The Life of the World to Come

The Life of the World to Come

We said it in church this morning – that last line of the Nicene Creed. The one that reads, “We look for…the life of the world to come.”

For years that meant the life after death to me, and it held deep personal significance. In “the life of the world to come,” I’d see my daddy again. But it was more than that.

When my grandmother was in the last few years of her life, missing the friends and family who were gone, never quite happy, always wanting more of her only grandchild and unable to enjoy me for who I was, I learned to love her beyond what chafed and hurt by believing that in the life to come, she would finally be everything she was meant to be, full of joy and understanding. When I met her then our relationship would be everything it could be, everything it was meant to be.

That same hope got me through several break ups and many bouts of unrequited love. And as I began to realize that so many of the mentors and teachers who have given me the most cannot understand or approve of where their gifts have taken me, I have hoped that in that “life to come,” they will see their way clear to be proud of who I am.

But alongside the comfort, there was also a kind of stuckness. Hope was out there, not here. The great reconciliation, true healing, and abundant life were all beyond the scope of this world.

And sometimes they are.

That’s the first line of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” It’s important, that bit. The whole prayer is named for it, after all.

But that’s pretty much where it stopped for me. God was sovereign, in control of all things and working them all together for good. What could I possibly do in light of that other than show my trust in him by waiting as faithfully as I knew how?

But there’s more to the prayer than serenity. There’s courage. And wisdom. And when it comes to it, serenity isn’t worth much without her sisters.

In the past year, I’ve also learned to hear those words in the Creed another way.

The “life of the world to come” starts tomorrow. And tomorrow is what we are making it today.

This life to come is the second part of the prayer – “the courage to change the things I can.” To change the things we can.

“We look for the life of the world to come.”

If the “arc of the universe bends towards justice,” it does so through us. Because we bend it that way. Because the life of the world to come is not yesterday, and tomorrow does not need to use the road maps of the past.

We look for the life of the world to come because we know there is more than this. More than death, yes. But also more than this, more than today. More than what we find ourselves with. There can be more, we can do more. We can make changes. We can take a step in the direction of justice, in the direction of Love.

And it’s never wasted. That’s what the concept of karma is really about. It’s not just that what you put out there will come back to you. It’s that what you put out there contributes to something greater than you. We are shaping the “arc of the universe” every day. We are making “the life of the world to come” – a life and world we will share.

So I have begun to look for life in this life. I look for life in each step, in each choice I make: what will bring life in the world to come? What will bring life to the world tomorrow?

And there’s always something. Something that in the midst of all the things I can’t change, that I can. It is wisdom that helps me do what I can rather than camp out at the door of all I can’t.

I lived there too long. It’s time to begin moving into the life of the world to come. Today.

A Doubter’s Creed

A Doubter’s Creed

“We believe in God…”

The Creed is an ancient statement of belief that many Christians around the world recite each week. There are several creeds, and the Nicene version is commonly used. Most every line is the result of an argument – as much an assertion about what beliefs “we” don’t accept as of what “we” do affirm.

That history troubles me. I know too well what drawing those lines in the sand between “us” and the other does, what an insistence about what we know to be true of great mystery can become.

It comforts me that the Creed’s actual language is “I believe” rather than “I know” (though it seems it has been treated much more as a statement of the latter).

But what about when I am not even sure what I believe? Then it comforts me to remember that the Latin credo may be better translated “I trust,” than with our modern, enlightenment understanding of “believe.”

But credo has deeper roots than that. Its original meaning is “to place one’s heart.”

Where does my heart find its place, its rest?

Not always in the carefully constructed words of the Creed, words that sometimes revel in mystery and sometimes seem to wall it in.

There is an early tradition in the Eastern church called apophatic theology that says the only way to think about God, the Divine Good, is by asserting what God is not. Everything that we say God is falls short – incomplete at best and too often misleading altogether.

The best of the apophatic tradition leads not just to an intellectual exercise or sort of mental qualifier footnoting everything we assert about who God is. At its best, it opens us up to approaching God beyond our categories. It expands our ability to trust God beyond our understanding.

If Ultimate Reality is Love, definitions don’t come easily.

Love is messy and confusing and full of pain as well as joy. Too often I have experienced love as qualified and redefined past any recognizability or, in truth, any actual loving.

That is not love. Love is not an intellectual exercise. Love is not rejection, not alienation, not abandonment. It is not self-serving and doesn’t keep score. Love isn’t arrogant or presumptuous. Love doesn’t find satisfaction in being proven right. Love doesn’t look back, doesn’t hold back. Love doesn’t give up on people.

The old Anglo-Saxon word “believe” comes from the same root (lief) as the German belieben, which means “belove.”

When I’m not sure how to say the Creed, not sure what I think or “believe” about these things, it helps to know what and who I love. It helps to know I place my heart, my trust in Love.

And it helps to know that when he was asked what was most important, Jesus didn’t say anything about what we were supposed to believe. He said the most important thing was to love.

And when I don’t know what I believe, I do still know I love.