Saturday, April 19, 2014
Faith in the Great Dark Deep
On the one hand, it needs to speak to the humblest moments of our existence. It needs to give coherence to our actions. It guides and shapes how we function in the world. It needs to work on our scale, and within the intimate framework of what it means to be a human creature.
On the other, it needs to be coherent given what we observe about the universe. If our faith crumbles to nothing when we look heavenward, or when we peer back into the depths of spacetime, then it is nothing. If our stories of the nature and purpose of being cannot stand against the Deep, then they are unreal, shadows of our own imaginings.
I am reminded of this whenever some event stirs one of my more overeager co-religionists to shout about how this sign or some other sign is a sure indicator of the End of All Things. Jesus is coming back because 1) there was a blood moon 2) Russia is mucking around with her neighbors 3) my breath smelled oddly like ham this morning.
It's right there in the Bible!
And yet, as I encounter that yearning, I wonder what it has to do with anything. I don't believe it's particularly relevant, frankly, certainly not to the scale of my life. It does not make me kinder, or gentler, or more compassionate. It does not make me a better steward of creation, in that small corner of it I inhabit.
At the larger scale, though, the scale on which our Creator operates, I find the yearnings of popular apocalyptic even less relevant.
For this, I spin out the fevered imaginings of John of Patmos to their literal conclusion in my mind. Everything he says comes to pass, in the non-symbolic actual way that so many folks seem to desire. Beasts and false prophets rise like Godzilla from the sea. There are signs and portents, and some Rapture-esque thing. Yeah, I know that's loosely cribbed from Luke, but it seems part of a package deal now. Then armies of angels and horsemen and the whole thing comes to a great crashing end. Jesus returns, resplendent in his robes of glory, and c'est fini. C'est tout. That's all she wrote.
All of human history, every moment of human remembering, shattered and replaced with the Divine Realm or the Lake of Fire, depending on whether you went to the right church.
But elsewhere in the immensity of what God has wrought, say, on the little goldilocks world of Kepler 186b, none of that would matter. Sentient beings there might see a little flash of light there, 500 or so years from now, as we're torn from this reality. Otherwise? Nothing.
And of the billions of similar worlds in our galaxy, if even 0.001% of them are inhabited, what would such an event matter to the beings there?
I can't bring myself to imagine that the end of everything we know would mean much of anything at all. Nor can I delude myself into thinking that all of creation's vastness exists only for us, for the tiny flicker that is the still delicate and young story of humankind. Such selfishness, there is, in that way of thinking.
That does not mean faith is irrelevant, though. Nor is it delusion.
Because the Easter that will dawn tomorrow matters, on the scale of the intimate. It sets us towards an understanding of ourselves that shatters our fear. Here, look, the most terrifying thing, for we mortals. And it means nothing, nothing at all next to the path that Jesus taught. Death and suffering should not turn us in fear from the path of compassion, because they have no power.
It can also frame our understanding of our place in the vastness. Here, in this Jesus who shows us a form of life that overcomes death itself, we have the key to the way sentient life anywhere should live. It is the path of grace, no matter where a self-aware being finds itself in the universe. As such beings--I hope we are, anyway--this principle would stand, no matter where we found ourselves.
And so we stand vigil, in the darkness of the day, in the Great Dark Deep of our time and space. In this place, we hope a new day brings a different form of life.