Earthly things and things heavenly

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. BCP p. 234

This week’s prayer involves a distinction that is easy to make too black and white. It is tempting to think that earthly things are all the things that have anything to do with this earthly life — food and clothing, work, relationships, hopes and dreams and fears, war and peace, the environment, etc. In that case the things heavenly would be God and… heaven. Harps? Streets of gold? Maybe our character and moral progress? Or our sins and need of repentance? The strength of our faith, the quality of our doctrine, etc.

But heaven is not some place outside this universe where we go after this earth is destroyed and we have died. Heaven is the renewal and redemption of the only universe God has made, including this earth.

What if everything about this present life is intimately connected with life in the age to come?

What if earthly things, the things that are passing away, are the things of falsehood, evil, and sin? People are heavenly things, and so are our relationships. The earthly anxieties I need to let go are not things like caring about people or even myself — how then could one practice the command to love neighbor as self? — but things like worrying about winning and maintaining other people’s approval, trying to contort and distort myself to meet others’ expectations, or any other kind of desperation around trying to get my relational needs met. One could make a similar exploration of earthly anxieties around other things of this life, too — and there are even earthly anxieties around heavenly things — like misguided efforts to earn God’s favor, or a distracting and fruitless scrupulosity.

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