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January 19, 2014

in between, not yet

I'm standing in an almost-ready building.

The walls are rough and unfinished, with drips of paint drizzling down bare cement. On every floor, men are sawing or drilling, or observing as others saw and drill. Women with traditional ear and nose ornaments shuffle by with hand brooms—cleaning up after the men. Beneath me, I see electricians wrangling thick, tangled black wire-snakes on the pavement. The elevators are installed, but still tightly wrapped in green plastic—tools clank as technicians in the gaping elevator shaft tighten the lift and prepare it to carry loads. From the open ends of the building, I can see two-story homes and high-rise apartments stretching endlessly in every direction. 

Words start clumping in my head.

This is our new office building. Or, it will be soon. In the office there's discussion and translation and hand motions and repetition. No, we want it over there. No, just one wall here, not two. More translation. A measurement. A diagram of dreams: This is what it should look like when you're done. It is no small task to get this workspace ready for us.

I head out to pace up the stairs to the next landing, and then back down. There's a comfortable wind that blows through the breezeway, and space for my thoughts, which say something like this: it takes so much physical to live the spiritual.  

None of us are building experts or carpenters or electricians. We don't speak much of the local language; we can't quite understand their culture, try as we might. And inside our chests, we want spiritual work. I can hear it in our voices, feel it in our aches.

But the flesh is sweating and needs air conditioning. The body needs an income, a job, an office. The government requires paperwork. To that end, there are wires to be tied and holes to be drilled and papers to be signed. Hundreds of physical details to take care of...details in which somehow we see 
parables and 
parallels and 
for the spiritual.

Pacing in that breezeway, I am distracted by the in between. Life lived in the "not yet" zone. Isn't life full of in betweens? No longer newborn, but not yet toddler. No longer a kid, but not really a responsible adult. No longer just friends, but not yet lovers. But the greatest in between ache is this one: we are saved from the penalty of sin, but not yet saved from its presence. We're given new hearts, but we're still aching for our new bodies. We're told to fix our eyes on heavenly things...yet it takes so much physical to live that spiritual. 

In this quick breath of a life, we'll always be in between.

We are looking for "a better country—a heavenly one." 
But we live in this country. 

We are looking for the city He has prepared for us. 
But we live in this city. 

I'm still in the grey hallway, and somewhere below a young boy is poking the dirt with a stick. Across the street, a man carries a thin plastic bag of milky brown tea to his office. And up here, in between builders and painters and cleaners, I can almost touch the tension of the "not yet". How long, O Lord?

I said that it takes so much physical to live the spiritual. To do spiritual work, many physical prerequisites must also be met. But I could also say that it takes so much spiritual to live the physical aright.

How do we sweat and pour foundations and wipe floors and paint walls...with hope? How do we sign documents and wash dishes and visit the neighbour...with a heart toward eternity? How do we handle the mundane or the tragic or the terrifying...with a heart of contentment?

We can't be spiritual about the physical, unless we "lay aside everything that hinders" and fix our eyes on Him. I'm glad that the writer to the Hebrews admits that sin "so easily entangles", because I know then that he struggled as I do, to not be entangled. Living appropriately in the physical sphere requires a heart that is laying aside sin and pursuing righteousness, and this begins in our inner man, in our spirit.

We lay aside hindrances not only for our sakes, but for the sake of the people who witness us. I have a friend here who asks me questions: What kinds of movies do you watch, and why? What kind of music do you listen to, and why? Would you sleep with your boyfriend? How would you discipline your child? She's watching me. She wants to see if the invisible, spiritual realm that I talk about really influences the visible, physical realm in which we live. She's watching for physical evidence of a spiritual change. I can't consistently, truly produce the physical without the spiritual: It takes so much spiritual to live the physical aright.

So we fix our eyes on Him, and on His diagram: This is what it will look like when you're done.
And we run with perseverance.

The two are inseparable: it takes so much physical to live the spiritual, but yet it also takes so much spiritual to live the physical aright. As Charmichael so accurately stated, "Souls...are more or less securely fastened into bodies." Ours is the task of balancing both; of living rightly in these two different but always-overlapping realms. 

Father, teach us to see in the now
parables and
parallels and
for what is not yet, for that which lasts forever.
As you know, we're still in between.  

Maranatha. Come quickly!

"God is not ashamed to be called their God, 
for he has prepared a city for them."
Author Unknown, to the Hebrews 

"And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  
fixing our eyes on J, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 
For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, 
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, 
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Author Unknown, to the Hebrews

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

*Photo credits to my friends M&C 

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