Ralph Mather (a member of the Crockett congregation I once served) shared the story of how, while he was growing up, he and a group of his friends would tease an old Civil War veteran. Illiterate, but too proud to admit it. Ralph and his friends would occasionally throw a book his way to see what he “thought” about it. Pride had him always coming up with some kind of commentary.
On one occasion they threw a Bible the old man’s way. Day’s later, they asked him what he thought of it.
“Oh, that old book,” the man exclaimed. “It’s just like all the rest: in the end, they get married and live happy ever after.”
“In the end, they get married and live happy ever after”: no better a summary could be given to the book of Revelation and the Sacred Romance which is the Gospel.
Sadly, though, we lost our claim on this great ending… and its claim on us… “The reason we have such a hard time resisting our other lovers and living from the heart is we think that this is as good as it gets… At a heart level, most of us have our doubts about the next chapter.” (John Eldredge)
Yes, we got to learn a way to keep the story ever before us. In that vein, I love the story which Phil Barnhart tells about the little boy reading a suspenseful western: “One night a father saw a light beneath the door of his son’s bedroom. Wondering what his son was doing at such a late hour, he went to the door and heard the boy saying, “if you only knew what I know. If you only knew what I know.” The next day the boy told his father what was happening. The boy was reading a wild west thriller and had gotten toward the middle of the book where the plot was getting thicker and darker and the hero was being outrageously abused and disgraced. The villain, winning at every turn was gloating over his triumph. When the boy couldn’t stand it any longer, he turned to the last page to see how the story was going to turn out. There he saw the hero gloriously vindicated and the villain suitably punished. He went back to the middle of the story. But now, instead of agonizing, he was rejoicing in the midst of the dark plot because he knew the outcome in advance: “If you only knew what I know! If you only knew what I know!” (Phil Bamhart, quoted by Rev. Tim Bruester, FUMC, Georgetown, TX)
Oh, yes, we’ve got to keep the end before us… We’ve got to find a way to tell our souls and the world around us – over and over again: “If you only knew what I knew!”… to tell our souls over and over again:”I am a child of eternity.”…
Of course, it is not that easy. It’s a matter of daily rising up to this recollection…
Deeply, am I moved by George MacDonald (in his Diary of an Old Soul) when he prays for us all:
Sometimes I wake, and lo, I have forgot,
And drifted out upon an ebbing sea!
My soul that was at rest now resteth not,
For I am with myself and not with thee;
Truth seems a blind moon in a glaring morn,
Where nothing is but sick-heart vanity.
Oh, thou who knowest! Save thy child forlorn.
Yes, it is not that easy… And, for such reasons, we’ll need to take a good, long and hard look at what the Ancients of our faith have called the “Means of Grace” – Holy Habits which help us to recollect… and be re-collected by the truths of this Sacred Romance. (Coming this Summer!)
But forgetting is only a part of our problem. There’s the equal danger that comes from “belittling” Heaven as our Soul’s destination – sterilizing and domesticating it to the end that it does not capture our hearts and yearnings and desires. (And what is it that we’ve said before? If Heaven does not take your breath away, something else will!)
Along these very lines, Peter Kreeft writes: “Our pictures of Heaven simply do not move us; they arc not moving pictures. It is this aesthetic failure rather than intellectual or moral failures in our pictures of Heaven and of God that threatens faith most potently today. Our pictures of Heaven are dull, platitudinous and syrupy; therefore, so is our faith, our hope, and our love of Heaven … It doesn’t matter whether it’s a dull lie or a dull truth. Dullness, not doubt, is the strongest enemy of faith, just as indifference, not hate, is the strongest enemy of love. (Peter Kreeft, Everything You Wanted to Know About Heaven)
Beloved, it is one thing for us to rehearse the story and its end… over and over again. But, it is still another, equally grand thing to make sure we are recalling how breath-taking it all is… how ‘so worth it’ it all is!
And here, words and art totally fail in conveying the awesomeness of Heaven… and its ability to fulfill our every longing and yearning… without ever becoming boring!
I like the way George MacDonald put it, writing to the daughter that he would soon lose to tuberculosis: “I do live expecting great things in the life that is ripening for me and all mine–when we shall have all the universe for our own, and be good merry helpful children in the great house of our Father. Then, darling, you and I and all will have the grand liberty wherewith Christ makes free–opening his hand to send us out like white doves to range the universe.” (The Heart of George MacDonald, from JD, p. 123)
Sending us out like “white doves to range theuniverse!” Wow, now there’s an inkling of eternity that stirs my soul… an inkling that carries me beyond the fear, as Eldredge put it at one of his Conferences, that Heaven is no more than an eternal worship service! (To quote him: “something in my heart says, “For how long? ” I mean a 100,000 years? A couple 100,000years? I mean I like worship, maybe as much as the next guy. But, forever ever? Heaven is an unending church service? That sounds like Hell to me… Church is fine, but it doesn ‘t take your breath away. A weekend in Hawaii beats it hands down!”)
“Inklings” of heaven, then, are about all we get. A glimpse here, a stirring there. But, they are enough for me—enough for me to believe that these shadows, these tips of the icebergs we see can not begin to declare the greater depth and glory which goes beyond the comprehension of mind and heart and soul.
I almost cringe here to have just talked about icebergs and to turn to the film clip I have chosen, from Titanic. Admittedly, I have mixed feelings about this blockbuster. On the one hand, I have always been a little, if not a lot, disturbed that Hollywood made so much money off of such a terrible tragedy. Of course, there is a great romance embedded in it – just one more reflections of that “Sacred Romance” we’ve been talking about: lovers, adversaries, arrows,… But, perhaps most stirring, most compelling for me, is that ending… a glimpse, an inkling of reunion and beauty and intimacy…
Inklings… Shadows… Glimpses… Huantings… It’s all we have. It’s all we’re given. It’s all this world can ever offer.
Most times, they are enough… (And, those times when they aren’t? I wait.)
Inklings… What was it that Paul said about such treasures as Heaven… and Eternal Life? Something along the lines of “eye not seeing nor ear hearing nor heart conceiving what God has in store for those that love him!?”
Inklings… Isn’t that the gist of what Lewis was saying when he wrote of this world’s existence as but the “shadowlands” of a higher existence in God… nothing but the title page of a story in which “every chapter is better than the one that went before.” (cf., C.S. Lewis, LW&W in Chronicles)
Yes, Inklings… Yes, we can only begin to imagine…
Closing Prayer (from Macdonald, Diary of An Old Soul):
And life is but the ashes of a fire;
When I can but remember that my heart
Once used to live and love, long and aspire,—
Oh, be thou then the first, the one thou art;
Be thou the calling, before all answering love,
And in me wake hope, fear, boundless desire.