By Kelly Pontsler, Major
I love “now” and “then” photos. Images of a location shot in the distant past, laid beside a modern picture taken from the same spot. Cities evolve and the landscape changes, and yet you see the trace of what was in the shape of what is.
Somewhere in my house I have a postcard-sized book with photos of Rome, a cheap souvenir that keeps reappearing in the packing and unpacking of boxes with every move. In between the photo pages are plastic sheets that lay down over each page. The sketches on the plastic complete the photos, showing ancient Rome in all its splendor and its footprint in the ruins that remain today. I don’t know how many times I’ve flipped through that book, fascinated by the change over time. What was, and what is.
This past week my mom and I enjoyed a cup of tea in the Bengal Room at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C. That sounds so posh, I know, but to be honest, our poor feet had about given out after two days of walking around the city and it was a good excuse to sit and write a couple of postcards. With our tea quotient restored and our tired limbs revived, we headed back out for a last tour before catching the ferry back to Seattle.
Meandering out of the hotel, we glanced at the many old photos that lined the walls of the hotel. I was intrigued by one photo in particular. It showed the site of the hotel before anything was built—and lo and behold, it was simply a mud flat. The inlet of water which is now a well-organized harbor was just off to the right. And where now sits a beautiful, ivy-covered hotel (which is spectacular in October) there was nothing but mud. What kind of leap of faith does it take to go from mud to magnificence? What was, and what is. And what could be?
I suppose the temptation for most of us is to plant our feet so firmly where we are, that we get stuck. “It might be a mud flat, but it’s our mud flat. Life as we know it might be falling apart right around us, but it’s our life and it’s what we’ve got, and that’s it,” we mumble without conviction. But that’s not it! While we live life in the ebb and flow of the 24 hours gifted to us every day, our perspective must be eternal. The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that God has set eternity in the hearts of men (Eccl. 3:11). It’s the long view that matters.
When I was in Zaire, our work days began with morning devotions with all the territorial headquarters staff. We gathered around the reception desk, sang a song together and then had a moment of prayer for the day. Our songbook was in French—some of the songs were familiar to me, others were not—but huddling up together five days a week, we quickly made our way through the entire book. One day, just as we were about to close up the songbooks, the chief secretary (a Swiss officer) made a simple observation: “Have you ever noticed how the last verse of nearly every song talks about heaven?” No, I hadn’t actually noticed, I had to admit, but to this day I still do. Whether words penned by our contemporary Salvation Army songwriters or the hymn writers of days long ago, this is no accident. Their inspired stanzas lay a completed picture of tomorrow over life as we are living it today.
From earthly mud flat to the magnificence of eternity with our heavenly Father. What was and what is…and what will be! Hallelujah, amen!