“When there’s no awe in awesome and there’s nothing absolute about absolutely.” ©
Thoughts on 4th Sunday of Easter, April 22, 2018
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
So, when you select your entrée from the menu and you tell your server your choice, has it happened to you that the server says, “awesome”? Or, when you ask for additional packets of decaf for the coffeemaker in your hotel room has it happened to you that the person at the desk says, “absolutely”?
You know language is pretty degraded when there is no awe in awesome and there’s nothing absolute about absolutely. You can try to uplift language but that’s probably a fool’s errand given the fact that 140 characters is what passes for in-depth communication and attention span these days.
That being said, I thought we would pursue a path other than language to focus today on the Easter experience.
How about dimension, as in, “How is New Life to be distinguished from life, the day-in, day-out variety of life, that is?” Taking our lead from today’s reading from the first letter of John (1 John 3:1-2), how do I recognize God in my life? What signs and wonders uncover Resurrection?
The passage says, “The reason the world does not recognize us is that it never recognized God.” Easter is about recognizing God not only in the here and now, in signs and wonders. It is more fundamentally about seeing through to that dimension which, as Jesus says, is from God and going to God. Dimension can rupture our usual way of seeing and understanding.
For centuries artists have given us paintings and works of art that challenge our ability/willingness to observe other dimensions. The easiest way to think of this is optical illusion and making an object appear one way even though it is something different. Here’s one. In the church of Saint Ignatius in Rome the ceiling appears to be a flat portrait of Ignatius of Loyola ascending to heavenly heights. All the figures have every aspect of sharing a flattened surface. In actuality the ceiling is a vaulted semi-circular curved surface. And when you get up close it is clear that the painter, a Jesuit lay-brother named Andrea Puzzo, had to create distorted figures on the vault and the curves to give the appearance of a one-dimensional canvas. It’s an optical illusion, the French term is tromp l’oeil – which means, trick the eye..
A further style in deeper dimension is the painting on the inside left panel of the Order of Service. It’s called “The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein the Younger. (It can be googled, since it would not copy into this post.)
See that diagonal piece in between the two figures at the low-end of the painting? If you hold the painting very closely up to your face such that your left eye looks at the right edge of that object, you will see a skull. The painter wanted the illusion of a further dimension – a matter of perspective. This technique is meant to create a jolt to how one looks and observes. It carries over also to creating a jolt to how one thinks. In this case while the painting appears to show two prosperous and healthy looking gentlemen, the other dimension gives a message of death.
Seeing another dimension through the surface of what is apparent has a name. It’s called “anamorphosis.”
I believe observing other dimensions helps to gain clearer insight into the Easter experience. The morning after the Sabbath, two days before which was when Jesus was executed, this being the third morning, the women went to the tomb expecting to see a dead body. They looked in and saw messengers – angels from the divine dimension of life beyond life. They were introduced to Resurrection through the looking glass darkly, as it were. This is how we recognize God. This is none other than the Spirit at work; the Spirit who reveals the depths of God so that we may see into this dimension.
Recently I heard a theoretical physicist refer to a religious person’s view of the idea of Creator as the One who fashions something out of nothing. He called this a superstition. This came after a 10 minute discussion with other scientists on the question of something and nothing. You know – Is matter infinite, as in no beginning and no end? Or, is there something other than just, well, something? The image this scientist used to frame the question is the South Pole and whether there is anything south of the South Pole – since the South Pole is so-called as it is at what we typically refer to as the bottom of Earth. Then this scientist gave a name to the potential origin of what is south of the South Pole. This is, in scientific terms mind you, what science refers to as “imaginary time.”
I kid you not. “imaginary time” Let that sink in a moment.
How does the religious person’s “superstition” differ from the scientist’s “imaginary time?” How does the scientist’s faith that there will eventually be an explanation for what is now called “imaginary time” differ from my faith that says God’s dimension is what reveals the relationship of something to nothing? As far as I can see we both believe. The scientist may have limited facts. The Christian has Resurrection. However, both act on faith.
In this dimension of the Spirit at work, you can get a better view on what it means to recognize God. A better view on John’s understanding of why the world does not recognize us. Since the Spirit searches all things (! Cor. 2:9-10) and the Spirit judges all things (1 Cor. 2:15) much becomes clear in our relationship with the Spirit. For example, I have always wondered about Paul’s reflection on his preaching to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2:1-5). He claims no wordy wisdom, only the power of the Spirit. What I now think Paul is saying is that as he spoke he was given the gift of seeing people experience this dimension of the Spirit almost, but not quite, regardless of what he said or how he said it. As he preached it’s as though people were sharing the experience of the women at the tomb. They looked in and instead of seeing death they experienced the message of the Spirit.
I have also wondered what it means to sin against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29). Now, I think I have found an instance of it. The scientist who says that it is superstitious to believe in the Creator of something from nothing when that same scientist believes in something called “imaginary time” – that scientist blasphemes against the Holy Spirit. But, I wouldn’t get too excited. All it points out is that some scientists, like some preachers, have hubris – a little puffed up about themselves – which has never given either group pause in the past.
This is how the sheep recognize the shepherd, how you and I recognize God. That, in all the cosmic space from south of the South Pole to the swirl of galaxies yet to be counted, once there was nothing and now there is something.
It’s the absolute experience of awe!
What is there to see at the open tomb?
What might be there?
Is my vision true, my hearing clear?
Is my defeat assured, my hope denied?
Look and see, Messengers here from away.
Touch and feel, Spirit awakening love.
Speak and act, We will be like God.