I saw my father this week; it’s been a while. He died in 1982 on his sixty sixth birthday, so his appearances are infrequent and remembered only when I awaken shortly after them. He looked fit, dressed in his typical Saturday casual, not jeans: faded slightly rumpled khakis and a well-worn plaid shirt. No gunmetal sky pallor like the last time I spoke with him in the hospital; his color was healthy, more like he was quarterbacking the street tag football team: tanned, a little ruddy and flushed. We had a short, but satisfying visit. I explained to him how to use a leg press machine at the gym safely, so he would not injure himself. My Dad smiled kindly in a reticent Irish way and whispered that he already knew how.
“Take care of all your memories, said Mick
For you cannot relive them
And remember when you’re out there tryin’ to heal the sick
That you must always first forgive them.” From “Open the Door, Homer” Bob Dylan
Holy Week. Easter Sunday. I write of my faith infrequently. Politics and religion at a restaurant – almost never welcome and uncomfortable for those at the next table. Intensely personal, as all faith is, it informs, though, how I see the world, how I think. As it must, or I would be a great fool to hold it dear.
Sitting on a limestone ledge near the edge of the Grand Canyon last month, I was thinking about time and vastness in two contexts from my eclectic recent reading of Aquinas and early twentieth century physics. In Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas tells us that time for God is closer to Einsteinian relativity than to Newtonian absolute time: time is a product of our measuring it. [i] For St. Thomas, the past is no longer actual nor the future yet actual. “Eternity only touches time in the present.” Regrets and guilt are not productive. Anxiety about what may never come is not useful. We have only today; we have only now.
In Blaise Pascal’s notable gamble, God either is or He isn’t. No absolute proof for or against is possible. “Why not believe?” asks Pascal, because the consequences of betting wrong are eternal loneliness and alienation. The consequence of being right on atheism is mere extinction, and one’s choices have no effect in this regard. Although Monsieur Pascal was much brighter than I, I believe him to be wrong with his minimalist bet on two counts: his gamble promises too little for and asks too little of the believer.
“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26
The question is this: If the blind cannot see it, does the sun cease to warm us? If blindness is a deliberately chosen mind and spirit closed to faith, does that have any bearing on the reality of the existence of God, of redemption in the cross and resurrection? If we choose not to be open to the possibility, does the truth, if it is so, cease to be true?
“The life of contemplation in action and purity of heart is a life of great simplicity and inner liberty. One is not seeking anything special or demanding any particular satisfaction. One is content with what is. One does what is to be done, and the more concrete it is, the better. One is not worried about the results of what is done. One is content to have good motives and not too anxious about making mistakes. In this way one can swim with the living stream of life and remain at every moment in contact with God, in the hiddenness and ordinariness of the present moment with its obvious task.” Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience
[i] Of course, St. Thomas preceded Newton and Einstein by centuries. His purpose was theological. See Peter Kreeft’s excellent notes in his “Summa of the Summa.”