Devotional Random Ponderings theology travel

Pretty Cities Fading

I'm enjoying this idyllic afternoon, but soon enough, pain will return. Soon it will be my turn to suffer again.

Tiff strolling through the graves

My eyes seemed to faint with longing as I passed through Parque Central earlier today, beholding the beautifully rich and ancient buildings. The colonial columns with the Gothic curls atop brightly painted facades form architecture almost too magnificent for me to bear.

When I was in high school, my mom would take us to the dump, which had a little shop off to the side called the Swap Shop. You brought items you wanted to leave, and took others you wanted to take (One year, Mommy ‘bought’ all my birthday presents there and I’ve never let her live it down). Because it was Cape Cod, full of wealthy retirees, you could often make out with a decent haul.

It was in this tiny building by the dump I found an ancient book titled The Paris I Love. It was primarily black and white photos of Paris circa the 1940’s. It’s everything the world imagines Paris to be: Cobbled roads, beautiful architecture, cafes, a million pigeons in a flurry above the widow’s bench.

After flipping through this book in the early 2000’s, I thought utopia was attainable. Or at least, that it had existed for a brief flash in Paris in the 1940’s. The cafe I’m in now is participating in that manmade utopia: These gorgeous buildings flock around the kiosko, which itself is a round concrete gazebo made of Roman columns crumbling in just the right places. Right now, a traditionally dressed woman is kissing a business man leaning against one of the poles.

From the center of the park, you could look around and see open-air balconies where lovers could easily be serenaded à la Say Anything. Olive-skinned Mayans parade around her perimeter, selling jewelry and chiclets in their bright and ornate dresses. The climate has been described as ‘the land of eternal spring.’ If there ever was utopia, Quetzaltenango would be pretty close.

But look a little closer.

I just paid 1Q (12 cents) for a pack of gum from a girl who should be in kindergarten. Instead of learning, she is peddling her family’s goods because children rake in more money than adults.

Pollution lingers in the air thanks to a lack of emissions control (Side note: I’m now grateful America makes us go through those annoying emissions tests), and I’m realizing that beauty must be more than aesthetics.

As painfully pretty as this city is, appearances won’t sustain a soul.

I’m presently reading through C.S. Lewis’ book Out of the Silent Planet and the protagonist just had a compelling conversation with an alien poet. The alien told him that they mate only once for the sake of bearing young.

“Isn’t the process of creating the offspring pleasurable,” he asks the alien. (I’m paraphrasing here)

“Of course it is,” replies the alien, “and because it only happens once, the beauty of the event grows in my memory like the progression of a great poem or song.”

The protagonist is confused for a moment and the alien elaborates, “You can read a great line of verse over and over again, but without the context of the entire poem, it loses its power. Time, like a song, must move forward for the fullness of beauty to be witnessed.”

I’ve been stuck on that line of thinking for a while now. Why do something pleasurable over and over again, when you appreciate it more if it only happens once? It’s a tension I’m facing. I mean, if you only ate once more for the rest of your life, you couldn’t dwell very long on the sweet memory of its taste. You can’t be hugged one more time and call it good for the rest of your life.

Time and life are complex. There are three views, check it out:

Eastern: Time is cyclical. Reincarnation. All things repeat. Think of a circle.

Western: Time is linear. Moves forward. Birth, life, death. Picture a straight line.

(Can you see how these views of time inform the way these various cultures have grown and morphed over millennia? The last view is the one I find the most accurate.)

Hebrew: Time is seasonal. Picture a slinky, slightly pulled apart. Winter fades into spring which moves into summer, which becomes fall which goes back to winter. Winter, 1940 is not winter, 2018, but it is still winter. There is repetition and progression. My grandfather was once young and spritely like me, but now it’s my turn.

Soon it will be my turn to fade into the soil.

I’m enjoying this idyllic afternoon, but soon enough, pain will return. Soon it will be my turn to suffer again.

I was just offered more chiclets, this time by a little boy, reminding me that I’m really longing for a city not built by human hands. Beautiful as this town, and many other towns in the world are, they’re not where I belong. I can only stay here so long; 70 more years if I really like it.

Now let me find a stopping place.

The more we see ourselves as aliens on this world, the less attached we will be to the fleeting goods it has to offer us.

I’m still trying to find a way to describe the beauty and power of these words from Hebrews 11, but I can’t. So let me end by just saying that I hope all of us may be humans of whom this is also true:

For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. . . All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.


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