Oakland church

A Message from Heaven

by David Guerra

I got a message from Heaven last week.

It was a chilly Tuesday afternoon, where scattered clouds scurried across the sky to deliver bursts of showers.  I was taking some self-care time in a walk around Lake Merritt when I took a detour to my favorite place, the bird sanctuary.   I was thinking about the sounds of life; the repertoire of the songbirds, the gentle whir of wings, the drumming of the rain on the water.  As I approached the fenced-in area, I heard another sound: a human voice lilting on the breeze. 

I saw him; a black man seated on the bench looking out at the sanctuary, his eyes half closed as he sang an intricate melody in a language I didn’t recognize.  He didn’t seem to notice me as I walked by. 

A few minutes later, I walked back.  The man was still singing and I was curious about his music.  I slowed down, hoping to make eye contact.  He wore layers of old clothing and a large knitted cap which bulged with the hair beneath.  He stopped singing and looked up.  

“What are you singing?” I asked.   

“I am chanting.” His voice had a strangely beautiful accent.    

“Chanting,” I murmured.  “What language?”

“Arabic.” 

I nodded.  “It’s beautiful.  I wondered what you were saying.”

“They are praises to God,” he said.  Then he explained that all things use breath: the animals, plants and people.  We share that in common – breath – and it connects us.  We are all created by God.  God is in us, but we are not God.  And God gives us a certain number of breaths in our lives. 

“Some people choose to waste their breath,” he said.  “I choose to use mine to praise God.”

I was dumbfounded.  This conversation had traveled so deep, so fast.  I thanked him for talking to me.

He looked at me and smiled.  “What is your name?”

“David.”

“I’m Heaven, David.” 

“Pleased to meet you, Heaven.” 

So that’s the message I got from Heaven, on a Tuesday afternoon under leaden skies by a place of personal retreat.   Heaven is a black man, an angel, with words I needed to hear.   

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