Paradise Lost was under discussion in my allegory course this past week, and that means thinking about creation, fall, redemption.
Why did our father give us free will? What is the nature of our knowledge of good, our knowledge of evil, our knowledge of ourselves and God?
And so forth.
I've always been attracted to the mysticism of western religion—the belief that God is not us, that we are not God. This is, as I understand it, the fundamental distinction between theism and pantheism.1 We believe, not just in the supernatural, but in a supernatural presence that is wholly other-than-ourselves.
What's great about
Christianity being a follower of Christ is that we also believe in his desire to make us one with him. He calls us not only his friends, not only his children, but a part of his body. We begin our relationship with him at a distance, like Zacchaeus in the tree, but he calls out to us and asks us to make a place for him. The law is a way to recognize the distance between us and God; salvation and sacrament build a bridge across that distance.2
A friend wrote in her 'blog this week about the nature of desire and patience, this morning's sermon was about coveting, and I've had to stop myself a couple of times recently to ask "what is it that's really motivating me, these days?"
Am I driven by a desire to bridge the gap between myself and that-which-is-not-myself? Is this whole Grad school thing one more way for me to project my own image onto the world and look at myself reflected back? Do I want what's right for me to want, or am I coveting what's not rightfully mine? Why am I even writing this 'blog—is this a way to regurgitate and ruminate, or am I actually seeking and finding some truth outside of myself?
And then, I heard an old Switchfoot song on the radio:
I've been thinking 'bout everyone,
Everyone you look so lonely
But when I look at the stars
When I look at the stars
When I look at the stars, I see someone else
When I look at the stars
The stars, I feel like myself
I was struck by the way this song sums up the way I feel about the "numinous" part of experience: when I look at the stars, I do see someone else. That distance, the nearly-infinite space between me and that enormous ball of hydrogen, is my point of reference. I know where I am because I know where everything else is—the distance to the door, the distance I drive to work, the distance to the farm back home... the distance to the star is just a lot bigger. The distance to God is even bigger than that; and I know where I am, who I am, because I know how far away he is, who he is. What's great about God, though, is that he's telling me how much he desires to close that distance, too. It's in the word, but it's in the stars, too: photons traveling for hundreds and thousands of years, just to reach me. A pulsar, like a distant beacon, sending a message. Sunrise reminding me of new possibility, sunset reminding me that everything must end.
All of creation tells me about his glory, but I'm pretty sure that means that he created it all (at least partly) to tell me about himself.
And that's really, really awesome.
1. (This isn't only a theistic trait, but it's an important part of theistic theology from the last hundred years or so. I picked it up from C.S. Lewis in Problem of Pain.)
2. (I'll admit that Paul is the one who really harps on this point, but it's there in the gospels all the same.)