“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery. The surface of mystery is not smooth, any more than the planet is smooth; not even a single hydrogen atom is smooth, let alone a pine. Nor does it fit together; not even the chlorophyll and hemoglobin molecules are a perfect match, for, even after the atom of iron replaces the magnesium, long streamers of disparate atoms trail disjointedly from the rims of the molecules’ loops. Freedom cuts both ways. Mystery itself is fringed and intricate as the shape of the air in time. Forays into mystery cut bays and fine fiords, but the forested mainland itself is implacable both in its bulk and in its most filigreed fringe of detail. ‘Every religion that does not affirm that God is hidden,’ said Pascal flatly, ‘is not true.’
What is man that thou art mindful of him? This is where the great modern religions are so unthinkably radical: the love of God! For we can see we are as many as the leaves of trees. But it could be that our faithlessness is a cowering cowardice born of our very smallness, a massive failure of imagination. Certainly nature seems to exult in abounding radicality, extremism, anarchy. If we were to judge nature by its common sense or likelihood, we wouldn’t believe the world existed. In nature, improbabilities are the one stock in trade. The whole creation is one lunatic fringe. If creation had been left up to me, I’m sure I wouldn’t have had the imagination or courage to do more than shape a single, reasonably sized atom, smooth as a snowball, and let it go at that. No claims of any and all revelations could be so far-fetched as a single giraffe.
The question from agnosticism is, Who turned on the lights? The question from faith is, Whatever for? Thoreau climbs Mount Katahdin and gives vent to an almost outraged sense of the reality of the things of this world: ‘I fear bodies, I tremble to meet them. What is this Titan that has possession of me? Talk of mysteries–Think of our life in nature–daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it,–rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?’
The Lord God of gods, the Lord God of gods, he knoweth. . . .”
– Annie Dillard: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Intricacies
Large bodies of water frighten me when I think about them too much. As do mountains when they loom above me. I feel silly to say that faces on mountains scare me also. At Mt. Rushmore I couldn’t have been more grateful when my Dad decided to skimp by not paying the park entrance fee. Instead we snapped our necessary proof-that-we-can-check-that-sight-off-our-to-see-list photos from the side of the road before getting thoroughly distracted by the mountain goats lumbering on the crisp green hillside on the other side of our car. I think we have more pictures of the uninhibited goats nibbling a few yards from the tourists’ feet than of the immense stone faces.
But even more than oceans and mountains, I can’t imagine how the sound of the beginning of the earth would frighten me.
The instantaneous coming together of earth and light and atmosphere.
Space appearing into existence, where never before was known this preposterous limitation.
Never before was there a sense of pause or barrier – without space and it’s necessary time to hold things in.
Was this space simply a rug unrolled on the floor of eternity? Something interesting to look at when walking down the hall (and all the more interesting the closer you would care to look?) Or was it a great interruption – a meteor landing in the ballpark during the 10th inning of the world series? How can it not have been the latter? And yet my speculation comes from a mind that cannot begin to grasp thought outside of the blankets of this vast and magnificent space and time – against the contrast of an eternity I can’t begin to taste. A much vaster and magnificent eternity, for sure, but an eternity that is so steady and stable it would hardly be cause for the blink of an eye – not like this sudden change.
I wonder if, even for a moment (but God doesn’t have moments- does he?) God was saddened to bring days into existence; to interrupt his blessed infinity. Did it ever sadden him to invent time which would then give such demanding structure to his creativity? Did he think about creation before he spoke it into existence? Did it brew in his mind for all that eternity past until the perfect moment came for it to arrive? Or did the almighty omniscient mind need not to think about it at all in order to create it? Did God think long and hard about the most perfect way to filter blood–the most perfect way to sustain life–that he suddenly had an urgency to finally do it; to finally have it – and therefore created days in which he could give birth to its existence? Or was it a blink and then a bang? (It had to happen with some sort of a bang. And the bang happened because how could it not have? Not at all on it’s own or even by a God who would then turn away and let it run it’s own course. But how could the entrance of something never know before – an interruption to infinity [part of the nature of God Himself!] – come calmly or quietly? Our God is up to something here!)
An allure to the theory of evolution is that it gives credit to and makes note of all the intricacies and delicate happenings of creation – or so I gleaned from Annie Dillard; something so fragilely magnificent took years of labor – not from a lack of power or ability to do it quicker – but from a sense of diligent care and intricate intimacy. Like how even the fingernails of a fetus get special attention during the long nine month journey of intimate majesty. How could a giraffe or the grains of salt that weigh down our sea take less than a day? How long did it take to come up with an air that would allow sound to travel through it so Adam and Eve could hear your voice in the garden?
God, did you really purpose every tiny participle to be what it is –and to reflect your character like it does!–or did that just happen by instinct? Of course this painting is a Van Gogh, not because he tried to make it so, but because he made it.
At times I find it troublesome to read and understand Dillard’s concept of God. She refers to him and his word frequently and sometimes in a uneasily irreverent or seemingly mocking way (calling insects an assault on the hope for a reasonable God.) Even if so – she hits on a point that many devout followers of God willingly overlook. Our God is not reasonable.
Neither is his time or space – as orderly as we would like to have it.
His eternity is even farther away from our laws of “reasonability.”
Pondering creation, in any way, is hopeless. One day, when glorified, we may be given a hint. But by then this idea of “earth” may be just a vague memory, like that dream you try to recall upon waking that slips away quicker than you can clear the fuzziness of sleep from behind your eyes.
So might as well think about it now, while you’re trying to discover more pertinent things to dwell on.