I've wanted it, talked about it, searched for it, and cherished it for so long, it's hard to believe I finally got it the other day - my much longed for beach house of peace and simplicity. The funny thing is that it's better than I'd imagined, and I didn't have to pay a penny for it. Also, it's a winterized place that I can enjoy year round.
For years I've longed for a place by the water where I could get away from time to time to "restore my soul," as the 23rd Psalm puts it. For a little while we had a beach house on the Atlantic coast, which our family shared with my brothers' families.
We spent some precious times there together. We'd each take two changes of clothes and a bathing suit. We made simple meals that tasted so good as picnics or cooked on a campfire at the beach.
The place breathed the presence of goodness - of harmony with one another and closeness to God. But we lived in the Midwest, and the beach house was 17 hours away. Finally it made sense to sell it.
How would I ever find another place like that, that I could afford and that I could visit more than a couple of weeks a year? This "restoring my soul" thing was becoming a daily need. Meanwhile, the years passed, and the beach house didn't get any closer.
Then one day a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting by a favorite pond in a nearby city park, praying. My prayer that day was in the words of the Psalmist: "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple" (Ps. 27:4).
It wasn't a prayer with an agenda. I wasn't praying for something or someone. I wasn't praying to fill a particular need, although there was a list a mile long of things I could have been praying about. But that day I just set them all aside and prayed for the sheer joy of communing with God.
I stayed in that stillness for several hours. It felt as if the allness and goodness of God were filling all thought-space everywhere. I felt as though I was in "being" itself and not on some treadmill of "becoming."
Mortal life so often feels like a chase after good that's just out of reach. Somehow (have you noticed?), we never seem to get there. But in the sweet stillness of prayer that morning, I felt no rush to leave or go off and get things done.
"This must be the kingdom of heaven," I thought. This all-inclusive wholeness of divine consciousness must be what Christ Jesus meant when he told his followers, "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). He encouraged his followers to repent - to "change their minds" and stop searching here and there for the "good life." "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you" (John 14:27).
That gift of peace was tangible, and it was indeed better than the best that human life could offer. "Even better than a beach house," I thought. Then I heard quietly in thought, "This is the beach house. This is church, this is home, this is heaven, this is life itself, and it's always been here. All you've ever loved and enjoyed of life - all you've ever longed for and caught momentary glimpses of - is here, now, in your relationship to Me. All you have to do is enjoy it."
In the days since then I've been staying at the "beach house" more and more. I remind myself when things start to get hectic that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand," and I'm allowed to stay there permanently.
I'm telling others about their beach houses, too. They seem to understand it, no matter what their metaphor is - a cabin in the mountains, a quiet spot on their front porch, or a walk along a river. Perhaps it's built into us to know that this is where we belong. It's built into us to pray, "Thy kingdom come" (Matt. 6:10). It's as though we inherently know that this is where we eternally abide, because, as in the words of Mary Baker Eddy's spiritual interpretation of the Lord's prayer, Thy kingdom is come; Thou art ever-present.
In thy tent
will I make my home for ever
and find my shelter
under the cover of thy wings.
Psalms 61:4 New English Bible