Friday, April 21, 2023

Living in a Primary World

Vacationing gives one a different perspective on life. That is why we do it. We “vacate” our normal world and enter another. Visiting Florida is different from living in New Hampshire. For example there are the governors - DeSantis and Sununu. Both are Republican governors, but they could not be more different. But I won’t get into that. This post is not about politics. Nor is it about the upcoming Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire, which I am already getting robocalls about. It is about the primary world that lays behind this secondary one.

I have recently read three novels that picture another world behind the ordinary one. The most recent is Fairy Tale by Stephen King. The teenage protagonist discovers another world hidden behind the door of a shed in his neighbor’s backyard. Presently I am reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. It pictures another world beneath London, accessed through doors by a girl named Door. The Night Shift by Natalka Burian has a similar theme. It takes place in New York City, where there are doors that are shortcuts to other parts of the city. These shortcuts change your world.

In all these books the alternate universe is entered the same way that the Pevensie children entered Narnia in C. S. Lewis’ books. Through a door. To enter the realm of Aslan one walked through the door of the wardrobe in the spare room. These books awaken the ancient memory that there is more to life than what most people realize.

Jesus spoke of such an alternative realm. He called it the Kingdom of God. He called himself the Door. He spoke of seeing this Kingdom and entering it. I see it all the time no matter where I am. It is always here now. I remember glimpses of it from childhood when the world was magical and summer was endless. I see it here in the natural beauty of the Florida coast in springtime. God’s presence is seen in the sparkling of the ocean, the swaying of the palm trees, and the gentle presence of wildlife.

There is the physical world, and there is the spiritual world. Most people consider the physical world as real and the spiritual world as less substantial. I see it as just the opposite. The physical world is transient. It is without form and substance. Everything changes constantly. 

The deeper one looks scientifically at the subatomic level the more we discover there are no “things” at all. There is only change. Mountains rise and fall. Climates change. Bodies are born, age and die. Species come and go, including our short-lived human species. Planets are born and die. But the Kingdom of God is eternal.

The Eternal is the primary world. The physical world is secondary. Much like Plato’s allegory of the cave, this physical world is a world of shadows. The eternal world is one of sight and light. Yet the Eternal is glimpsed through the temporary. Every part of this world is translucent to the Spiritual. All creation shines with the glory of Heaven. Every living thing reflects Divine Life. “Earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.”

The Kingdom of God is my home. This physical world – and this temporary physical body - are just fleeting manifestations of my Eternal home. Some people yearn for heaven. I don’t. Why would I yearn for what I already have – or more accurately – what already has me? Heaven is all around me, shining through every inch of this world! The Kingdom of God is within me, just as Jesus said.  All one has to do is notice.

There is an old gospel song that says, “This world is not my home I'm just a-passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” That may be true for those who picture heaven as beyond the sky and who cannot see the shores of heaven from where they stand on earth. But for me heaven kisses earth. The Kingdom of Heaven is within arm’s reach. The Kingdom of God is “at hand,” just as Jesus said. I stand on the shores of the crystal sea now, and heaven’s treasures are all around me, as they always are.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

No Room at the Beach

I tried to go the Easter Sunrise service today. I really did. I got up at 5:50 AM, took a shower and drove to the beach, arriving a half hour before the outdoor worship service was scheduled to begin. I thought that would be early enough. It wasn’t. Hundreds of other people had the same idea earlier than I did. By the time we arrived, there was no room at the beach. There was not a parking space to be found.

It felt like the “no room at the inn” Christmas story all over again. The main beach parking lot was full. So were the lots further away. So were every space along the streets. We drove up and down the narrow streets for another twenty minutes looking for any available parking spaces. Many other vehicles were doing the same thing. By then it was drizzling, and the wind was picking up (gusts up to 20 mph), so we headed back to our rented condo.

We walked out to our own completely deserted beach, and arrived at exactly the time of sunrise: 7:05. There was no sun to be seen because of the clouds (as you can tell from the photo.) The waves were crashing and the wind was blowing. Yet my wife and I sang Easter hymns, read the Easter story from the Gospel of John, and shouted to the winds, “Christ is risen!”

It was one of the nicest sunrise services ever. We realized that if we had been sitting in our lawn chairs a few miles down the beach, huddled in our sweatshirts against the wind, with sand blowing in our faces, surrounded by hundreds of people, amps blaring, singing religious pop songs we did not know, unable to hear what was being said, we would have been miserable.

Yet at our own beach we were worshipping the risen Christ with joy.  It was an Alleluia moment. If I had thought of it, I would have read the gospel story of the risen Christ having breakfast at the beach with a few of his disciples. That is what it felt like. Spiritual food for Easter-loving souls. Following our service we went to the only restaurant nearby that was open and had a pancake breakfast. Plus we were there early enough to beat the Easter crowd!

It just goes to show that things always turn out the way they should, even though it doesn’t seem so at the time. It is all a matter of whether we can see it. That is what the story of Easter is about. Friday was a disaster for the early followers of Jesus. Saturday was depressing. Sunday dawned with tears and fears. But as Sunday progressed a greater truth was revealed. It was simply a matter of whether his followers had eyes to see and ears to hear. It is the same this Easter. Christ is risen indeed.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Holy Weekness

It is Holy Week, and I find myself in Florida once again. For that reason I have not been able to attend worship with my church back home in New Hampshire during most of this Lenten season. We have tried attending churches here in Florida, but so far we have not found one that is both theologically and physically welcoming. By that I mean both open-minded and scent-free.

I am senstive to many manmade chemicals and artificial fragrances. Unfortunately I passed that trait on to my daughter, who gets severe migraines when exposed to chemical odors. She can’t step foot inside a church in western Pennsylvania. I can tolerate low levels. But my, how these Floridians love their colognes and perfumes! I can barely see the preacher through the haze.

One time we tried a scented church in Florida; it was shoulder-to-shoulder crowded and smelly. We sat in the balcony because there were less people. It was like sitting in a “non-smoking section” (remember those?) back when people pretended secondhand smoke would stay in its assigned part of the room. At another church we walked out during the worship service, explaining the reason for our departure to the ushers on the way out.

The last time we tried an in-person service here we ended up sitting behind a glass wall in the entryway with the ushers. They set up special chairs for us. I appreciated the effort, but it felt like we were sitting at the back of the bus. 

Last Sunday I really wanted to attend a Palm Sunday service in person. I searched online for the possibilities and decided on a nearby Methodist church that looked sparsely attended. I even noticed that some people were wearing masks, which was a good sign. But we changed our mind at the last minute. For this reason we have been worshiping online or privately for most of Lent.

Nevertheless we have been observing Lent. I find symbols of Lent in nature. Palm trees fill the grounds of the condo complex where we are staying. The trees waved their palm branches on Palm Sunday, as I joined in singing Hosanna. As I walk the beach each day I imagine the Via Dolorosa that Jesus traveled on his way to the cross. He suffers today with all those who suffer in the world. “As you have not done it to the least of these, you have not done it to me.”

I will not be attending Maundy Thursday Service or Good Friday Service in a church building this week, but I will be observing Holy Week nonetheless. Holy Week is a state of mind. It is an identification with the life, death and resurrection of the Crucified and Risen One. When we realize our identity in Christ, we join with him in the suffering of the cross and the joy of resurrection.

On Easter Sunday we plan to attend an outdoor sunrise service on the beach. People can wear all the scent they want. (And they do!) But it is manageable. The salt breeze blows most of it away. We attended this service last year, so we know it is conducted by an evangelical ministry in a style I call Pop Christianity. That type of theology and music are not my first choice, but I am attending nonetheless. For the Risen Lord will be there on the beach, just as he was two thousand years ago.