had just passed. Leslie saw the concern wrinkle Bennie's forehead.
"You are wondering if I can make the pain go away, aren't you."
Bennie looked at her and nodded.
"I'm sorry. I could but again, the absence of pain is not the point of this world. The point is how it is revealing the human hearts in it, and then once they know the ways they are in need, healing them. What have you noticed about her interaction with her daughter?" Leslie motioned to their door.
"An avoidant attachment style by the daughter due to the mother's narcissistic behavior."
"Oh, I see you've finally come around to the work of Bowlby." She smiled. "And what have you actually seen happening in there?"
"The daughter told me her mother never told her she loved her until yesterday."
"Yes. This tragedy and new dependence on each other reveals and reframes the motives of our hearts."
"I'm hoping this helps the daughter learn to love her son better."
"Exactly. Gotta crack some eggs to make an omelet."
"But people are dying. People are in a lot of pain."
"I know, I know. It hurts all of us to see it. But here is a truth. The pain ends. And death comes to all. But pain and death are a catalyst to change hearts. Your world had gotten pretty independent of having any needs. You all were pretty comfortable."
Leslie glanced into another room. "Only when things are shaken up do they have a chance to resettle. You, and everyone else effected get a chance to reevaluate how they do things. How they treat others. How they live their lives. How independent they really are."
"And scars are redeemed."Leslie glanced down at a tray with a bloody scalpel on it.
"What do you mean?"
"Remember the scars on Jesus' hands after he was resurrected?"
"You all here have very few scars earned for the kingdom. It will be pretty humbling for most of you modern Americans. What scars can you enter the kingdom attesting were from sacrificing for the kingdom?"
Leslie glanced into the next room and saw nurses scrambling around a woman whose eyes had rolled back into her head.
Bennie put her arm on Leslie and they paused, looking into the room.
"Can't you do something?"
"I can." Leslie said hesitantly.
"They think she has a blood clot and were worried it would make its way to her heart or brain."
Leslie paused for a moment. Oh, Bennie, it pains me as well. But this is part of a story, my dear. And it's such a good story. You'll see how important the bad times are for making the redemption so much better. Leslie bit her lips and tears came from her eyes. She touched Bennie's hand on her arm. "The pain is ending, Bennie. The pain will soon be ended. But every time we have to interrupt the story with a miracle, it prevents humans from revealing and maturing their hearts. In literature it's called Deus Ex Machina: God in the machine. When you can tell the author helped the protagonist out a little too much we all feel cheated. You know any good story is about the growth of the character. The rest is just setting."
"Oh, Leslie. Can't you help at all? Can't you just miraculously reach into her head, like you went through the door, and pull out the clot?"
"I know you don't understand yet. Here's how I can help. I will tell you what is going on in his mind," She pointed to the patient's elderly husband squirming on the edge of his seat bitting his knuckle. "He feels like God has deserted them. Their son committed suicide and now he's afraid his wife is being taken away from him too. I know their son. He is an amazing architect on the new earth. Which means he is really a gardener and he teaches the plants how to grow into the buildings of his vision. I've talked to him about them. Tell the father there. . ." Leslie thought for a moment and smiled, "tell him his son is building, well tree-shaping, a sun room for him and mom. It is overlooking some water with a roof made of a canopy of Japanese maples. Those trees are their favorite." Leslie paused and smiled again. "And just add, you'll still be able to feel the rain on your bald head. It's an inside joke."
Bennie nodded. "Okay. Okay." She swallowed, thought and nodded again. She had seen the effect that hearing voices from beyond could have. She just hadn't known whether she could trust them. "I guess I could see how the psychology of that could change everything."
"Yes. Everything that matters, at least. We all die and the pain ends."
It was settling in how powerful that could settle peace onto the whole situation. "Why can't I have a word like that for everyone if they are so powerful?"
They began to walk again. Leslie said, "It's a matter of listening in prayer. It's hard. The words are often there, if we are able to pray long enough. That's something us Americans were terrible at. There are Ethiopian pastors that would pray in their house for 9 hours to hear from God before they'd leave their room to go minister."
"But sometimes, we just aren't supposed to know because the mental pain is often the biggest driver to make us have to grow. If we were given peace and assurance in hard times we might never reach out to loved ones for help. And it is one of the most beautiful things to see people come around and love you, and see them be the words God wants to speak to you when you need it. Why would we want to suppress that or miss that part in the story. That revealing of the love in people's hearts. In the same way the pain ends, the love never ends. It just grows stronger."
"Well, we've almost walked the whole floor. I must return to earth."
"You've forgotten you're on earth." Bennie summoned to tease her. "Are you avoiding heaven or something?"
Leslie slapped her arm lightly. "My memory no longer sucks up here. I'm actually going back to the new earth. We're in the past right now. But time is different and the new earth is laid over the top of the old one, which was transformed at the end of your universe's time. And I can visit heaven if I want to; it’s like a vacation to Hawaii or something. But human's home is earth. We were made for it and it for us. And it is really special. Heaven is like visiting the Taj Mahal. It's really great to look at and meant for the governing beings. But earth is home."
Leslie saw Bennie's office door and sighed. "I know this sounds weird, my dearest Bennie. But really soak up this pain. This confusion, this chaos. This anxiety. I wish I had done that better, while also remembering that the pain would end. Those who were dealt the hardest hands on your earth love being in the new earth the most."
Before walking into Bennie's office Leslie turned to her and put her hands on both arms as she asked. "Are you going to be okay?"
"You come all the way down here and now you're just going to leave like that?" Bennie swallowed a knot in her throat. "You going to be with Connie instead of me?" It was said as a joke but it was a cheap shot. She didn't want Leslie to leave. And their friendship had diminished on the old earth when Leslie had gone to live with a semi-platonic female partner, Connie.
"Oh Bennie. I know this place is hard." Leslie leaned in and kissed her cheek just beneath her eye, because she saw a tear drop there.
Peace flooded Bennie like a wave of warmth. Her whole body relaxed. Leslie walked her to her chair and helped her sit down and get comfortable. "You'll wake up now. I could have come to you for real in person, with this new body, but that would be breaking some of those laws of physics, we need to keep those laws because they are the catalyst for so much revealing and growth of hearts. But your mind has a foot in the spiritual world already anyway, so I wasn't sacrificing too much in the story to come be with you in a dream. More of a footnote, you could say." She stepped back and watched Bennie's eyes get heavy.
"Don't forget to tell them about the Japanese Maples." She smiled sadly at Bennie. "You're doing such a great job, my dear friend. I can't wait to see you again."
In Philippians 3:21 Paul says we will get glorious bodies like Christ had. How does this modify your hopes for our next bodies? And does it make you treat others a little different, knowing Jesus may appear in the form of someone you do not realize it him?