Our Dwelling Place



Psalm 90
“Home is where the heart is,” or so an old saying goes. The notion is that home is where we go to relax, or at least where we hope to get rejuvenated from the cares of the world. Home can have its own demands, of course, when a new baby arrives or someone is sick and needs to be cared for. But even then, home is where the heart is because people we love are there.

The psalmist says, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations,” and part of what he means is that, for people of faith, God is where the heart is. God is where we dwell. God is home.

Talking about God in space and time involves some Zen-like paradoxes, though, because of course God is not confined to any particular place or time the way we are. The psalmist asks in another meditation, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”

Wherever we go, God is already there. Which is to say that whenever we go home to God it is our spirit, not our body, that moves. We turn our attention to one who is already present because, while God is our dwelling place, it’s also true that we are God’s dwelling place. As St. Paul says, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.”

That’s not quite what some people mean when they say “God is within you,” or “The truth is inside you.” There’s a way to say those things that’s fundamentally narcissistic, as though God was somehow reduced to fit inside us, like a genie in a bottle, captive to our own ideas and interests. The God of the Bible is much bigger than that. The divine geometry is mysterious. God can dwell in us while at the same time “in him we live and move and have our being,” as Paul told the philosophers of Athens.

The imagery of who is in whom gets turned inside out, not only in space but also in time. Again the psalmist says, “A thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.”

St. Peter echoes that thought (incidentally, about a millennium later), when he tells Christians not to worry that Jesus is slow to return, because “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

God has all the time in the world, and then some. We, on the other hand, do not, except insofar as we dwell in God. Advent, then, is an invitation and a reminder. Christ is coming soon, but in another sense he’s already here. Whenever our spirits turn to meet him it will feel like coming home.

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