Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: Heaven by Lisa Miller

"As Emily Dickinson said, heaven is what we cannot reach. But it is worth a human life to try." -- Lisa Miller

In her recent book, Heaven, author Lisa Miller, takes on the challenging task of bringing new light to a topic that has been pondered throughout eternity and for which there ultimately is no conclusive proof. It is a subject rooted across religions and everyone from agnostic to fundamentalist has an opinion. In her author's note, Miller states, "While I do not aim to be inclusive, I did try to write a book that's broad and balanced enough to give every interested reader something to chew on." In that she has succeeded.

The book is filled with interesting historical facts, modern theatrical interpretations as well as literary excerpts about how our images of heaven have developed. Miller's skill as a journalist shines through with her thorough research and anecdotal interviews. My favorite passages were those in which she interviewed "real" people who were both passionate and certain about their beliefs, as well as others who answered her question "do you believe in heaven" by not answering it at all.

One rapt interview matched Miller, a skeptical Jewish woman married to a baptized Catholic turned nonbeliever, against Anne Graham Lotz the daughter of the late evangelist Billy Graham. Miller describes Lotz as warm, likable, and direct in her belief that every born-again Christian will ascend to heaven as part of the choice based in accepting Jesus Christ as personal Savior. At the end of the segment (after being witnessed to by Lotz), Miller reveals a transparent vulnerability as she writes, "Lotz's certainty made me squeamish... I know she's wrong, I thought. But what if she's right?" As with universal discussions on God, Heaven tickles the curious notion of how we can take comfort in (or be squeamish about) something we cannot unequivocally know.

Along with the interviews, Miller weaves data and research as she broaches broad topics of resurrection, salvation, visionaries and the boringness of heaven. She does a beautiful job writing a book about religion that anyone - moderates, fundamentalists, nonbelievers and people of all faiths - can read without offense. In many ways, Heaven is a brief history of the major religions with a focus around a topic everyone has pondered from time to time. Parts of Heaven resonated deeply with me while others had me skimming over pages that at times felt repetitive. Nonetheless, Miller has taken a daunting topic and distilled it into 250 pages which are well worth reading for anyone fascinated with the after life.

Does she provide answers? Are there any really? Have you witnessed heaven yourself? Think about it. From where do your thoughts and opinions on this topic arise? A glimpse into Miller's Heaven offers much food for thought on a timeless topic.

This review is part of the TLC book review tour for Harper-Collins at their request.

3 comments:

tenar said...

Amazing we are participating on Earth in that same awesome sea of stars we witness in the Heavens at night, seamlessly, without separation.

lucy said...

beautifully said, tenar!

heathertlc said...

Answers about Heaven are hard to come by unless to truly believe in a particular religious tradition, so Miller certainly had her hands full when she tackled this topic. Thank you for the thoughtful review of her book.