Sometime afterward, I considered imagining heaven would be a worthy pursuit. I was excited to try, but once I began I came up with almost nothing. Golden streets, a big city, angels. I wanted to imagine, but I couldn't get far. I gave up. Unlike James Bryan Smith in Room of Marvels, I didn't consider meeting the people there. Smith does and in doing so, has written a poignant book. While his book is fiction and doesn't claim to be fact, it is a fascinating imagining of what heaven will be like.
The story behind Room of Marvels makes the novel even more important. Smith himself experienced the deaths of a close friend, his young daughter and his mother within two years. Understandably, he was left with deep grief and unanswered questions. This book became his therapy.
In the book, Tim, the main character, attends a silent spiritual retreat to help him cope with the deaths of his best friend, daughter and mother. He struggles with the stillness and silence but is encouraged by his spiritual director to rest and meditate on a passage in Luke. After a couple of days, Tim is still feeling desperate. He prays that God will speak to him and falls asleep. Then he dreams of a cottage where he meets his old barber, a kind and friendly man who died several years ago. The story continues with him being led through different exercises by various important people in his life which strip away guilt, shame, his mask of perfection and tendencies to control. These people and experiences help prepare him for entrance into the room of marvels.
I enjoyed this book much more than I expected. It reminded me of other books including Paul Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen The Genesee Diary. It's a little bit raw in places, but it is heartfelt and deeply moving. I recommend it as a kind of friend to someone walking in grief or as a guide to someone wishing to better understand the process.