"Do not turn inward and live only for yourselves as though already assured of salvation; join together rather and seek the common good. . . .Rather, let us become spiritual; let us be a perfect dwelling place for God." (from a Letter attributed to Barnabas)
What does this dwelling place look like? How does one become such a dwelling place? In what sort of place does God choose to live?
You'd be surprised. God does not necessarily choose palaces, nor even a nice middle-class suburban home, although, of course, He can make His dwelling there as well. No, more often, the places He comes to are humble--tarpaper shacks, a tumble-down cabin, a shallow cave in the face of a cliff. And what He finds there is often unspeakable--wretchedness, dirt and filth, unhappiness, vermin, all manner of things that would offend Him.
How then do these places, our own souls, become suitable dwellings for the Lord of All Creation? Simply, we open a door. We truly open a door. We don't unlock a single lock only to slam a huge bar in place. We don't make the sound of squeaky hinges yet never turn the handle of the door. We ask Christ to be our guest. We ask Him in through prayer and through allying our wills to the first stirrings that He inspires in us.
The present dwellings are too often unkempt, unlit, cramped, and airless. We are unbending, uncompromising, judgmental, unloving, uncaring, self-involved, greedy. We make no room for others. We allow no imperfections in anyone other than ourselves. We are quick to take offense and slow to make peace. We demand our own ways and acknowledge not other possibilities. When we actually open the door, even if it is only a crack, the breath of the Spirit stirs up a new, breathable air and with that air comes light and warmth. When we ask Jesus in, He will enter. And He will do the renovation that makes our dark home His dwelling of light. And we will not like it--no one wants to see what is just beneath the wallboards of their dwelling. No one wants to have exposed the dark workings of the human heart. We do not really want to know about the damage we have inflicted on others or about the harm we do when we are distant, cold, and judging. We are safer in our cramped darkness. This new light and air means we must walk in the open and deal with others in ways we are unused to.
Jesus makes the dwelling of God perfect if we simply cooperate in the venture. If we put ourselves and our considerations aside, Jesus will reform the interior. He will do the remodeling, the rebuilding, the repainting. Sometimes He will have to completely gut what is already present. But all we need do is focus on Him and listen to Him. He will make the dwelling right, but He can only do so by invitation. We cannot expect Him to barge His way in and begin changing things. We must open the door.
And once the door is open, the world is changed. No, it only seems that the world has changed. But once we change, once we become vessels for God, we begin to see as God sees and understand as God understands. No, not fully, but at least darkly, we begin to understand the interconnectedness of our actions. We begin to understand that harsh words spoken even in a good cause are still harsh words. Righteous anger too often is only righteous on the part of the one angry. We begin to see that even our best gestures at welcoming others are, without Christ, awkward and off-putting. We begin to understand that from ourselves we can expect nothing but self, but from Jesus we can expect nothing but Love.
When Jesus dwells in the house, the light is on and it shines out for all to see. If Jesus is not there, we see that as well. When Jesus is in the house, there is no task too large, no injustice so great that we cannot do something to help alleviate it. When God is dwelling in this perfected dwelling, the world has hope and love and light.
How do we start? Prayer, constant prayer. We need at every moment to be aware that God is present and to direct our attention to God. This does not mean we go about in some mystical daze, stumbling into traffic, or causing accidents at work. It does mean that we recognize that work as the gift of God for that moment and that we recognize each person we encounter as a marred image of Christ, another dwelling for God than may need some help in the renovation process. It means that we spend some time thanking God for the many opportunities that come to us and inviting Him to send more. It means that we pray as we live, as we breath, acknowledging that all life, all hope, all goodness comes from Him who took our form to make us One with Him. And it means that we allow that oneness to erase our individuality and to bring forth our reality. Our only real image can exist only when we allow Christ to identify it and to light it from within. All other images are merely masks of the moment. The only reality is the image of Christ with which we may choose to cooperate or against which we can battle to our own detriment and that of the entire world. For a single dwelling without a light can conjure up a holocaust to defy imagination. A single soul that does not know it is loved, can wreak havoc on millions all around it. A single image of Christ left uncomforted and unconsoled by us is, in fact, a blasphemy. And what can be the source of comfort and consolation if it is not Christ within us?