Eyes on Heaven

As a general principle:  Keep your eyes on Heaven, not on Hell.


This is some great advice that I received from a good priest friend of mine.  In a world with Hell on full display (let’s be honest in a mirror with at least a good deal of Hell on display) we could use a whopping portion of Heaven.  Sin still exists when we look at Heaven.  The devil is still prowling and evil is still operative, but it doesn’t matter nearly so much.  Because God is operating too in a grander, more eternal, and vastly more interesting way.  Yes we have wounds and faults, but Christ has situated His cross in front of us and implored us to gaze on Love Incarnate.  I think that is a better view than my woundedness any day.  Sure I need to look at those wounds from time to time in order to fully appreciate the grandeur of the Lord’s revelation, but generally God should get my attention.  And this doesn’t only apply to our personal lives, but has societal ramifications as well.  


We bemoan “The Culture” (which we apparently have no part in building since calling it “The Culture” anthropomorphised it as some living super-villain entity living and operating outside of ourselves) and is responsible for everything ruining our lives.  We can attach any face to “The Culture” that we want- morphing from that one politician that we think is the Antichrist into that one scandalous pop artist.  It’s all “The Culture” and it's destroying us all and ruining everything.  EVEN CHRISTMAS!

We just ended the Christmas season with all of its incredible graces and revelations and celebrations, but once again “The Culture” has come to soil this immaculate feast.  At least we have our “Keep Christ in Christmas” bumper stickers to ward it off.  But did we ward it off or are we be tricked once again in some inception-esque, mind-swirling rouge of the evil one?  

I know I’ve been hood-winked year after year into the joy-stealing, hope-smashing spiral of Hell-gazing when the Church is presenting me with a season meant to bring me to a place of awe and wonder.  Materialism and consumerism has taken over Christmas- even to the point of binding those who furiously run to avoid it in its snares.  This tendency to look towards Hell causes us to miss the grace of Christ.  Christmas is literally the only season where the general population of the western world appreciates Christian culture.  Charitable giving and service go through the roof!  Inexplicable grace and joy are raining down into the hearts of the baptized (even the hard-hearted) just as it did on the night of the Nativity.  And what is a consumerist culture to do in the face of such love? Try to love others through consumerism!  And no one is there to show them the root of the warmth Christ is trying to cultivate in our icy, icy hearts because we’re hum-bugging with our Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow about how terribly materialistic and superfluous the Christmas season is becoming.  We’re looking at Hell and Heaven is moving powerfully.

Father Raneiro Cantalamessa (if you haven’t checked him out, you should promptly set about reading everything he’s ever written) wrote a letter reflecting on the conversion of St. Francis of Assisi.  He wrote about the gaze of God our Father and how that gaze would finally break through all of the distraction of sin and worldly shams when the saved finally reach Paradise and are face to face with Him.  He wrote about when St. Francis’s  father, friends and relatives rejected him and he was left without the clothes on his back or even the comfort of a good reputation.  He was just a radical buffoon who retreated into a cave.  But Fr. Cantalamessa reflected on what happened when St. Francis went into that cave in the midst of all the turmoil boiling around him.  Fr. Cantalamessa surmised that St. Francis met that gaze of love in a profound way, in a way that is usually reserved for that moment in Paradise.  And he couldn’t take his eyes off the Face of God for a single second for the rest of eternity.  And when he came out of that cave, still rejected and alone, other people started to admire what they saw and joyfully joined in on his radical buffoonery.

God give me the gaze of St. Francis!

Yes, Hell is weaving its lies into the fabric of the human psyche and Santa Claus is trying to budge Jesus out of His place in the manger of our hearts during the Yuletide season.  But God is gazing at us!  And His gaze is magnetic.  I have this vision in my mind of a coop full of chickens, stupidly gazing up as the rain is falling on their heads.  You know the scene.  What buffoonery.  But only God can make that somehow a beautiful scene of grace.  Only God can make us stoney-hearted consumerists care about our fellow man (even if for some that’s even only for a month out of the year).  And only God can pull our eyes away from the distractions through a mere glance.


Summertime Invitations

Summer: It’s a little word, like many, that conveys a great deal.  I have had an affinity for this season for as long as I can remember (which more than likely stems from celebrating a July birthday). Summer has signified a break from school, a trip to the lake, sunflowers in my wedding bouquet, camp songs, garden produce, thunderstorms, cook-outs, sleeping in tents, long days and warm nights.  This season is a sensory experience. What’s not to love?!

It has taken on a new look while the academic calendar does not define our days, and I am being offered a new invitation in this season of my life. Sometimes I crave those stretching, long days that lingered on and on. Sometimes I feel the nostalgic pull of the school year. But recently, I find myself rising with the sun and quietly making my way onto my back stoop, hot coffee in one hand, cool of the morning on my skin.

From my stoop, I am struck by the smell of dill in our garden, the cold dew on the grass, the chipper songs of birds in my ears, the pale light of the morning, the color of the flowers in bloom. And I feel myself breathing deeply in gratitude. This is summer.

Before I sat down to compose this post, I was on a walk on a favorite path. There is a point on this trail that rises over a bridge and then dips low. In the evening, cold air and the scent of fragrant branches collect there and stop me in my tracks. Every time.

The invitation that I am receiving with new ears is not only a response to the fragrance, or the coolness that gives me pause, but an out and out collision with the glory of the Creator--a glimpse of artistry as manifested in the beauty of the flourishing life around me.

Saints and Theologians dating back to the third century have referenced the ‘two books of revelation,’ suggesting that human reason is so perfectly created by God that we are able to learn about God through experiencing creation itself. This was particularly important to communicating revelation and wisdom to communities that historically were highly illiterate, and remains so for a variety of reasons. Certainly the ‘book of nature’ has been read in light of revelation through Scripture, but the two are seen as complementary.

How poetic that our souls are attuned to beauty in such a way, that we can catch a glimpse of God’s glory in a garden patch, the power of a summer storm, in the feel of the sun on our back and water rushing over toes. I love the way Elizabeth Barrett Browning notices the prevalence of God’s invitation and self-revelation:

Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes - The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

This is not to say that ducking out of church for the summer and heading to the mountains will provide everything necessary for spiritual growth. Nor is it to say that this invitation beckons only in these long days. It is to say that our senses are alive with the palpable beauty of creation and it seems to me that any time God means to communicate by way of reaching out to all of my senses, then the invitation therein is likely one to which I should be attentive.