On what is real:
Margery Williams, in some of the greatest sentences of the past century, wrote,
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Who understands? Who are those who can see outside the ceiling of visible reality, and, how real exactly is our physical world? I could reach across this small cafe table and punch my roommate in the head and he would feel some very real pain.
Months ago I kissed a woman in a thunderstorm and a week later she broke my heart. Only one of those things was visible.
Yet again, I find myself rambling in a non-linear direction in a coffee shop. I’d tell you to buckle up, but I had the seat belts removed years ago.
I mean, whose idea was frogs and fireworks? Who made that tingly feeling when you push at the base of your skull? Or the similar feeling when your favorite song crescendoes and rolls over you like a tidal wave?
In the words of N.D. Wilson, This is not a sober world.
He goes on to describe this world, full of spinning spheres and dragonflies and Jerry Seinfeld and gravity, and how no sane person would believe this fantastical universe really exists.
We are born inside the roller coaster, so we don’t know anything else. Nothing else makes sense, yet we often get bored on this spinning world, forgetting that orange leaves are falling from trees and we’re in a hurry to get to work.
It makes me wonder: If the God who made all this made…all this, then what else does He have going on? What kind of crazy things has He dreamed up for when our eyes tire of the sun and we surrender to the grave beneath fluorescent bulbs?
In a recent post, I wrote that a baby in the womb has about as much concept of the outside world as we have of heaven. In comparison to the world to come, this place is just clammy, warm and dark. We don’t even know what’s coming for us.
I think even if God did try to describe it to us, we wouldn’t even believe Him.
He says the new heavens and earth are going to be so freaking mind-melting that we won’t even remember the former things. We won’t remember volcanoes (creators of the loudest sounds known to man) or the whirring soundtrack of Inception.
My friend Tony, impassioned, writes,
Certain scorpions, lassoed by a tight enough ring of fire, trapped and seeing no way out, appear to sting themselves to death in despair. (This proves to be an illusion. Scorpions are immune to their own venom. Surrounded by fire, they suffer asphyxiation and the muscles of their limbs and tails twitch and spasm from oxygen deprivation, giving the impression of suicide. Is it that we would despair, that we are compelled to imagine they do? Who among us, hemmed in by the Holy, could breathe? How could you not writhe or choke or roll over dead? Could you stand? Could you not only breathe but sing? Could you do anything at all? It is a wonder Israel made it out of Egypt, let alone a noose of fire — and how could it not be a noose?)
How tightly knit are holiness and reality?
I have this tattoo idea. I might get it tonight: It’s a giant circle. Beside it, down a little bit, is a small square. It’s a symbol of otherness.
But as I contemplate the Holy, I cannot help but wonder if God is a lot nearer than we know. Is He akin to the idea of The Big Other, as suggested by philosophers, or is He more like one of us, lying in a trough for feeding animals, come into our very real physicality?
Mary, with her own skin and hands and lap, held God.
I’m tempted to wonder what reality really is, and if somehow I’m missing it by focusing on the physical world too much. Sunday school has taught me that too much love of money, power, sex or food is what leads to sin.
But can’t we sin in the opposite direction as well? Can we imitate Buddhist monks who long to escape the trappings of this physical world by focusing too much on a gnostic ‘spiritual world’? As if the two were so easily divided.
We’ve believed the same lie as the Greeks: “Everything evaporates.”
We are not Pompeians, awaiting a dry destruction as we simply cease to exist. Our remains will definitely not be discarded by the gods along with their coffee filters and doggie doo.
Several months ago on a turbulent flight, I penned the words I want on my tombstone. I’ve memorized them:
Only laughter, never weeping
For I have only laid my head.
I am not dead, I’m only sleeping
Until the resurrection of the dead.
I don’t know about you, but no freaking grave can hold this body down. If it couldn’t hold Jesus’, it sure as hell won’t hold mine.
Our 6’x8′ plot in the cemetery is not the final resting place for our bodies. I don’t know where it originated, but American Christians have adopted this mindset where we think our spirit departs to go to heaven but our bodies just decay for all of eternity.
I mean, have you opened your Bible recently? It hasn’t changed in almost 2k years…
My youth pastor growing up always pointed out that the Bible says the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, “so they were sad, you see.”
If this world is all there is, that’s a major bummer.
On the flip, if this crazy, magical world that sometimes smells like lavender and always spins is not only real, but points to something even more real than itself, cut me off a slice of that. I want in.
Hebrews says that this is just a hazy shadow of the real things which are to come. The higher country. Our older brothers and sisters are awaiting us there.
A lump swells in my throat when I contemplate the real and how little this impacts my life vs. how much it should. Two heroes of mine died this year. Nabeel Qureshi and Haddon Robinson both met Jesus face-to-face, and they’re no longer wondering about the Great Mystery. They no longer long to peek behind the curtain at the man pulling the strings.
I’m going to end this curvy-Pennsylvania-road of a blog post with a line from Rich Mullins, fitting for the time of year. This refrain is ultimately the only thing we can cling to; the only unchangeable constant in this rotating planet.
…So hold me Jesus,
’cause I’m shaking like a leaf…