The God of the Living

He is not a God of the dead, but of the living; for all live unto him.

— St. Luke 20:38

In the changes which, thank God, must take place when the mortal puts on immortality, shall we not feel that the nobler our friends are, the more they are like themselves; that the more the idea of each is carried out in the perfection of beauty, the more like they are to what we thought them in our most exalted moods, to that which we saw in them in the rarest moments of profoundest communion, to that which we beheld through the veil of all their imperfections when we loved them the truest?

Lord, evermore give us this Resurrection, like thine own in the body of thy Transfiguration. Let us see and hear, and know, and be seen, and heard, and known, as thou seest, hearest, and knowest. Give us glorified bodies through which to reveal the glorified thoughts which shall then inhabit us, when not only shalt thou reveal God, but each of us shall reveal thee.

And for this, Lord Jesus, come thou, the child, the obedient God, that we may be one with thee, and with every man and woman whom thou hast made, in the Father.

Commentary

Birdsongs in the Night
by Diane Adams

Half-asleep, I heard it floating through the window, and it was mythic. Out of the darkness, singing of the swords of the Medes and Persians. Singing the burning of Rome, the heartbreak of the Germans. A dark struggle. Innocence lost, senseless cruelty, the suffering of the poor and abandoned. In soft, wailing notes it coursed through my sleep-numbed mind. It reached a desperate lament, haunting and heartbreaking. I lay lost in wonder as the song began to rise. It rose like a breaking sun through the darkness, like a flower growing out of ashes. It began to weave new notes around the sadness, notes of hope and joy. The song swept around the loss, wrapping it in love, in laughter, like a child's smile. The morning was breaking as the song spoke softly, at the end. All will be well. All will be well. All manner of things will be well.

The nightbird’s song was a glimpse of divine hope. In Plato’s Chariot Allegory, souls fallen to earth must nurture and direct themselves towards fading visions of the divine, or else fail to gain heaven. The soul that recalls the glimpses of heaven it once had, eventually grows wings and is able to return to the realm of the immortals. Plato wrote, “For, as has been already said, every soul of man has in the way of nature beheld true being; this was the condition of her passing preexistence into the form of man. But all souls do not easily recall the things of the other world; they may have seen them for a short time only, or they may have been unfortunate in their earthly lot, and, having had their hearts turned to unrighteousness through some corrupting influence, they may have lost the memory of the holy things which once they saw.”

I think Plato’s understanding of the soul’s need is very much like the Quaker doctrine of the divine spark--a part of us inside that waits to be lit up by a vision of what is holy, right, and true. We must catch and embrace these visions when they come to us. The things that lift the soul higher, and cause us to hope beyond what we can see, are the lost visions of Plato, birdsongs in the darkness. Hold on to the visions. They lift the soul to heaven, and move us to become more than what we are. Find the spark in others. Blow on it. Hope gives the soul wings and turns us from what we only are now, towards what we will be.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
— Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality