Whenever we try to discern the meaning of an eloquent poem, it is like translating from one language to another. My hand was always frozen when the teacher asked the class what a poem meant. I always thought that a sunrise was simply a sunrise and that a river was precisely a river. I did not know that a sunrise might represent a new beginning or that a river might symbolize a journey. I assumed the beautiful language was just attractive language. I could not decode, decipher, or untangle its meaning. It remained a locked vault, and I did not have the key.
Like that powerful line placed on the lips of the King in Shakespeare's well-known play, Hamlet, "My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go." It is pretty language, but how do words fly up, while thoughts remain below? How can we separate our words from our thoughts? I looked up at the sky this week, and I never saw any words floating on the clouds. I also looked down around my feet every so often, and I never saw any thoughts lying in the dirt, but it says clearly, "My words fly up, my thoughts remain below."
These words are uttered after a prayer, and in a prayer, we know how words can fly up, while thoughts remain below. We can utter prayerful words about forgiveness, but our thoughts can remain below in resentment. We can utter prayerful words about repentance, but our thoughts can remain below without remorse. We must look again at our words and our thoughts to see what we do not see.
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4, "we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen." Paul knew that the inside is different from the outside. He knew that what we see on the surface is not the same as what we see beneath the surface. He knew that when we see not only what is on the outside, but also what is on the inside that we come to see the places where earth and heaven meet.
When we glance across a restaurant and see a young couple on a first date, we see them on their best behavior. They are using polite manners, trying to make a good impression. He is pulling the chair out for her; she is careful to order something at a reasonable price. They are holding their napkins correctly and keeping their elbows off the table. They peruse the menu, discussing the different options and making friendly conversation. They look extremely interested in everything that the other is saying. Everything seems calm, but beneath the surface, there is a sea of anxiety and excitement. There are nerves and jitters. What we cannot see are the high hopes that surround such a night.
Paul says, "what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal." The problem has always been that what can be seen is connected to what cannot be seen, like the words of a prayer that we can see and the thoughts of a prayer that we cannot see. The temporary is interwoven with the eternal, so we fail to see the eternal because our eyes are drawn to the temporary.
We have trouble seeing what is eternal because it is found within the temporary, like the life of Jesus, the incarnation of the Word of God. We find what we cannot see in what we can see; we find the eternal inside the temporary, so if we do not look again, we only see the temporary, and we fail to see the eternal.
Going out to dinner at their favorite restaurant, a couple was celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary. They did not look at the menu because they had been there countless times. The waiter pulled the chairs out for both of them. There were moments of silence without the need for constant conversation. There were even a few elbows on the table, but as the waiter brought desert, you could hear her say, "Can you believe all that we have done these sixty years?" Then across the table he whispered, "I am thankful that I did it with you." If we look again, we see not only the temporary, but also the binding love that reflects the eternal love of God.
Each day is not neutral; it is full of the temporary and the eternal. We do not always see what is unseen, but often it is tied to what we can see. With our lives, we can make the invisible, visible. We can make the invisible grace of God, visible in people's lives, as Paul says, even though the "outer nature is wasting away," the "inner nature is being renewed." The invisible is made visible. The eternal is found in the temporary.