Monday, February 22, 2010

Searching For Shangri-la

I remember when I first read Lost Horizon by James Hilton. I was a preteen and came across an old yellowed paperback copy that my mother owned. It was a rainy summer day. I found a comfortable chair next to an open window. With a showery breeze blowing in, I entered the mystical city of Shangri-la. 

I would read it several more times in future years, as well as watch the old film by Frank Capra. The most poignant scene is at the very end when Robert Conway returns to the Himalayas, desperately searching for - and eventually finding again - his lost paradise. It was the first time that the hunger for heaven awakened in my soul. C. S. Lewis describes a similar childhood experience that he had in seeing a miniature garden in Surprised by Joy.

It doesn't matter if you call it Shangri-la or Shambhala, Eden or El Dorado, it reappears with frequency in the mythology and literature of the world. It is Melville's white whale and the medieval Holy Grail. It represents the search of the human soul for the dwelling place of God.  Jesus told his disciples he knew where it was. Furthermore he promised to reserve a room for them there, and one day return to take them home to live there forever. (John 14:2-3)

Revelation 21 pictures it as the New Jerusalem with pearly gates and streets of gold. It is no ordinary city. It is a perfect cube of light, a heavenly Holies of Holies, coming to earth. But this is not our earth. The old heaven and earth had been rolled up like a window shade to reveal a new heaven and new earth.

This place is clearly not on any map or even in this universe. This is the spiritual city of the soul. We need to remember that the whole book of Revelation is a vision that the seer John had while "in the spirit" on an Aegean island. This is mystical language describing a spiritual experience.

John himself is the "new creation." (2 Corinthians 5:17) Shangri-la is not in Tibet. It is in the human soul. By his grace, God makes us a new creature and comes to dwell in us.   As Peterson's translation so colloquially renders it, "Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women!" (21:3) As Jesus said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20-21)

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