Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Vision of Centered Harmony

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 -- Week of 2 Advent, Year Two
Ralph Adams Cram, 1942, and Richard Upjohn, 1878, Architects, and John LaFarge, Artist, 1910

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 939)
Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) 49, [53] (evening)
Zechariah 3:1-10
Revelation 4:1-8
Matthew 24:45-51

First, a word about these new additions to our Calendar:
Cram, Ralph Adams (Dec. 16, 1863-Sept. 22, 1942) Architect. Proponent of the Gothic style, Cram designed West Point, St. Thomas (Episcopal Church) Fifth Avenue, Princeton University, St. John the Divine (Cathedral, New York City), and many other famous American buildings. His social philosophy emphasized the importance of a sacramental understanding of reality in the face of power and materialism.
Richard Upjohn [January 22, 1802-August 16, 1878] British-born American architect of many famous churches, including Trinity, Wall Street NY, and public buildings.
John LaFarge [March 31, 1835-Nov. 14, 1910] Catholic artist who not only decorated many famous churches (of many denominations) but also tried to form an aesthetic of religious art. (Dec 16)

With some help from the annotations in The Access Bible which I use, I'd like to look more closely at the vision of John in Revelation 4. In this scene, John presents the order of creation as it was meant to be, gathered in harmony around God.

It begins with an open door, offering access to heaven. The implication is that the door is always open if we are willing to enter. A voice like that one which opened John's visions invites him to "Come up here." (A three-tiered universe is imagined.) John travels inward to enter this holy place -- "at once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne!" Throughout the book of Revelation, the geography is spiritual geography, and it is an inward journey.

It is surprising that the description of God is as a rock. "The one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian." The commentary says that we cannot be sure what gems John intended by jasper and carnelian. Jasper is usually red, as is carnelian. A rainbow that looks like an emerald surrounds the throne. A throne is a political symbol. Rulers, emperors and kings sat on thrones and exercised their dominion. Statues of Caesar or Zeus might portray them, godlike, exercising authority from their throne. Earlier we had a reference to the throne of Satan in Pergamum, probably a temple dedicated to Zeus. From the throne in John's vision come signs of the divine manifestation and presence -- "flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder."

"In front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God." The number seven is a symbolic number meaning complete -- the Holy Spirit. Something like a sea of glass extends before the throne, possibly as a transparent window into creation below.

"Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads." Twenty-four is a doubling of the number of God's people. Commentators have several possible explanations -- the 12 tribes of Israel plus the 12 apostles; the 24 orders of priests; the 24 figures of the zodiac. These 24 elders are the heavenly counterpart to God's people on earth, the human community of God.

Also around the throne are the four living creatures. They have full understanding (full of eyes) and full mobility (six wings) -- omniscient and omnipresent. These four living creatures are like a lion, an ox, a human, and an eagle -- all earthly creatures, probably the four orders of creation. In Ezekiel we have a vision of similar creatures representing the divine qualities of intelligence (human), royalty (lion), strength (ox), and mobility (eagle). These creatures perpetually sing the Sanctus in praise of God.

So we have around the divine presence the human community and the community of creatures. They live in harmony, worshiping God who is in their midst. They sing of the worthiness of God, who has created all things, and by whose will all things continue into being.

John sees this interior vision of heavenly harmony as that which "must take place" -- this is the vision of the way all existence should be and ultimately will be. John invites us to participate in this vision by living out of its wisdom now -- as it is in heaven, so it shall be on earth. We are to live focused upon God, who is present at the center of all. We are to live in harmony with humanity and with all creation, living lives of praise to the honor and glory of God.


Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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