It's three weeks until the comprehensive exams, so I imagine I'll spend much of the coming week (Spring break) studying, but I wanted to take this weekend to type up the rest of the handwritten and hand-edited portions of the second draft of my book. It turns out that I've managed to get through roughly two-thirds of this second draft even with all the busyness of school and motherhood, editing out approximately ten thousand words and adding about the same.
The following is the very last section of the book's most recent iteration. I am not sure if I will end up keeping it (it may be a bit too "obvious" for the rest of the book's tenor). I'm not even sure if I agree with all the theology in it. Nonetheless, I'm glad I wrote it, as it is helpful for me to keep the book focused on what I want it to be about. So, for those of you who asked what the book is about, this is it. Enjoy.
Divine and Human Space
As I near the end of this small book of fragmented narratives, I find Eliot’s refrain from The Four Quartets turning over in my mind: You will say I am repeating / Something I have said before / I shall say it again / Shall I say it again? To say it again, however, I must determine what I said. What did I mean to say? And what have I actually said? To determine what I meant to say, I must go back to the beginning.
You thought I began with my lineage: the space bequeathed to me by Christianity and Judaism, the religious legacy of my parents. And so I did. That is what I said. But what did I mean?
I meant: if I were to trace my origins, the place of my birth, I would have to go back to my Creator, the divine being who came to earth as a human being. I was born on his land, in his home. He is my father, my mother, my resting place. The God who set up shop in this world is the same God who will renovate it in the end: Jesus. The earth is God’s temple, but Jesus is his temple, too.
God did not wish to demolish his temple, though it had become a wasteland because of human sin. So, instead, he tore down Jesus, all the while planning to raise him up again so that the whole world could live in him.
Jesus is where I begin.
But what precisely, what really, have I said?
My point–my life, my hope, my joy–is the simple yet baffling reality that God has built his house among humans. The Eastern Orthodox Christians have a turn of phrase that sums up the incarnation nicely: “God became man so that man might become God.”
Now, of course, when they say “man might become God,” they don’t mean that humans become the ontological equivalent of the Creator God or that they supplant his unique divine status. They mean that humans become “deified” in the sense that Adam and Even were meant to be “like God” in Eden–being and doing in small what God is and does in large. If we put this in spatial terms, we might say: “God lived in human space so that humans could live in divine space.” Jesus left his Father’s house in heaven to come be with us.
When I was a girl, I thought the story of my life with Jesus was all about sin. In some sense, it was, but this was not the beginning nor the heart of the matter. The beginning of the story was not my sin, but God’s act of love in building the world for his creatures to enjoy, a divine house–a temple–where humans could work and dance before the divine. And there was hope of immortality in God’s good land through the Tree of Life that God planted in the garden of Eden.
And you know the story after that–how our spiritual ancestors were told they didn’t need God in order to inhabit divine space, that they could be gods of their own temple instead of images in Yahweh’s temple.
And so I was born into the world thinking, like my ancestors, that I could be queen of my own space, the center of my own little world. I was not beholden to those who came before me or those who would come after me. I had no obligation to share space with my neighbor or any deep sense that everything I owned had been given to me by someone else–that there was no “my land,” “my house,” “my space,” only God’s space.
But God looked at me–looked at us–shook his head, and said, Not good. I will show them what it looks like to share space. I will visit them again. Though they sought to exile me from this land, to shove me back into heaven, I will come to them. I will teach them how to live in divine space, how to be at peace in the world again.
And so for years and years he came to us in many different ways. He spoke to Cain and Noah and Abraham. He even appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre, Yahweh announcing to the patriarch his promise of a son. He showed his face to Jacob as they wrestled by the River Jabbok. God showed himself to Moses on Mt Sinai and disclosed his words to Israel through the giving of the law. His presence came upon the tabernacle, his glory filled the Israelite temple. He spoke to us through the words and visions of prophets.
Then, in the fullness of time, he came to us in his son, Jesus.
As I write this, my son dozes beside me in his stroller, his tiny lids fluttering open now and then only to once again close in deep sleep. How little he knows about the world he has entered. For nine months, he has known only the compact, comforting space of my womb, where he was always fed, always secure.
For nine months, I shared my body with him, though he knew it only as his own space. But now he must relearn his dependence on me and learn to participate. I will feed him, but he must also learn to eat. Day by day, he will grow bigger and develop a sense of independence from me–that we are two separate human beings sharing divine space.
My mother used to write to us in little notebooks when we were young, hoping to give us a sense of our infancy when we were older. I carry on this tradition, every so often jotting down short notes in Marshall’s notebook, telling him about himself and sharing with him my hopes and dreams for his life.
I tell him that I want him to be able to pursue the activities that intrigue him the most, knowing that God loves it when we cultivate his good gift of creation and human activity. I tell him that a full life is a thankful life, a life lived in gratitude to God for coming to live with us.
Most of all, my dear, sweet boy, I want you to know Christ and the re-creative power of his resurrection. I want you to know the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, in his broken body. We are dying already, you know–me, you, Dad, everyone. We will suffer no matter what. We will die one day, whether that happens tomorrow or one hundred years from now. But when God came to live with us, he came to die with us, too. And he promised that if we would suffer and die with him, that we would also be raised from the dead in order to live with him forever on this earth. This, my Marshall–my love, my life–is my prayer for you. Christ became like you–may you become like him.