Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Nesting Gods

As a child, my family would go to our Nana and Papa's house every summer for a whole week. They lived on a lake with a small beach, so there was plenty to keep us busy outside. But on rainy days, we had to make do with our imaginations and what handful of toys our grandparents had. My sister and I spent hours pretending the basement stairs were in fact bunks in an orphanage that made us scrub the floors like the one in the movie Annie. The springy mattresses in our bedroom made perfect boats. And the built-in bar and bar stools in the basement provided endless opportunities for imaginations to run wild. But sometimes we didn't want to pretend. Sometimes we just played with toys that 20 grandchildren had played with.

My sister and I enjoying time with Nana and Papa on their deck in New Hampshire.

Nana and Papa's toy stash included 5 things.
1) Two big boxes of legos, every future engineer's dream (no wonder several of their children and grandchildren became engineers)
2) Various spatial puzzles given to my Papa over the years including an eagle that balanced its beak on your fingertip (again, with the engineering. You'd think they were brain washing us or something!)
3) A crocodile game that forced game players to put their fingertips at risk of a plastic crocodile bite if the wrong tooth was chosen
4) Various old and forgotten board games like a dusty Monopoly board and Trivial Pursuit 80's edition
5) Russian nesting dolls brought back from one of my grandparents' many travels

By far our favorite was the crocodile (until we hacked the game and found out how to tell which tooth was the culprit). But the Russian nesting dolls brought the kind of fun that tickles your imagination. Sometimes we made them into a family and played house. Sometimes we stacked them into different configurations to see what they would look like. And sometimes we just opened and closed them over and over. The first time I figured out what they did, I was amazed. At first it looks like you have only one doll about 5 inches tall. But when you take it apart, there is another, smaller doll. Then that one comes apart to reveal yet another! The process keeps going until you get to the tiniest doll which does not open up. I just loved finding the smallest doll and marveling at how its small features exactly matched the ones on the big doll.

Nesting dolls remind me of the mystery of our in-dwelling God. This is a mystery that has been especially present in my life this year. I am acutely aware of the fact that Jesus dwells in each and every one of us. When I interact with someone, it is not Nicole speaking to her neighbor, but God communing with Godself through humans. This in-dwelling is our home; the dwelling that each of us is called to live in (see my post about dwellings last week here). If we live from this in-dwelling, we will necessarily be called and sent to form community with others and the God-within them.

At first, this can seem to be contrary to Augustine's popular saying, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in You." But I don't think it is. I imagine a divine nesting doll. The smallest doll, which retains the same intricate features as the largest doll is the in-dwelling God. The small God is placed inside us and we in turn place ourselves in God. Why can't God be everywhere at once? And even then, maybe "resting in God" is more of a metaphor for recognizing the God within and realizing that I am not apart from God - that in fact, God and I are one.

I have been reading Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle and she talks about prayer leading us to a relational union with God. She describes a transformation that happens in our relationship with God. What was once two entities, me and God, now forms a whole new be-ing, unique from what I was before and unique from any other human-divine relationship. This transformation creates a me-and-God relational energy. God and I are one. I am no longer myself, God helps me to transcend humanity in relational union with Him.

I envision this union as a dance with God as my partner. I do not know the whole dance, in fact I do not even know the next step! All I need to know is how to communicate with my partner wordlessly and gracefully; taking His cues and returning my own, but always working as one. The experience of dancing is much more beautiful when I'm not sure what is coming next.

An image I created that reflects the dance of unity.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

We are all Homeless...

Some sights I've discovered on my outdoor explorations.

I love to explore the outdoors. I bike, hike, meander in fields, and do whatever I can to be with God's creation. Since I moved to a new city in August, I am still exploring what nature has to offer in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. On one exploration, I found a roughly maintained nature trail which followed the bank of the river close to my house. I pushed my bike as far as it would go, sure that the trail would lead somewhere interesting. But soon enough I found myself in the middle of a bank of grass which dead ended into the side of a bridge overpass. I wondered why the path just abruptly stopped and soon realized the answer. I smelled campfire. And if I looked closely at the brush by the river I could see well worn paths and tops of tents...

I had stumbled upon a camp of people experiencing homelessness! Knowing that strange visitors are often unwelcome in these places, I turned right around and high-tailed it out of there. I promised myself that the next time I went back I would knew the people living in those dwellings. I have not yet been back.

In retelling that story, I stopped at the use of the word "dwellings". Even though these people have shelter to live under (usually a tent or a shack), why do we still call them homeless? And what is the difference between a house, a home, and a dwelling?

I have often heard that "home is where the heart is" and that a home is about the love experienced inside the structure. If this is true, then many people labelled as "homeless" are not truly homeless. I have known people without traditional homes who form much stronger, more loving communities around their shacks and tents than most people who are housed.

Well then, what is the difference between a house and a dwelling? A house is individualistic. It stands alone and is self-sufficient. All you need for life is contained inside, water, food, etc. A dwelling makes me think of a village or a campsite where people rely on community to survive. A dwelling is usually a little more temporary, movable. But a dwelling can certainly be a home and necessarily creates and relies on community.

As I was reflecting on the significance of home, house, and dwelling, I found myself accidentally attending a funeral mass for a man I did not know. Now, I bet you're wondering how do you accidentally attend a funeral? Well, I went to mass one day and instead of the normal daily mass crowd, I was greeted by a hearse and pews full of people dressed in black. I decided to stay and see what message God had for me in the midst of a weird situation. The gospel that day was from John and included the following verses:

"In my father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be." Jn 14:2-3

When I heard those sentences, something clicked in my mind. We are all homeless. We are all destined to live in dwellings. Our houses, homes, and dwellings here on earth are just temporary until we reach our true home with God. But why does Jesus prepare a dwelling place for us rather than a house? Because our God is a relational God grounded in community. Could you imagine if in heaven each person had their own individual house? Houses create separation from each other and from God. Dwelling places invite community. I imagine my dwelling place being nestled among the dwelling places of my friends, family, and sisters. Each of us being a unique puzzle piece to complete the wider community of dwelling places. Living in a dwelling place invites me outside of myself to gather the necessities of life from the community and from God. God does not want us holed up in our houses in heaven. God wants us dwelling among people and most importantly, dwelling with and in Him.

God invites us to this same community while living here on earth. So I have been taking time to reflect: do I spend my time living in a house or a dwelling place? How is God calling me, here and now, to dwell among people and with and in God?