Thursday, August 29, 2013

Heaven and Earth Overlapping

"In the Bible, Heaven and Earth mesh together. You find Jesus in the middle of that, you find the Bible in the middle of that, and you should find yourself in the middle of that.
"Part of the point of being a Christian is that we are meant to be living at those strange overlap points of Heaven and Earth. That’s what prayer is all about. That’s what sacraments are all about. That’s what actually ministering to the poor, in Jesus’ name, is all about."
                                                                                                                 — N.T. Wright
I like Wright’s point about heaven and earth overlapping, meshing together. I understand what he means in this way: there are moments when heaven seems to mix with the earth; when the sacred invades the secular; when what is invisible becomes visible; when God and humankind touch together.
Wright says this is what prayer is all about. Sometimes we see prayer as simply a duty–and it is that. A duty reminds us to do what is valuable and worthy in life, even if we don’t feel like it. But prayer transcends duty, including it and ascending higher. God is coming to us all the time on earth, and if we don’t stop and listen and watch and pray, we may be dumb to his Presence. Even when we pray we may be so distracted and not really letting God speak to us.
Maybe I can describe it like this: prayer is like the overlap of the ocean with the shore. One could walk all day on the seashore and never get their feet wet. Sometimes we plunge into the sea and swim a far ways out; but sooner or later we must come back to shore, because we aren’t sea creatures. Third, we may walk along the shore where the waters overlap with the sand. Here we get our feet wet and experience both shore and sea together.
For my example, the shore is our daily life. The water is near, but we can ignore it, perhaps even walk a great distance from it so that we cannot even see the sea or hear it. The sea is like the Presence of God, the divine and transcendent. Sometimes we have these moments which make us "high" and joyful; or to use my metaphor, which plunges us into the depths of reality, like diving into the sea, not just being at the surface (living the superficial).
By the way, when we don’t experience God much in our lives, we usually try to get high artificially in some way.
Christ of the Abyss-- Key Largo FL
Prayer, walking in the overlap of everyday life and God’s oceanic Presence, which is also an experience of heaven, keeps us aware that there is a great big ocean out there (God) and we need to keep at least our "feet wet" to remember this. I can’t help but want to link this to the waters of Baptism, as well. We need to remember that we were immersed in the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, at our Baptism. We need to remember that often —as  when we bless ourselves with holy water when we come into the Church to worship or pray.
I find myself so often crowding out times of daily prayer when I am busy. I always have some prayer time daily, but sometimes it’s like when you see a child run down to the water at the beach and then immediately run back to safer ground. If I get too busy, I feel like I’m running away from God if I don’t take sufficient time to pray.
The Sacraments, also mentioned by Bishop Wright, are by their very definition an enmeshing of heaven and earth. God uses matter and earthly realities to reveal his heavenly Presence. Or the old definition for a sacrament is "a visible and outward sign of an invisible and inward grace" instituted by Christ and his Church. Catholics recognize 7 Sacraments officially, but there is a whole sacramental approach to life normally embedded in Catholics. Read more about this, if you want, HERE.
When the Son of God took flesh and dwelt among us as Christ Jesus, he is called the Ultimate Sacrament of God. In Jesus, heaven and earth overlapped and united. Orthodox Catholic Faith does not say Jesus was a mixture of God and human, like one might mix flour and yeast to make bread. Instead, "We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division or separation. The distinction between the natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person..." (Council of Chalcedon, quoted in Catechism #467) Thus Heaven and Earth, God and humanity united with neither losing their own proper nature in Christ Jesus.
I like to look also for those moments when it seems that heaven has indeed overlapped with earth: in beauty; in places that seem mysterious or have a sacred association such as churches (I think of so many places in Assisi with St. Francis); in art and music that is inspiring; in assisting someone in need (for Christ associates himself with those in need: See Matthew 25:31-46) As Catholics we let these "overlapping" things and moments nourish our minds and hearts with God’s Presence.