So the other day I was having a conversation with a person about mysticism. Some of my favorite dead Christians throughout the centuries were mystics. Thomas a Kempis, Julian of Norwich, and Bernard of Clairvaux are all definitely worth having on your bookshelf and/or in your head. The mystics have this uncanny ability to stare out into the dark abyss of unknowing and feel completely at home. They don’t have to “know” and they don’t have to “understand”. There is a deep sense of contentment in their divine ignorance because they experience a deep soul-knowing of sorts. The kind of knowing that cannot possibly be contained in any combination of verbs and nouns. They can take a single word and use it to delve into the mysteries of the unknowable.
The other week, I was walking down Broad Street mulling over about 12,000 thoughts, asking questions of my questions of my questions of my questions, and having one of those little mini-crises in my soul. That’s when I starting thinking about the mystics. I wanted their peace and their ability to accept mystery without question. I wanted nothing more than to just turn the questions off, and accept everything as a wonderful mystery no matter what. My faith was exponentially easier when I relegated my reason to the world around me and let my creativity have reign over my faith. It was a delightfully compartmentalized existence much like a well-kept zoo, but now the lions are eating the antelope, I can’t find the snakes, and I have no idea if the birds are ever coming back. Without my walls and systems, I’m learning how to walk all over again, and I’m falling all over the place.
Maybe you have had similar experiences, and you don’t know what to do with your zoo either. Hopefully, you are better at this whole life thing than I am, and you can help me out.
I have absolutely no problem letting my soul run wild in the world around me. The other day, I realized that for the first time since I was 16, my age is a perfect square. There is no good reason why that should excite me as much as it does, but that’s just the kind of person I am, I guess. Have you looked at Saturn today? You really should. The first time that I saw Saturn’s rings with my own eyes, I almost fell backwards. I was standing on the roof of Armerding Hall at Wheaton College my senior year using the school’s telescope for an astronomy class. The moment I looked into that plastic tube, I was there. I was no longer standing on the roof looking into a tube. I was 750 million miles away, gazing at the most beautiful object I had ever seen. When I think about the fact that I have looked at Saturn’s rings with my own eyes, it sends shivers down my spine. That was no picture. That was it. It was just hanging there motionless in the black sky like an island of pure beauty adrift in a sea of nothingness. Who else was looking at it during that exact moment? Was it just me? Was it being beautiful for my sake alone? No. The rings of Saturn were gleaming in the dim sunlight for millions of years before humans realized that putting glass circles into little tubes let them gaze into the cosmos. It couldn’t help but be beautiful. It was the kind of paradigm-shifting religious experience that people report when they take a pilgrimage to Mecca or walk to path that Jesus walked to the cross.
That is easy for me! I do this kind of stuff in my head all day.
The problem begins when I try to use my reason to interpret my faith. I’m going to be completely honest here because it’s very safe to speak honestly on this side of the screen. I’m not always good at it. I would venture to say that most days I’m legitimately bad at it. God is infinitely “other”. Even our analogies fall pitifully short. Sure, God is love, but what does that even mean? If God is a sphere, we are a circle. If there were creatures who only lived in two dimensions, how would you explain a sphere to them? How would you explain color to a person who was born blind? Even those analogies are bound within our minimal experience, and do not encapsulate the length and breadth of the divine chasm that separates the creation from the creator. In light of this divide, it seems useless to even try. It would be like using the quadratic equation to solve the equations of String Theory. No, it’s worse than that. It would be like using a VCR to create the universe.
Abandon all hope! This blog is over. I’m dropping out of school and becoming a crime-fighting vigilante instead. Truth is easy in the comics.
But seriously, knowing God on our own is patently ridiculous. It would be like trying to see the rings of Saturn without a telescope. None of us can ever peer into Heaven or get to know God as God is. That is the beauty of the Christmas season. God met us half-way. Actually, God met us about 99% of the way. If God did not wish to be known, then He would not have spent so much time and effort trying to be known. God is not truly Father, Son, and Spirit. Those are words and titles used for our sake because we understand those things and have no true analogue to divinity. Have you ever tried to convince a bird to come closer to you by putting a little bit of food out and then throwing another piece slightly closer to you until they are practically in your hand? The picture at the top of this post is of my hand as I try to do that very thing with a bunch of sparrows in Logan Square. I love those little guys. I just wish they trusted me.
In the same way, God throws little pieces of food out there for us to grab and scurry just a little bit closer to Him even if we don’t trust Him enough to jump in His hand and eat the whole loaf of bread. Remember the last post about the Magi coming to Jesus through their astrological beliefs? The star of Bethlehem was a little piece of bread to bring the Magi closer to God’s hand.
In my case, the bread that God is using is science and reason. I take what I know about the universe and what He has revealed of Himself through scripture, tradition, and relationship, and venture into the unknown. I take those things that I know and use them to attempt to understand what I don’t know with the full understanding that what I know might not apply to Truth. In the same way that conventional physics is meaningless inside a black hole, I will allow for the very real possibility that reason might well fall short in the black hole of divinity. That’s all well and good abstractly, but let me give you a quick example that I will expound upon further in another blog post in the future.
God is the only source of eternity. Everything else was created. There was a time when I did not exist and I am never promised that I am intrinsically eternal on my own without being connected to God. My existence is completely dependent on God. That same God has demonstrated through Jesus that He loves us ridiculously and wants nothing more than to be with us crazy people for some reason. This same Jesus cried out from the cross “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. If I truly believe all of these facts, then it is illogical to believe in an eternal Hell that is populated by billions of people that Jesus, who came to “seek and save the lost” didn’t get around to seeking or saving. That being said, I also echo Paul in Romans 9 where he basically says that if God does send people to Hell, then that is His prerogative, and I need to be alright with that. Just like physics in a black hole, sometimes my logic falls apart, and I trust that God’s logic is greater than mine. After all, I may be perfectly content with my piece of bread, but He has the entire loaf.