We no longer think of “heaven” as “out there” among the high stars. In a sermon for Ascension Day, a German pastor said that nowadays, instead of thinking of Christ as having risen from the earth “up” into the sky (a sign from an outmoded worldview), we may say that he has gone out before us into the future. From there he shines and draws. “And I if I am lifted up will draw all people to myself.” This is not a power move, but a reaching out toward a corresponding gesture of reaching, one that was already in place to be the converse of this one, or its complement. As early Christians may in a sense have been reaching forward to us, we may reach back and reawaken their spirituality.
The divine may be spread along time rather than some “where” in space–or rather, we need to think of space-time plus value: four dimensions plus a fifth. That is, the realm of matter-energy constantly generates value, when meaning is called out of it, and sent back into it. It’s hard to think in five or even four dimensions: up, down, back, time-line, and value-line. Computers do it. Pulsing hypercubes and rhombozoids twist, collapse into themselves, and reunfold. Only so do they exist. Likewise we need to think of meaning–the kind of meaning that is valuing, yes-saying, energizing of what deeply matters, the level where a person plugs into community—we need to think of that as the fifth dimension. Then the ancient neoplatonic universe of St. Augustine and earlier people can still have meaning.
If we let ourselves imagine such expanded perception, we can still feel the universe as emanation-rapture-and-return. Plato and neoplatonism wrote a joy world, and the Ptolemaic world view was the shape of it. Love was said to emanate down from the highest stars, through more stars and planets in rapturous turning, down to human bodies in rapture for the love of beauty, then back up through the force lines of their desire for higher beauty, finally back to that highest God-level of ultimate intelligibility. Now instead, we can see the webs of metaphor and other forms of meaning–vastly spun out ramifications–as a joy world within space-time, rather than only within space. So the systole and diastole of divine love surges, not down and up, but out and backward, then in and forward. Inward from the value potential in matter into the energized consciousness of sentient beings, which generates meaning, then back outward again into matter and potentiality.
Paul Tillich defined God as ultimate valuing. Faith stretches for that. Believers don’t content themselves with being touched by the flow of divine life only now and then–a moment when we soar with music, a rare sense of awe at some oceanic power, a moment of amazement at someone’s goodness. Instead of sensing the divine only in rare moments, we can open ourselves to liturgy and faith community, and ask for it. Then the joy universe appears in the sequencing of our personal time as communal time, time in a flow of many flows of other people, rippling through and off of each other. And our words can throw their emotions and metaphors around them as shapes–the way children play ‘throw the statue.’ One child who is “it” whirls each other child around by the arms until, released, the one thrown falls down into some odd position on the ground, which he or she must hold, unmoving, until that round of the game is done. Thus we make a world of saved and saving time in community, playing out each other’s worlds of desired beauty. When we think of the neoplatonic joy world this way, its shape corresponds to something about our own minds: the mind’s internally seen world of valuing, of making things count or matter. It’s the look of the universe when seen as a place of desire fulfilled.
Once I dreamed of being held in divine community. The mythographer Carl Jung saw images of the self in certain patterns he called archetypes, two of these being the house, and the child. I’m not much of a Jungian. I recognize my inner life better in more recent analytic theory. But this seems to have been a Jungian dream. I’d been reading him when I had it.
I was in a room with several people in various groupings around me. I was holding a baby and telling him that he was wonderful, feeling the love one does with babies. Then he wiggled and pushed to get down and play. I put him on the floor and began attending to a group of people. After a bit I realized I couldn’t see the baby. I looked in the next room and he wasn’t there. Feeling anxious I went on to a third room. Each room was semi-crowded with people talking and doing things. In the next one were some men speaking Spanish. I was uneasy about trying to talk to them but interrupted one group and asked in English if they’d seen a baby crawling here. One turned to me. He was handsome, with a black moustache, and wearing jeans. He said they hadn’t seen him but not to worry, if they did, they’d watch him till I came back (or words to that effect, I’m not sure in what language). He returned to his conversation.
I went on to further rooms, getting more and more anxious. The people’s clothes and languages got stranger. I felt sure I couldn’t talk to them. I began to feel disoriented, and too tired and discouraged to look anymore. Then it occurred to me that wherever the baby crawled, he couldn’t get out of this house. I retraced my steps and got back to the room where I’d started. My feeling was that some way he would turn up again. I went back, it seemed, to the group of people I’d been talking with.
Does such dream work get in touch with whatever is ‘out there’ in the larger networks of personing, beyond the self? This seems to be what the mystics perceive. If I look for a track, along and beyond this dream’s motion of impetus, I see a vision, a picture of rest and joy, one that I hope can be fully entered into.
Then I saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe, and language; they were . . . dressed in white robes and holding palms. They shouted in a loud voice, ‘Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels who were standing in a circle round the throne, surrounding the elders and the four living creatures, prostrated themselves before the throne, and touched the ground with their foreheads . . . . These are the people who have been through the great trial; they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb. The One who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. They will never hunger or thirst again; sun and scorching wind will never plague them, because the Lamb who is at the heart of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes. (Book of Revelation)