One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple. (KJV)
The Psalmist gives us great comfort, this idea of dwelling with God forever. It is our hope; it is our promise; it is what our faith is all about. So what does it mean to “dwell”? One definition is to “stay” or to “reside in permanent residence.” That is usually the way we think of this notion–to live with God, to stay with God forever. For us, a “dwelling” is something permanent, a structure that protects us and gives us shelter. It is the place where we can go when life gets to be too much and when we need rest and sustenance. It is the place where we can hide ourselves away and heal. It is the place that feels like home.
But dwellings also wall us off from the rest of the world, setting up boundaries of what is “mine” and what is “yours”. They allow us to ignore the needs and the lives of those who are not within our walls. I used to live in an older neighborhood in Houston. Once filled with a few older Victorian homes and lots of small 1920’s bungalows (I had one of those), it eventually became a victim of the so-called “McMansion” syndrome as bungalow after bungalow was torn down so that a sprawling three-story (or even four-story) Victorian wannabe can take over the entire lot. Sadly, when I sold my lovely historic bungalow this past September, it was immediately torn down to make room for “more” dwelling. It still bothers me. Is it appropriate to grieve for a house? See, beyond mere protection and shelter, the dwelling has creeped beyond its own boundaries and taken on an identity all its own.
Is this how we read these words now, as if we have somehow taken up residence with God and God’s sprawling house? Is that what it means to dwell with God, to stay, to hide, take move into a permanent structure (perhaps with other like-minded children of God)? But there is another meaning of the word “dwell”. It is also defined as “to linger over” or “ponder”. So what, then, would it mean to spend all the days of one’s life pondering God, lingering with God? I don’t think God calls us to stay with God but rather to be with God. The walls of dwellings sound to me far too limiting of a limitless God. (Which is the reason that the image of Christ becomes the new Temple, the new Dwelling.) But this dwelling that we have somehow conjured up in our minds is not where God lives but rather where we want God to be, the place where we envision pulling God into our notion of who God is. But to be, to be with God, means to go where God is, which means we have to open one’s mind and heart and soul to being the very image of God, to being the dwelling of God.
Once again, it requires us to make room, to clear our lives of the “stuff” that we have accumulated and to perhaps open the doors and windows and let the fresh air and light in. God IS our sustenance, our shelter, even, at times, our protector. But God does not wall us off from the rest of the world. We are called to go forth, to be God’s image in the world. We are called to ponder, to linger over, to become. Doesn’t that sound a little familiar? Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2: 19, NRSV) And then, if you remember, she became the very dwelling of the Godself, the God-bearer, the one that birthed God into the world. We are not called to stay with God; we are called to be with God, to be a dwelling place for God with God in God. We are called to be the God-bearers. It is home, the place where we can truly rest our souls.
My ego is like a fortress. I have built its walls stone by stone to hold out the invasion of the love of God. But I have stayed here long enough. There is light over the barriers. O my God…I let go of the past, I withdraw my grasping hand from the future, and in the great silence of this moment, I alertly rest my soul. (Howard Thurman)
On this Lenten journey, what does it mean for you to dwell in God, to ponder? What does it mean to become a dwelling place for God?
Grace and Peace,