2 Aug 2015
“… to be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” (Eph. 4:23)
In the name …
The cartoon found at the bottom of your song sheet this morning is the creation of Nick Sousanis. You can see there that it reads: “When we think we’ve got it all figured out, thinking stops. A single vantage point leaves us blind to things outside our view. Consider the geometric inhabitants of Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, who move freely about east, west, south and northwards, but have no concept of upwards. They can’t comprehend anything off their plane of existence. Even a three-dimensional visitor is only seen as a size-changing Flatlander. But what about us – where is ‘upwards’ for us? What lies outside the boundaries of our existence? And how do we look beyond our current frame of mind?” (Boston Globe, 5/24/15)
I thought this cartoon fit in nicely with the readings the church has asked us to consider on this lazy summer morning. Flatland is a cool imaginary concept. What would life be like if we and everything we knew existed only on a sheet of paper? If we only knew front, back, left and right, we would have no way to imagine up and down. It’s like I say often in catechism, it would be like asking a person born blind to describe the colour red. It would be impossible for the blind person to even imagine. If I in my full three-dimensional self passed through Flatland, all they could experience of me is the slices of my body as it passed through their world. They would make me into one of them, but I wouldn’t stop being me.
The purpose of imaginary Flatland was not to fill us with pride. Abbott was trying to get us to think of possibilities beyond our real three-dimensional world, or as the cartoonist says, to think about what may lie outside the boundaries of our existence. Maybe there’s more out there than just this, and maybe we would have as hard a time getting a hold of that world as the flatlanders would have trying to imagine our world. And moving from science fiction to science, I recently read an article that I don’t completely understand, but it argues that what we know as the universe could be just one half of a pair that started at the Big Bang and then went in two separate directions of time. Our past would be future to them and their future would be past to us, but we would never be able to know this like some fortune teller because we would never be able to burrow through time to get to the other half of the universe. (Science News, 7/25/15)
So in the real world we live in there is scientific evidence of the possibility of other realities “outside the boundaries of our experience.” We can’t live in that other world since we’re locked into the experiences of our world, but we’re being asked to consider the possibility anyway. Flatlanders couldn’t understand us, but that doesn’t mean we are only imaginary. And since we’re sitting here in church on this lazy summer morning when we have the time to let our minds wander and wonder, let’s think about the “beyondness” of God and His reality.
In John’s Gospel today, we are following along after the miracle of the loaves. Jesus recognizes that some people are beginning to follow Him only because of what they can get from Him. He tells them bluntly, “‘You are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.’” (6:26) Jesus then challenges them to look beyond their physical expectations and try and see Him as the far greater “bread of life.” (6:35) In Ephesians this morning we hear a similar message when the apostle tell us “to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and to clothe ourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (4:23-24) We’re being asked by God to seek a fresh perspective, to seek what lies outside the boundaries of our ordinary experience, to see where God abides. In the cartoon on your song sheet, this is depicted as being set free from the little box that we are locked in when we think we have it all figured out and there’s nothing new, nothing challenging, that this is it and there is nothing more.
God dwells beyond us and we have to stretch our minds and imaginations to be able to reach out to God. We have to exercise our faith. We have to give it a chance to grow and expand. We have to entertain the different, listen to other ideas, and not be afraid to ask questions. This is how faith is constantly being refreshed. If we stop learning and thinking, if we lock ourselves into where we once met God, then that single vantage point leaves us blind to all the rest of God’s infinity. In the miracle of the loaves, Jesus came into our world and fed people, but if all He was about was a full stomach for a few thousand people a couple of thousand years ago, then He would be forgotten already. If that was the only vantage point to look at Jesus, then we would never have seen Him as Saviour and Son of God. Instead, those miracles were meant to show us that He brings the beyond of God to us, to feed our souls, to be our bread of life. We need to seek out this Jesus still today, to not let ourselves become satisfied and imagine there is no more to faith than what we already know and do.
Faith has the power, instead, to set us free from all kinds of limitations. It empowers us to believe in what is possible. It can give us the energy to start over, to overcome, to march to the beat of a different drummer if that’s where we’re called. What miracle is out there waiting to be recognized that can change us? How will Jesus take something ordinary and make it extraordinary so that we can see God? How will our time together at Mass, how will the sacraments of forgiveness, the Word of God and Communion put us in touch with the beyond? Faith is anything but dull and boring. It sets us free to explore God’s beyond that Jesus brings to us in the here and now. May Jesus help us to recognize this gift, and for this we pray in His name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo