Heaven On Earth

Apr 8 2012 @ 8:40am

Caravaggio_stigmatizing_of_saint_francis

Jon Meacham searches for it:

If heaven is understood more as God’s space on earth than as an ethereal region apart from the essential reality we know, then what happens on earth matters even more than we think, for the Christian life becomes a continuation of the unfolding work of Jesus, who will one day return to set the world to rights. If you begin to think about the drama of life in such terms, you begin to invest more meaning in the here and now — not in the “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” pagan way, but as a way of infusing everything with potentially sacred meaning. The love of friends, the brush of your spouse’s hand, the eyes of a young child — these become not hints or glimpses of what heaven may be like as a posthumous region but of what earth may be like if light and love achieve dominion over darkness and envy.

Beautifully put. The task, as Oakeshott noted, is to find a definition of salvation which has nothing whatsoever to do with the future. I should probably note what only a handful of people will know that the kind of Christianity I wrote about in last week's essay is deeply indebted to Oakeshott whose hints and guesses about religion were the final focus of my dissertation 22 years ago; and to TS Eliot, whose Four Quartets have been Christian touchstones for me since my teens. Oakeshott believed that the dignity of religion lies in part

in the poetic quality, humble or magnificent, of the images, the rites, the observances, and the offerings (the wisp of wheat on the wayside calvary) in which it recalls to us that 'eternity is in love with the productions of time' and invites us to live so far as is possible as an immortal.

Thy kingdom come. But it is already here, if we have faith and live it. And faith is something in which

the fugitive adventures of human conduct, without being released from their mortal and moral conditions, are graced with an intimation of immortality: the sharpness of death and the deadliness of doing overcome, and the transitory sweetness of a mortal affection, the tumult of a grief and the passing beauty of a May morning recognized neither as merely evanescent adventures not as emblems of better things to come, but as aventures, themselves encounters with eternity.

That's Oakeshott again in a sublime passage that is echoed by Eliot:

Men's curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint.

(Painting: Caravaggio, on Saint Francis receiving the stigmata.)