Dogs, Heaven

Danny Pride Mountain

About 9 years ago, Marcy and I adopted a dog which had been found wandering the streets of Rainelle, WV.  We were set on adopting a lab, and we preferred a younger dog to an older one.

Two dogs grabbed our attention, and so we took each one for a walk and spent some time in a room playing with them.  Russ may remember:  I was actually inclined toward the 8 month old female lab, which earned a sweet name that I have now forgotten.  She was more affectionate, more pleased to see us.

The 4 month old male dog was a bit aloof, if you ask me.  He seemed to be about his own business, and it was incidental that anyone else was in the room with him.  On our walk, he held his head up in an almost regal pose, perhaps wondering how he would ever return to his kingdom in Rainelle.

But Marcy preferred the male dog, and when we returned for a second visit (and to make a decision), the female dog revealed herself to be irritable, bordering on lashing out.  We planned on having kids (HA!) so this was simply unacceptable.  That’s how it happened that we adopted Daniel Thomas, better known as Danny.

From hours of reading and research, I learned that puppies – and adopted dogs – can suffer emotional anxiety in a new home.  It was recommended that the new dog sleep at the owners’ bedside, and so I leashed Danny to the foot of our bed and held my hand down to comfort him through the night.

In fact, Danny went with us everywhere.  I was already in construction then, so I did what many contractors do, and brought him along to the work site.  My day job was amenable to having him in the office – a converted home, anyway – and so he came along there, too.  This made pretty quick work of housetraining him, though he was a smart dog anyway.  He also caught on to sitting, laying, and heeling, which in total was about all we needed from him.

Not that he always listened.  It was, to the very end of his life, impossible to get him to sit still when guests arrived.  Each person was an enemy at the gate, until the gate opened – then they were long lost members of the pack, finally come home.

There’s also a reason the stereotype exists of a contractor bringing his dog everywhere – they make excellent company.  A dog is always on the lookout for food and danger, and a man can’t help appreciating that.  When neither is afoot, a dog is always ready to play, and men are especially suited for playing with dogs.

Truly, Danny was a dog who belonged in West Virginia.  I can remember his boundless energy, his frustration at being leashed.  Because when you let him loose – the very ground lit up beneath him.  You could almost see the tips of the grass singed by his blazing speed.  I remember taking him into some tall grass one day, and he, by the enormity of his exuberance, bent the reeds and stalks in wide orbits, just cut through it like a howling wind.

We took him on all of our trips and on long walks and everyone came to appreciate the black lab mutt who could run like a deer.

One story especially worth mentioning comes from a day visiting Luke and Keveney and their black lab, Sally.  Danny and Sally were great friends, and one day we were all on the the porch when Sally and Danny started barking at the end of the clearing into the woods.  They were deep barks, meant to scare off whatever they saw in the forest.  So Luke got up to check it out, and as he approached the woods, it became obvious that he couldn’t see any danger.

So he began to creep to the edge of the clearing with exaggerated, high steps, which convinced both dogs to proceed with caution.  Suddenly Luke turned and cried out in a panic, and both dogs bolted like the devil himself was in those woods.  Probably the best laugh I ever had in West Virginia.

I can’t remember for sure, but I think it occurred to me to let Danny stay in WV when we decided to move back to Illinois.  I’ve always thought it was something of a tragedy that he should be crammed into suburban life when he had only known the wild and wonderful lands of Appalachia.  In fact, in the last months of his life, I seriously contemplated bringing him back and letting him loose.  Near certain death, I’m sure, but glorious until the final moments.  And he died anyway.

Nevertheless, he came with us, and there was much to love.  First, like Amelia in WV, he was the first to welcome each of our kids home after their births.  We always made a point to bring home a blanket the child had slept in, and let Danny smell it and get accustomed to it.  The next day, he would recognize the scent when a new baby came home, and it was he welcoming the child, rather than an imposition on him to accept a stranger.

Though no dog could be as patient as Jack, he was nevertheless patient with all kinds of petting, eye gouging, rough handling, and attempted pony rides.  He could often be found kissing the children, especially as babies, and occasionally snuggling with them.  There’s not much cuter than a dog resting his head on a child’s chest.

We went on countless walks and hikes, and the older girls even had turns at the leash…though he did drag Amelia at least a couple of times in pursuit of a squirrel.

But that’s something.  I will forever recommend to any would-be parents that they adopt a dog first.  For better or for worse – for the dog – you can scarcely hope to learn more about yourself, and yourself as a caretaker, than by caring for a puppy.  They are excellent instructors in patience, attitude, and empathy.

In the later years, Danny suffered occasional seizures, which would give him a sense of vertigo and send him tumbling to the ground.  In spite of this, he would scramble to his feet over and over until he found us, when at length we could restrain his panic until he was calm and oriented again.  They were nasty things, those seizures, and he bore them heroically.

Again, it does something to you as a caretaker to enter into that situation.  I want to live smoothly, happily, efficiently; a seizure is somewhere on the opposite end of that spectrum.  It compels empathy, it forces one to come to grips with the imbalances of life.  Even in the suburbs, there is chaos – it’s just framed differently.

Because his knee was going bad, and we didn’t share as many walks, those seizures became the predominant form of bonding.  I would never have wished them upon him, but given that they occurred, I took the opportunity to express compassion for him.

Marcy says she knew the end was near on the last day.  There was something about his demeanor – at one point he seemed to nip at Charlie (probably because he was provoked, but maybe not).  He also carried himself with a certain melancholy, which prompted Marcy to check on him more frequently than usual.  She says he first laid by each of the kids’ rooms, then by her side of the bed, and finally by my side, where he died.

I was at work at the time, but I wish I had been there to reach out my hand to comfort him, like the day we brought him home.

Children would write letters to CS Lewis, mainly because of the Narnia series, and in one of those a child asked about pets going to Heaven.  Lewis pointed out that there was no word on this from Scripture, but that – and I paraphrase – if you’ve ever looked deeply into the eyes of a beloved animal who is taken in as a pet, you feel certain there is something behind those eyes which will live forever.

Stella is still an infant, and the twins don’t really know what happened, but Amelia and Ruth do.  Amelia was deeply moved by Danny’s death, and Ruth was inspired to music-making with her mother as they memorialized Danny.  She did not promise that Danny was in Heaven, but did say that God will do whatever is best for Danny, and that cannot fail to be true.

St. Ruthie the Silly

I’m not sure anyone who has met our second eldest has managed to forget her.  I like to say that I’ve never met anyone like her, and it’s still true.

Ruth is a child who has seemed to love life from birth; one assumes she was not unhappy in the womb, either.  For most of her life, she has run, nearly at a dead sprint, everywhere she wants to go.  When we have gone on walks, she runs.  Her wavy blond hair bobs behind her, and if I know anything about running, I’d say she has excellent form.

She was already trying to turn cartwheels…well, I’m not sure if anyone ever told her what one was.  I would not be surprised if she had invented them for herself.  All I can positively say is that, when she struggled at first to get them right, I gave her a little coaching.

A little.  I am not a gymnast, or a gymnastics coach.  I can’t do a cartwheel myself.  But a few words from an amateur about how to push and propel her body, and she was doing them end-over-end.  A complete natural.*

Ruth’s affections are over-the-top, and she was often in time-out for nearly smothering her siblings.  She has unbelievably good comic timing, bringing me to tears a number of times.  Ruth has made up languages and wants to know all about bodies and is very savvy about social cues…when she wants to be.

 

I could say as much as I want, but it is nothing like a few minutes of Ruth in her full strength.  Her presence is such strong stuff, her energy so potent, that many have come away amused, thrilled…

And they expect trouble for us, her parents.  She is the quintessential willful, wild child.  Ruth broke her leg when she was two, and while the doctor set up her cast, I said, “Is it ok if she walks on this?”

He was puzzled at first, then understood my meaning, and waved it off, “Oh, she won’t be able to walk with this cast on.”

“Well,” I insisted, “If she does manage it, is that ok, or should we prevent her from doing it?”

“With the way I’m setting it,” he said, with a hint of condescension, “she won’t be able to walk on it.”

Somewhere around her four-week appointment, I brought her in, and he watched her shuffling around the exam room…walking on the cast.  He was in disbelief, and told me we had to prevent her from walking on it, because it could mess up her gait.

Having known Ruth for two years, I was so completely nonplussed by this development that I did not bother telling the doctor, “Told you so.”

It’s easy to see why others are impressed – well, overwhelmed! – by Ruth.  She is a cyclone of enthusiasm, a three foot tall force of nature.  She will leap onto your lap without warning, ask some intimate question about your body or your relations, then pull you three directions to play cards, dress up, and do cartwheels, all at once if possible.

You will say something surprised you, or hurt, or that you need a break, and she will let up for all of three seconds.  Maybe.  But whatever you say, short of absolutely putting your foot down, she will not stop.  And even then, she will negotiate.

One hardly knows what to do with her.  One only expects that she will flit and flutter and positively burst in all directions at once, and naturally that gets more serious the older she becomes.  Naturally, eventually, that becomes actual trouble.

 

I utterly reject this conclusion.  I spit it out for the lukewarm drivel that it is.

First – Have you ever been called, “stubborn as a mule?”  Some mules have been dubbed, “stubborn as Ed.”

Where our guests are too polite or too timid to drop the hammer, I have few qualms.  Where Ruth pushes, I am all but immovable.  Where she might burst, I de-fuse.  Where she is sophisticated in her appeals, insistent on her intentions – I cut her designs at the root, and leave them stacked for the fire.

If she is a cyclone, I am the deluge, a 1,000 year flood.  (A father ought to loom large).

Second – why all this talk, anyway?  Do you think I boast?  Do you think I compare my strength with a child and thus exalt myself?

God love you, no.  I am about the serious, absurd, disruptive, epoch-making work of forming a Saint.  It is not about me at all, except that God has seen fit to give me the task.

And He has given it to you, too.

But think about Ruth – she really could be a wild child, no?  How if I simply threw up my hands, and no one loomed large in her life?  What then?

The very thought disgusts me.  Honestly, somebody bury me alive if I display such cowardice.  But first give me a chance, and simply slap me across the face.

No – I see St. Ruth, not Ruth the wild child.  I see the eternal youth of God in her uncontrollable enthusiasm.  I see the perceptiveness of the Oracle in her understanding of social cues and in her moral compass.  I see St. Teresa of Avila, chiding God Almighty, in her easy chiding of adults and parents alike.

I see the hope of ages, light in darkness.  I see the blistering, unrelenting love of Christ in her smothering kisses.

Think she is uncontrollable?  Cause her the least part of scandal, and watch what I do.  They’ll cast Jason Statham in the title role.**

 

I’ve told her, as we’ve told all our kids, that our goal is that they should be Saints.  I don’t know if she invented it, or if I did, but one day she declared that she would become “St. Ruthie the Silly.”

Amelia, her practical older sister, objected that this was not how Saints are named.  But I gently corrected her, “She can be St. Ruthie the Silly, if that’s what God wants.”

 

*It’s no joke.  We signed her up for gymnastics classes, and she was quickly invited to the advanced level.  I came to watch just one of her practices, and it’s for the best, because I hardly made it out without weeping.  I’m a sap, but she is gifted, and that’s beautiful to behold.

**Now I see what is meant by the “jealousy” of God.  It is ferocious.

Christ is Risen

“O death, where is your sting?

O hell, where is your victory?”

– 1 Corinthians 15:55

If you’ve bothered to click through and read this, I will honor your time by getting to the point.

Ladies and gentlemen:  Hell is real.

Hell is any one person having power over all the others; hell is Sauron and the Orcs conquering Middle Earth; hell is the outer darkness; hell is being alive enough so that you can suffer maximally.

Think child abuse.  Think rape.  Think torture in a foreign land with no home of coming home.  Think of sex slavery.  Think of your children being kidnapped.  Think of being tried, sentenced, and executed – and you are innocent.  Think betrayal, think of losing everything.  Think of powers that be, who seem never to suffer, while you live and die at their whim.

Hell is immense, relentless, insurmountable suffering with no end in sight.  God damn, indeed.

Whatever you think of the doctrine, you already recognize the abstraction – Hell is real.  And it seems never to be defeated.

We have not even touched on death.

Think how death looks to the first humans – it is absolute, terrifying and mysterious.  A person is up, walking around and alive; then his body is utterly still.  Cold and stiff.  After a few days, it is grotesque, and eventually it withers away and is gone.

It goes without saying, doesn’t it?

Death is brutal.  Death is devastating.  Death is a force of nature, a scorched earth, inescapable, to be joked about nervously if we wish not to cry about it.

It is the destroyer of souls, and of families.  It is merciless, not at all subject to our feelings or wishes.  Death does not give a single f*ck.  (But that is its role).

Death and Hell assume victory.  They assume the final word on human existence.  What can anyone do in the face of such misery, such abject vulnerability?

But if a man were to rise from the dead…

Along comes St. Paul, who gives us the absurd words above.  Listen to him!

He is taunting death.  He is taunting Hell!

Imagine yourself, just as you are, standing before the army of thousands of Orcs – millions of Orcs, if you like! –

No.  I mean, really imagine it.  Put yourself on the muddy earth, as night creeps across the sky, and the ground trembles with the marching of a whole army wishing for nothing less than your absolute suffering and death.

If you have ever been terrified of anything…imagine that.

Then, dare it to come get you.  And know that it will (St. Paul still died a brutal death).

That all makes for a charming story, and it is elevating and pleasant to hear from 20 centuries away.  Anyone speaking truth to power, any unlikely hero standing up to a villain, often has that effect, even if the story is badly written.

The Christian is set apart – is holy – when she completely trusts it.  When she puts no wager on this life, but bets everything on the next.  Then she is truly on another level.

Now that is terrifying.  If you are a Christian, that’s what you signed up for.  If you are a Catholic, that’s what you profess every time you sign the Cross.  If you are wrong, you lose everything you have.

We do well to lose our stomachs over this.  Because if you are right, then you gain impossibly more than you ever could earn.  It is the greatest gamble we all make.

Having wagered, there can scarcely be anything more invigorating than witnessing a man taunting all powers and principalities in our world.  There can be nothing more encouraging – that is, bestowing courage.  Even the unbelievers understand this.  Just listen to Matt Maher lead into the final refrain…

I know there’s some people here tonight

You’ve been struggling in your faith

You’ve had doubts and anxieties, you’ve had fears about your life

And those things occupy your heart and your mind more than your faith does

I want to remind you, that the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead

It can resurrect your heart tonight

It can give you courage instead of fear and doubt

It can give you confidence in God

If that’s you tonight, put your hand on your heart with me

Sing these words over our lives and believe in the truth God has for them…

This is not a man afraid, even if by every account he should be.  Neither is St. Paul.

O, Death, where is your sting?

O, Hell, where is your victory?

O, Church, come stand in the light!  Our God is not dead – He’s alive!  He’s alive!

Whom, then, shall you fear?

Readings – December 18, 2015

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

Reading 1 Jer 23:5-8

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
As king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name they give him:
“The LORD our justice.”Therefore, the days will come, says the LORD,
when they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives,
who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt”;
but rather, “As the LORD lives,
who brought the descendants of the house of Israel
up from the land of the north”–
and from all the lands to which I banished them;
they shall again live on their own land.

 

Gospel Mt 1:18-25

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.

Reflection

There will be at least one feminist listening in, and it will be a testament to her if she can do so without protest.

On the Feast (The Feast!) of the Immaculate Conception, we have Mary’s experience of the Annunciation – that is, the announcement of the birth of Christ.

On Friday of the third week of Advent – no small thing, to be sure – we have Joseph’s.  But men are often willing to lift up their wives.  Just watch this man work.

First, recall – in the time of Joseph and Mary, fornication was highly stigmatized.  It is less so now – make of that what you will.  But in their time, his very honor…

Shall we say, how he identified?

…was under threat by Mary’s pregnancy.  In other words, because he was righteous, this state of affairs was unacceptable to him.  He would only marry a virgin.

But he had mercy on his betrothed, and decided to quietly divorce her.

Think of that.  By all appearances, she had disgraced him as completely as she could; but because …well, because he loved her, I think, he would not hold her out for punishment.  He would let her go quietly back to her family, and there would be no castigation, no calumniation, no abandonment.

We are so shameless in our age that there is not a parallel.  If you do not already understand Joseph’s predicament, you cannot.  We are diametrically opposed on this matter.

Be that as it may…

The Lord, God Almighty, chose not only Mary, but He chose Joseph as well.  Here was the man who would shepherd His son.  Here was the man – listen now – who would teach God incarnate how to be a man.

We could not stretch our foreheads high enough to comprehend this.  Any man listening – would you sign up for this?

I could not.  But quickly learn:  No mogul or king qualified for the job.  No muscleman, no pretty man, no self-righteous man was chosen.  A small-town carpenter was chosen.

What do you do for a living?

Now here are the angel’s words:

“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.”

See, he is not afraid of the angel.  He is afraid of breaking God’s commands.  This is why he is a Saint.  This is a man who would stare down the dragon in the Garden of Eden, and not bite the apple.  Or so I think.

But anyway, listen further:

“‘She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.’”

All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means ‘God is with us.’
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.”

Now, we may imagine that a great deal of deliberation and discussion took place.  Perhaps it did.  Perhaps he rushed to Mary, and either apologized for disbelieving her, or wept for joy that her story was true.  Perhaps he had no idea, because Mary did not tell him the “why” of her pregnancy.

What is told to us, though, is fidelity and obedience.  The human spirit has always rebelled against such things.  It is remarkable when we can embrace them.

 

Angel:  “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home”

Joseph:  “[he] took his wife into his home.”

 

Angel:  “You are to name him Jesus.”

Joseph:  “And he named him Jesus.”

 

See, he did not even reply to the angel!  These were his actions, observed by Matthew:  he heard and obeyed.

Notice what might be missed…Joseph knew his Scripture.

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means ‘God is with us.'”

I asked any men reading whether they would sign up for Joseph’s job.  It is a sifting question, one that might find all of us wanting for virtue.  But it is worth noting that, in order to pass through the eye of the needle, a man needs to know what God has proclaimed.

Reasoning to God – Heart – 4

Desire

While the heart does not reason like the mind, it does convey interesting proofs.

It is seen, for example, that no one is ever absolutely, finally happy.  Indeed, we often think that one more possession, one more accomplishment, one more relationship, and then we will be happy.  It comes to pass; still we long for more.

Why is this?  Do fish seek happiness in this way, perpetually and without final satisfaction?  Why should we, if we are only another kind of animal, find ourselves seeking happiness voraciously, even enshrining the search for it into law?

If there is no ultimate answer for us, to satisfy this innate and universal desire, where does the desire come from?  Read a book – the characters are permitted to live happily ever after, satisfying their desire.  Play a game – there is an object, a way to win, satisfying the desire of the players.  

The heart, it is said, has a God-sized hole in it.  St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in You.”  C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the only explanation is that I was made for another world.”

This is the proof of the heart, with which we are to love the Lord our God:  That our hearts desire endless satisfaction, that they are parched and thirsting for want of a drink which only “being itself” could quench.  Indeed, if we love anything else without loving Him, we will never be finally satisfied.

Reasoning to God – Heart – 3

Gratitude

Say you are stranded, and you do not have enough money for a taxi – not in cash and not in the bank.  Someone offers you a ride and brings you to your destination.  You cannot repay her, and she wouldn’t accept it anyway.

We do the math, and see that you are in debt to her:  You have received more from her than you were able to give her.  With the calculation complete, the mind is through.  Yet a sense of gratitude remains.

What, then, feels gratitude?  The heart.

Considering who God is, we see that He had no need ever to create us, and yet here we are.  We owe our creation to Him.

Moreover:  He sustains us at every moment.  We persist because He is thinking of us, is breathing life into us, even as I write and you read these words.  We are indebted to Him at every moment.

What is it, O man, that depends on your every breath, on your mere thinking of it?  Who lives and who dies when you cease to think of them?  Who is it that inhales when you exhale?

It’s not simply that we are short of funds; we could not, even in principle, repay God.  He made us; the converse is impossible.  He sustains us in existence; there is not one thing we could do to alter, add to, or threaten His existence.  

The cynic fights this, complains perhaps that existence is not always such a blessing.  One notices that he is still here, else we would not hear his complaint.  To be alive is greater than death, and any appearance to the contrary is a matter of psychology.  The opposite of existence is not negative, but no thing.

In other words, if we did not exist, we would be owed nothing, anyway.  Somehow, we have something.  It is the heart which allows us to feel gratitude for this.

Reasoning to God – Heart – 2

The Fear of the Lord

Not only fidelity, but wonder and awe resonate with the heart.

Consider:  Thunder and lightning are phenomena transmitted to the mind through the body.  Yet what are they, but light and sound?

Ask your heart, then – why do you tremble?  If you have ever had a bolt of lightning pierce the air around you so that it was simultaneous with the thunder; when you heard it roar above you, why then did you tremble?  

The cynic says, “Because it is a danger to my life,” and this is true.  But he thinks the answer stops there, short and thin.  He has answered a multiple choice question when we are looking for an essay.

Why does your life matter to you?  What is that primal drive to survive?  Why you, and your particular life?

In brief – we will have to be all too brief – when the lightning raises the hair on your arms and the thunder goes off like an explosion above you, you instantaneously recognize a force greater than you.  Impossibly greater, and unpredictable besides.  What creature does not fear them?  They warrant the word “awesome.”

There is no mind behind lightning, though.  It is a force driven by and subject to natural laws and forces.  Lightning does not strike even one inch askance from where Nature directs it.  Thunder is precisely as loud as she commands, no more or less.  

The power of God, though, is more terrible still.  With a word He could not only strike where He wills, or smite whatever He wishes; it is far worse than that.  That is the work of a minor god.  We are reckoning with the Almighty.

With a word, He could destroy planets, simply annihilate them as they fly across the night sky.  The least utterance and all the Universe would be in flames and extinguished; He could do it without any physical destruction, simply cease to think of us, and all would be lost.

The very memory of it, the notion of your existence or mine, tossed aside like a word that didn’t rhyme.  

And yet, as it is, you live.  Think soberly, brother:  You live.

If we tremble before the thunder and the lightning, what then should we do before God?

Reasoning to God – Heart – 1

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that [Jesus] answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”  Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

– Mark 12:28-30

Heart

I confess, my friend, that I would rather begin with the mind.  As the question – let us say, the doubt – of God’s existence first entered my mind, it afflicted my heart.  And it was by way of the mind that my heart was rescued.  I want to spring to the mind, and everything else can be a footnote.

Yet this saying of Jesus struck me.  To form my treatise on the words of Jesus himself as he gave the greatest commandment – it is all too fitting.  First, see:  The commandment is to love.  To love comes most naturally to the heart – even the unbelievers accept this.

Second, you once expressed disdain for the idea that anyone should love God above all, even above his own children.  But I hear these words of the Lord and they are solid as stone, capable of burying a man and of elevating him.  Let us see, then, what we can build upon them.

 

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.   -Blaise Pascal

Indeed, I am too quick to brush past the heart.  

Think of your son and your daughters, for instance.  Now imagine a superintelligence, who knows reason and not the heart.  This mind presses upon you an argument which you cannot answer, which utterly compels you to abandon your children.  

It would not only be permissible to do so, for any reason at all; the argument actually demonstrates that it is the best possible action, that you must abandon your children, for their greater good.

The question is not, “Would you?”  The question is, “Would your heart object?”

Yes.  Yes, and the heart would rather be pulled up by its roots than consent to such an act.  Likewise say the martyrs.

Reasoning to God – A Humble Aim

A humble aim

I cannot bring a mind to certainty.  Even if you wanted to know one certain thing, upon which everything else could be built, which was actually undeniable – well, I would tell you that the fact of your questioning proves your existence, a la Descartes.  But doubt would linger – for your existence, to me, is still not certain in this ironclad way.

Therefore, I do not aim to bring your mind to certainty about God.  If your mind should be open to it, then you may reckon with the certainty of your beliefs.  Perhaps God will come to your aid.

Now, there have been thinkers who, if given a few simple premises, could draw for you ironclad conclusions.  Aristotle, and St. Thomas Aquinas after him, concluded that something like God must exist, based on a few such premises and logic.  

To understand that, though, requires some study; the very claim is so shocking to modern minds that one would indeed require a kind of acclimation to their thoughts, their assumptions, and the rigor of their thinking.  It says something about our age that such rationality would seem novel, even exotic.

Here again, my aim is humbler.  Aquinas may come and advise us, but we are children playing at the game he mastered.  Where he was careful, we will inevitably be sloppy.  Where he was subtle, we will be rather clumsy.

And yet, it is not for nothing.  Such ideas really can take shape, and color, and even life in a conversation like ours.  The child, laughing, says something a psychologist might explain; but we prefer the laughter.

I aim for the laughter, for the dim glow of a far-off glory.

Reasoning to God – Introduction

Introduction

Now – after years of glancing past the subject, and after a thousand banalities, and after as many or more moments of good humor and respectful discourse, deep resonance, and shaded awe of what virtue the other is capable of – let us finally talk of God.

I have been at this a while, my friend, but I am not an expert.  In no time, you can find someone better prepared to speak about God.  But we are friends, and so there is a kind of leniency, a courteous respect, for whatever it is I may have to say.

I will work quickly.  In some parallel way, I may appreciate time as well as a naturalist, who thinks this time – birth to death – is all he has.  I do not, but I do appreciate that it is all the time we have to come to grips with what is real and true.  It is further true, and we almost agree, that beyond that time, no one really knows what happens.

What shall I say?  I have the floor, like one looking for his seat who is unaware that he has entered the theater from stage right.  The subject is only that which, if it is true, is the most important truth in the world.  If it is false, then nothing is important, for the Universe, and every single piece and particle within it ends adrift in a vast dead sea.  Somehow, though I deny the totality of it, the naturalist mythology has a haunting allure to it.  Everything will finish in the pattern from which it started – in almost exact homogeneity.  And everything will also be different – where the original homogeneity was in a state of unimaginable potency, bursting forth from infinite density and inconceivable heat, it finishes fully exhausted, and perfectly cold and still.  Nothing will move.  Not one thing will move.

But we needn’t be held captive by that paralyzing climax.  That great winter of the Universe may come to pass, but it will (I believe) ultimately pass.  I would not curse God if He let the Universe at least reach that point, then to resurrect it.  That pattern has been established.

Let us dance then, or duel, or engage however you like.  Let’s be better than ahead of our time – let us transcend time, for a spell.  Yes, let there be a kind of magic in our conversation, which lifts it out of the mundane, out of our real and lamentable troubles, out of our frustration at falling short of true liberation, true joy.  For one may escape a trouble, only to have another beset him; and one may gain the whole world, but eventually he dies.

Now and here, then, let us enjoy the blaze of the human spirit, as it does what no other animal can.  And like a blaze, it is both primordial and everlasting – the fire precedes us and it will outlast us.  In that hypnotizing glow, let us see something of the ineffable mysteries which we now consider.