July 26, 2014

Advent II—How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place

Note from CM: As we light the second Advent candle, we thank God for his gift of peace. Ephesians 2 speaks of the peace Christ brings to those far and near, calling them together into the one household of God (Eph 2:11-22). Thanks to Damaris today for the following meditation on God’s dwelling place.

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!”

• Psalm 84:1

What is the dwelling place of the Lord?  It can be a Gothic cathedral, surging upward like flames, like trees drawing their strength from the ground and flowering into a hundred branches far overhead.  The stained glass scatters bright jewels of color on stone.  This building points upward, saying “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:  who created all these?”  (Isaiah 40:26)

Or a Byzantine church, paradise not pointed to but enclosed, beneath the dome, within the arms of Christ Pantokrator.  A cloud of incense; a cloud of witnesses seen through the icons, the windows of heaven.

Or a Quaker meeting house, empty and clean, like a shell scoured by the sea.  Bare wood, plain lines restful to the eye, lit by the happy light pouring through windows.  Silence; peace.  How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts.

There is a tiny whitewashed church on a Greek hillside — a dome on a box.  A few candles flicker; their flames are reflected by small metal plaques hanging next to the icons.  The image on each plaque represents what the petitioner is praying for:  a child, a car, an arm.

The white light outside the church is blinding, glorious.  This Greek hillside is also God’s dwelling place.  “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”  (Ps. 24:1) Surely he delights in the smell of thyme and sea as much as in incense; surely his presence is announced as compellingly by the dull clunk of sheep bells as by the clangor of a carillon.

Or a forest where light falls through the branches.  Or the immensity of plains or sea.  The strength of mountains.  Sky, sun, stars, and moon.  “If I go to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”  (Ps. 139:8-10)

But we are small, and we mostly don’t live in immensities.  On Sunday morning, we rejoice with those who say, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”  (Ps. 122:1) It’s a plain building, perhaps.  There are children crying, people wrestling with coats, doors opening and closing.  There may be no great artwork inside and only a tangle of city streets outside.  But our churches are built on a promise:  “Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” And we build the church so that we can open the door and he can come in.

In one church I saw only ugliness, not God.  There were no hangings, no stained glass, no windows or color or beauty.  The carpeted dais and the floor around it were a snakepit of electrical wires.  Duck tape disfigured floor and walls.  Empty water bottles lay here and there, and microphone stands stuck up randomly like snags in a swamp.  It had all the beauty of a field after the circus has left.  Where was God?

Then the people began to pour in.  Plain people, just parents with kids, teenagers, old people.  They were talking, laughing, even calling to each other as they took their seats, like a mob of gaudy parrots settling onto their perches.  And suddenly I really saw them:  they “are the temple of the living God.  As God has said, ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’”  (2Cor.6:16)

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!

In a mystery God already dwells among us — in our church buildings, in his creation, in the Church, and in each believer — yet we still await his Advent.  With John we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”  (Rev. 22:20) And God answers us, “’The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ — which means, ‘God with us’.”  (Matt. 1:22)

God with us.  How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the reminder Damaris. I have this same feeling every week when I shuttle between two churches here in Brisbane, Australia. It’s hard being an anglo-catholic evangelical/evangelical anglo-catholic.

    One of them is like that that last church you describe: no real color, stained glass, paraments, vestments, smells or bells. Just a lot of mic cables and electrical wiring that I’ve had to help set up. The lack of beauty there makes me quite uncomfortable, and I feel like an outsider there. The only thing that keeps me coming back are the people (some of whom I’ve grown up with through Sunday School, the junior youth and the youth fellowships). Where God is with us and within us. As some of my Benedictine friends would remind me of, I meet Christ in each of them (including the annoying ones). It’s a Psalm 84:1 moment.

    The other church is a modern day Gothic cathedral where I know some who attend, but I sort of stick out like a sore thumb being one of the younger folks there when everyone else is 45+. I’m still an outsider there too. But then I look upwards while seated in the creaky pew in the nave, before my eye is drawn past the quire towards the high altar and I see the stained glass of Christ the King and of the saints surrounding him there and on a fair few of the other lancet windows too of the cathedral. I see the icon cross of Christ Pantocrator surrounded by icons of the Trinity, the Anastasis, St. Francis, St. Clare, the Blessed Virgin and John the Baptist in a side chapel. And at the beauty and craftsmanship within this building, all I can do is marvel and give thanks to God for where I am. I end up realizing that while I’m an outsider at this church too, the beauty within this 106 year old building reminds me of God with us as well. And it’s another Psalm 84:1 moment.

    O God, how lovely is your dwelling place indeed!

    Marana tha Yeshua, marana tha.

  2. Just time to remind everyone that tomorrow is the feast of St. Nicholas of Myra – the real Santa Claus :-)