This piece is a part of a larger project. First published on Thinking Peacefully on September 22, 2013, it is the first chapter in a larger work which dreams of the peace of the Resurrection.
Chapter 1: Moving In
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
It’s early morning. In the time before I was never a morning person. I was much more prone to staying up all night, sometimes working, sometimes doing something frivolous. I fought sleep back then and paid for it in the mornings. But I’ve discovered I really love the mornings now. The dawn…the birds…the way the world seems to be waking up from its rest—it’s like it emphasizes something true about the world that I can never quite put my finger on. It’s like every day is new and full of hope.
In the mornings now I like to sit outside and think. Today I’ve got that passage repeating in my thoughts the way old songs sometimes get stuck in my head. Paul. Romans. I can remember what the page looked like and where it was on the page. In the time before I used to read those verses and wonder what this time would be like. I remember thinking that Paul seemed to have to find patience to wait for this time—the time we’re in now. He seemed to look forward to it with an unmatchable anticipation. Sometimes I did, too. Sometimes I didn’t. If I’d have only known then what I’ve learned since….
I had always thought he was talking about going to heaven. I’m not sure why I thought that except that it’s just the way I’d been taught. Everyone used to say it. “What will heaven be like? What will we do in heaven?” We sang songs about it, “When we all get to heaven….”
The truth was, heaven never sounded very nice to me. It sounded, frankly, boring. There was nothing to it, except, maybe, lots of singing, harp music, clouds, and halos. I had always heard that it would be different from the world we lived in. We wouldn’t have bodies anymore; we wouldn’t need food. No cats or trees. We wouldn’t experience time. We described it like some sort of mass out-of-body experience. I mean, we called it “God’s celestial shore,” for crying out loud, and talked about “flying away.”
So, I could never figure out why I should want to “go there.” I mean, everyone was trying to go there. We talked about it when we got together. Some people…that’s all they ever talked about. And we talked about it a LOT when someone died. I remember those funerals.
I remember asking some friends after a funeral, when we were eating, what they thought of going to heaven. I was trying to scare up the courage to tell them that I wasn’t looking forward to it. I remember they said things like, “Oh, I can’t wait,” and, “it’s going to be so great,” and, “the first thing I’m going to do is ask (some silly question).”
Then I asked, “Don’t you think you’ll miss things here?”
“Like what?” asked one friend, incredulously.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Things like trees and rivers and books and sports.” I had read a book recently by someone who had studied those scriptures and suggested that, perhaps, some of the things that humans had created back then, like literature and art, would survive into this time. When I shared that, they all laughed.
“I don’t think we’re going to care about any of that.” one of them said. “It’s going to be so great, we won’t even care.”
“What do you mean, ‘Why?’”
“Why will it be so great?” I asked.
“Well, because we’ll be with God,” he said.
Now, I knew that should be enough. “God” answers are supposed to trump all questions, you know. But I didn’t know what he meant. “Aren’t we always with God?” I asked. “I mean, what does it mean to be ‘with God?’” I just couldn’t figure out how being “with God” made the idea of heaven any more interesting than being “with God” on earth.
The rest of the conversation had gone downhill from there. It ended with the statement, “I suppose it’s better than the alternative.”
For some reason, I didn’t feel any differently after those kinds of conversations. I mean, I felt like I should look forward to heaven. In fact, I felt kind of guilty that I didn’t. And Paul seemed so certain that I should be hoping for it. There was just so much about being on earth that I liked. I just couldn’t bring myself to hope in floating around the ether in some strange disembodied state of bliss for all of eternity. I remember thinking what a waste it would be if this world was not my home. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it.
Then again, when things got bad in that time, I’d get thinking that “anything would be better than this.”
But this isn’t like that at all. In fact, it’s as different from the way I’d heard it described as it possibly could be.
First of all, it’s not heaven. Heaven is the place where God is—sort of. Maybe I should say, it’s the realm where God is. But somehow he’s also here. Heaven is a different place, but it’s like it’s close by. I realize now that it really always was.
Heaven is where God is—and he’s also here. But this isn’t heaven; it’s the resurrection.
Similarly, I’ve got a body—my old body. But it’s also not my old body. It’s better. It feels healthy. It works right. We’ve been here around 600 years now (give or take a decade—one of the things we all realized about the resurrection is that counting years is kind of silly when there’s a limitless supply). 600 years and I haven’t aged a day.
Likewise, it’s the same earth we lived on before, just new and fresh. And I’m not sure I can describe the difference in it then and now. The trees are the same, the water is the same, everything is the same—but everything is different. It’s like the world doesn’t have to try so hard to keep going any more. The earth provides, the plants grow, they provide and sustain—all of it works like I always imagined it must have in Adam and Eve’s time—the time before my time in the time before. I keep meaning to look them up and ask them if it’s the same.
You know, in retrospect, I don’t know how we missed it. Paul’s passage didn’t say we were waiting to escape these bodies but, “for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” And in the verses before he’d said that the whole universe was waiting to be “liberated from its bondage to decay.” That’s pretty much what we’re experiencing.
I remember, in the first days in this time, how amazed we were. Here we were in new bodies on a new earth realizing that the coming kingdom was vastly different from what we had imagined but exactly what had been promised. How ironic.
Anyway, now I realize why I should have looked forward to it.
For some reason, this morning it’s just hitting me like that. Wow. 600 years and I’m just realizing that. Or, maybe I’ve realized it before and just forgotten. It’s amazing how much you can forget in 600 years.
This morning I’m sitting on my new front porch. At least, it’s a new front porch to me. I’ve just moved into this house. It’s not the way I always thought I’d live in “heaven.” I remember we used to sing this silly song in church about having mansions on hilltops and walking on golden streets. Why we thought we wouldn’t have bodies but we would have mansions, I don’t know. But it’s not exactly like that. The truth is, in the resurrection, things like mansions and gold don’t have the same value they did in the time before. Wealth and possessions don’t matter when you’re not going to die.
That’s something I realized a long time ago. The whole “death” thing was much more of a factor in our lives than we ever gave it credit for. A lot of people talked about not being afraid of “death,” but the truth is, we all were. Death tainted everything. It was always in the background, always threatening, always making our lives feel meaningless. It was always hurting our relationships.
Death made the passage of time unbearable. So, one of the things I’d always thought about heaven was that there would be no time. However, in the resurrection, there’s time. The sun comes up and goes down. There are days and weeks. There’s time. There’s just no death. Because of that, in the resurrection, time doesn’t have teeth any more. See, in the time before, death gave time power. Death meant time was limited. Death meant we had to hurry. Death made us desperate for hope, for meaning. Death made us selfish and cruel. Death made us horde and save.
Death meant we had to work—and “having to work” is very different from “having work to do.” “Having work to do” means having a purpose. “Having to work” meant having to struggle to survive. It meant that death was always creeping up on us and that if we wanted to put it off, we were going to have to work at it.
Death meant that everything had to have an end. We only had so much time. I think that’s why I fought sleep so much in the time before. Each night what bothered me most was that another day had passed and I’d worked through most of it. Even though I was tired I felt more every day that precious time was slipping through my fingers. I wanted some life, wanted to enjoy that life. I didn’t want to waste those precious moments.
I remember that we would surround ourselves with clocks to mark the passage of time. Precious seconds and minutes were always ticking off, reminding us that we had somewhere to be, something to do. And we only had so much time to give to it or so much time before it needed to be accomplished. We always had things we wanted to do or be and always in the background we knew that death was coming. It might come sooner or later but the only thing certain was that it was coming. Those clocks, meant to keep us from losing time, were a constant reminder that we had precious little—much of which was spent prolonging life in the face of…death.
But, in the resurrection, there’s no death. The truth is, it’s been the hardest thing to grasp. Every now and then you’ll look at someone and you can tell they’re realizing again, “Hey, this really isn’t going to end, is it?” There’s a sort of bewildered smile that people have when they remember how it was then compared to how it is now.
No death means people aren’t in a hurry any more. It means we don’t have to struggle to survive. God created the earth—he re-created it—and it provides. We share it together. There’s no need to horde; there’s plenty for everyone. God provides; we receive together.
Death has been undone for us. Gone is struggle, conflict, war, greed, selfishness and fear. What is left is…all of the good things.
That means there’s always time in the resurrection. Resurrection is not the absence of time, but the eternal abundance of it. It’s not the end of life, but the abundance of it. It’s what God wanted for us in the beginning, in the time before the time before.
Now, instead of working to survive, I’ve just got work to do. Important work, but not life-supporting work. And there is always plenty of time to do it because there are no deadlines (what an appropriate term!). There is also always plenty of time to enjoy life. In fact, work is far more enjoyable and far more meaningful, now that it’s not about survival. We work now because taking care of creation means we get to be a little bit like the God who created it and enjoys it. That’s plenty of reason to work and plenty of reason to enjoy.
Anyway, I don’t have trouble sleeping any more. There’s no more death. I sleep like a baby in the resurrection.
I’m sitting on the porch of a house I didn’t build; someone else did. I didn’t take it from them and I didn’t buy it from them. See, we don’t have money any more. Money is only valuable when resources are limited and when things are owned and traded. In the time before, resources were needed to survive and they were owned. We had to find ways to trade those resources for mutual survival. Money was a way of determining a standard of value, a way of simplifying necessary transactions. We needed things or services to survive. Other people owned those things or services. We used money to trade them. Hence, more money often equaled longer and better survival. Less money often meant dying sooner. And it often worked out that those who had more money could easily find ways of hording more money and those who had nothing often stayed that way. Death made money necessary.
One of the weird things about money was that its value depended on some people not having it. If everyone had the same amount (even if that amount was great) it became less valuable. In fact, entire economies could be rocked by the mere mention of “redistributing wealth.” Wealth was often defined as “having more than was needed.” But it was more accurately defined as, “having more than someone else.” Those who were rich were rich because they had more than they needed, but that meant that someone else necessarily had less than they needed. And, in that time, it was thought that it wasn’t fair to take it away from one who had earned it and give it away to someone who hadn’t. Yet, there were those who couldn’t earn it. They had no hope.
In the resurrection there is no death, so there is no ownership. Oh, people keep things and work things, but they don’t consider them “theirs.” My neighbor keeps some cows and (in a sense) they are “his cows” but not in the same way we said that in the time before. So, ultimately there is no ownership of resources because there is no limit to the resources—so there is plenty for everyone and no one takes more than they need. What would be the point of taking more than you need? In the kingdom of God, our king once said “the last will be first” and “the greatest is your servant.” He was always saying things backwards compared to what we were used to. In the time before everyone wanted to own more, and this meant some were poor. In the kingdom, when no one owns anything, everyone is rich because everything is shared.
Another way to say it is that everything belongs to God, and he shares his plenty with everyone. There is always enough because no one takes more than they need. No one takes more than they need because there is always enough.
Whoever built this house had left a few years before I arrived, apparently moving on somewhere out west to explore the coast. He’d left a note saying, “Whoever finds this house, please enjoy it! I lived here for 80 years, and have many fond memories of this place. There are wonderful neighbors and there is plenty to eat. God bless!”
See, since there’s no death here, and since no one is in a hurry here, there is plenty of time to live in a place and get to know that place. But part of the joy of being in that place is knowing that sometime I might decide to leave and go explore some new place. There is always somewhere new to explore. And, since there is so much time, someday this place can be new again. Myself, I’ve lived in three places these few centuries. When I’ve left, I’ve never felt a sense of loss—this place will be here still if I want to return. In fact, there may be someone new to spend time with when I come back. In the resurrection there is always a sense of newness and adventure, and yet you can always still experience the comfort of familiarity.
My little house is located in an old forest. All around are evergreen trees, oak, maple, and birch trees. The person who had built it was a skilled craftsman who’d found a way to provide shelter from the pine cones and acorns which might fall from the tree canopy high above, while being open to the cool breeze from the sides. In fact, there are few walls at all to this house—it’s built almost like a multi-room gazebo with rough-hewn hand-carved hardwood arches at the entrances and between the rooms and similarly hewn posts and pillars held together by large wooden dowels and holding up the thatched roof. The floor is made of local stones; hand fit and mortared together and worn smooth from decades of foot-traffic and sweeping.
In the center of the living room is a stone fireplace and chimney, reaching up through the grassy roof. The lower part of the fireplace is open on all sides, so that the heat in the evenings warms guests in all directions. It’s high enough to see through so that the chimney doesn’t come between any guests I might have. There are wooden chairs with hand-woven wicker seats and backs which are perfectly designed for leaning back and resting your feet on the stone footer of the fireplace.
Besides that, the house isn’t very large. There are just two bedrooms equipped with hand-made cots with quilts (and extra hammocks to sling between pillars for extra guests) and a fairly large kitchen, complete with a cabinet with some ceramic plates and glasses and metal cookware, a hand-made hardwood countertop, a steel woodstove for cooking, and a lovely smooth stone sink with of a hand operated pump that draws water from the well far below. It has a thick hand-made table with benches all around that can seat around 8 people comfortably. Outside on the porch there are rocking chairs for the same number of guests.
For light in my new house there are candles and a few oil lamps mounted to the pillars around the house. In the evenings they give a soft warm glow throughout the house that feels inviting.
There is no ice box or refrigerator because there is no need to keep food in the resurrection. I remember always needing a refrigerator in the time before. We only had so much money and so much food and we needed to make it last. We had electricity to simplify our cooking and to keep our food cold and fresh. Electricity became a necessity for us to make things fast, to make things comfortable. However, in the resurrection, time is not a problem. If it takes longer to make dinner, that’s ok. And the weather is never too hot or too cold. There is a uniform temperature around the whole earth and no need for rain because the earth waters itself. That means there is no weather to protect ourselves from and no need to cool our houses or heat them—except, perhaps, at night. But even then a small fire in my little fireplace is all that is needed. We have electricity, and often use it in town for special things. But most people don’t feel it’s necessary in their homes.
One of my neighbors stopped by to introduce himself shortly after I moved in and offered me milk from his cows whenever I would like some. He lives just a few minutes away in a little cottage I can just see through the trees. So, I have plenty to drink and plenty of cheese, as well. In gratitude I offered to make him a pipe similar to the one I was smoking when we first met and which he had been admiring. It’s a little slightly bent cutty pipe made out of one of the blocks of briar root I found a few decades ago that I’ve been carrying with me. When I had access to a drill I’d bored out the bowls and drilled several stems so I could make pipes along the way as I traveled. I had it finished in about a week and now one of our favorite things to do in an evening is sit on my porch and smoke together.
On the other side I can see another neighbor’s house. There is always smoke coming from her chimney and often I can smell fresh bread. She loves to bake bread for all her neighbors from the flour she gets from the wheat farmers in the valley. Between the two of them, I always have bread and cheese on my table.
There is a large orchard just down the footpath running away from my neighbor’s house. There we have plenty of apples and other types of fruit. Sometimes we have apple festivals. We make cider and apple fritters and different kinds of jams and preserves and we eat and just enjoy the company. We often sit around the fire and talk late into the night.
Several people in this little community keep a large vegetable garden near the orchard which we all tend and from which we all can take what we need when we need it. Sometimes when I’m walking with one of my neighbors and visiting, we’ll notice a few weeds here or there and go in and pull them while we talk. A community garden is a beautiful thing.
Since the house had sat empty a few years, it seemed the forest had been trying to reclaim it. Some of the bushes around the sides of the house were growing up, making it hard to see the forest from the living room. I had to cut those down a little using some tools the builder had left in an old chest next to the kitchen entrance. The thatched roof needed some work as well, so I’d cut some new grass from the fields on the southern part of my little hill and had patched it up here and there. A little repair work had to be done to the chairs and cots. There were some creeping vines crawling up a few of the outer pillars supporting the roof. Those I left. In the fall dried leaves blow in on the floor and I like to leave them there, too. They make the house feel like it’s sort of grown up out of the forest and I feel like I’m a part of it.
In fact, some of my closest friends and neighbors are the creatures that live around me. There are many whitetail deer who appear from behind the trees occasionally. Sometimes, when I’m sitting on the porch in the evening, there is a black bear who comes almost up to my steps. He usually wants a few scraps, and he’s liable to get them. Often, in the morning, I wake up to find an ornery raccoon getting into the loaf of bread on my table. When I walk in and sit down he looks up at me with those big, round, dark eyes as if he’s been caught with his hands in the cookie jar. I laugh and cut up an apple to share with him. The way he sits up on the bench at my table and eats with his little paws is almost comical. There’s even a mountain lion who comes to visit every now and then. In the resurrection, even the wild animals have an inner respect and love for humans. There is no danger.
A Celebration of Peace
I realize I’m talking about the house like I just moved in yesterday. I’ve actually been here three years. The passing of time has virtually no meaning in the resurrection, but we all tend to keep track anyhow. I used to think that I’d get to a point that I didn’t care. I thought that those old habits from the time before would become obsolete and be long forgotten. But most of us still count the years. I have a theory that it’s because we developed the habit when we were so young. Maybe in a millennium or so we’ll stop, but I haven’t yet.
That said, with each passing year in the resurrection, their passing becomes less notable.
About the ridge—as I said I live near two neighbors, but there is actually a whole community of people who live around me. The ridge runs from south-west to north-east. I live along the eastern side, which means in the afternoons, I am in the shade. The neighbors I already spoke about live to the south-west and north-east of me, on the east side of the ridge as well. To the west the mountains stretch and get higher and rockier. At the base of the ridge to the east is a large valley which a lot of people farm and to the north-east part of that valley there is another ridge, with a small village situated right at its base, in a little hollowed corner of the mountain range.
The village is complete with a library, a movie theater, and a coffee house. I go there often. It is about a day’s walk, so when I go I generally stay for a few days with some friends I had made just before I moved here. I had stopped in for coffee at the little coffee house and I had told them I was looking for a place to stay for a while. They told me about this house and said I was welcome to stay with them, upstairs above the store-front style bistro, whenever I was in town. I gladly accepted.
There are many other people who live along the ridge, and we know each other and talk often. But we are spread out. The village is more densely populated. There are some electric lights on the streets and a fairly large fairground on the north-west portion of town. Every few months the little town puts together a huge fair, to which all the people in the valley and along the ridges come to celebrate and share. The farmers bring wheat and corn. Those of us who live around the orchard often bring bushels of apples and vegetables from the community garden. The ground produces at such a rate that the plants are always producing more than we need, so we and the farmers can afford to bring as much as we can carry to share with one another. There is even a tobacco-grower who often brings a barrel of pipe-tobacco. I usually make it a point to see him and we have a smoke and share new pipe design ideas.
My neighbor usually brings a few of the cows he keeps. In fact, there are always many animals at the fair: cattle, swine, sheep, and even dogs. The organizers always find time for showing the animals and blue ribbons are awarded to the animals who best display the qualities of their breed. Some of us from the ridge even bring some of the wild animals. I had considered, this year, seeing if I could coax the bear who comes to visit. However, usually the only one who will follow me into town was my little ornery raccoon, and he usually rides in my backpack most of the way. He likes to wait until I sit down to tie my shoe and I fee him crawl inside and put his little hands on my shoulder while vocalizing what sounds like a soft chittery laugh. I say to him, “Yeah, you’ll get the blue ribbon for mischievousness, for sure.” I don’t mind, though, because he’s actually pretty good company.
The fair is always full of wonderful sights and smells. Besides the food that is brought to share and the animals brought to show, there are always other things to do. The villagers have built a large Ferris-wheel, complete with electric lights and motors. There is a carousel as well as several other spinning and swinging rides. And there are all manner of fried foods, funnel cakes, caramel apples, pizza…you name it. Whenever I go I feel like a child who lives inside of me sort of wakes up and comes out to play. I can’t help smiling at the fair.
Today, as I smoke the last few puffs of my evening pipe and prepare myself for bed I am also thinking about heading to town tomorrow. There will be another fair this week and I want to go early to meet my friends and spend as much time with the community as I can. The sights and smells are wonderful, but there is something more wonderful about the joy everyone feels at being together. Life is a celebration in the resurrection. Life is a celebration…of peace. That’s the only way to describe it. Peace.
This peace is not the peace we talked about in the time before. That peace was the kind of peace we thought we could accomplish by fighting. That peace was what we thought was the inevitable result of the ceasing of hostilities. But we all knew back then that just ceasing hostility was no guarantee of peace. Just because we weren’t fighting, didn’t mean we were at peace. Even nations who were not fighting were never at peace. The quietest home could be at all-out war with itself. This, instead, is peace: the complete reconciliation of all humanity. No power, no struggle, no war, no greed, no selfishness, no hatred, no death. In the resurrection, life is peace. That peace is the kind of peace where you can even have some conflict…but still have peace. It’s a peace that we must continually earn by loving one another, but it is a peace that we all love and value. This time in the village is a celebration of that peace and I wouldn’t miss it for the whole world.
But that’s not the only reason I am going. I am going because I know she will be there.
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