The problem we have with spiritual things and heavenly descriptions comes down to space and time. Space and time are our confines, our parameters – one is observable (space), the other (time) not so much. Both, however, are measurable. But that’s a science discussion that we’ll skip for now. I’d like us to try and imagine how our space and time help us to see the spiritual world, and how the Kingdom of God relates to us.
When I get up in the morning, that slide from sleep to awake isn’t a separation from being in the dark and going to the light. And, it isn’t just ending our time to rest. The dreamy state of sleep also doesn’t just project a weird video playing out in our heads where there an odd animal walking by, and then there’s me on a slip ‘n slide at six years old, and there’s the mail sitting in the mailbox that I forgot to get earlier that day. Some think dreams are just a concoction of nonsensical stuff. No, I don’t thing that’s all that is going on.
Sleep has a much loftier purpose. Sleep takes us to the edges of the spiritual world where we leave space and time. That’s what I think. As we go to that edge, we head off to heaven. Literally. Our head pops out of our cloudy world here, and we almost see through the fence holding back paradise, but our bodies won’t allow us in. It’s not that our bodies are too thick, too weighted down. They are too ephemeral, too thin.
I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but in my dreams I’m often running, but getting nowhere. Or, I’m traveling in some weird concoction of all the vehicles I’ve ever owned, and I’m having to make repairs, and I never actually get to my destination. It’s like I’m grabbing at something, but not getting it; going somewhere, but never getting there.
I think sleep is really just a sliver away from being completely in the presence of God, and we can’t quite get there. It’s a place where space and time fade away, but our confines won’t let us go. Our confines are real. And the spiritual world is real. But we are separated. Outside of space and time are where the angels live. We are limited, and the spiritual world is not. I know this by the scriptural tales of the angels. They live in the spiritual world, and they reportedly get to visit us all the time. They don’t have spatial limits like us.
(As an aside, by the way, if you have trouble sleeping because you have terrible dreams, call on the angels before you go to sleep, and your nightmares might go away. Or, maybe I’m full of bananas.)
Lots of people believe they can call up the Kingdom of God through meditation. Sleep is pretty close to deep meditation in my experience. Meditation is designed, or practiced, to take us to Nirvana, the Buddhist idea of bliss. In Hindu, they call the afterlife Nirvana too. Nirvana is the experience of blissful egolessness. That stuff is way over my head, but it does kind of makes sense. Nirvana originally means a place where life is blown out, or extinguished, meaning peeking at where we go when we die. It’s a good definition. Most of meditation, to me, is trying to get to the state of sleep, on the edge of space and time, with one eye open.
But the Kingdom of God is being wide awake, not asleep. We don’t have to sleep to feel the Kingdom. Sleep is simply telling us that the Kingdom is right there, a blink away. We can experience the Kingdom wherever two or three are gathered, where we acknowledge that Jesus is among us.
That describes the spiritual world for Christians – the Kingdom of God. There’s a hum in the air when we are here, but not a real sound. More like the air is full of the Holy Spirit. When we pay attention we can hear that whisper of the Holy Spirit in the atmosphere. We meet in a holy places in our religious groups, but that hum follows us wherever we gather. There’s also a tingle on the surface of our skin when we hold hands and pray together, but it’s more like something flowing through us than just the cold or hot air. I also think it’s why we sing, to see if we can hear the angels join us in lifting ourselves up to God. We want to let God know we recognize that he’s among us.
Jesus says, “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.” We’ve never been around the Son of Man, but I think we can imagine what that must have been like. The days of the Son of Man were when Jesus was with the disciples in person. He was among them. “For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.”
What is this place we are living in for our short time here? If Jesus is here with us spiritually, where are we living? What is this temporary existence, and how does it compare to being fully in the Kingdom of God?
Space and Time. Space has coordinates, gravity, and particles of mass for us to grab, stand upon, and swallow. We know space exists because when we turn our backs we’re certain that the tree behind is remains. We know time exists because when we leave our family behind they have had experiences without us when we reunite. The Kingdom of God is not a place within space and time. Jesus tells us the Kingdom is the person who holds space and time together. The Kingdom of God is among you. Time and space live within the Kingdom, though. Our universe fits neatly between the hands of the Father.
In 1983 my wife’s oldest brother, Bernie, died. He was only 36. There was a force about him, a gathering quality to him. He always had a plan afoot where we would all be getting together. When he died, we just knew that kind of stuff wouldn’t happen spontaneously anymore. There were lots of times when we gathered as a family, but it seemed more like work, more difficult to get our schedules worked out. When he gathered us together it was so easy, so comfortable. I can still remember that way about him, 32 years later, and I look forward to getting to see him again in heaven. He died before emails and photo attachments. I have to recall him by scanning my memory.
Everybody has a quality of Jesus that leaves a mark, something about them that goes beyond just space and time. A friendliness, a worry, a caring look, a skill set. It’s like they affected space and time forever, and because they leave that mark we easily remember them. Even if we don’t have them digitized in a memory brought up on a monitor.
We never got to know Jesus in that personal way, like the disciples, but I imagine the marks that Jesus left were epic, something for everyone. Something each person would never forget, and then they wrote a bunch of it down. When we read the gospels, the power he uses to describe a scene of the Pharisees, or just the disciples standing around, Jesus pops out with such a force of character. What must that have been like to know him?
When our space and time disappear, the Kingdom will fully appear. We will no more be confined at the edge of our sleep. It will be like the clouds cleared and the blue sky arrived. When we search for the Kingdom here, it’s like searching for keys, but we already hold them in our hand. But its not like keys at all. The doors to the spiritual world have the properties of being locked up, where we can get to many different dimensions, but unlocking the doors into the Kingdom, getting a look at Jesus, is like being in that dream where I never seem to get to my destination.
These spiritual things are real. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s stupid. Spiritual things are like the modern emails with photos and videos of our family attached. We have a simile of the spiritual world, a visual proof of our imaginations. Almost everybody on earth has seen emails and the digital world by now. These transcendent bits travel almost instantaneously around the world, but we can’t hold them in our hand. When you hear a voice on a phone or a read an email on any computing device the spiritual world reveals its presence. Emails and browsers took the magic of cave drawings, scrolls, documents, television and movies, and exploded our world. Aren’t these communications and pictures of the people we know real? They are, even though they don’t really physically exist. An email isn’t made of particles, the stuff of space and time. It’s simply a rearrangement of light or sound on existing particles of glass or air. Did you know that an empty computer disk weighs the same as a computer disk that holds all of the emails, videos and photo attachments that have ever sent or received? All those emails are real, yet, they have no mass at all!
I think somehow our entire universe is woven into heaven, like we’re a mist where folks in heaven can see everything we’re doing, but we can’t see them at all. Somehow the way they see and communicate and hear our prayers is similar to the way our email works and our browsers reveal things to us. They aren’t above us, like we envision heaven. They surround us.
We can communicate with God, pray with the saints, and sing with the angels because the Kingdom of God can see us. We seem to only have a one-way conversation with God because space and time confines us. We’re tied to food, family, and air in a way that makes us think that spiritual things and the things that we see and touch are not connected to us. But, clearly, the scriptures tell us that we’re in the arms of God at all times.
Communicating with God in our existence here brings us a peace that changes how we see things. Communicating with God in the Kingdom is how we will live. In that existence, peace will be the air we breathe, and love the senses that we experience.
The Father balances all of creation to provide us with everything we need to live. The Holy Spirit constantly reminds us that he’s there. The Kingdom is God himself, visible and present to us as a loving Jesus who left his mark everywhere, through a Holy Spirit providing all the nourishment we need.
We should not forget this. Everything we see and feel here is real, but it is just a fine, fading mist compared to what we get to see and taste and live fully when this world fades away, no longer blurring the living, lovely, lasting Kingdom of God.