Recently a friend remarked that Hereford is not as far from Oxford as he had thought. Like many people, I suppose, he had imagined a rural scene, all apples and mangle-wurzels, far removed from the intellectual and artistic intensity of his university city. It didn’t really matter how many miles separated us, nor how long it took to drive them. Hereford and Oxford occupy different spheres. They are a world away from each other in space and time. I don’t agree, but I understand how they can be perceived to be so because emotional distance is really the only true measure of distance there is.
The longest journey we ever make is the first one, away from our childhood home; and it really doesn’t matter whether we move a few streets or a few thousand miles. A long journey, gladly made, seems short; an unwelcome one can seem long and tedious, even if it covers just a few miles. Our personal world-map, the one we carry inside ourselves, has distances marked out in scales of love and desire, youth and age, happiness and dread. For a Catholic, Rome is only a whisker away, even if it is on the other side of the world; the holy cities of other religions can seem further away even when they are geographically closer. How we relate to them is determined in large part by our feelings about them and often complicated by present experience. Places where we have been happy are near or far, depending on the mood of the moment. So what of heaven, our ‘ultimate destination’, the ‘place’ of perfect happiness and peace? How distant does heaven seem to you today? Your answer may tell you more about yourself than you care to know.