Tuesday, September 12, 2006

In Rememberance...

(E)

Tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of the death of J's mother. A year seems both too long and too short for how it feels. She can't have been gone for just a year. The pain is still too raw and the ache of missing her hasn't seemed to abate all that much. But, has it really been just a year that we last talked together? It feels as though it has been forever since we have spoken.

The best testament I can give about her is her own words. She wrote this is response to a friend's unbelief in God.

WHY I BELIEVE
Mrs. F. K. W. C.
How do I know -- KNOW-- that there is a God? And why do I believe with every breath I draw that He has planned a life beyond this short, entrancing, sometimes brutish, often frustrating one that humans are given?
Man has always worshipped. We know by all the traces of tribes and civilizations which existed before our history that humans have had a need for ritual and for order. At times of greatest sorrow in the collective life of a primitive tribe, when a leader died, he was buried with rituals which indicate a belief that his life would go on somehow, somewhere. There are other traces of ritual which we cannot understand , lost in the unspeaking past: cave paintings, dances and ceremonies, secret places to which only a few were admitted, ancestor worship. None of this would have existed absent the shadowy universal notion that Someone was watching and would care about what humans were doing.
All the Stonehenges, all the mounds I know of from Ireland to Central America which seem to be set up as calendars or clocks of the seasons, point to the need for order in human minds. Will the sun come up again? O the longest day of the year, where will the first sunray strike? Can it be known when to plant and to reap, and when that most frightening of celestial events, an eclipse, would next occur?
No groups of animals do these things. All groups of humans have done them. We decide that ancient traces of habitation were human by these indications of burial customs and primitive inquiries into the great "whys" of the way the universe works.
From what we know of most primitive religions, buttressed by what we know of religion in recorded history, the gods who were worshipped were fearsome and needed to be propitiated, not just for what they could do to humans in this life (send sickness, drought, and so forth) but for the control they had over life after death. Hades or Valhalla, doom or eternal bliss, rest or a ghostly restlessness were the choices man could see; rarely was there simply nothingness after death. Something in us requires us to posit a going on , a renewal, as happens in nature when a plant dies but a seed from it grows. If this were a hope born of vanity or desperation, would it be so universal? Even the Buddhist or Hindu idea of release into nirvana is a continuation, a culmination, a going on.
Look around the world and you will see a record of architecture attesting to man's worship. You will find writings of all kinds attempting to describe what God wants from us and how to achieve it. You will find the vast majority of all humankind leaning up and out for the Presence we know must be.
You also will find humans, particularly in these latter days, who claim to "know" that there is no such Presence, no Creator, or who will say that it matters to them so little that they need not expend any thought in wondering. And yet most of these same atheists and agnostics claim to have a clear concept of what is "good"or "right" and what is "wrong." If there is no Judge of us all, if there is no intelligence in the universe outside ourselves, if death ends it all, what place can "good" and "evil" have? Why should we hold ourselves to any standard of righteousness?
If caring for people we love makes us happy, fine; but why should we care what happens to anyone we do not "like"? Where do the concepts of "right" and "wrong" come from?
Both believers and unbelievers long for justice, for a greater good than any one of us is apt to find on his own. Children are born looking for justice. "That's not fair!" is the universal aggrieved cry of childhood. Even teenagers will accept punishment with reasonable calm if -- but only if -- they think it is deserved; that it is fair. In a world that is patently, inescapably unfair, unjust, giving riches to some and worse than poverty to others, filled with cruelty and inexplicable tragedy, why on earth do we look for justice? For fairness? Could it be that God has put into us the knowledge of a state of justice and peace under which we long to live; could we instinctively know that this is the higher good which is waiting for us, when we transcend our difficult human state and live in a world ordered as He ordained? "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee," is how the great Augustine put it, and there is a great and simple truth in that.
This world is a beautiful place and we fortunate humans have the capacity to respond to its beauty. Certain animals seem to enjoy what they know of their world beyond its capacity to sustain their lives and allow them to reproduce, the chief biological aim of most species. Dolphins and penguins and otters play, even as adults. Most baby animals play, in order to develop and sharpen skills which will be useful or necessary to sustain adult life. Enjoyment by many species of a dust bath, a wallow, a particular food, or the social life of a tribe of animals is evident. But it is difficult -- impossible -- to find animals who are breathtaken at the sight of a sunset or a view, just as it is difficult to find animals who attempt to create beautiful objects, which humans do whenever time and energy are available after basic needs are met. The Native American woman using found objects from feathers to quills to laboriously decorate the garment she has sewn, the installer of mosaics, in complex designs in ancient Pompeii, the decorators of pottery around the world for thousands of years, and the frontier settler carving a knick-knack shelf for his wife -- all are sponding to a need to create and an appreciation of beauty.
Cannot this creation of beauty, of art, be construed to be an imitation of the Creator of the universe, who placed in us a desire to be like Him? In our little ways, we are trying to recreate the beauty we long to see and live with.
Given all this history, given this inborn need to look out and away from ourselves to search for beauty, truth, justice, and a power greater than ourselves, can any one of us truly believe that we "know better" than the vast weight of experience coming to us from our ancestors? The hubris necessary to contradict the long-felt convictions of virtually all mankind and the highest thought of some of the greatest thinkers ever to exist is utterly breathtaking. Surely one must concede that far more people have believed in a Divine Power than have not throughout the centuries.
So one takes a deep breath and acknowledges a Creator, God, the Ruler, who brought all this into being and gave us the breath of life.
Does He love us? The single most memorable human being ever born, Jesus Christ, tells us that He does. The world has been changed by Jesus in ways greater than any other person in history, and one of those ways was His teaching that God wants us to turn to Him as our Father who loves us. As C. S. Lewis said, if you read what Jesus said about himself -- reiterated in accounts written by four separate men and attested to by countless others -- you can say that He was a fool, or a madman, or you can say that He is the living God incarnate. You cannot dismiss Him as a great teacher or philosopher or a clever psychologist, because in His own words He said otherwise. He was with God from the beginning, sent by Him and returning to Him; you cannot ignore His claim to be the Christ, the image of God unless you are willing to throw the entire history of Christianity into a dustbin of delusion.
Why is the world so harsh? Why are there mosquitos, disease, earthquakes, floods, children born damaged, wars and bitter animosities? The Judeo-Christian Bible tells us, and it is the answer that has survived and satisfied believers for close to four thousand years, that God created a perfect world and put into it humans with free choice. We have not chosen to live in obedience as His beloved children. The answers to many of what we call "natural disasters" may be available to scientists some day. Why some humans choose to do evil we may never know. Meanwhile, for most humans, trouble serves to turn us to God and to the real purpose of our life on earth, which is to prepare us for the Life to come. Helping our fellow creatures survive and thrive is part of that purpose, and our true mission.
Jesus tells us to love one another, to care for each other, as He cares for us (and he gave His life for us). Knowing that to love someone is to open oneself up to grief and unbearable separation in this life, since we all die and we cannot know when that will happen, how cruel God would be to instill in us this need to love, this capacity to cleave to others with affection as great as for ourselves. Would it not be less hurtful to shut oneself off from love, to take care of number one and shun attachment ot others? What husband and wife have not hoped to die at the same moment rather than suffer loss of each other? When a baby is born and parental love sweeps into the equation, who is not terrified at the idea of losing the child?
Yet we will, sooner or later, be torn apart by death. Husband from wife, parent from child, friend from friend -- as life progresses so does loss. Can any concept of a loving God include his willingness for us to suffer such inexorable loss? It is absolutely necessary that God provide a culmination for love that continues past death, if He is all Good and all Powerful. (And if He is not, He is not God.)
And He has. All the deathbed epiphanies, all the near-death experiences which have been reported bear out Jesus' claim that "I go to prepare a place for you." We can trust Him that such a place is there: He is completely trustworthy. We cannot know what it will be like, because, for one thing, our brains are programmed to function in linear time and life after death is in "Eternity."
We are not made for linear time; we are not comfortable in it. Some moments fly by too fast and we cannot hold on to the fleeting joy. Some times we are "bored" and wish time to hurry up. We don't know where the time has gone, we wish we had more time, we need to organize our time, we waste it, we spend it, and then our time is up.
Anticipation turns out to be more pleasurable than the event awaited. Memory is bittersweet since we cannot recapture the golden times we remember. We are not made comfortable by time.
Eternity, on the other hand, will be where we feel at home. Babyhood, youth adulthood and age will exist simultaneously, in some way that we cannot possibly understand now. There will be no chronology -- we will not be a particular age, but we will know each other. Our God created us as unique personalities and has no intention of ruining His creation by making us all alike in His eternal realm. Our gifts, our experiences will join together to add to the joy of Heaven. Whatever flaws the world has given us will be turned into His perfect creation.
"Father, Thy will be done on Earth as it is done in Heaven": what a joyous concept. This world is beautiful, but it also contains ugliness. It is joyful, but it is desperately sad. None of us wants to leave it -- but we are promised the world perfected, as God created it, and therefore more beautiful than the earthly world, more holy, full of pure joy, where tears are wiped away and sorrow is unknown.
Praise our God, our Creator, our Father, our Savior, for His inalienable promises.
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