“There is something else here, too, even more important: Explanations will occur to you, seeming to clarify; but they can be a kind of trick. You will think you have hold of the idea when you only have hold of its clothing.”

— From “Desert Notes” by Barry Lopez

Once you pose the question “Why does the universe exist?” you understand that you are living within an absurdity, stranded within a star-plain, this ridiculously unreasonable immensity where we live our incredulous lives.

Mental explanations galore exist as to why this improbable place but none have been able to take things down to the core. That this is Eastertide and I am fast aging toward non-being underlies my evolving exploration. I do not understand the ultimate mystery of myself … this self so aware of its transient nature, yet coupled with an unaccountable appetite for eternity. Cold reason asks, “Is it possible that I have been willed into being for this life only? Am I forever to be banished from myself?”

Giving in to the implied despair of these questions is to consent to what the Spanish mystic Unamuno called “the tragic sense of life” – that in the last we shall disappear into nothingness. Rationally, there are strong arguments for this being all there is. Were this true, then all the ventures of faith, our theologies, these fleeting flashes of love and life, would turn sad and become useless sighs, empty gestures and meaningless words. No longer could we trust our senses in the presence of art, music and great literature – all signifiers meant to awaken in us intimations of a vaster world transcending all our imagining. Perhaps, this is a kind of madness, an illusory hope fed by a passionate desire to escape non-being. This may be so. Still …

French-Algerian essayist Albert Camus allowed: “Nothing is true that forces one to exclude.” For that reason, I do not disparage that mind/spirit enterprise that chooses to consider the life after death discussion with all its irrational components. Perhaps I am hauling my thoughts mind-bogglingly close to the wind; believe me, I have no desire to abandon reason. Yet, I experience absurdity as a generative virtue inviting me to entertain such dreams as outdo my imagination. Therefore, I do not gawk inanely at existence; rather, I dwell in astonishment for consciousness of being midst the absurdity of it all. Mindfully, I am persuaded of everything being under the governing care of God’s underlying and reconciling love.

That I wish for life beyond the grave may in part be born out of my impotence and my foolishness, a kind of lunacy on my part. This poor little plot of earth that is myself dreams of participating in the Unending Plenitude that is God … dreams that the road it is on shall never end. Considering my waning life, I go with truth-teller Glennon Doyle Melton’s puzzlement when she wrote in her essay “Holy Holes,” “Life is a quest to find an unfindable thing. This is the problem. Life is a bit of a setup. We are put here needing something that doesn’t exist here.” I desire that God turn my poverty into riches and my temporality into eternity. This is to believe the preposterous. It means bypassing earthly wisdom’s petty designs, its trivialities and its dismissal of those mythic musings inborn to our humanity. That Christianity has taken thoughts of Jesus’ resurrection to their deepest intent is what explains the radical optimism of the Christian faith. My brothers and sisters who are of one of the other historic faiths will surely have another take on this theme; but as my thoughts are Christianly slanted, I hold that my destiny is tied to the destiny of Jesus. Embracing faith’s foolishness, I take heart in the message of an old Easter hymn which belongs to me from my Lutheran past:

Jesus lives!

No longer now

Can thy terrors, death appall us;

Jesus lives!

By this we know

From the grave He will recall us.

Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard decried the flattening of the mind’s landscape: reason alone does not define reality. His readers were to know that the mind’s landscape embraced mountainous absurdities as well. He avowed that with a “leap of faith” one could entrust oneself to the absurdity of existence. Just so! I too shall entrust this absurd plot of earth that is myself to God – from the grave He will recall me. Meanwhile, I shall try to bring to life in the present that which has been given me in hope. Now I am sustained by my faith, which remains a constant and worthy wife to me and my imagination. It’s with a philosophical sigh that my lips now silently trace the words of Odysseus: “I belong in the place of my departure and I belong in the place that is my destination.”

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus at First Parish Church in Saco. He may be contacted at [email protected]