Lately I've been enjoying a lot of reading and studying about space and time. The entire concept, of either and both is mind boggling. Honestly it's entirely beyond me. But what has been gotten my attention is less the theories of time and space, and more the desire for us to understand them. In a world, my world, I don't have the dream, the hope of immortality. Honestly I wouldn't want it. The idea, the thought that I, me, Thom, would go on forever seems entirely dreadful. I'm a nice enough fellow I suppose. I'm generally honest, friendly, respectful. I am not especially talented, good-looking, artistic, charitable. I am not able, not capable of contributing to the world in a grand fashion. I'm no great warrior, king, scientist, philosopher, poet, painter, musician, laborer, farmer, father or even friend. I'm down right average to below average. No need to drag this existence out beyond its estimated 70-100 years. 70-100 years, not even 100,000,000,000th of a millisecond in the grand scheme of existence. My presence here, on this ball of rock and magma is so non consequential that my presence here is no more nor less impactful than a day in the life of a mosquito.
Now I do not want you, dear reader, to think that I do not appreciate my life. I value that I have awareness of the world (which from all studies and scientific observations the mosquito does not). This life, this 100,000,000,000,000 of millisecond of existence is valuable, to me, and for all of us whilst we are aware of it. It is entirely possible that conscious life exists in the universe only here, on Earth, and that makes the experience of it even more special, at least in theory. It is also entirely possible that conscious life is found through out the universe, and our experience of it is as common as dust on the lamp shade. Either way, I know I am alive, I am aware. I know that I have an expiration date (by average estimates another 30 years or so).
What makes my musings ponder some, is that in this world, this existence, I do not feel the need to seek refuge in the hope, in what I believe is a false hope, that of an eternity beyond that which I experience here. I don't recall that my childhood entry into faith was ever driven by fear of not living forever or even fear of death itself or fear of some sort of divine punishment (hell) if I didn't live a faith filled life. My faith was always driven by the social aspects of religion. I was raised in the faith more in a community function rather than a theological one.
As small town Roman Catholics, we never really studied the bible at home. Our parish church was built around the catholic celebration of the Mass. It was almost always entirely ritual, rarely theological, sure the priest would offer a homily (sermon) but these were often platitudes and niceties built around one or two of the biblical Sunday readings. Of course I'm sure our parish had adult bible studies, RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and other things, but from the time I can remember until I graduated high school, my participation in the Church was always around participating in community. It was a matter of being together in like belief, not necessary being together to better understand Divinity externally or internally. In the monastic tradition, in which my parish was heavily influenced by as our long term pastor, Thomas Dentici,
who was a former monk, there exists the belief is that actions of faith, i.e. ritual prayer, meditation, community, one's work, the very walls and stones around you, would reveal God's mysteries and wonders, and the overt expression, theological expression of wasn't always necessary. I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, and certainly the mountains were an inspiration and expression of awe. Sometimes in the dewy foggy mornings of spring it is easy to see how and why we would attribute nature's grandeur to more than just circumstance of natural progression. Nature herself might inspire us to want to believe that because we are aware of the universe and the world held therein - then indeed the universe and nature herself might be an expression of awareness, an expression of a god. Therefore it is not inconceivable then that in my experience of faith as a child I was never afraid of the world beyond this one as I was raised to live in the world I was already aware of - living in the world of the here and now. I was raised in awareness not raised in fear. I am grateful for this unique theological upbringing. I am grateful that it lead me to study further theology in a more formalized manner via intense biblical studies, the study of philosophy, history, arts, sciences in a monastic tradition. My own first theological and formal training were through the Benedictine Monks at their seminary. There we lived in community, in a world held apart from the rest - cloistered from the world, restricted so that we might find theological inspiration in divinity studies as well as theological inspiration in community with each other.
As I have departed a faith life, and have moved into a humanist approach to ethics and morals, I rely upon understanding the world through scientific theory (observation and evaluation of the laws of physics, time, space and the world around us). I have always been that sort - I have never believed in ghosts or even aliens on Earth. My approach to believing something is that if it can't duplicated or observed by others in a controlled manner or even recorded in some fashion so as to be verified by other eyes, well I don't accept it as truth. Funny, how in my belief of God it took me until my early twenties to apply the same standards. Yet now, with the wisdom of some 44 years under my belt, it makes sense that my atheism didn't mature because as I stated earlier, my first experiences of what faith was, were based in the community expression of love and God's actions. I was taught that God was observable in community, good actions of humanity were the tenants of faith; the community and it's love for one another was the "proof" of God. While the scriptures and theological theorems were nice, they were never the center of believing. God seemed real to me because I was loved. I think in many ways my family, who is still faith filled, still believes this as the ultimate proof of God's existence. Their "scientific theory" is that because love exists in a community of family and like believers, then God is indeed real.
This desire, this faith is so tempting. Even now as I write these words I am nostalgic for that faith life. I do miss raising my voice in song with a community. I miss the brotherhood I felt at the seminary. I miss standing as a leader of people, as a pastor, a priest and guiding the community to a common mission. Yet I don't miss from those days the mask I wore. I don't miss hiding myself, my true self. As I left faith I lost family, friends and became more alone. More alone, not lonely, but more alone. My community shrank from many to few, and in that reduction, simplification, I discovered truth. That fear of not being included, of feeling different, of doubting was okay. My family now is small, but more intimate. My family now is small, but more authentic. My family is small, but it's real. When I raise my voice in song my new family sings with me and even sometimes through me.
This short life, my 100,000,000,000th of a millisecond or less, is more precious because it's all I have. Space and time, observable and measurable, tells me that my matter, my carbon and energy will not be lost, they will be transferred, carried on in some other fashion. Perhaps my ashes will fertilize the soil. Perhaps the movement, my atomic energy, will someday join the light of a star. And perhaps when the energy that moves me is expired it will all pass away. But somehow, this passing away is just fine. For before I stepped gently on this green wet earth, I was in 100's of trillions atoms and protons worth in places elsewhere. Before I existed I was not missed, I was not known. And so too when this moment ends, my life, I won't be missed. Oh sure, for a 100,000,000,000th of a millisecond maybe I'll be missed, but for all of us, it's all passing away. But I don't need to be more than what I am - temporary. That is what makes this moment so precious. This quick 100,000,000,000th of a millisecond of awareness is a special thing. It is to be treasured and I don't need anything other than what I am to make it valuable.