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Already/Not Yet..and a song

Maybe it was a combination of the cold snap this week (indoor recess all week for the kids) and the regular grind of body aches, but I woke up on Thursday morning this week feeling down. Nothing dramatically wrong, but my life felt lack luster and my thoughts banal. “Is this all I am?” I wondered. Am I making any positive difference in the world at all?  On top of that, it was already Thursday, and a blog topic had not yet come to me. It was one of those weeks where I asked God, “So, God, where are you anyways?” The eyes of my heart felt dulled.

Bad news had been happening in our neighborhoods as well: a $1 million apartment fire a few blocks away, started because of gang warfare. A woman died tragically in a car crash on a local bridge. Students of mine trying to grow up normal in the midst of huge family dysfunction. When does the bad news stop?

These were my thoughts as I sat with my coffee on the couch in the early morning quiet before heading off to work. I love having this quiet time, but some mornings it’s difficult to face my thoughts. It’s like cracking open the newspaper and wondering where God is in the midst of bad news. What’s wrong with the world (and us) seems so much more overwhelming than thoughts of the presence of God and God’s love, peace, patience, and kindness.

It was in the midst of this general malaise that I experienced how scripture can revive a person’s soul. I remembered a verse from 2 Corinthians that helped me remember who I am in God’s eyes. 

But we have this treasure in clay jars to show that its extraordinary power comes from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7  

I used this verse as a starter prayer in the early morning. Nothing fancy, but my prayer went something like this: “God, I certainly identify with the clay jar part. I feel so ordinary and my thoughts often feel weighed down by clay-like thoughts. Somehow You are telling me that despite all appearances, there’s a treasure within, which is no less than You. Help me live today as if that were true.

There’s this great phrase in thinking about whether God’s reality is here with us now, as we live our lives and witness the too often overwhelming presence of bad news. God’s kingdom is indeed with us now, but it’s like this: “Already/not yet”.  It’s here already, but it’s also not yet here. They say that we live in the tension in the middle of this.

When I was a kid, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer every morning in school. Like my friends, I prayed this without much thought, but it is now etched in my life. I pray it often and it becomes what I often fall back onto when words fail me. One part of it echoes this already/not yet tension: “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” 

Already – Scripture tells us that God’s kingdom has already been established here on earth. We can see God actively working, sometimes even miraculously, in the present day. I see God all the time – in the strong, resilient spirit of my students who demonstrate kindness despite all the odds they’re up against. I see God in my co-workers who might not even say they are people of faith. I see God in people who give their lives to making the world a better place in some form of service where “me” is not the top agenda. I see God in my faith community at Watershed.

Not yet – But we also know that this knowledge of God at times seems so limited. The effects of war (far away or here in our own neighborhoods), poverty, sickness, inter-personal grief, violence – all of this continues and we realize that God’s kingdom is also not yet fully here. We are caught between two ages.

I saw the “already” part of the phrase this week when I remembered that the treasure within can never die, despite all appearances to the contrary. My life can seem lack luster. A cold snap can make the kids at school squirrely and completely unfocused on the “brilliant” lessons I want to give them. Body ills can dull my heart to seeing God’s presence.

But this verse fixed my perspective this week, and stirred up a joy for living again. A bounce returned to my step and I saw God again in my students, whatever state they were in. I saw God in my life, even in mundanity. The bounce in my step also returned as I realized I had the blog topic for the week!

My cousin Evy, who is battling cancer, responds to the question “How are you?” with the sentence, “I’m well.” Being well doesn’t necessarily mean that all problems are solved, but that God is with us in whatever we’re going through. Evy’s life is certainly a witness to this. I know that she has experienced the “clay jar” of her life – limitation and even the prospect of death. Yet she knows that the treasure of God’s love is stronger than all this.

When my perspective is restored, it is always like the curtains part and I can see God clearly again. I am thankful that even when the curtains seem closed, God is still at work in the world and in our hearts, restoring all things to the Kingdom. May we all have faith during “not yet”, holding fast to faith until “already” shows its face to us.

I wanted to share a song that carries this theme. It is by Josh Garrels, a folk musician from Portland, Oregon. I have listened to this song, called “Beyond the Blue” many times in recent weeks. His lyrics are deeply spiritual. It’s a song all about already/not yet: “Everything ain’t quite what it seems/There’s more beneath the appearance of things.” Listen to his song here.

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