Sunday, February 14, 2010

Eternity May Come in Chunks

And they lived happily every after…
All good stories are a segment of reality. There is what in movie land they call the “backstory,” thus events that happened before the action starts, but you won’t see them on the screen. This same material is what the playwright calls “exposition.” Next comes the tale itself. And then the story ends with a happy wave of the hand. And they lived happily ever after.

Cosmologies mirror this state of affairs precisely. There is the backstory of Adam and Eve, the fall, the expulsion from Paradise, the Redemption. Then there comes the story—our life, the search for salvation. It is terminated at its conclusion with the promise of eternal bliss or eternal suffering in hell. Reincarnation models are a variant; their hell (chuckle) is return to this world; but their positive outcome, nirvana, is still a happy but entirely undefined ever after.

I have a trait that must genuinely irritate the cosmic story teller. Endings of this type (magical hand wave, etc.) bother me. I go on walks and speculate. I think about the meaning of “eternal bliss”; indeed I often wonder if it has any conceivable meaning at all. The cosmic whole, what little of it I can perceive, strikes me as a vast and extremely complicated, call it expensive, undertaking—just so that, at the conclusion of a life (or thousands of lives for that matter) the winners, as it were, can sink into a kind of dreamy baby bliss forever and forever more?

The sophisticated response to this is to use the word mystery. Well, that’s a mystery. The phrase tells the irritating nerd to get with the program and simply accept our human limitations, stop rattling the bars of the cage, and wait to discover the bliss. The bliss will answer all your questions. Here the interesting thing is that, some individuals actually do have exalted experiences like nirvana or union with God. The experience is overwhelming, and none of these individuals ever suggests that anything at all was lacking. Why then do I keep on scratching at my itch? Because these individuals return among us, do not embrace nirvana and simply swoon away. They keep on living and, to some extent certainly, suffering. That feeling—and it is never more than that; those who have it never offer any expressible content—may not be the same thing that occurs after we’ve shuffled off the mortal coil.

My working hypothesis is that in the grand design eternity may well be diced apart into livable chunks—or to give it a more sophisticated framing, that it occurs in quanta, like energy, distinguishable in actuality. That as one life ends—and the intermediate transition may indeed be a kind of baby bliss, even if the next life is not in the flesh—another begins. The creative work of the cosmos may never end, true. And we may be participants in it. But we’re blessed by participating in it, well, one job at a time.

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