Which, I wonder, came first: the idea that divinity dwells in heaven "above" while mortals are on earth "below"; or the conjunction of "higher" and "lower" with notions of superiority and inferiority? Anything or anyone up, above, is definitely superior: they are one of the higher-ups, upwardly mobile, looked up to... whereas the opposite is lowly, dragged down, looked down upon. Even the words used to convey prominence are related to height - lofty, exalted, elevated, high-ranking, and we describe our good and bad moods as being in high spirits or down in the dumps.
In becoming human and living as one of us, God "came down", in status as well as from the glories of heaven. He came down to earth from heaven... we sing at Christmas, and in the words of Charles Wesley, Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down... As an aside, it makes me wonder whether this could be why "down to earth" - meaning full of common sense, with no illusions or pretensions - is one of the few phrases in which downwardness is positive?
Not surprisingly, our language and concepts are similarly spatial when describing the Risen Jesus' return to heaven. It is an Ascension, an upward journey: when a cloud takes Jesus from their sight the disciples are left staring up into the sky, assuming him to be in a heaven which is unreachably far, far above us all. All our Ascension images, of clouds and sky, echo this, drawing our hearts and imaginations upwards, away from earth and up into where we imagine heaven to be.
Ascension Day sonnet by Malcolm Guite:
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
Not up to heaven, but deeper into the heart of our world... And then, when I revisited the sonnet earlier today, I paused and read the poet's brief introductory comments, which included this sentence: He is in the Heaven which is at the heart of all things now and is universally accessible to all who call upon Him.
God in his heaven... not far above and completely out of our reach, but here, among us and at the heart of our world, our lives - at the heart of all things. God in his heaven, God at the heart of everything: God with us - always, utterly with us - completely part of us and our world, sharing in all its pain and its beauty; sharing our lives, and our sorrows and joys. This is the God who is all Heart, and at the heart of me; the God who continually invites me to journey into his depths, and simultaneously into the heart of all things...