Saturday, October 17, 2009
We are all Christopher Columbus
You are preparing to set sail with your three ships and all of your crew. You are the lead and the one responsible for all of their welfare. What you know is that you are setting sail from Spain and the goal is to reach India. Most of the population, contrary to today's popular belief, know with some level of certainty that the Earth is round. Aristotle, way back in the third century BC has explained this to the world after observing an eclipse. Yet the belief in some circles still persists that the sailors would at some point fall off the planet into unknown oblivion. What if Columbus himself secretly harboured doubts about the roundness of the Earth? What if he would have had a tether to the dock in Spain on some mystical level, or a self imposed limit that "I will go this far but not any further" just in case? What if he had secretly thought they might all be wrong?
Imagine now you are a few miles from the New Continent but you cannot see it. You do not even know it is there. India's out there somewhere but your crew is anxious and worn out. You have secret moments of panic. What is out there? What do you do? What do you tell your crew?
We all know how the story ends. But I confess I have found myself in the shoes of Christopher Columbus for the greater portion of my life...only the stake was much higher than finding India, or a few unknown continents. My struggle was with God Himself. I was educated in religion quite thoroughly, from the time I was small straight through University and into my adult life through my own studies. And yet knowing all these things about religion still left a gaping hole. I harboured a fear somewhere deep inside that at my core I was an atheist. It was unthinkable and horrifying to finally acknowledge. It was not the thought of a non existent Afterlife that bothered me, it was much more profound than that. It was a bigger fear of losing all that was Good in the world as I had known it. These things that are Good, if you will, are our very own Markers- those things that bring you back into Belief that there is something Greater out there in the Universe. Seeing a living creature being born or going through the stages of death are two of these Markers that can serve to make you a Believer very quickly. Nature in all of its beauty is another. So are moments of Enlightenment between you and someone you love. But as much as I Knew, I could not shake the fear that I was deceiving myself. It was much easier to Believe than not Believe. Until I ran into a brick wall in the form of a four year old.
Death is hard. No two ways about it. Wren, who is now four, had to learn about death way before I was ready to have the conversation. We were faced with having to put one of our cats to sleep. I did not have the faintest idea how to explain this to such a young child. I did the unthinkable- I allowed her to be in the room as Gaston passed away. It may prove to be one of the best things I have ever done as a parent. It introduced very tough concepts into her world at an early age. Death. God. The Soul. Heaven. Permanence. Infinity. And there were very little worlds I could rely on to help me explain all of it to her. Over the past few years the topics have come up regularly. She is coming into full realization what the concept of imagination is and I knew this would be a struggle for her to reconcile with her view of what God, Heaven, and Afterlife are because she cannot "See" any of those. I kept saying to myself that if only I was not so limited by my words. And it was after thinking this a few dozen times that I had a moment of Enlightenment myself. It was not that I was a secret atheist... it was that I would not allow myself to acknowledge that a great part of my Faith I would never be able to put into words. I would never be able to rationalize it to anyone else, or myself for that matter. It was out of my Realm. It was God. It was all that was Good. A lot of it is beyond my scope- there, but I just cannot see it from where I stand.
Wren asked me tonight if God Himself comes to get you when you die. Minefield. I want to choose my words so carefully now that I realize how entangling they can be. I answered her in the only way I knew how- that it was a Surprise. A big one- perhaps the biggest one she will ever have. She is fully aware that parents sometimes die very young and leave small children behind, and this worries her. But she also knows that there is usually a natural progression where people grow old and die after raising their families. I explained it might be God, but there was also a very good chance it could be a Great Grandparent, Grandparent, or Daddy or myself. It all depended on the "when" part of the question. How do I know this I asked myself tonight? I just do. I know it enough to realize that I do not need the tether, real or imaginary, to guard me "just in case". Sometimes, like Columbus, you just have to set sail.
Note: The painting above is by Graeme Wilkinson. Acrylic on canvas.