When I was a school age boy, I had a tendency to make up words, usually quite by accident. One day I complained to my mother that I had a troublem. I don't remember the problem that troubled me or if she helped me solve it. But Mom giggled at my new word, and we both never forgot it.
During the final week of our month in New Zealand I found myself ruminiscing (ruminate/reminisce) while actively experiencing the wonders of nature in this indescribably beautiful country far from home. I think the reason my soul is primed to ruminisce is a troublem that has nagged me for some time. I no longer find it possible to profess some religious beliefs that were nurtured in me by beloved and respected people in my life both past and present.
Three times I was spellbound by the southern night sky in a remote area called the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve on New Zealand's South Island. The stunning clarity of the expansive view into infinity was heart-stopping, breath-taking, mind-boggling, thought-provoking, gut-wrenching, soul-searching splendor. I wanted to cry out, "What's out there? Who's out there?!" How can we be so insular in our beliefs when faced with the undeniable reality of an unfathomable universe, particularly a universe with an astoundingly high probability of intelligent extraterrestrial life?
What does this mean for we who have earnestly ordered our lives on biblical writings about a god who ruled over twelve tribes in a tiny region of the earth millennia ago? What bearing does it have on the message of a man named Jesus of Nazareth who couldn't possibly have comprehended the extent of the universe, but who fully understood the needs of an oppressed people in their own small world?
I've read a few books lately, and highly recommend them: "Hoping Against Hope" by John D. Caputo, "Anatheism" by Richard Kearney, "The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe" by Sean Carroll, "Worlds without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse" by Mary-Jane Rubenstein, and "The Evolution of God" by Robert Wright.
Here are some of the things these books have caused me to think about.
- There is profound meaning in simply accepting the gift of life, and living it fully and with integrity. We get one chance at this, no matter what you believe about an afterlife.
- Sometimes we must lay aside old things that no longer provide nourishment in order to clear the way for new and deeper meaning. This includes our understanding of God.
- We all share the same universe and the task of creating meaning and caring for ourselves and those around us in the short time we have in this life.
- The world needs a theology that focuses on more vitally important questions than whether the universe was designed by an anthropomorphic, extracosmic deity.
- As civilization has evolved, so has our understanding of god(s). We are still evolving, and so is our understanding.
As I consider the heavens, I am filled with awe and wonder. Perhaps God created the universe, or perhaps the universe just is. We cannot know which alternative is true. But this I do believe. If I am created, so are all living beings in the universe. If I am loved, so are they. The concept of being selectively saved, elect or chosen is a control mechanism and exclusionary nonsense. But love is real and eternal. I believe a spirit of goodness and love calls humanity to compassionate action. Could that same spirit of love reach beyond earth, beyond humanity? I believe it can. I hope it does.
So where does this leave me and my troublem? It's lent; perhaps I could just let it go, give it up. Perhaps I could lean in and be at peace with the unfolding evolution of my beliefs. I could embrace wonder, awe, love and gratitude, and redouble my efforts to help make this a better world for everyone.