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Life Meets Faith: Immensity and immediacy

Michael Veenema | Interrobang | Opinion | April 11th, 2011

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
As a child I would lean my head against the inside of the family car window as we sped along two-lane highways. Sometimes I concentrated on not moving my eyes while they took in the gravelly shoulder of the road, and beyond that, the grass, all of it instantly forming into long bands of shifting colours. Grey and brown, yellow and green would fade, strengthen and blend like sections of infinite, blending ribbons. It went on and on.

We experience early in life the immensity of the world through those long car rides, train trips or flights. And as time goes on, the vastness becomes increasingly real. Even if we were to travel day and in and day out our whole lives long, we would experience only a negligible number of views relative to what can be seen. We drive past and fly over an infinity of possible experiences on our way to a limited number of destinations.

Immensity. It takes about one second for light to travel the distance from Earth to our moon. Eight minutes the distance to the sun. Our galaxy is said to have a thickness that takes light about 1,000 Earth years to travel. It is estimated to be 100,000 light years in diameter. Even if you were to leave tomorrow for the opposite side of the galaxy from where, more or less, we live, don't expect to be back in London for the first day of classes in September. And our galaxy itself is a humble, small disc, one among hundreds of millions.

Even the study of small things creates a feeling of the immensity of the universe we inhabit. The biological world is a realm of astounding complexity, and the mathematical formulas required to understand the workings of atoms, protons, electrons, quirks and quarks are not for the faint-hearted. Our world is immense, both in its vastness and complexity.

We are awed by this vastness, which many experience as the glory of the Creator. "The heavens declare," it is said in the Christian Bible, "the glory of God." Exactly. The heavens and much else.

At the same time, we all search for immediacy, a way of experiencing the here and now. Especially, we search for communities that can give us a place in the vastness of our world. We are made not only to understand the glory of the Creator through the immensity of the world. We are also made for eating meals, friendship, family, communal research and learning, sharing a pint or two, meaningful work and societies that are just and life-affirming.

This past weekend I spent Sunday morning in downtown Toronto. You may have noticed, if you have toddled around Yonge Street, Dundas, Gerrard, Bay and so on, that there are church buildings almost everywhere you look. Most of the older traditional buildings are sitting on real estate that would easily fetch millions. Besides traditional church buildings, you will have no trouble finding the Salvation Army, Yonge Street Mission and similar Christian helping ventures. Why don't these churches and Christian organizations sell their properties, move, and keep the leftover change?

I venture to say that they don't sell them because they want to give people a sense of the immediate in a world that is immense, vast, at times lonely, and for all of us at different times, not an altogether hospitable place.

The Christian way of life is, among other things, a call to re-communify our lives. To regain the experience of immediacy with people, with society and with God our Creator. To regain the experience of relationships. Of love. The most impressive definition of God in the Christian Bible is arresting in its simplicity and meaning. "God is love."

One writer has put it this way: "There is nothing you can do to make God love you less. And there is nothing you can do to make him love you more." His love just is. His love is, well, immense, as immense as anything out there. Unconditional too. And unstoppable. This understanding of God is utterly unique to Christianity (and Judaism, which is the root of Christianity). It does not exist in Islam, Buddhism or any religion and is obviously absent from any of the cheerless atheisms being touted here and there.

Perhaps this summer you will have opportunities to experience the North, or a sunset in Southwestern Ontario. The ocean, perhaps. Or a night sky where the light pollution is not yet very great. The immensity, the glorious immensity of the created world and its creator. Perhaps too, you will have the opportunity to experience the immediacy available in a Christian community. The friendship of the people of God who, among other things, celebrate his love for them and for you.

(I owe the pairing of "immensity" and "immediacy" to author Kennon L. Callahan in his writings about the Christian community. Have a great summer!)
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