Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Thoughts for Ascensiontide

* * *

In thinking about the ascension of Jesus, we can fall victim to a simplistic cosmology where heaven is "up there" and hell is "down there"... as if one can locate the holy and the profane geographically. Shakespeare also challenges the notion of a then-prevalent cosmology... particularly astrological notions of the influence of stars, constellations, moons, and suns over human behavior. Thus, these words find their way into the mouth of Edmond, the "out-of-wedlock" son of Gloucester. He asks rather convincingly whether we are responsible for our own behaviors or whether some kind of spherical influences have power to direct our lives:

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are sick in fortune, -- often the surfeit
of our own behavior, -- we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity; fools by
heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion
of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
disposition to the charge of a star! My
father compounded with my mother under the
dragon's tail; and my nativity was under Ursa
major; so that it follows, I am rough and
lecherous. Tut, I should have been that I am,
had the maidenliest star in the firmament
twinkled on my bastardizing.

-- King Lear, Act 1, Scene 2

To be sure, you will find a horoscope in every newspaper, and lots of us "check it" just for fun... but do we really believe that the stars have such influences. Is the ascension of Jesus merely some kind of geographical event... or is the Bible pointing to something much deeper than that?

* * *

In the biblical tradition, God's nature is revealed always in relationship... in community, as it were. It comes then as no surprise that Jesus would ascend to the right hand of God to judge the living and the dead. God is community... a dynamic community creating, saving, and sanctifying -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is not a doctrine called the Trinity; God is a dynamic community intimately involved with the world he loves and gave his Son for. Thus, "no man is an island" as John Donne would say; every one of us is a parent, a child, a sister or brother, a colleague... we are all a community of people inextricably woven one to another for good or ill. With the ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God, a decisive challenge has been issued to make that community good!

* * *

It has been said that the more godlike God becomes, the more genuinely human God is; and conversely the more genuinely human we are, the more godlike we too become. Thus, in the wondrous work of the likes of Michelangelo, these kinds of words become possible:

My soul can find no staircase to heaven unless it be through earth's loveliness.

-- Michelangelo

As we mark the ascension of Jesus let us keep in mind the ineffable quality of both heaven and earth and resist the temptation to trivialize either.