Windows of Something Other
A single plastic lawn chair sits small and unbefitting in the jungle of massive concrete pillars Atlantans know as Spaghetti Junction. A tangled intersection of two major interstates and its deluge of exits, onramps, over- and underpasses, Spaghetti Junction is a colossal picture of ordered chaos, the arteries and veins of a massive, active organism. To say the least, the small chair positioned to sit and watch from the side of the road, its matching side table suggesting space for a cup of tea, is incongruous of the congested, noxious web of concrete and frustrated motorists. Spaghetti Junction is far from relaxing, and people who sit still on Atlanta highways sit with enormous risk.
As I drove, I was immediately struck by the ridiculousness of the chair from the perspective of a driver. Who would sit in the middle of a knotted mess of highways? But as I sat in my car, barely inching forward, with a scowl on my face as I watched the car in front of me trying to cut off the merging motorist in front of him, it occurred to me how ridiculous I must have looked from the perspective of the chair. Taking in the soaring overpasses and congested ramps of an anxious world always on the move is perhaps to see some of the absurdity in our distracted lives.
One could say that King Solomon spoke as if a man sitting in a chair under Spaghetti Junction: “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity”(1) It was from such a perspective that Solomon concluded wisely, “I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end”(2)
Every so often in our busy lives there comes a moment of heightened perspective. Life is grasped in a way that usually goes unnoticed. What is usually unseen becomes jarringly visible. Such moments, if helpful, even beautiful, are disruptive when they come, and we often seem to position our lives so that they will not come. I had never looked at Spaghetti Junction through the eyes of a still and silent observer; I had never considered the absurdity of my own frantic scurrying to get nowhere on that tangled patch of highway. But I have seen it habitually as an impatient motorist inching along without seeing much at all. “Look at the birds,” theologian Miroslav Volf writes, quoting the invocation of Jesus, “our lives are more like the frantic scurrying of rats and disciplined marching of ants than the joyous singing of birds.”(3)
Along the daily roadways of life and labor, the workings of a creative Spirit, a storytelling Father, or a sorrowing Son are easy to overlook. It is with good reason that Karl Barth refers to this God as “wholly Other.” And it is no wonder that we have been given the command to be still and know who God is. How else would we learn to see?
Other times, we are something more like bystanders in God’s decision to jarringly appear. When Jacob fell asleep at Bethel, he had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Above the ladder stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac… I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.”(4) Waking from his sleep, Jacob exclaimed, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven”(5)
Each time I imagine this story, I am struck by the image of a world where there are windows and gates to heaven. There are places where heaven and earth meet at great crossroads, moments when we are given opportunities to see things both beyond and in front of us, to see things as they really are. Perhaps the intersection between heaven and earth is a far busier place than we usually know. Like Spaghetti Junction, it is full of activity we must stop and strain to see lest we speed past unknowingly or inch along without a care. Sometimes, like Jacob stirred to reality, we discover that God was there all along, though we were not aware of it. Other reminders of the Wholly Other come less boldly and with greater responsibility: a conviction in the heart, an answer to prayer, the gift of the suffering Son in the midst of pain. What if the LORD is in this place? This very place is none other than the house of God, the day filled with the windows of heaven.
(1) Ecclesiastes 2:22-23.
(2) Ecclesiastes 3:10-11).
(3) Miroslav Volf, (MiroslavVolf). 14 Mar. 2016, 2:46 p.m. Tweet.
(4) Genesis 28:13-15.
(5) Genesis 28:16-17.