During the last week, I was on 9 flights around the country, for various reasons (weddings and visiting my brother). I find that plane rides are a great time and place for personal meditation, and given that I have recently decided to go back to Kenya and spend some more time at Tumaini, I had ample reason for such meditation. I was also listening to a lecture series by Charles Ringma of Regent seminary in Vancouver (which I should blog about soon, as it’s been the most impactful lecture series for me in the last few years). A concept from those lectures stuck in my head, which I’d thought about before but which had become somewhat more real for me recently. That was the concept of downward mobility.
It is the Quiet Saturday before Easter Sunday, when thousands of years ago the universe held its breath, awaiting the vindication of God for the as-yet-unveiled Messiah, Jesus. That vindication came in the most unexpected form–the resurrection of the dead! Long looked-for, but almost overlooked when it did come, Jesus became the firstfruits of that most remarkable of events, the completion of which we still eagerly desire.
I am writing at the Tumaini orphanage, near Nyeri, Kenya (where I have extended my stay an additional 5 weeks). From where I am sitting, I can see no end of reasons why we should continue to eagerly await that desire. It is the one fundamental hope that undergirds every other, because it is the hope which defeats the oldest and hardest of all despairs, which is Death itself. I have a lot of reasons (or so I think) to despair at the moment, and when I look at the children who surround me, I know that they have many more and legitimate ones–some have reason to despair even of life, which I know nothing about.
But there is one hope, that the one thing which is the most wrong with the universe can be righted. More to the point, it has been, if we have eyes to see. The fact that people still die is now the illusion, the lie struggling to prevail against the coming truth, which is already true, but which will shine forth in infinite clarity at some time yet to come.
And, as every despair, no matter how small, really derives its life in some way from Death, so the key to every hope, no matter how small, can be found in this one hope of life regained, and made indestructible. Though I have no other hope to cling to, yet this one hope will prove to be my salvation! And this is true, not just for those like me who have never tasted the true Sickness Unto Death, but also for those who have. It is the one firm rock on which to build my relationship towards the universe–the cornerstone which the builders have rejected, but which has, in time and in its turn, become the capstone.
This year, I have not appropriately contemplated all that I could contemplate during Holy Week, nor have I appropriately prepared myself to experience another Easter in the fullest way. However, I am certainly in a place to appreciate and long for the unique comfort which is the hope of the resurrection of the dead (and it is the telltale signs of that future resurrection in Jesus’ own resurrection which we celebrate tomorrow). I believe the renewal and serious appreciation of this hope is just what Easter celebration is all about.
“Tumaini” means “hope” in Swahili.
In past years, I have traditionally created some piece of art on Easter to commemorate the day (for instance, the two monologues I wrote for Easter 2003 ). I do not know if such will happen tomorrow, but at any rate think that in view of what the hope of Easter really is, nothing can be for me a more appropriate offering than the Suite Apocalyptique I posted in a recent entry (click here to read about and download it), given that its central theme is exactly this one of resurrection hope. Perhaps it will be of benefit to you in your Easter worship!
So, Happy Easter! Christ is risen indeed!
I will leave you with a poem, the lyrics to one of the songs in the Suite (Mvmt VI: The Sun Rises):
I breathe at last, the work is done Like shining glass, sea and sun Are sharp and real, bright blades of love Which grew to heal the wounds of Night is over now Night is over now The sun is coming up But donât turn away from the flames These brilliant rays annul our shame The fire burns, but we stand For which we yearn is in our hands When we touch the earth, it sings rejoicing For the day has dawned, and we have returned To ourselves as we were meant to be To the world as it has longed to be I breathe at last, the work is done The shadow passed, and life begun
And now, the shorter, more poetic, and (I think) more important cousin to my earlier essay:
The Earth That Was (We Who Were)
Mountains, forests, deserts, and seas, full of beauty and life. They are stark as reality but good as truth. There is freedom to explore, to go one way or another, to drink from this or that stream, to sleep now or later, to eat from the fruit of this tree or to be satisfied with the berries from that bush. Whether I go or stay, I rest in the comfort that there was no better choice than the one I just made. I trust myself as a creature amidst creation, I trust myself to be aimed correctly, to never fail to be appropriately situated for the appropriate function towards the appropriate result at the appropriate time. Right and wrong may exist, but if so, they exist as a land beyond the mountains at the farthest reach of my eagle’s sight. Success and failure may exist, but if so, they exist as an imperceptible cloud bank miles off the shores of the sea, held at bay by the unshakeable high pressure of the perfection of the land. At any rate, they are not worth considering. What matters is what is at hand, and what is at hand is pure goodness and joy. How beautiful and fine the brush of God, painting not End but Beginning, not Command but Possibility!
The Earth That Is (We Who Are)
The universe is a plane, infinite in front and below, but infinitesimal in width. It is a sheet of paper on edge, the cuts of which go deeper than any blade. The abstract has become the real, and the real has been flattened, coerced to serve a harsh and cold master. Life is walking the razor, the thin tightrope of Righteousness which is so ephemeral. To either side the void howls with a commanding rage, black maws agape and hungry. The line is safe but not sure. In fact, it is so thin the very molecules of my feet are sundered, falling into either abyss. I am slit, riven, sinking into the two-dimensional compression, and grasp at the gossamer strand. Oh, but it is made of sharply glistening diamonds and I am not! My hands turn to ribbons of flayed skin. How beautiful and cruel the spinneret of God, casting lines of hope that kill!
The Earth That Will Be (We Who May Yet Be)
The storm has come over the mountains, and has met the storm from over the sea. The land is ravaged, and not many survive. A great volcano was thrust up, and cast ash and unquenchable fire over the ruined beauty. The land is again ravaged, and now even fewer survive. I leave my shelter and weep over the destruction we have wrought. Where now the beauty? Where now the life? I stand on the plains of desolation and the sun pierces the ash in the sky. I am blinded; I have not seen the sun in a very long time. It illuminates the sludge in front of me. Look here! But it is a whisper of green, gently unfolding, a baby in the arms of mother sun. I remember the Hell where we have been, and Hope suddenly coalesces into Truth. My rebirth blasts Righteousness–diamantine no longer–into so many glass shards. With joy, I stretch my hand toward the naked and shy plant, and I sing. It responds with a movement more melodic than any lyric, dancing, unfolding new leaves, shaking brazenly in the sheen of a summer sun, an island of new in a sea of old. In a moment the buds, and before their fragrance has departed: fruit! Round, full, and inviting. I see that it is, without any doubt, good. I call to my brethren, to we who have outlasted both Ignorance and Knowledge, and with crucified wills we know what must be done. Come, Oak and Owl! Come, Pterodactyl and Tiger! How beautiful and loving the inexorable regeneration of God, crushing death itself with its power! Amen.
I was inspired after a recent conversation (on humans’ psychological relationship with our own spiritual development) to do something I have been meaning to do for a long time, namely to put into practice some of the methodologies that I considered very powerful after reading Alister McGrath’s A Scientific Theology trilogy. Essentially, I want to bring the well-known concept of mathematical modeling to bear on a theological issue (spiritual development). In doing so, I am hoping to achieve what all models are meant to achieve–an analogy that captures as much of the data as possible while providing a simple, coherent, abstract picture that can be investigated in its own right. I am emphatically not trying to define or otherwise delineate all aspects of spiritual development via such a model; spiritual development is the reality, and any model is simply a way of attempting to capture that reality and present it in such a way as to spark further exploration. That is all! Indeed, just in virtue of the fact that the model I am about to propose is mathematical, we should not expect it to speak to all (or even most) of the phenomena surrounding spiritual development, which exists in a stratum of reality distinct from that of mathematics. Still, some surprising correlations can be made, and I hope these may be found useful.
As we go through life, we gain different kinds of knowledge. Sometimes this knowledge affects only a small part of our understanding of reality. When someone tells me that she ate pizza last night, such knowledge, ceteris paribus, does not effect any significant changes in my worldview. Some knowledge, the “knowing-how” kind of knowledge (what I call “skill”) is likewise worldview-ambivalent, in that after gaining such knowledge, our interpretation of events (our perception of their “meaning”) remains basically the same, except perhaps in a specific area. For example, learning how to use a computer program might allow me to understand the purpose behind actions of other people using the same program, but that knowledge does not affect the fundamental ways in which I perceive reality.
On the other hand, there are certain kinds of knowledge, both knowledge-that and knowledge-how (both factual knowledge and skill), that do fundamentally affect how we understand reality. As an example in the first category, take the knowledge that the earth is round. Our thought relationship to such objects as the sun, the moon, and the stars is completely different than that of people a thousand years ago, even though neither the sun, the moon, nor the stars have changed much. Examples in the second category can be found as well (which is what I will mainly be talking about).
So far, I have said nothing surprising. It could all have been stated more succinctly: “Some facts/skills are more important than others.” No doubt anyone would agree. Now I want to make an additional claim: some forms of knowledge are of a sort that, upon gaining, are entrenched so deeply in our mental frameworks that we cannot even coherently imagine seeing the universe in the same way as we did prior to gaining the knowledge. Here is where the skill examples come in. It is easy to imagine, on one hand, a flat earth, even while retaining the knowledge of its roundness. I can form a coherent picture of such an earth in my head. Now take a certain kind of skill–being able to speak and understand English with the facility of a native speaker. Though I know it’s a completely coherent possibility that I see a well-formed English sentence while not understanding it, I can’t actually imagine seeing a well-formed English sentence and not understanding it. Any time I imagine a well-formed English sentence, and look at the words, I cannot help but understand it. That is just what it is to be a competent reader/listener of English!
I just finished reading The Da Vinci Code (hereafter TDVC–or maybe I’ll write it out for SEO purposes). It was more or less, given all the fuss, what I’d expected. I thought I’d share some thoughts and reflections. Be warned–I will probably reveal things about the plot that you may not want to know if you are keeping a vow of Da Vinci virginity or something.
In my 2005 recap entry, I mentioned that about a year ago, some of us in Palo Alto got together and threw some ideas about forming a spiritual community down on paper. Those ideas remained in that uncollected form during the following year while we began to work through them. A few weeks ago, I had some time and motivation, so I recast them into a short paper–a sort of bare-bones introduction to the kind of community we have been trying to instantiate here. I thought it might be an interesting discussion-starter, or even just an interesting read for some of you. Here it is:
I’m in Orlando this week for a seminar we’re putting on with Alister McGrath as the lecturer. We’re filming the whole experience in an insanely-designed soundstage at Disney’s MGM studios, and just being in such a cool place every day is pretty fun. The lectures themselves, and more importantly the interaction that I’ve been able to have with Alister both on and off camera, have been incredible.
Right now, it frustrates me to have people just assume that I believe, or even to be around people whom I fairly or unfairly believe just assume, the following things: