Breaking into the Vault of Heaven (O.M.G.)

By Jeff Wing   |   May 28, 2024
The Eagle Nebula. God or Nature? Yes. (courtesy of ESA/Hubble)

The human race can just get over itself now. On the other hand we are the exalted inventors of the Lunar Lander and Franco-American Spaghetti-Os. This is the tormenting dichotomy of our species. We’re complicated, embarrassed, self-regarding busybodies who have daubed the whole of our vast canvas with the overexcited brushstrokes of a sugared-up preschooler, taking and losing and retaking and losing and retaking holy cities, the armies of banner-waving ninnies pouring down the plains with their dumb robes flowing, then spending our down-time dreaming up the Big Bang and devising the lawn mower.

Finally, we recline under the stars, our naked bodies washed by warm, moonlit tropical surf as we luxuriate in the murmuring shallows, like Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity – and are swept hollering out to sea and eaten by the Kraken. It’s a pageant, yes. O what it is to be human!

Water Stains and Nebulae

A meaningfully stained sidewalk (courtesy photo)

But there is too much mystery. Signs and portents and stains on the sidewalk – any mystery is too much, and we’re surrounded by it, defined by it, bored of it, and even made fatally restive by it. Is our Beloved Father a kindly giant on a cloud or a toothy Lovecraftian squid-thing tearing horrifically through a hole in space-time? This may not be the Question for our Age but it ought to be. Here’s another; does Love have anything to do with this mess at all? Opinions abound and many of them bore. Bromides are everywhere and God is said to be synonymous with birds, trees, flowers, and people who overpay at yard sales.

Well. My little girl flirts with your little boy and my squeezed heart spins on its axis. In another lifetime my mother exits the house in a Donna Reed skirt and Rosalind Russell shades, inclining her head and offering a smirk of happy reproof to the besotted cameraman (now also vanished from the world) as she walks briskly to a Pontiac the size of a speedboat. Emily waves riotously to me from the open window of her passing car on the way to the sun-dappled senior parking lot (goodbye little girl!), my dying grandfather bobs his long hand and wrist at me from under the sheet and says “Billy.” Which Billy? In my 8-year-old frame did he see my older brother Bill (the apple of his eye) or his own son, my uncle Bill? Never mind. “Grandpa, it’s me; Jeff.” Sammy awkwardly doffs his handsome head in greeting a stranger. Stella weeps helplessly at her dear friend’s nuptials. My father-in-law bursts without warning into hot tears and rough embraces when we tell him we’ll marry.

Why all this glory? There must be a dynamo somewhere. Our stammering and groping for sense and meaning – our restless search for Explanations – would seem to rise above mere evolutionary expedience. 

Pastorally Convenient

I will say the calming pastoral approach to the Eternal makes little sense. The Universe is a cool 455 degrees below zero (we’re assured), is opening with increasing speed like an unimaginably monstrous umbrella, and is thought to have burst with instantaneous, reality-filling fire and mayhem from an infinitesimally tiny pinprick whose predecessor was literally Nothing At All. This mad batsh*t does not, to my mind, conjure a prose poet dreamily contemplating a daffodil, nor a thoughtful architect with a cosmic T-square. But intuitions only go so far.

The explosive Birth of Reality so bored us as a subject in 7th grade we spent the lecture with our heads on our desks, gum falling out of our yawning mouths. As we grow up, avail ourselves of briefcases and begin to accrue our reams of spirit-killing documentation, we continue to accept these reality-bending truths with slack jaws and drooping eyelids. The nightmare of rotating machinery, boiling nebulous bedlam and flesh-annihilating Absolute Zero of our universe is an unlikely crucible for the sort of summer-lawn gazing that our Spiritual Thinking engenders. It would be nice if the Ultimate Truth was at least vaguely aligned with the exalting strangeness of the inner and outer worlds.

Awfully Strange and Wonderful

Several years ago a dear and enlightened friend went on a pilgrimage to India, the better to apprehend, in that milieu of spiritual antiquity and very relaxed cows, an ancient animating principle. In the midst of a maddened throng of celebrants and pilgrims bathing in the sacred Ganges River he immersed himself in the reportedly putrid waters, partaking laudably of a very old ritual. The Ganges is considered sacred all along its considerable length and is incidentally a terribly polluted cesspool into which bodies and other dissolving whatnot are dumped on their way to the hereafter. He had moments before seen an infant corpse drift by on the currents. But he was determined to have the experience.

At the moment of sacred dunking he plugged all the facial and cranial orifi he could reasonably manage in order to prevent what a westerner might call “sewage” from entering his body. Later, his forensically imaginative sibling pointed out that even with the head-holes plugged, intrepid gut-igniting paramecia would surely attempt to crawl like union miners up the pee hole and thence into the previously complacent First World innards. This fear has by now been put to rest.

One can only admire such brave and far-flung baptismal efforts to understand the Bigger Picture. It’s also good to be reminded that while we higher beings strive to see the face of God, His mischief-making Creation can usually be found trying to burrow into and sicken us. Life is a many-splendored miracle, often at odds with our clockworks. Where is the Grace?

Something is out there. And we are right to wonder by what odd accident, in the middle of all this cold vacuum, we have earned the moment. Assuming that we have.  

On the Side

Artist Brice Ciabatti hails originally from Côte d’Ivoire and is an artist whose restlessness is a boon to us all. On Thursday evening, June 6, from 5 – 8 pm, Ciabatti will have an opening reception and for the month of June thereafter will be featured artist at Kim McIntyre’s inimitable Funk Zone salon Art & Soul(116 Santa Barbara Street). Ciabatti’s exhibition is called Refractions, and indeed these beautiful works locate inviolable beauty in the spangles of light that can rush the senses and require no organizing interpretive principle. Make A&S and Ciabatti’s work one of your right brain fueling stations on First Thursday, June 6. Nibbles, vino, and nourishing art. What else is there? 

Broadway and Union Street by Brice Ciabatti (courtesy of Brice Ciabatti)

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