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The story for this article is at the end of the pictures. Please scroll through them before reading it. They will help you imagine the things I describe. – Waitsel

 

Frank Lloyd Wright Windows
Windows by Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright Little House
Interior, Little House by Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright Fallingwater
Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright
Lush Lawn
Lush lawn

Mondrian Painting
Painting by Mondrian
Family Feast
Family Feast
Designs
Design by Frank Lloyd Wright; rings by unknown designer

Harvest
Harvest by unknown painter

HEAVEN ON EARTH


Last night I dreamed that I went to a synagogue. Even though I have many Jewish friends, I've never been to one of their places of worship, so I have no idea what one is really like. But this one was like stepping into heaven.

To begin with, everything was esthetically gorgeous. The building itself was modern, but still very comfortable and cozy, the way Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture is, with low ceilings and natural materials. The first thing I noticed were large stone pillars that were hand-carved with abstract patterns. I must have been in some kind of foyer. This opened up into rooms that were, again, beautifully designed, warm and friendly. There were several people going about their duties preparing for something. They looked up at me, but did not act like they minded my being there.

Pretty soon other people began arriving. They came in families that were made up of children as well as adults. Everyone was gorgeously dressed in elegant but casual clothing that had sophisticated, geometric patterns on the shirts and dresses. This was reflected in the decor of the rooms as well. They had wall hangings and pictures that were abstract and seemed to be made up of symbols that I didn't recognize.

The building was half indoors and half out, with the rooms opening up onto lush green lawns that spread out in all directions. Everyone seemed to be congregating on one of those lawns, so I followed them out. One man came up to me and offered his hand. As a way of introduction, I told him I was a Gentile. (Odd that I didn't say I was a Christian.) He didn't seem to mind the label I had given myself: he offered me a place on the grass in the midst of some children. A bottle of oil was going around, and each child took some and rubbed it on his nose. When the bottle came to me, I did the same.

Evidently, this was part of a ceremony. In front of us, two older gentlemen - again, gorgeously attired - were standing before a display of some kind. It was made up of models of buildings, pictures and other memorabilia. Each of the items represented some aspect of the sufferings of the Jewish people. The men began to blow on the items, as though they were Greek gods trying to move them with a strong wind. Then the men began stomping on the smaller objects, smashing the larger ones, and one of them set fire to the buildings. Eventually the entire display was in flames. We watched as all the people and things that had ever persecuted and harmed the Jews turned into ashes. The two leaders finished by stomping the ashes into the ground while the crowd clapped and cheered.

After this demonstration, we began moving back inside. The rooms had been filled with tables and chairs, so everyone began seating themselves by families. I felt very shy and out of place; and, even though I wanted to be involved, I wasn't sure, as a Gentile, if I would be accepted or if I even belonged there. The gentleman who had befriended me earlier approached and, as he guided me around, treated me like an old friend. He introduced me to several groups of people and then sat me with one of them.

Everything in this world was symbolic and had meaning. As food was being served on large platters, the two leaders helped the banqueters understanding what they were eating and why. Everyone was celebratory, but still dignified. It's funny that I didn't notice any music being played. If there was some, it was going on quietly in the background. What I did notice was that everyone was engaged in meaningful conversation - even the children, who seemed quite comfortable talking with the adults.

I was hesitant to eat. The food looked and smelled delicious - it was colorful and looked like Mexican food - but, again, I didn't want to intrude on these people's rituals. My friend, noting my hesitancy, came over to our table, picked up one of the flat breads upon which the diners were ladling sauces and fillings, and filled it with some tasty concoction. Then he laid it on a plate in front of me and said, "You can eat this now or take it with you. I think you'll enjoy it." I thanked him, deciding I would eat it later.

Everyone was very warm and friendly to me. In spite of the ceremonies and rituals going on, no one seemed religious. What they were doing was a part of who they were - not something they were "putting on." They all seemed quite comfortable with what they were doing, and to be enjoying it - even the children. Some of the symbols of their beliefs had been made into colorful toys or games, which the children were playing with at the table. Something else I noticed was that there didn't seem to be any conflicts among the families, even with the teenagers. Everyone was happy and congenial.

Eventually I decided to get up and walk around. I picked up the dinner my host had prepared for me and took it with me as I wandered through some of the other rooms. It looked like a taco, so I began eating it that way as I perused the artwork on the walls. There were some 3-D tapestries in which the people depicted were actually moving. One was of farmers harvesting a field of wheat. As I watched, some of the children came into the room and entered the picture, engaging with the farmers in the work of harvesting. I found this very interesting and realized that everything in the Synagogue was designed to teach the members about who they were, both historically and religiously. And it was all done in a fun way, like this interactive tapestry.

Pretty soon the feast was over and people began leaving. I realized it was time for me to go as well. I thought about how I would like to bring one of my Jewish buddies back with me some time so he could explain some of the things that went on. I found my host and told him how much I enjoyed being there, and thanked him for making me feel so welcome. Then I told him I would be back. He smiled and gave a little look like, "Yeah, right," but encouraged me to do so, and we said goodbye. Then I woke up.

I lay in bed for about an hour thinking about my dream and why I had dreamed it. Why had I gone to a synagogue and not a church? And why did I introduce myself as a Gentile instead of a Christian? What did it all mean?

I came to the conclusion that I was envisioning what heaven means to me: an environment that is artistically gorgeous and blends with nature; family and friends together, and yet blended with other families; celebration and feasting; acceptance and love; meaning and remembrance. But that is also my vision of the Church. To me, the Church is and should be "heaven on earth." When the Lord's Prayer says, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven," it's talking about the Church. But is that what the Church is today? Does the Church resemble my dream?

I believe the Jewish festivals, at least in the Bible, were very much like my dream: they feasted and celebrated in remembrance. I believe when Jesus ate the Last Supper with His disciples, it was like that. When the Church got together in the First Century, it was like that. When the Church celebrates the Marriage Feast with the Lamb in the future, I believe it will be that way - only much more so. Is that how the Church is today: a feast and celebration of close-knit family and friends who are surrounded with the symbols and memories of who they are and what Christ has done for them?

Do we put on our best attire, even our best casual attire, to go to church? Do we feel we're going somewhere special, that we are going to be with special people, celebrating, feasting, doing meaningful things that cause us to remember who we are, being totally accepted and loved like we've never been loved before? Are we surrounded with the symbols of our faith and do we enjoy them in a non-religious way? Is church a familial banquet where we dine with the King and remember all that He has done for us? Isn't that, really, what the Lord's Supper, Communion, is all about?

I think part of my dream came from my Bible study group. In many ways, it is like that: we love each other like family; we dine together when we meet; we have quite a few Jews, both Messianic and orthodox, in our group; our hosts are artists, so we are surrounded with esthetic pleasures; and our total focus is on Christ and what He has done for us. Going to that group each week is like stepping into Heaven for a few hours. That's how church should be. And, ideally, that's how the Christian home should be. But is it? Life is too short not to make heaven on earth wherever we can, and our homes and churches are two places we can do that if we will just make the effort.

Waitsel


Waitsel Smith, January 12, 2009

Text © 2009 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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