We could talk for hours about the relationship of spirit and matter, of what is seen and unseen, of the temporal and the eternal. I could get very philosophical and theological. But what I'm interested in right now is what it looks like when we try to live this, choosing between what lasts and what does not.
“Fixing our eyes” on something means turning our focus and attention towards it. What do you spend your time and energy and money on? Is it something easily destroyed, or something that may endure even when physical things rot away to dust? Paul suggests that it is best to turn towards things that will last: prayer, love, forgiveness, worship.
I spent a lot of time as a teen considering this passage. I was already an introspective thinker, and deeply desired to figure out the best things in life, so that I might put my energy into pursuing them. I turned inwards: to worship and prayer, trying to connect with my Creator; to writing and considering and learning, trying to understand the world and make good choices; to listening to people, trying to love and understand them.
I don't regret most of this. I grew and learned a lot, discovering things younger than some people do. I stretched my mind and my spirit. I learned how to see people clearly, and care for them. And I did find much that was of worth, that was and is lasting.
But in that inward turning, I lost some things, too.
I chose the unseen over the seen, thinking that I was choosing the eternal over the temporal.
The longer I live, the clearer it becomes to me that what I was really choosing—all unwitting, and in an earnest attempt to follow the teachings received from people I respected—was to split myself. As a human being, I am both temporal and eternal. Not one imprisoned in the other; not one struggling to surpass the other. Both at once, in a paradoxical and dynamic beauty. To reject one aspect is to see myself as less than fully human.
Some of you may be surprised to know that I was very social child. I'm not sorry my parents eventually chose to homeschool me, but I made my mom's life hell the first year. I was angry with her for pulling me away from seeing my friends every day. I got less social during my teen years, mostly because I felt out of place. So few people seemed interested in listening to me.
God always did. Prayer became more than seeking for me; it became a place of comfort, a time where I could revel in being known. My favorite name for God is what Hagar calls him in Genesis, after she and her son are cast our and an angel rescues them. She called Him, “the God who sees me.”
What I love most in the world is being close to people. Seeing and being seen. That's why I try so hard to listen and to understand. It's also, paradoxically, why I tend to hold so much back. It's nerve-wracking for me to put myself out there, hoping that I'll be heard--that maybe, if the planets are aligned correctly (ha), I'll even be understood.
It's not something I often dare to ask for. In university, when I realized that so many people saw friendship as something temporary, I was shocked. Companionship for one semester, for one class? That's all very well, but it scared me. All I had ever felt I had to offer was commitment, loyalty, understanding and support. What if nobody wanted that? What if nobody wanted who I was and am? What if nobody was capable of giving that back to me?
So I tried for the next best thing. As Christians, we're supposed to love without strings attached: unconditionally, as Christ has loved us. I did my best to love without expecting friendship (of my definition) or love or closeness or understanding in return. I took the St. Francis prayer as my own:
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
But that left me unable to ask for what I wanted and for what I needed. That's been true all the way up until these past several months. My motives were mixed of many colors, anyway: a desire to love rightly, a need to be everyone's big sister, fear of rejection, fear that what I wanted I could not have. The results have taught me that something wasn't true; something needs to change.
Being with Dan has been a huge part of this, as well. Talk about receiving both what I wanted, and what I never really knew I wanted so badly. :)
Even just over the past several weeks, I have seen things more clearly. I am now seeing at least some of these things blossom into my life:
First, as I said above, I love to be close to people. “Intimacy” is a concept that is often associated with romance and sexuality, but I have long known that it's far more than just that. It's seeing and being seen. To be close to someone is to share joys and pains with them, to be open with them, to hear them. That is what I adore and long for, and what I have often not found, in part because I have been afraid to show myself.
Secondly, I am a very tactile person. That, too, our culture often associates with sex. I'm not going to deny that there's a connection, but sex is only one part of affectionate touch. And I am just now beginning to be able to acknowledge (even to myself) how much I have longed for that. It makes me feel like I belong. I miss being with my family, who are all touchy-feely to some degree; miss that casual affection of a hand on my shoulder, a small child tumbling into my lap, etc. Everyone has a different threshold for that, of course, but I'm realizing that mine is pretty high.
It's not just about physical affection, either. I love experiencing the world through my senses. If you've been out with me in nature, you may have seen me touching trees and plants, scuffing my feet in the dirt, holding up my hands into the sunlight or into the rain. I'm turning into a foodie, too. I am very much in favor of celebrating this physical world, this gift from God that surrounds us.
And last but not least, I'm a sexual person, too. Living so long as a celibate woman, that's something I haven't felt very free to think about in depth, but now? Being with Dan is teaching me quite a lot about myself. I'm really glad I'll be married within the next six months.
Now, do you see how all of these intertwine? I know what it is like to be intimate with God, intimate on levels of spirit and emotion and mind. I am discovering how starved I have been for other kinds of intimacy, and for the embrace of the physical world.
I need to better integrate my spirit and my body. Better love others by being more open with them, but also let those who already love me know how to do so better. To embrace the physical world as readily and deeply as I have embraced the world of the mind and spirit.
We are made for God. To be close to Him fulfills desires that nothing else can touch. The unseen is indeed eternal. But we are also made for each other. The grace of God is often mediated most clearly to us through another human being, or through the world that He made for us.
God even lived as a fellow human being to show us love in the ways we could best understand it. Imagine being embraced by the strong workman's body of the man who traveled around Judea teaching and healing people. Smelling like sweat, laughing, eating and drinking at all your parties just because you were there. Someone with authority who did not want to use you, but instead wanted to know you—in fact, who already knew you, and longed to show you how much you were loved.
Seek the unseen, by all means. But never, ever stop expecting to find Christ in the faces and hands and voices of the people around you, either. You'll miss him. You'll miss loving and being loved, and half of what it means to be human.
It's not what is seen versus what is unseen. It has to be both.