Saturday, January 21, 2012

Two worlds together

When I was reading John 16:33 it came to me so clearly that we live in two worlds together, at the same time: the spiritual world and the physical world. But we are usually only aware of the physical world. Like sailing on the water - we know there is another world beneath it, but we don't often think of it.

John 16:33 In me you may have peace. In the world [the physical world] you will have trouble, but take heart! For I have overcome the world.

Jesus doesn't speak directly of the spiritual world here, but it is sort of implied. In this world we have trouble, but He offers a place (in Him) where we can find peace, no matter the circumstances in our physical world.

Someday we will actually see the spiritual world - the kingdom of God - heaven. Right now we have a mysterious unseen access to it via Christ. It isn't escapism, because it takes an enormous effort of the will to put aside the consuming cares and distractions of the world to focus on Christ. But I find it helps if I imagine the spiritual world as existing right alongside ours, present but invisible, reachable via Christ's outstretched hand.

A couple years ago I read C.S. Lewis' collection of essays in the Weight of Glory, and was amazed by the essay Transposition. Lewis uses several examples of transposing things from one system to another, this one was my favorite:
When transposing a three-dimensional shape onto a two-dimensional drawing, the artist must learn how to arrange merely two-dimensional shapes so as to convey the sense of three dimensions.   A cube is formed by arranging two trapezoids in a certain way along side a square.  Now to anyone well acquainted with three dimensions, the shapes arranged in this manner are immediately seen as a cube, but to someone less than three dimensional, the shapes will appear as nothing more than a collection of trapezoids and a square. 
Lewis envisioned a conversation in a two-dimensional world between someone who doubted the third dimension and someone who believed in it:
“You keep on telling me of this other world and its unimaginable shapes which you call solid.  But isn’t it very suspicious that all the shapes which you offer me as images or reflections of the solid ones turn out on inspection to be simply the old two-dimensional shapes of my own world as I have always known it?  Is it not obvious that your vaunted other world, so far from being the archetype, is a dream which borrows all its elements from this one?” 
Living in the physical world, we are like that poor creature who lives in a two dimensional world. Now matter how you try to draw the real 3-D world so he can see it, he simply can't imagine it - he sees only two dimensional shapes.

To further extend the analogy, our physical world is three dimensional. What if the spiritual world exists in four dimensions all around us, like three dimensions exist all around a flat piece of paper, but we simply can't perceive it because our eyes and other senses are not engineered to do so? (Though they will be able to someday, when we receive our glorified bodies).

So with us. We know not what we will be, but we may be sure we shall be more, not less, than we were on earth. Our natural experiences (sensory, emotional, imaginative) are only like the drawing, like penciled lines on flat paper. If they vanish in the risen life, they will vanish only as pencil lines vanish from the real landscape, not as a candle flame that is put out, but as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blind, thrown open the shutters, and let in the blaze of the risen sun.

Meanwhile, we live in a world where we can only see the blaze of heaven when it is transposed into something familiar to us.

I think God has in fact transposed the spiritual world for us to "see" (as much as we are able) via his Word. 

Oh, what a thought.

I think He also transposes the spiritual world for us in other ways: when for instance a beautiful sunset strikes our heart. Or even a beautiful piece of art or music - created by another person, yes, but perhaps inspired by some momentary glimpse of something outside of  our familiar realm.  (C.S. Lewis actually addresses this in two other essays: Is Theology Poetry? and The Weight of Glory).

Another blogger, Ron Dodson, wrote an essay about Transposition and I loved how he extended it to visualizing the relation of faith and reason:
But what is central to realize here is that this higher spiritual understanding does not necessarily come from the natural facts themselves, but rather it is discerned through a kind of intuition or sense that exceeds or stands above the raw information.  This offers us a context for understanding faith within our post-enlightenment climate. 

Faith is seeing the divine through the physical.   Faith is seeing the eternal through the mortal.  It is distinguished from reason in that the mere physical realities do not in and of themselves demand the divine reality, and yet they also do not deny them.  Reason and faith both operate in the realm of truth, though from different levels and from within different perspectives.  The truth of God requires faith to see it, it cannot be seen by reason alone.  
And yet we are unable to separate faith and reason any more than we can separate the physical reality from the divine reality.  It is in fact the assemblage of the two dimensional shapes in a certain way which hints at the third dimension.  It is the physical reality assembled and offered in a certain way which allows us to somehow see the divine reality.  And yet, from within the physical reality I am not able to fully or sufficiently make the case for the divine, but I still see it. I see it by faith.
My desire is to be more aware of how God is actively transposing His truth around me... in other words, to seek Him more.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Just one word

This picture made me think of Psalm 119:105:

Thy Word is a light unto my path, and a lamp unto my feet.

Last year this time, as I was writing my resolutions, I also chose a theme to strive for. My theme was focus. I wanted to focus more on God. On my family. On my writing.

It didn't go so well. In fact I'd say 2011 ended up being the my most unfocused year yet.

Lord, what went wrong?

Nothing went wrong, from my perspective, he answered. He taught me humility and helplessness and he gave me a lot of grace and mercy for all the times I wandered off, completely out-of-focus. Recently on Beth Moore's blog she talked about summing up our year in 3 words (okay, mine actually ended up being 4 or 5 words. But close enough).

1. Depression. It's seasonal depression, but it was much worse and lasted longer than previous years.

2. Eye-openers. Some things revealed to me about my job, and closed doors.

3. Other people. Just about every close friend - H, N, K, M - had BIG stressful, sometimes scary things happen in their lives this year. And family members, too: B and J.

I planned on focus; He planned other things for me.  But that's okay, because when I look at the picture above, I see a dark path going some unknown place, but I also see those beautiful little lamps lighting the way, and that's all I need.

This year, I've made no resolutions. But I still like the "theme" idea, especially after reading this article about Debbie Maccomber's book One Perfect Word.  I asked God what one word He wanted me to use as my theme for the upcoming year.

Last year I memorized Psalm 84 during Beth Moore's scripture memory challenge (one thing I did succeed in), and a few days ago I was meditating on these verses, and He showed me that this psalm is about seeking Him. "My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord..." Even the birds seek His dwelling place to be close to Him. And "blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.... they go from strength to strength, until each appears before God in Zion."

That's my theme this year: seeking Him (okay, that's two words. Close enough).  It's a sort of pilgrimage of the heart. Remembering to seek Him more through the distractions of each day. I used to think of it in terms of focus; but the last year taught me that seeking is the first essential thing, the necessary step before focus is even really possible.

Part of seeking Him is listening to Him. That's so hard. My brain isn't used to waiting to hear something; it wants something immediately. I have a toddler's brain. It jumps from one thought to another faster than I can keep track of, leaving no room for me to hear what God might want me to hear.

I've started going through the devotional journal, Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young, which is all about listening to what God says. I meditate on a few verses, then draw a straight line down the space for journaling. Then I try to stop everything else going on in my mind and just listen. When the day's to-do-list pops into my head, or some other distraction, I jot it down in the space to the right of the line, so I can move on and start listening again. When I hear something I think God might be telling me - for instance a friend to pray for, or an image or thought that forms related to the verses I've just read,  I write it down in the space to the left of the line.

Little lamps lighting my path.

Closing with a quote from another devotional that I've gone through in the past and still look at from time to time: Experiencing God Day by Day, by Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby. Here's a snippet from what they wrote for January 1st:
God does not need your resolutions, or your promises to try harder this year. If your resolve to obey God last year did not make you more faithful, it won't work this year either. Jesus asks for your love.

When you are in love with someone, what do you do? You spend time with him. You think about him. You seek Him. All else follows from that... (Matt 22:36-40).