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Loneliness to fill the silence.

loneliness to fill the silenceWe tell stories because we can’t help it. We tell stories because they fill the silence death imposes. We tell stories because they save us. — Madeleine L’EngleRock That is Higher

I read a story today that filled my own silence. Another person’s story can overwhelm our own story, reach down into our despair and loneliness, and haul us out. Even for a few glorious moments of fresh air, we are removed from our cocoon of fears.

Hers is the stuff of nightmares: terror, murder, isolation. Most of us simply cannot conceive of this form of darkness. As a resident of Djibouti, a country in the horn of Africa, Rachel Pieh Jones mourns the recent tragedy of 148 killed in Kenya, where two of her kids attend a boarding school.

In 2003, she fled with her family from Somaliland, an independent state not far from where they live now, after western aid workers were killed. She lives surrounded by poverty, unemployment, and refugees who continue to arrive, fleeing from Yemen. She manages to function in spite of an ongoing state of fear that today will be her last day to live.

Stories are able to help us to become more whole, to become Named. And Naming is one of the impulses behind all art; to give a name to the cosmos, we see despite all the chaos. — Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

By telling her story, she allows not only us, but herself, to see through the chaos and to the beauty of the cosmos. She doesn’t do this without some serious help; without the help of a hero, our Greatest Hero, she admits she’s a coward.

“I am the woman cowering behind Jesus, clinging to the edges of his robes, trembling. I’m the one saying, ‘I want to be with you. I want to go with you. But are you sure you want to go there? You really want to do that?'”

Do You, God? Do You really want to put us at risk? Bring us to the edge of our sanity? Drag us through unbelievable pain? Force us to witness unspeakable violence and unfathomable hate? Endure the quiet torture of loneliness?

Like Rachel, and the psalmist David, we can take comfort in Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.” If we are going to live our story despite the chaos and fear, we can try to live it like David. He was brave enough to admit that he was afraid, but weak enough to admit he needed Jesus.

When Rachel admits she fears a lot of things, and lists loneliness among them, I stop to give her silent thanks. Here’s a woman who must worry about the lack of armed guards outside the church on Easter Sunday saying that she fears loneliness.

Our story is never written in isolation. We do not act in a one-man play. We can do nothing that does not affect other people, no matter how loudly we say, “It’s my own business.”  — Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Thank you, Rachel, for giving me a gift of consolation. Knowing I’m not alone in my fears, that my fear is real, makes me inexplicably less frightened. Shared fears, like shared grief, lightens the load. I may not know you, nor you me, but you know my fears.

Perhaps that is part of the Naming that Madeleine L’Engle speaks of when we tell our stories. As we give Name to our deepest fears, as we share this part of our story, we free ourselves from its clutches. Loneliness won’t go away, but it will begin to have meaning.

My husband calls it confronting the ugly. As my steadfast anchor in stormy seas, he never fails to supply me with a more practical perspective. When the boat feels like it’s about to go over, he reminds me that it’s seaworthy. When the waves are too much to handle, he asks me, “What are you going to do about it?”

Most of the time, the answer is the same. I will put my trust in the One Who Is Bravest of All, like David did. I will Name my fear, face my fear, and trust that God will give me what I need to carry on.

Therefore I would like to voice loudly and clearly what might seem unpopular and maybe even disturbing: The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift. Sometimes it seems as if we do everything possible to avoid the painful confrontation with our basic human loneliness, and allow ourselves to be trapped by false gods promising immediate satisfaction and quick relief. But perhaps the painful awareness of loneliness is an invitation to transcend our limitations and look beyond the boundaries of our existence. The awareness of loneliness might be a gift we must protect and guard, because our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for him who can tolerate its sweet pain.  — Henri Nouwen, Wounded Healer

Manatee Love

graceLike a charming yet distinctly unglamorous pug — a breed of dog that is so ugly it’s absolutely adorable — there’s another creature that tugs on my heartstrings. For not only is it inexplicably it’s-so-pugly-it’s-cute, but this utterly defenseless and gentle mammal exudes a tender cheerfulness with its God-given grin.

If only humans would practice the manatee’s posture of sanguinity more often. Imagine people everywhere grinning with abandon, prepared to receive you with unabashed happiness as you approach them.

It would unfold something like this:

“Hey, how ’bout a belly rub?” you offer, in pure manatee-love fashion.

“Why, yes, I think I might,” they accept, careful to meet your eye so you know they mean it.

As you begin a friendly belly rubbing, you note how graceful they are despite their portly shape. You think, Wow, if only I knew how to do a roll-over and twist with such ease.

“Great. Wait, you missed a spot,” they add helpfully.

And so the dance goes. In a manatee-loving, faith-trusting, truth-seeking, hope-giving, forgiveness-sharing world, we will be blessed with bountiful grace. We will dance with one another without fear.

What can I do for you? Can I help you with that? How are you doing today? (asked like you really mean it.) You look like you need a hug. Can I pray for you? I’d like for you to have this. Here, let me do that. I’ve got it for you.

Watching the manatees reminds me of the simplicity of generosity. The simplicity of living in harmony. The simplicity of making room for others who desire a seat at the banquet table of Life.

Watching the manatees spoke to something deep within my soul, an ancient part of me that exists in everyone. Jesus, I see, resides in the depths of the ocean floor, in the unlikely creature of an affable sea-being. Jesus, I believe, abides in each of us, in the hidden recesses of our psyche where True Love waits.

Watch and maybe you will see and believe too.

Video music: “Watch Over Us” by The Lone Bellow and “I Will Be Blessed” by Ben Howard.

Angel tears and unknowing.

angel

Photo modified from original by massimo ankor under CC BY

The state of unknowing is perpetual. Unknowing means recognizing our limitations and ultimately understanding that you “do not have to know in limited, finite terms of provable fact that which {you} believe.” It means taking life and all its mysteries and removing them from the confines of a box.

Author Madeleine L’Engle once said, when asked how she got out of her agnostic period:

“I am still an agnostic, but then I was an unhappy one, seeking finite answers, and now I am a happy one, rejoicing in paradox.”

Being agnostic, she said, speaks to our not knowing. As limited, finite human beings, we can’t know “in any intellectual or ultimate way the infinite Lord, the undivided Trinity,” but we can know what we don’t understand.

That is the paradox.

We know the truths of the universe, yet we can’t know them as eternal certainties, because science is always evolving.

“A religious creed differs from a scientific theory in claiming to embody eternal and absolutely certain truth, whereas science is always tentative, expecting that modification in its present theories will sooner or later be found necessary, and aware that its method is one which is logically incapable of arriving at a complete and final demonstration.”

Bertrand Russell, Grounds of Conflict, Religion and Science, 1953.

We know what the world is made of, although we are unable to see this mysterious element of all life. We accept it because it satisfies the answer to enough questions. But we don’t know truth unless we step outside the box.

We are able to accept our “not-knowing,” as L’Engle said, in faith as well as in science.

Religion and science? One and the same. I don’t have any trouble with it,” L’Engle said in a PBS interview

This acceptance is also necessary when it comes to wrestling with hardship. We need this faith in the unknowing as we attempt to understand the meaning of tragedy, violence, hate, betrayal, and all host of painful irrationalities. They all can be answered by choosing a truth that is beyond our forensic thinking, that can only be explained by transcending fact.

Truth as we are called to know it through faith is frightening and demanding and uncomfortable. Pontius Pilate knew this, as L’Engle points out, so he “washed his hands of truth when he washed his hands of Jesus.”

Truth allows us to believe in things beyond this world. Angels are no exception. “To take angels seriously“, as L’Engle did, is to join the ranks of Milton, Doré, Shakespeare, William Blake, Robert Browning, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Angels are a mystery, a part of the invisible, coexisting spiritual realm around us. In The Mystery of Angels we see how subtly our lives are impacted, yet how huge are the ramifications for life-altering change because of the supernatural existence of angels.

Could we see angels, perhaps we would see them weep tears for us, for surely there is cause for such weeping. Should you grow to imagine angels as I have, there is little you can do without considering whether or not an angel will suffer despair over your actions or inactions. This is what happens when the concept of another unknowable dimension—one with angelic beings as revealed in the bible—takes root in your psyche.

When you are open to the supernatural, you will always question, and hope, and most of all, wish to be aligned with the light bearers. All of science, all the pain, and all the unknowing can’t alter the simple paradox of the truth of God’s love for us.

So go ahead and admit your not-knowing. You are a creature of light, wherever you are in your journey, even if all you can muster is a flicker. The light that flickers is the light that removes the darkness in a dark world.

“It does not mean that I do not believe; it is an acceptance that I am created, that I am asked to bear the light, knowing that this is the most wonderful of all vocations.”

Quotes taken from Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts and Reflections.

“Watch Over Us” by The Lone Bellow

Father James Dressman

Father James Dressman

Wilhelm Kotarbinski, “Tears of the Human,” c. 1800.

“There is a weeping of fire, of true holy longing, and it consumes in love…These, I tell you, are tears of fire, and this is how the Holy Spirit weeps.”

~ Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue

It’s never an easy thing to see your beloved friend in a coffin, and I don’t know why I refuse to anticipate such a thing when attending a wake. I suppose it’s because I know having to bear it will undo me, so I deny the possibility until it’s upon me.

But there he was, still Father Jim, yet not Father Jim at all. I kept telling myself he was no longer there. He’d travelled to the far reaches of time and space, into a world we are not yet able to access unless dreams and visions take us there.

With the resoluteness of a wanderer in unknown lands, I stood before him and whispered words of hope and regret. Regret that I won’t see him again in this world, and hope that we will be together again in God’s kingdom. “Just another reason for me to be happy to go home, because if there’s anyone who’s in heaven with the angels and saints, it’s you!”

There was a smattering of priests and other laity, including men who studied the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises with him. A few women who worked at Campion were also present. The chapel was filled with too-loud music, the ceiling of angels over the altar resounding with the cacophony of songs meant to soothe.

A woman who’d been stationed near the coffin gave a brief epilogue of his life, similar to the one in his obituary. We learned that as a very young man he preferred basketball to books, was an avid participant in his health care as it deteriorated, and when he was nearing the end of his forty-year mission in Nepal, he grew nervous about his return to the States and where he should go to continue as a priest.

His prayers directed him to New England, and it was our good fortune that he ended up in Storrs at St. Thomas Aquinas for ten years. As the only member of his parish present, I felt I should take the opportunity to share something when the microphone was passed. I waited until the last moment, hoping that some miracle would allow me to master my emotions by then.

The miracle of that afternoon wasn’t found in the telling of a tale without tears, which, as Father John Monahan used to tell me, was a gift, something not to be taken lightly nor to be scorned. The miracle was laying before us, dressed in a robe of white and clutching a rosary in his hands, the shell of the man who was closer to a saint than anyone I’ve known.

As impossible as it was to share my tale minus any tears, it’s impossible to remember Father Jim without remembering his intent manner—how he would look into your eyes as if you’re the only person in the world at that moment who holds significance.

Several people thanked me afterward for sharing, even thanking me for my tears. It is perhaps the first time I’ve experienced gratefulness for my tears. How odd and perplexing; it’s as if my own sorrow reflected the sorrow of others, and they were thankful I was able to express it.

The mementoes lined up on the narrow table at the back of the pews were tangible reminders of my favorite priest: his bible, a tiny reliquary of St. Faustina, and photos of friends and family. It wasn’t enough, this assembly of items. Nothing is enough to capture the essence of a man who lived his life for God, and to serve others in God’s name.

We sang an unfamiliar hymn to the playing of the piano, most of us out of tune and unsure of the notes. Father Jerry sat behind my son and I, and he made the same effort to sing as effectively as possible when encumbered with such uncertainty. What a motley crew we are, I thought. And how appropriate that we should be gathered together like so many wanderers, plucked from our daily lives, focused on the man who at one time helped us to drink from the eternal fountain of life—the man who now drinks deep in the living presence of the very One whose life was given for us—for the same motley crew that sings a song out of tune.

See Will he remember me? for memories of Father Jim.

 

 

 

Will he remember me?

angels

William Blake, “Jacob’s Ladder,” c. 1800. Watercolor. British Museum.

He said his guardian angel told him its name. He said mine might too if I asked and listened.

He once did a Mass just for me. I was both thrilled and nervous. Thrilled to be given such a special gift and nervous because I wasn’t sure exactly what to say and when, being such a novice Catholic even several years after my conversion.

He changed my life. His direction in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises continue to impact my prayer life and my love for Jesus. After completing the RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), I participated in these exercises and through his guidance learned that Christ is reachable. He’s at once a mystery and an ever-present, close friend. Jesus is the ancient fire of life that no one can extinguish.

He made me feel less crazy in a world of secular expectations, privileges, and sanctions. He made me feel safe in a far wilder landscape of enigmas and intangible forces that I am compelled into with the force of gale winds at my back.

Like the holy spirit that he steered me towards in faith’s deep waters, the beauty behind the veil became more of a reality to me than the water engulfing my feet at high tide. Because he knew. Father Jim knew well the Flame that lies within each of us, of its power to heal and redeem and sanctify.

remembermeHis laugh, I can hear it still. In heaven’s vast timelessness, where he rubs elbows now with the other saints and angels, will he remember me? Will he remember the walk we took over gnarled tree roots and among dying pines? Will he recall our Jesus talks and my tears of gratitude?

For my favorite priest, dear friend, and spiritual mentor, may the blessed Savior and all His angels and saints keep you safe until I see you again.

I will miss you. I will think of you often. I will wonder when I catch glimpses of shimmering light in the corners of my eyes if angels are nearby.

The angels keep their ancient places—
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
’Tis ye, ’tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.

~ Francis Thompson, 1859–1907, The Kingdom of God, “In No Strange Land”

remember me

Father Jim takes a selfie!

For more on this wonderful priest, I wrote about Father James Dressman’s wake and the gift of tears.

Advent is utter heartbreak.

advent heart

Love in unexpected places” by Katie Tegtmeyer, used under CC BY / Modified from original

Waking this morning to blue skies, there was a heaviness to my heart I couldn’t explain. Then I remembered what the calendar already knew.

Advent has come.

Advent is the complex fusion of anticipation, contemplation, and brokenness that ushers us to renewal. Yes, Christ is coming. We rejoice and celebrate. But we must also see beyond the glory and beauty to the pain.

Advent is about so much more than a time of renewal – of reflection, waiting, and patient abiding. Advent is about the heartbreak.

“The thing I love most about Advent is the heartbreak. The utter and complete heartbreak.” – Jerusalem Jackson Greer

The birth of Christ involves Mary, an unmarried teenager who carries a child she was told to carry; Joseph, a man who has to accept and support his pregnant betrothed; and a long journey on a donkey to where there is no room at the inn.

Heartbreak.

New life doesn’t occur with the snap of your fingers or the instantaneous answer to prayer. The journey to new life isn’t one lined with rose petals and – God help us – sappy music.

The path to new life, the journey Advent represents, is riddled with sorrow and pain. Like the journey to the manger, it’s not supposed to always be easy getting there.

The cycle of heartbreak carries us to the very place we need to be to receive the newness and goodness and truthfulness of a resurrected life. If we stop at the place of our brokenness, if we stagnate at the point where we grapple with our wounds, then we can’t receive the grace of new life.

Christmas is a gift of new life to you. A heart-wrenching, soul-splitting gift, but one that will ultimately transform you with magnificent hope.

As the days of December carry you through Advent, let the heartbreak consume you into newness. Let the absolute truth of what Mary felt as she travelled the road to Bethlehem give you a renewed desire to live a life of purpose and joy.

Advent is utter, glorious, life-affirming heartbreak. I hope yours breaks with all the intensity and beauty and promise of living anew.

Does Your Heart Break?” by The Brilliance

Where are you this Christmas?

Christmas poem
Where are you now?

Your silence stretches and pulls—
thin strips of yesterday
left hunched and withered.
Where are you now?

Our thirst waxes and wanes—
shadows from lost dreams
droop low to beckon.
Where are you now?

Time bends into slow miracles—
drift into moments
gone to search horizons.
Where are you now?

Untouched promises yawn deep—
breaths take sips slowly
waiting for sunrise.
Ah, there you are still.

Where are you this Christmas? Someone you love, someone you lost, or someone beyond this world, we miss you now more than ever.

Although you often seem far from us in this life, we know you’re there. No amount of silence, absent dreams, or time will separate us from you.

We hear you in our thoughts, see you in our visions, and feel you with our beating heart. Everything we touch, all that we do and think, the sum of our being, is waiting for you.

This Christmas we remember. We celebrate. We believe.

 

Spookiest Halloween Story Ever Told

spooky stories

Image is a derivative of “ghost” by Yosomono under CC BY.

“Because fear kills everything. Your mind, your heart, your imagination.”   ~ Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

Sitting around the bonfire one night, we tried to recall spooky stories. The surrounding darkness and silence was a frightful reminder of the unseen things that lurk on the edges of our imagination.

We thought of wolf spiders that hide in the fire pit and come crawling out and over your feet once the heat escalates. We remembered a few scary movies we’d seen, with their limited spooky appeal as we sat safely ensconced around the flaming embers, all notion of video drama and horror a distant threat.

That was as spooky as we got that night.  This morning, however, I dreamed a waking dream of what’s revealed in the spookiest Halloween story.

In that space between awake and sleep it’s far easier to recall the things that go bump in the night. I could see them there, the creatures of night, although they exist in every space, even light. Their work is never finished, which is why you won’t find them sleeping during the daylight hours.

They are their busiest then, when you’re trying to think straight, do work, have conversations, and just be alive. Because that’s what they don’t want.

They’d rather you were dead.

The spookiest Halloween story has no ghosts, unless, of course, you understand that these ghosts aren’t ghosts at all. They’ve never walked this earth like you and me. They don’t know the touch of a warm hand or the feel of a kitten’s fur or the button-down feeling of what it’s like to try not to cry over someone you’ve lost.

They don’t know because they were never human. They never felt the stirring of hope that only humans feel. But they’re well aware of our tendency to feel hope.

Their work is to kill that hope. Their work is to stir up fear and remove all sense of being human.

There are many words for fear. It’s labelled “anxiety disorder,” “phobia,” “paranoia,” and “panic attack.” It’s deemed irrational, pathological, mentally unstable, and weak-willed.

What it’s rarely called is evil. A certain amount of fear is acceptable and healthy. It can be your safety mechanism. Fear has its opposite in faith, the best method for combatting it’s tenacious effects on your heart.

It’s not fashionable or politically correct or educated to assume there is evil in the world that’s comprised of something outside of our own hearts. It’s generally frowned upon to believe there are supernatural forces waging battle for your souls.

C. S. Lewis writes in the preface of Screwtape Letters: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

In My Nightmare I came face to face with “the devils,” one an obvious junior demon, and the other, well, that one caused me greater terror than I have ever known. While a nightmare appears on the surface to be unreal and without substance, it can have elements of supernatural fingers cloying their way into this dimension.

The dimension where the fallen stalk us like prey is no farther than your thoughts. They exist in every single interaction taking place in this fallen world. Whether they are winners or losers depends on you.

Halloween recalls the spirits of the dead, the terrors of the night, and the ghastly images of monsters. But do you really know these monsters?

Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Don’t get too close to it. The abyss will suck you in. It is you who is living the scariest Halloween story ever told. They’re waiting. Watching.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

While we create, heaven waits: DIY furniture makeovers.

In case you think I’ve been slacking off instead of writing voraciously—as if—there are those of us, you should know, who suffer from ADD of creative pursuits.

We simply cannot focus on a single outlet. Instead, we are like magnets drawn to many creative forces, pulled like the tide to a full moon of creative impulses.

The full moon of refurbishing furniture has waxed to its fullest recently with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. Discovering this paint has been an epiphany. Creating an aged look has never been simpler.

You can apply the paint over existing finishes – stain or paint – without any prep! You could sand a bit beforehand if you feel inclined. But remember, it’s the natural-looking texture you want to emphasize with the dark wax, so imperfections are good!

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

Before Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

After Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

After Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

 

refurbishing old furniture

Beginning to add Annie Sloan dark wax.

haunted table

Annie Sloan Chalk paint

The dark wax versus clear wax.

As the dark wax is applied, the variations in the paint strokes and crevices, and in this piece’s ornamentation, are accented.

It is a simple thing to remove any excess dark wax by adding some of the clear wax and wiping.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and waxes are so easy to apply since you don’t have to worry about getting the application perfectly smooth.

I used both the paint and wax brushes by Annie Sloan as well. I couldn’t resist since I knew I would be using them again and again.

The Old Ochre color easily covered the dark stain underneath and added to the aged look I wanted.

For my next project I will use her French Linen. I considered the Country Grey, but it was too grey for me (more than the color palette shows online). I wanted something warmer in the neutral tones.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

This table remake is like Munsters meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the results are one haunted-looking table.

A haunted table, I soon discovered, that is fit for a Jane Eyre photo shoot.

You can see a similar table in the recent Jane Eyre movie (the one with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska), in the scene with Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester sitting before the fire, where Rochester is quizzing Eyre and asks her if she is afraid of him.

Sitting next to each of them is a table, minus the smaller top layer, that is like the original stained piece of this table.

If you haven’t yet seen this movie, I don’t know what you’re waiting for!

DIY furnitureWhile you’re working and creating, listen to music that inspires and uplifts.

 

What is heaven? Get ready to be surprised.

heavenThe magnitude of what the truth is about heaven could cause you to rearrange every priority you have.

Imagine you’ve just folded a mountain of clean laundry (you’ve done this before, yes?) and the entire assembly of neatly arranged items – jeans in one pile, t-shirts stacked in perfect folds, socks sorted and tucked into pairs – was dumped into a massive heap, everything helter skelter.

That’s how it felt when I read the truth about heaven. Not that I mind knowing just what God has in store for us. This is critical information, and it’s far more important than ever getting the laundry arranged right.

But when you’ve been doing something one way for so long, doesn’t it stop you in your tracks and leave you bewildered as to what your next move should be? I mean, you’ve always done the laundry that way.

Perhaps many of us have done our laundry—and our thinking on heaven—in a less methodical, organized fashion. We don’t give it much thought. It is what it is. Laundry: Washed, slapped together, tucked away, done.

Heaven: Be good, die without regrets, enter heaven, end of story.

Not exactly. Turns out there is a step missing in there (not to mention a whole lot of other variable tidbits, but this short post is about heaven, so we’ll focus on that for now). Right where you die, in fact.

What do you mean—don’t tell me I’m not going to spend eternity with God?

I would never tell anyone that, since that’s between you and God. I do want to tell you something singular and profound about where you’re going. And if it contradicts what you’ve bought into previously, then join the club.

The good news is you can spend hours reading about it and thoroughly acquainting yourself with all the historical research and theology that N.T. Wright shares in his book Surprised By HopeHe won’t disappoint you.

So what is heaven?

In the very beginning of his book, he wrote something that justified my obsession with eternity (and the resulting obsession with collecting and making angel wings). On page six, in the introduction, Wright says (bolded type is my own):

Nor is this a matter of simply sorting out what to believe about someone who has died or about one’s own probable postmortem destiny, important though both of those are. It’s a matter of thinking straight about God and his purposes for the cosmos and about what God is doing right now, already, as part of those purposes. From Plato to Hegel and beyond, some of the greatest philosophers declared that what you think about death, and life beyond it, is the key to thinking seriously about everything else—and, indeed, that it provides one of the reasons for thinking seriously about anything at all.

Sweet elixir though this was, I did grow a bit frantic. Concerned as I am about eternity and how it all works, I needed to know. What really happens when you die?

So I began to flip pages. Only when I found the crux of the matter could I then relax and really concentrate on reading.

Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden, dimension of our ordinary life—God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever.

But that’s not the mind-jolting half of it. What this means is “we find not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace.

The key point to note is “not ransomed souls…to a disembodied heaven.” We won’t be in heaven as pure spirits; we are meant to fulfill the main theme, the pièce de résistance, of the New TestamentWhat happened to Jesus on the first Easter is to happen to all of us. All who join Him will enter heaven with our new, transformed, resurrected bodies, just as Jesus revealed to us with His own resurrected body when he died and rose again.

Wright explains all this at length, basing much of it not only on scripture but on Jewish beliefs at the time and early Christian beliefs.

I know what you’re thinking. What happens in between the time you die and the time the new heaven and earth is made into God’s kingdom “coming on earth as it is in heaven?”

Wright admits little is known about that based on scripture, but again, based on the evidence to hand (including his studies of the ancient world), early Christians spoke of heaven as “a postmortem stage on the way to the eventual resurrection of the body.

And that when Paul says he desires “to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Phil. 1:23) he is thinking of this blissful, intermediary stage between death and the bodily resurrection. The Christian departed are all in the same state of “restful happiness,” where your body is asleep (meaning it’s dead) while the real you continues on.

Until the final destiny of bodily resurrection occurs, the dead are “held firmly within the conscious love of God and the conscious presence of Jesus Christ while they await that day.”

There’s more on how we aren’t angels, but made equal to angels, and the dubious waiting period we call Purgatory. (Oh, man, I need to revisit that notion in a big way.) The truth about what is heaven is that it’s life after life after death.

And here’s the very best part: what this all means right now. What do we do with our knowing of the ultimate space, time and matter—for it’s the whole cosmos that will be transformed, not just our bodies—as being renewed and taken up into God’s greater purposes?

It’s important to know that what you do now in the Lord is not in vain.

You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world… what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God’s new world. In fact, it will be enhanced there. I have no idea what precisely this will mean in practice. I am offering a signpost , not offering a photograph of what we will find once we get to where the signpost is pointing.

The joy beckons. What will you make of your travels in this earthly plane? Will you promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate? Will you allow yourself to encounter the Holy Spirit? Will you find God through His angels?

Will you be able to say, in your life after life after death, above all things, I have loved? For now we see through a glass, darkly, yet daily we are surprised by hope. The hope of heaven as we meet our destiny through love right now.

For there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).

I will go where He goes. Want to come?

“God Is Here” – Revealing Jesus, by Darlene Zschech