In our journey through the first four episodes, we explored the empty places in life and in the grand enterprise of mathematical and empirical reductionism. People we cherish, like my father, die. Our best laid plans turn to ashes, or, in the words of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, “gang aft aglay” (tr. – often go awry). Logic proves itself to be incomplete. Foundational mathematical questions are undecidable. The laws of quantum and classical physics are incompatible. Time and space are incomprehensible. Religion and science remain locked in their NOMA closets. Reality, and life, is emptied out. Vastation.
What a Pickle We are In
I was once stranded with my son, aged 4, on the side of the road, late on a Friday afternoon in rural New Hampshire. The car had died, I had no cash (poor planning), and I had no good rescue options as my wife had taken the baby off to her Mother’s house several hours away. My son and I were supposed to head up to our just-purchased home, an antique in much need of repair, to camp out for the weekend. We walked to a small diner a half mile from the car, where I called on their phone (this was in the pre-mobile days) and found a very helpful attendant at a motel a few miles away who got us a room, set up a taxi, and agreed to front me some cash on my credit card. During this escapade, I said to my son several times, “this is a real pickle – we are in a pickle, for sure.” Years later, he reported to me that as we were driven towards the motel, he had expected to see a giant pickle on the side of the road where we were going to spend the night.
We can imagine, I suppose, the vastation of life and knowledge under reductionism as a cosmic pickle. Seasoned with salt, vinegar, garlic and dill. Surprising, but not so unpleasant, once you get used to the flavor. Better than onions, perhaps, or lemons. But life, and the world, are more than any of these.
From the Ashes
In the vastation of my separation and divorce, I invested myself in my responsibilities as father and provider, and I re-engaged with a church as a source of community and religious education for my kids. As the old way closed, new ways opened up.
Coincidentally, it seemed, an old college acquaintance also looked me up. We had known each other years before and our families had shared Christmas Cards. Wenda had seen my “sorry this is late, but….” card the previous February. Being on the path to divorce herself, she thought to call me many months later when she had an extra concert ticket, as she knew I had been a musician. Although I declined the invitation due to parental obligations, I called her back a week later and we became friends. Wenda introduced me to the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg. The first book she gave me was Marriage Love, which delighted me. I found late 20th century psychology buried in a very complex and sophisticated 18th century theological treatise.
As we explored our life experiences and aspirations by phone, Wenda and I became close friends. In time we fell in love. As some of you may recall, falling in love can be an indescribable and transformative experience. In our case, it was deeply so, in part because we were each being reintegrated on multiple levels
At the emotional level, I found a shared love that healed old wounds. I felt myself drawn to a psychological depth and wellness I had never known. At the cognitive level, we shared insights that helped me to see possibilities for an integration of the many parts of the world and life into a unified whole, a vision that had originally driven my intellectual curiosity. At the spiritual level, as we exchanged ideas and books, I was opening to a new faith, one that integrated my life into a coherent framework that embraced all life in the service of creation. These transitions served as the vase for a flowering of the natural, physical attraction and shared joys of a healthy, loving relationship. We were married in 1993.
Wenda and I have often talked about life as a spiral of experience. There are times when we have to confront issues or experience pain, or we are given access to psychological and spiritual insights. If we are open to and embrace these opportunities, we learn and grow. Quite often, they slip away. How often do the voices in your head tell you, “Why did I do that…” “If only I had said…” or “Oh, I should have…” Many times we miss the lesson entirely, or don’t even know it was there. We ignore it, or deny it.
What we have found is that whatever opportunity for personal growth was missed eventually comes around again: especially the painful ones. By then, hopefully, we are in a different space, having learned something since the last episode. When it comes around this time, we are able to make use of the lesson in a positive way. Life moves in a spiral
Swedenborg offers a helpful teaching on this topic. When an individual dies, their spirit awakens in what he calls the World of Spirits. Neither heaven nor hell, the World of Spirits is a place where appearances are removed and our internal intentions, our true loves, are made clear. There are many opportunities for instruction. If spiritual issues were left unresolved during your natural life, you will need to deal with them here. Were you cruel to someone and never made amends? Were you thoughtless and self-centered? Did someone hurt you and you never let go to embrace forgiveness? What did you fail to understand? While some may find comfort knowing that you will have another chance in the other life, we find it more of an incentive to address the issue at hand — better to deal with it now, in this life, than drag it with you all the way to the next.
There is another incentive in Swedenborg’s theology encouraging careful self-reflection. If you hold onto something dearly, it is a sign that you are choosing to love that above other things. For example, do we hold fast to resentments and blame — or do we seek forgiveness and compassion? In the passage through the World of Spirits, your understanding is opened to the choices you have made, and you give full expression to your primary, ruling love, to be embraced for eternity. When you leave the World of Spirits, you join a spiritual community that shares your ruling love. This may be in Heaven, or in Hell, depending upon the nature of what you have chosen to love.
Best choose wisely in this life.
Continue to Episode 6 – What is Meant To Be?
Episode 1 – Sources of Faith
Episode 2 – The Downward Spiral
Episode 3 – Minding the Gaps
Episode 4 – Peeling Back the Layers