Saturday, December 1, 2012

Written too large or too small

Everyone has had the experience of time seeming to fly by too quickly, or drag on too slowly. Why that happens might have something to do with the observer’s volume of activity or level of expectation. When we are very busy, time seems to fly by, but if our work is slow moving or monotonous, time drags. Ask any production worker or office clerk. A similar thing seems to happen when we want something or someone to arrive—time seems to slow down—but if we are afraid of some future task or event, we are often fast forwarded at incredible speed. Two examples drawn from the present moment: Who has enough time to get all those Christmas gifts for everyone, wrap them, mail them, and do all the other preparations that make the day special? That’s the grownups. Who can wait for a Christmas that seems never to come, while being cruelly tantalized by the growing pile of presents under the tree? That’s the kids (and the kids at heart).

They say that time is a fourth dimension, added to the three of height, width and depth. Sometimes it seems to me that there is a fifth dimension that somehow encompasses these other four, and if I can put my finger on its name, I would call it ‘size.’ They say that space is curved, and that if you traveled a very, very long time in a straight line, you would return to your starting point without ever having to turn around. We know this is true in a two dimensional context, like the surface of a globe. Satellites orbit endlessly around the earth in what would seem straight lines if the observer were small enough. Small enough? Well, yes, just the size of a man, really, and one who is not looking at a scale model of the orbit, but at the object actually moving, like watching the space station pass overhead from my back yard at dusk. It seems to be traveling in a straight line.

It seems that there is a limit to everything created, but it’s not always the limit we expect. So, space itself is curved, according to science, but who could have guessed? Time also, according to Indian cosmology, is curved. It has no beginning or end, but keeps going round and round, filled with a definite number of life entities that enter and leave incarnation within its cycles. To think this provides a fertile soil for the imagination, and India’s wealth of epic poetry and mysticism attests to this. But what of size, my fifth dimension?
What is the limit imposed on size? Or is there one?
I have pondered this question all my life and have never found the answer. I have this odd feeling that the vast distances of space and the infinite number of objects that fill it might somehow be related to the likewise infinite number of particles in the vast sub-atomic world. At the extremes of great and small we meet the same bewildering infinity.

And then there’s God, uncreated Creator, unmoved Mover. They say the test of greatness is passed in the ability to become small, and small He became in becoming a human being, He whom the whole world cannot contain enclosing Himself in the womb of a woman of our species. He lived among us. The Greek of the gospel written by holy apostle John says, ‘He pitched His tent among us,’ He who stretched out the heavens like a tent over us. Speaking again of size, it’s not just the three dimensions, it’s the fourth as well. The God we know is larger than the universe we see, Himself containing it, longer than time is long, they say He is outside of it, but what this means we can’t grasp. But we say He is fully present even in the smallest space and the shortest time, without abandoning His greatness at the other end of that ‘limited’ dimension of size. Infinitely great, He is infinitely small.

Read Immanence by Evelyn Underhill.

‘Where is this God of yours? Why can’t we see Him?’ the perennial challenge is tossed, but we have no answer that anyone will receive, because every man must see it for himself. Try as we must, we cannot see for others with our eyes or feel for them with our hearts. Yet we know the God who is, because somehow, in spite of our size, we can read His message to us. Perhaps some of us are positioned at just the right distance to read the writing on His wall, but for others, it seems the message is written too large, or too small.
They don’t see it as writing, but as disruptions, as obstacles to climb over, while they look for comfort, whatever form it takes. It doesn’t help that they are very tired, very cold and hungry, or that they have been told a warm welcome awaits them at a giant’s castle. There it is again—size! And I keep wondering, what else have I missed that is written too large, or too small?

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