Monday, September 3, 2012

Eternal rest and why it eludes us here

“They are at peace”. 

These words feature prominently at funeral services and Masses.  It presupposes that before death, every one of us who is on this side of beatitude are always struggling to find peace and to find wholeness.  Sure, we do have our attempts at either creating peace or attaining it in our own ways, but we will always be falling short of the kind of peace that only comes when we fully behold God in all of his glory, contemplating the Blessed Trinity for eternity. 

Till then, every moment of earthly happiness and joy will bring us delight and elation because they are reflections, albeit in very small and diminutive ways, of the eternal joy that only heaven can give.  That explains why there is no lasting joy here in this life, and that as St Augustine put it so succinctly, our hearts are restless till they rest in God.

Why we are not at peace in this life is because we have the ability to lift our dreams and let our desires soar, and this is indeed a strange irony.  But at the same time, we are weighed down by so many limitations and shortcomings that find its roots in original sin.  This tension and struggle that we all experience in varying degrees either makes us pursue proper and godly dreams that are commensurate with our identity as God’s children, or can cause us to spiral downwards because we won’t even lift our heads to see beyond seemingly unattainable dreams and longings. 

Where do our tensions and struggles lie?  Where can we identify our sources of unhappiness that cause us to not be at peace?  It is often when we realise that there are differences between:

- our present small moments of ecstasy and the eternal joy that we want to attain.
- what we want to do, and have to do.
- where we want to go, and where we wish we were.
- who we want to be, and who we are.
- our dreams and those that are yet unfulfilled.

As long as we are alive and breathing and subject to gravity, these tensions will always be there, in varying degrees.  Which is why when we die, and when heaven in all its glory becomes the only thing that we hope for and want to embrace, tensions and struggles cease to exist and there we find the peace that we have been hoping for all our lives. 
Faith, when viewed at from this vantage point, becomes meaningless when we reduce it to just a set of commandments and principles.  Commandments alone are not altogether wrong, but they are just insufficient.  Creedal statements satisfy the logical Grecian mind that most of us have been brought up to nurture, where we rationalize so many things.  It makes entering into a religion ‘testable’ because we can categorise our statements of faith.  We can repeat the Creed, we can respond the correct words and phrases when asked the appropriate questions.  But those are good starting points.  They cannot be ends in themselves, because if we do not appropriate the ends of our faith in the love and beholding of God who is our fullest dreams and deepest longings, we are not worshipping God but perhaps just a set of principles and statements, which is just as good as idolatry. 

In my journey back to DC from Singapore, I had to cross 12 time zones – an arduous journey to say the least, and it messed up my body clock.  For about a week, this body clock seemed to be more of a cuckoo clock where the hourly cuckoo was out of sync.  It was a result of my mind being in one time zone when my body being in another.  It created tensions and anxieties, which I am glad to say is something that I have gotten over by now. 

Isn’t this one of the reasons our lives on this earth too have their share of tensions and anxieties?  As long as we are here, and our spirit has that deep longing for God in his fullness, we too will be in different “time zones”.  Every struggle and longing, every fear and grief is felt because we are here while that deepest and most honest part of us longs for God. 

And that makes the phrase “They are at peace” so deeply meaningful when we no longer live in this life, but fully in God.  That alone will make the phrase “Rest in Peace” something that we truly can and dare to look forward to.


  1. I do agree that eternal rest or peace is to be found ‘’when we die and when heaven in all its glory becomes the only thing that we hope for and want to embrace..........’’ However, I feel that God also wants us to have a fore-taste of it here on earth for Jesus is called the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6) and whenever He appears to His apostles after the resurrection, His first words are, “Peace be with you.”(Luke24:36) Even before His death, at the Last Supper He says ‘’Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.’’ I believe He wishes to give this peace to His apostles and to us too. In fact, St Paul tells us ‘’He is our peace.’’ Can it be then that when we have Christ in our midst, when we are united with Him in spirit- such as in meditation, we are less fragmented and more whole? That what we experience - a serenity or tranquillity of spirit, a release from confusion and chaos- a certain calmness, a certain peace – (the peace of Christ?) is nevertheless a miniscule of the real thing? Probably- a foretaste?

    Perhaps this was what the contemplatives were trying to tell us when they encourage us to meditate. Fr. Laurence Freeman said that as we meditate ‘’in a spirit of love, we fully grow up into the new self which is formed as we grow in faith, pervaded by Christ, the new Adam, who recapitulates, assumes all matter and raises it to the incandescence of spirit. Then what we know as divided is united; what we suffered as discord becomes peace.”
    God bless you, Fr.

  2. Dear Fr. Luke,

    I believe that (at least part of) the tension within us comes from the fact that, no matter how high we think we've climbed up the spiritual mountain, there is the realisation that we are NOT what we ought to be. At least not yet. Even the most holy of the saints, while they were here on earth, were acutely aware of their limitations. What more ordinary folks like us? Just like St. Peter in the boat, coming "face to face" with Jesus is a terribly humbling experience. It lays bare even our tiniest flaws. Why else would he (St. Peter) ask our Lord to depart from him?
    Furthermore, even at the happiest moments of our lives, we know that no matter how ecstatic we are at the time, it's not going to last. It's going to have to end. Deep inside every one of us (whether we admit it or not), is a longing for the infinite; because that is what we were created for.

    God Bless,