As a child, I loved playing “I Spy,” watching for the obvious in the obscure. While waiting for my dentist appointment, I hunted hidden pictures in dog-eared copies of Highlights, a children’s magazine. On field trips, my classmates and I played endless games of “I Spy,” spotting something hidden to pass the time in the noisy, un-air-conditioned yellow school bus.
Even now, on routine errands or rambling road trips, my husband and I watch for what is just outside the window. My husband, swifter than I to spot birds, deer, or Rocky Mountain sheep, knows what to notice. A birder, he watches for fast movements of winged creatures that I easily miss.
I’m new to this “I Spy” birding life, learning gradually the telltale shapes of finches, kingfishers, kestrels, hawks, or hummingbirds. I’m noticing how the crow’s silhouette differs from the raven’s, and where to look for ducks in the cattail banks of the river. Sitting on my back deck, I scan the trees that edge the backyard, hunting the faint outline of the bronze-green female rufous hummingbird, resting momentarily in the shadows. The more I know of the shape and habits of these hummingbird, the better I become at spotting them.
Taking these actions in another direction, isn’t noticing the obvious in the ordinary and the obscure one way to watch for movements by God? If I learn His character and habits, I see hints of heaven, here in this nitty-gritty space of earth. Then, I scan the environment, noticing afresh the silhouettes of His Presence within my daily life, within my life in the Body of Christ.
New to town, we’re enjoying a vibrant church family. It’s where we hang our heart. We hang out with folks of all ages and stages of life: seminary students, singles, and marrieds. We are a bursting-at-the-seams-of-grace place—made up of all sorts of people from all walks of life. We are young families, middle-agers, and empty nesters. At the heart, we are all just madly in love with Jesus.
Our church is home to many seminary students. It’s also a church that keeps a vision of church planting within the Denver area rather than church expansion within the adequate neighborhood church building. So there’s a lot of coming and going among us. Folks come; stay a while, then go out, to offer Jesus’ life in new places in this bustling city and beyond. In a setting like this, it could be easy to get lost in the shuffle and not know folks. Yet, I don’t see that happening.
Almost every month, a couple hosts a “get to know you” dinner. We’ve gone to a few of them this summer and it’s been great fun. There’s no agenda—not a prayer time, or a talk, or a Bible Study—just an opportunity to meet each other and visit. Sit on the back porch and hang out. Eat a shared meal and tell stories. Gather and be together—singles and marrieds, young and old—becoming more of a family.
Youngsters accompany their parents so the atmosphere feels like a family reunion picnic; you know you are related in this crazy family of God, but, oddly, you don’t know each other’s names. Kids draw with chalk on the patio, teens talk about back-to-school plans, and folks ooh and ahh at the plethora of food at the potluck table. People take turns pushing swings full other people’s kids and all of us get to savor the generations of life pulsing within the Body of Christ, where we spy hints of heaven here in the ordinary places of earth.
Through these simple gatherings, we begin to do life together. Then the next Sunday, as we slip into our seats or walk up the aisle to partake of communion, Christ’s body and blood, suddenly we see bright-eyed children that we pushed in the swing. We smile and say hi to someone we sat next to on the back porch. We claim a bit more of this wonder of being the Body to and with each other.
Now we know a wee bit more: who’s expecting a long-awaited baby, who’s adopting, who lost their job, who just graduated from seminary and who’s just starting, who got their stitches out or is scheduled for surgery next week, who needs prayer for a life decision, who’s freshly married or freshly widowed. We become a bit more a family, one that cares because we’ve seen and heard the vignettes of one another’s story.
For me, there is one moment in our service that is symbolic of the wonder of being part of one another as the Body of Christ. Truth be told, if you are standing next to me at that moment, you’ll see guaranteed tears of joy run down my smiling face.
Before we say the Lord’s Prayer aloud together, we reach over and take the hand of the person next to us or the person across the aisle from us, friend or stranger, and form one long row of hands touching one another; a family holding on to each other. Then we pray together to our Father in heaven. The handclasps only last the few minutes of the prayer. Yet it stands as a glorious moment for it reminds me again that we are all in this thing together, Christ-followers, called to be the Body to and with one another.
We touch. We pray. We are family. We need each other. We are literally bringing heaven to earth in our gathering to worship the One who is worthy of all of our praise.
During another era, in another region of the country and culture, I attended another flavor of church, one which, at that time, was stiffer and less connected, full of more shoulds and oughts, less full of more being with and knowing deeply each other. It didn’t ever feel much like home. We didn’t gather and hang out. We didn’t touch hands and pray together. We didn’t tell stories. It didn’t feel much like family.
But isn’t that what we are supposed to be: Family? His Body gathered to praise His name? Isn’t that what Jesus was talking about in John 17 when He asked that we, the ones He made, become one, as the Trinity is one?
I love our new church family, where I am noticing afresh the silhouettes of God’s Presence. We tell stories. We hold hands and pray. We are ever becoming more to one another and thus, becoming more one, and more of the shape and being of heaven here on earth.
Thanks be to God for this gathering of believers where “I Spy” hearts hinting of heaven. It’s here I hang my heart alongside others who savor the heart of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
How about you? Where are you “spying” heaven on earth in your church? With whom and how do you do life with others in the Body of Christ? How does the physicality of being together enhance your spiritual connections as the family of God?
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This post springs from the exploration of Body/body life and its impacts on our physical well-being and spiritual formation. My coauthor Valerie Hess and I wrote a book that expands these thoughts, The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation.
© Lane M. Arnold