This Temporal Heaven

One of the great joys of being Christian is not being with other Christians.

So, I am grateful for a group of women in my neighborhood that provide me with sanity, intelligence, and a perspective beyond my own narrow religious world who tell me the truth. And sometimes a truth that is not yours is hard to hear.

We actually organize under the banner of a book club, but we all wonder how it might have happened that such a diverse group of women in background, thought and career might land in the same geographical space. One of the women, a psychologist with a private practice, someone who loves language as much as I do and with whom I find myself drinking wine and laughing with way too late into the night, wonders aloud how it is possible that she could ever become friends with a pastor. It doesn’t astound me half as much that I could become friends with a psychologist.

My brother, who is agnostic with some Christian trimmings, commented to me one day that he thought it was an odd job to be a pastor: to want to ‘save’ people. I told him that being a pastor for me had nothing to do with saving much of anything. If worship is anything, it provides a glimpse of ‘thy kingdom come.’ Every time I preside at the table and offer the bread and look right into someone’s eyes and say, ‘This is the body of Christ broken for you,’ I am just done in. Christ works in holy, ordinary contradictions, so at the table, there is this exquisitely beautiful paradox that happens where each person is told it is ‘for you’ – it is that personal, and at the same time, everyone is welcome — it is that communal. And then that it is all from God, as a gift and well, that’s enough to knock the socks off my cynical little heart each and every time.

But the thing is, with my non-Christian, agnostic, atheist friends, all of a sudden I find myself walking into gift again. This past week, we were all away on a retreat together. The trees were slouching into autumn, forgetting about red or orange, going right from green to brown. A banner of cold air settled over things and we, these crazy, wonderful, diverse women huddled and spoke, and let silence just be sometimes.

On one level, this group of friends speak truths to me, ones I would not hear otherwise. This is gift enough. But as a Christian, I also confess that through the work of the Holy Spirit, God is always near, and that means that grace can be found in lots of places. Thy kingdom come we pray, and we discover a temporal heaven near. God graces us with this world, and all its difference, and we rest upon the bright span of our lives together. We are stretched, and broken and collect ourselves around the oldest of fires, under the black lace of a thousand stars. We are light and crooked angles and unwieldy, shared healings. And this God of paradox, in Christ, has promised that he is in the bread, in the wine, in the water, and in our neighbor. Now, in Christ, there is nowhere God is not.