“And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.”
+ The Gospel of Luke, 17:20-21 (ERV) +
Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, my own patron saint, and the beginning of my absolute favorite month of the year. Down here in the South the days have not yet gotten into the 70s on a daily basis, but we’re well on our way to sweater weather and Halloween is just a few short weeks away. As I look forward to crisper temperatures, changing leaves, and scary movies, I’m also reminded of the shorter days and longer nights ahead. Seasons of increased darkness in many cultures and religions have long been associated with increased spiritual reflection. As our evenings begin to linger with us longer, and I think about this time of introspection, I am drawn to write on a topic I have been thinking about for awhile.
Several weeks ago now as I was listening to a podcast on Christianity, one of the hosts said something to the effect of, “the Kingdom of Heaven is like…” This spurred a thought process for me. I started repeating that phrase in my mind over and over, trying to find the words to complete the sentence, mulling over what that phrase even meant. I’ve contemplated writing a poem along that line of thinking, but that is for another day. For now, I’m considering a less literary question: What exactly is “The Kingdom of Heaven” or “The Kingdom of God”? Jesus himself never actually defined the term, though he used it often. Additionally, scholars have never reached a firm consensus on what the term is actually supposed to mean either. So what are we to make of the term? According to Paul, the kingdom is not a physical place here on Earth, nor does it pertain to physical actions that a person can take, but it is instead a state of being.
“The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
+ Romans 14:17, (NIV) +
Given Paul’s opinion and the inference of Christ’s statement made in Luke that he indeed does not refer to a physical place capable of being seen, I too would have to think that the phrase refers to one’s spiritual condition rather than a location here on Earth.
I can’t help but wonder though, what would our world look like if everyone found that little piece of heaven inside themselves? Through seeing the peace and love of God inside one another, how would that change the way we treat our neighbors? How would that change the way we treat our enemies? Could we somehow manifest the Kingdom of God here on Earth first through our own inner transformations? I do understand that may sound a little wide-eyed and naïve to many out there who say the world doesn’t work that way. However, the world is in the state it is right now because of us – we made it this way. Our short-sighted, self-serving actions have created the political, social, and environmental reality we now live in. We’ve been cultivating our lives with malice, greed, fear, and envy to where we can hardly see the beauty we live in for the bullets and smog. Many pay lip service to creating a better future for ourselves and for future generations, but there aren’t many out there truly making an effort turning that vision in to a reality. Creating a world that is more positive and affirming may not be easier or simpler than the way things work now, but it would certainly be better.
This is a challenge I issue to myself on a daily basis, to take a deep breath and and try my hardest to remember the humanity in the other, that they are me and I am them. I fail and I succeed at this challenge every day, but I keep trying because the alternative would be to make this world a little less bright with quick and easy cruelty. That is how I see God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. Not some far off place, not a literal reign on Earth by some celestial ruler, but a state of grace made manifest among us by our own mindful dedication to ourselves and one another in kindness and humility.
Where do you see The Kingdom of God in your life? How do you try to manifest that goodness and grace yourself?
+ K +