Unoriginally, I must start with a sunrise. Yet another sunrise. I thought I would write today about the parable of the prodigal child – today’s gospel, but the sunrise, you see…
Here at the monastery, I live on the roof. Well, on the fifth floor of a four-storey building, so a door leads right out onto the roof, and there I come out in the mornings as the sun rises over Lake Superior and separates into a blazing light and a shimmering light, and reigns above in glory as clouds sing and ravens dance about with me, here, at the top of the world.
I lost myself in the sunrise again. It happens to me quite a bit. And coming downstairs for morning prayers, anticipating the small movements of the day in this one place of a million places on this one planet of trillions of planets in this one universe, I thought.
We have been progressing in knowledge so quickly in the past few hundred years… We have begun to understand the universe so much better, so much more deeply and in so much more detail — almost enough to be struck on occasion by the glimpses of some future comprehension of just how impossibly, mind-bogglingly, vastly complex, how enormous this universe must be. We’ve touched the ocean with our toe and are watching a poignant little ripple be absorbed into the slowly breathing surface, positing from it the distant hurricanes, the time-measuring watercolor of the corals, the whale song, and the black landscape of the Mariana Trench. How insanely huge and complicated is the reality in which we live? Insanely… Insane. How many worlds occupy the same space at the same time?
How little of reality can a human mind hold – really hold, grasp, not as an abstraction – before it bursts?
We almost know enough to know that we don’t know, don’t we? The depth of the well of discovery to understand how the world works and why… The detail. The scale. The scope. Impossible to imagine. Maybe… infinite. Can we comprehend what that means?
And then, the sun rises over Lake Superior.
I know how it sounds. No, I am not saying that mystical experience is a substitute or even complement to science. I am saying something else entirely.
Bypassing rational inquiry, we get occasional glimpses of the nature of the universe — multiverse, if you like — better yet, Reality — brief as they must be if we are to emerge still capable of rational thought and self-awareness, and those moments that flood our minds with absolute wonder and awe, leaving no room for anything else, at the unspeakable, unfathomable enormity of Creation in its utter minute interconnectedness, those moments give us no evidence and no data, but like nothing else they give a good shake to our priorities’ sifters. Certainly they do to mine.
To me, they are reminders that the ways of Life are mysterious and never in vain, and that the world is good and worth fighting for, and that giving up does not exist. They are immersions in the awareness that all things are one on a level so much more than basic — ultimate, primordial, completely core — that all we see and say and do to navigate time through our semiotic systems as selves relating to selves and to objects — must be taken with a grain of salt.
And another thing. This time, for some reason, this was especially pronounced for me. After BIG reveals itself, for one glance, in a flash, like Krishna unveiling Vishnu the Ultimate Divine to his prince Arjuna on the eve of battle, and I stand there, drenched in the miracle and beauty and having lost almost everything about that moment but knowing with every quivering fiber of my being that it has been, I realize with more acuity than ever how much bigger BIG is than my wildest attempts at imagining the morsel of it that I am able to posit.
And then I know with more acuity than ever how little difference there is between the big and the small in our everyday lives. On the scale of Reality, everything we dream of achieving, everything we’ve ever known to name and to prize is a tiny little thing – a precious little thing, maybe, but tiny nonetheless, and the greatest and most famous heroes of Earth — Mozart and Moses and Mother Theresa – are just about as great on the scale of Reality as you, my dear friend, who endeavors your best every day for the world, and no one has ever heard of you but those who are near.
It is such a relief to throw back my head and down my hands and float with the current of Reality’s flow, along the stream of Love, wherever it will take me. It is a comfort to think of “success” or “achievement” or “competition” and laugh. How can one measure success? What greatness can we possibly achieve over others for it to make a difference to Life Universal? No number of readers or viewers, no amount of money, no degrees, no number of monuments or healthy children, not even millennia of cultural memory on this little blue planet can do that.
And yet, what greater thing can one do than bring the world closer to the Kingdom of God? They say about the greatest of us, “He changed the world.” You, my friend, have changed the world today. Every day. Right? Every person and creature on every inhabited planet in this universe and every soul in every universe and all things that have come together and fallen apart and reached out in love or recoiled in hatred have changed the world today.
We do small things to change the world. We don’t know how big they are, the ripples from the things we do, but that’s all right. We don’t have to. Because all things we do, whether they seem small or huge on the scale of planet Earth, are really very, very tiny. Only they flow together in Love, and Love flows toward the Last Day, when all our small tiny deeds will have finally changed the world.