Monday, October 10, 2016

The Best Things in Life are Fleeting

Wisdom tells us to pursue what is lasting, to center our attention around what will endure, to anchor ourselves in longevity. But maybe what is fleeting in this lifetime gets a bad rap. Maybe the truest, most real experiences in this life are fleeting.

Take falling in love. Every day you breeze past hundreds of people who are of little consequence to you, but then in a moment one person becomes everything to you. Your life was perfectly full before you met her, but somehow now you have a cavernous void at the center of your body that can only be filled by her presence. Once you had life dreams about what, but now you have dreams about who. It's like the the universe has whispered a tightly guarded secret to you, and you are now in possession of the knowledge that this is the most excruciatingly beautiful woman the world has ever known. You can't figure out why the entire world isn't knocking on her door, why everyone can't see what you see, why she's not on the cover of every fashion magazine, why scientists aren't clamoring to study her brain and heart, why her text messages aren't winning the Pulitzer every year.

Yes, those intoxicating feelings become more sober over time, but what if the experience of being in love is a glimpse into the true reality of who that person is? What if it's about more than brain chemicals that swirl in your brain when she's near or an evolutionary tactic to preserve the species? What if in those smitten days you have been given a revelation from On High about who this person, at her core, truly is? She is an image-bearer of God, a beloved daughter, a breathtaking unity of body, soul, mind, and spirit tenderly shaped by the Creator, apple of the Father's eye, and therefore stunningly, heart-piercingly, life-changingly beautiful. What if what you have experienced is a truth about a person that is more true than all the lies she has been told about herself are false?

Perhaps the experience of falling in love is not unlike the transfiguration. When Jesus went up the mountain and was transfigured before the disciples, it wasn't a stage trick. What Peter, James, and John saw was the true glory of the Son. In his face sparkling in the sun, they beheld Jesus for who he truly is. They learned his true identity, one that will become fully clear when we meet him face to face, when his countenance will never cease to glow. Perhaps when you fall in love, the other person is transfigured before you, and for a brief time, you see and experience and love who she truly is. She is not the only one who is changed.

The problem with the transfiguration is that the disciples Jesus took with him couldn't handle it. Peter tried to control the situation. Maybe if I build a few tabernacles up here, he thought, I can find a place to put all this Glory. That's what we do in the fleeting moments, when we encounter something, or someone, that makes us feel small, powerless, or overwhelmed. We try to regain control. We make a tent to stick Jesus in, or we distance ourselves from the feelings, or we dismiss or judge the in-love feelings of others. I even have a suspicion that we invent rules for how women should dress and act so that men will not feel so overpowered by the dizzying splendor of a woman.

I did a similar thing every time I visited wine country for a couple of years. I would experience those fleeting moments where I was so pierced by the sheer beauty of the place, so moved by the pattern of the vineyards stretching across the hills toward the ocean, so inspired by the buds breaking on the vines that would one day be crushed to fill my empty glass, and I would have absolutely know idea how to absorb them. So I ate and drank. And I over-ate and over-drank. I literally tried to take the beauty of the land into my body, and I discovered that my body did not nearly have the space to contain it. Others try to contain natural beauty by taking hundreds of pictures, but they find that even the most wide-angle shot does not compare to the inexhaustible panorama of the place, and they may even find that the camera in front of their face shields them from the wonder before them.

You know what else is fleeting? Emotion. So we have been taught not to trust our emotions, because they are capricious and therefore unreal. We tell people in pain to get over things. We point out their emotional contradictions and try to fix them and make them "consistent." We tell them to ignore their feelings and trust the eternal Word of God, even though the Word is full of emotional people, not to mention a few fruit of the Spirit that sound strangely emotional. Scripture would seem to tell us that when feelings like peace and joy surface in our hearts, they are indications of God's presence with us, and there is nothing more real than that.

The Celtic Christian tradition heralds "thin places" - those locations on earth where the clouds that would separate us from the awareness of God break and we are surrounded by Presence. I also like to think of "thin moments" - those brief windows of time when the veils of our hearts are peeled back and we experience Reality as fully we are able. Nothing is more fleeting than time, and yet that does not make this moment any less real. Perhaps in the thin moments, we dance in step to the music of the future, echoing backwards for a few songs. It doesn't mean that the rest of life isn't real, but maybe in the fleeting experiences of falling in love, of being captured by beauty, of swooning in deep emotion, we are moving to a deeper rhythm, a heavenly soundtrack that will have its grand climax at the renewal of all things.