In a meditation published a year after his death, Pope Paul praised the beauty of the world and then asked, “Why have I not sufficiently studied, explored, and admired the place in which life goes on? Such unpardonable distractions, such reprehensible superficialities.”
Then he said, “I would like finally to have a summing-up and knowing notion of the world and life. I think that such a notion has to be expressed in grateful acknowledgment: Everything was a gift, everything was a grace. And how beautiful was the panorama through which it passed.”
I wonder… might we one day sound that same note of misgiving when we come to the autumn of our lives? Are our lives shallower because of this world’s unpardonable distractions – its reprehensible superficialities? Are our minds and spirits being sidetracked from exploring and admiring this place where life goes on? I do not wish to dismiss this resourcefulness as wholly valueless; after all, the gift of human inventiveness is certainly God-given. Much good has become available to us through the creative activity of our sciences and technology. Yes…our creativeness is to be applauded.
We have come by our resourcefulness honestly. God made us dream animals. Our minds are cloud factories. Imaginatively, we rummage in nature’s box of numbers, fashioning from them principles and equations to better understand the dance of creation. Harnessing the numerical metaphors of our mathematics, we have begun to describe the awesome power latent in the smallest particles of reality. We use combinations of numbers and symbols to skirt the unfathomable mystery out of which all things arise and even envision plundering the heavens for purposes yet undefined. Such is the grandeur of human ingenuity.
Against the fact of our ingenuity, I am sometimes overtaken by the wonder of where I am. Over and over I try to get my mind around the fact of my being. I have this life on this blue-green orb – possibly the only personal place in the universe. This fact alone is grounds for astonishment and thanksgiving. But what significance am I to assign to my being here? It may be that we are, as Shakespeare wrote, “Such stuff as dreams are made of…our little life rounded with sleep.” However, there is in me that which rebels. I recognize in my being dreams and hopes that transcend present experience. My need is to explore those dreams and hopes if ever I can get free of all the “unpardonable distractions and reprehensible superficialities” that threaten to rob me of my inner soul.
In his book “Nightwatch,” Canadian astronomer Terrence Dickinson wrote that in the aftermath of the pre-dawn 1994 Northridge earthquake in California, electrical power was knocked out over a wide area. Tens of thousands of people rushed out of their homes, looked up and perhaps for the first time in their lives saw a dark starry sky…a sight denied them by our technological age. I make the connection: It is our idolatrous resourcefulness that hinders us from seeing that inner sky from which our spirits must obtain their bearings…lest we become lost to the grandeur and wonder of existence. What we must recover for our reflections are those themes that truly touch and concern us at the depths of our being – the whence and whither of our lives against the welter of events shaped by love, death and the cruelty of power…acknowledging those depths in us which call out to the deep beyond time’s curve past the stars. Wonderingly, we must once more learn to listen for that Eternal One who both knows us and speaks our names from out of the whole of creation.
The Rev. Merle G. Steva is minister of visitation at the First Parish Church in Saco.