While walking our dog Lucy this morning, we passed through a playground where children made sidewalk drawings in chalk. One of the images attracted my eye. It showed two intertwined rectangles.
Or was it something more?
I’ve just completed a book on theology that an English-savvy associate is now proofreading. The book deals with topics of religion and science, seeking to reconcile the two by avoiding the brands of bad theology that lead to unnecessary divisions.
One of the deeper aspects of such discussions is the notion that there exists a spiritual dimension that many people sense in their lives. Those who doubt such things tend to view that worldview with skepticism. At the same time, I’ve been reading posts in my news feed about scientists exploring the nature of the universe. It appears that there are dimensions of space and time that we’re only beginning to understand.
That’s why the sidewalk drawing caught my eye. What if that space where the two rectangles intersect is a portal between two realities? What if that’s what we’re supposed to find to gain meaning in life?
Years ago I read a series of books by Carlos Castaneda. They focused on the teachings of a shaman and dealt with the idea that there are cracks between the worlds. It made a compelling case that enlightened people can access these mysteries with enough concentration and training. No one knows for sure if those books were entirely fiction or not.
On top of all this mysticism and curiosity, there is the raw fact that space exploration has returned the human race (through our machines) to the planet Mars. Scientists are curious whether there is water on the planet, an indication that there might have been life on Mars at some point in time. These pursuits are evidence of the perpetual human need to seek new worlds, to investigate the benefits of those places. Of course, with some people, there is also a need to claim and conquer.
All these dimensions of time and space and exploration make me dizzy thinking about the future. On one hand, I hardly see the benefit of groping around a wasted planet like Mars that has no suitable atmosphere. I watched a program that shared the fact that the sun’s radiation on Mars would make the surface uninhabitable. People would have to live inside giant holes in the Martian surface. That doesn’t sound inviting to me.
Knowing these extremes, my instinct is to question the wisdom of colonizing a planet such as Mars. Yet there’s a side of me that recognizes the ignorance of such limited perspectives. We don’t yet know what those other dimensions of time and space offer us. We might find portals from one reality to another. We don’t know what technology can achieve at some point in the future.
Well, about that future. The human race is actually engaged in a competition with itself. Our consumption rates on this planet over the last 100 years have compressed time in many respects. We’re pressing the limits of the planet’s ability to sustain so many people. We’ve trashed the atmosphere in some respects, causing planetary climate change. We now live in what scientists call the Anthropogenic Age. The age of human influence on the planet. We might even cause our own mass extinction.
The mass extinctions of the past are evident in the fossil record. Even the Bible recognizes the potential for planetary and climatological catastrophe. The tale of Noah’s Ark is a sobering chronicle of what happens when people grow so consumptive and benign about their earthly circumstance the world itself is threatened. I don’t believe in a literal worldwide flood. The concept is absurd, and there is no evidence that it ever happened. But the transformational metaphor serves an important theological purpose. We have to watch out when human beings grow arrogant to the point of ignoring their own greed, which can lead to natural peril.
It’s interesting that scripture shows God using nature so often to punish or reward the human race. From the plagues in Egypt to the manna from heaven, the dimensions of earth and heavenly activity are often blurred. The ultimate blurring of those lines is the raising of Jesus from the dead. That moment is supposed to present hope of eternal life for all of us. Some people buy that interpretation wholesale. Others view it skeptically along with biblical claims that people once lived 900 years. The mysticism of scripture is what so strongly attracts some people while it repulses others.
I view all of scripture as a metaphorical trip through dimensions of understanding. I love how Jesus breaks the rules of earthly expectations with his teachings. How he challenges cocksure religious authorities by asking them questions they cannot, or refuse, to answer. I like how Jesus talked with everyone, an act of healing all of its own. I believe in the power of breaking social rules to make life better for others rather than allowing stodgy traditions on earth and salvation greed toward heaven rule the day. Believing in miracles isn’t necessary for me to grasp the healing message of a counterculture representation of divinity in this world. I’ve seen enough of love in this world to know its transformative power and grace. Love knows its own reality and dimension in many ways. That’s enough for me.
The world we live in is both large and painfully small. The history of the human race is a battle against perceived limits, and pushing the envelope is what people do: exploring dimensions of existence. We play out these instincts in our athletic endeavors, testing our ability to endure pain, discomfort and suffering. Along the way, we experience enlightenment, sometimes joy, and relief. Some people consider those efforts fruitless, even graceless striving. The training and racing can seem self-indulgent at times.
Yet there is a dimension of reality that people discover through athletic pursuits. There is enlightenment that comes from existing on the precipice of fatigue and awareness. The ‘brain’ part of our awareness shuts off and the internal mind takes over. We’re transported to a different dimension. A sense of wonder. A mind of presence, or of absence. Either way, we’re in a different place.
If you don’t believe it, consider life without the sensations wrought through swimming, riding and running to color your existence. But you can get there other ways as well. By walking. By traveling through an oxygen-infused woods. By staring at a bubbling stream, or the cool depths of still, clear water. That is zen. Moving through time and space at a different pace, faster or slower, forces us to think differently, to leave behind our slovenly thoughts, to be fully present.
That’s why I looked at that chalk drawing and considered what it means to be alive. We’re all seeking new portals of perception to achieve a more enlightened existence. Perhaps that space where the rectangles intersect is far more real and possible than we might imagine. So go there on your own terms. You never know what you’ll find.