Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Heavenly Rest

I just learned that the design of an Orthodox church sanctuary is intended to give worshippers a foretaste of heaven. The boxy shape signifies Noah’s ark, that image of salvation and protection that can carry the people of God through the vagaries of this world. The high dome represents the age to come when Jesus Christ will unite heaven and earth. All the shiny, ornate stuff shadows streets of gold and jeweled crowns. Incense: unbroken prayer and worship. And those icons that cover the walls, big-eyed golden people perched everywhere one looks? They are that great cloud of witnesses, the saints who have gone before, cheering us on as we run (or limp or crawl) our race amidst the sin, the competing voices, the temptations of this world! (Hebrews 12:1-3)

To my taste those gilded walls and icons, the ornate dividers and the high dome, the incense and candles, and the absence of seating (worshipers stand reverently through long services)—well, it has seemed heavy and foreign.

But consider. These spaces are built for worship. For that one day out of seven when we set aside the mundane and enter in some set-apart way into the Presence of God. Into a measure of heaven. That seventh day when we, along with the Creator God, rest and contemplate the goodness past and the better yet to come.

It then makes sense to me that the designers employed forms, materials, decoration, and elements of light and smell that allude to Biblical images of eternity, images of that coming day when the people of God will cease to strive, and will know permanent, undisturbed peace and joy.

It has been almost a year since I took the time to form into words suitable for this blog-space the images, experiences and ideas that capture me. I’ve done other things, intensely engaged in life and death and change. The biggest chunk of time (and heart and soul) has gone into preparation of two houses. The Spa for the Soul nestles on a Turkish hillside overlooking the Mediterranean. Fair Haven has been relocated from Abu Dhabi to the small farming community of Sequim, Washington.

Many skilled workers helped tear out, reorganize, and use all manner of earthy materials like stone, wood, and plaster to create beautiful spaces. More craftsmen built and carried in comfortable seating, big tables, luxurious bedding and rugs, and so many dishes and pots and pans. Paint. Art on the walls. Books. Gleaming clean floors and windows. Gardens pruned, groomed, planted and fertilized.

Spaces for solitude. Places for conversation. Ways to make music. Necessities for study and work. Materials to get messy and experiment. Some frippery for laughter and play.

As I consider Orthodox architecture and ornament, my heart brims over with surprised joy. A whisper: “That’s what you do, Jeri.” I pray and work toward spaces that represent the REST of God’s glorious seventh day, that celebrate the possibilities of His Presence among us. I work to provide a foretaste, shadowy and incomplete as it may be, of that for which we hope.

My personal evening of the sixth day gathers for these projects. As dusk deepens, I light the candles and lay the meal on the table. I lean into, I celebrate the coming time of sharing with whoever God will bring.

“They raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: ’He is good; His love endures forever.’ Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud, and the priest could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.” 2 Chronicles 5:13-14