Part 21 in a series; see other parts here.
The idea of heaven usually stands in contrast to our everyday lives. Heaven is supposed to be where all that we have done and all that we have left undone finally gets sorted out, where at last we can give proper time to everybody and everything we care about, precisely because time is no more. In heaven, we at last escape the temporal for the eternal, which alone has ample room for our loves. Heaven becomes the projection screen for the unrealized imperfections of life, our photographic negatives in need of development.
As we’re caught between the world we live in and the one we dream of, prayer offers a threshold that transforms our experience. Rather than bring us into contact with our imperfections made perfect, prayer can show us the grace running through them as they are and as they were. Things that felt like failures can become precious in prayer. We unexpectedly find heaven in looking back, when we always thought it still lay ahead.
Prayer thus connects us into the mystery of time, whose passing we mark through all kinds of order. The necessary routines dull our consciousness, in part because life without them would be exhausting. Kierkegaard wrote that life is understood backwards, but must be lived forwards. Prayer provides one powerful form of that backward glance, but Kierkegaard’s maxim warns us against remaining too long in the threshold. The experience of seeing and understanding the path that led us to where we are so lit up with grace cannot and should not last forever; we must go once more into the breach, lending our own particular flavors of imperfection to all that we live and do. Amidst the ordinary, the memory of our past threshold moments can help us to anticipate the grace in the present that will be revealed when we stand in the threshold once again. Not every prayer can or even should be a threshold, but all prayer points to it. Even the prayers that simply feel like marking time will in due course be redeemed.