Possible gods and goddesses

“I love humanity, it’s people I can’t stand.” This sometimes misattributed quote seems to have its origins in this quote from Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky’s The Brother Karamazov

“I love humanity . . . but I can’t help being surprised at myself: the more I love humanity in general, the less I love men in particular, I mean, separately, as separate individuals. In my dreams . . . I am very often passionately determined to save humanity, and I might quite likely have sacrificed my life for my fellow-creatures, if for some reason it has been suddenly demanded of me, and yet I’m quite incapable of living with anyone in one room for two days together, and I know that from experience. As soon as anyone comes close to me, his personality begins to oppress my vanity and restrict my freedom. I’m capable of hating the best men in twenty-four hours: one because he sits too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold in the head and keeps blowing his nose. But, on the other hand, it invariably happened that the more I hated men individually, the more ardent became my love for humanity at large.”

Not having read the book, the context for this quote is unknown to me, but I think the sentiment is relatable. We withdraw from some people because we find them unlovely and yet still desperately search out other people with a breathless optimism that we yet may find folk who are lovely. Sometimes this reeks of selfishness and a failure to embrace God’s invitation to turn to Him in our hunger and be satisfied and other times it may be the intrinsic longing for true goodness that has been with us from the beginning—the thing that makes us wonder if we have been made for more than we currently know or experience.

Several weeks ago, I spent some time with a touring choir that consisted mostly of relativity new acquaintances and a few older ones. I had been feeling a little cynical about the value of short-term relationships like this. One can connect well with a person in an environment like this only to never or rarely cross paths again. Why bother? But a I thought about it, I began to realize that many of the rich, formative experiences in my life have been heavily influenced by the people around me in those times, even if our paths never cross again. And when they do, often these indiviuals’s life trajectories are still a light on the path toward God.

As it was, our time together was both exhausting and delightful. And I marveled as our stories converged for two weeks—seemingly a tiny blip in the universe, but truly a significant experience for pilgrims seeking for the King of of Love. Singing, living and conversing with godly men and women possessing a kaleidoscope of experiences, interests and vocations allowed me to taste grace not been given to me and awakened dormant dreams. In the stories told and ideas exchanged I heard echoes of song, celebrating the exuberance of life unfolding and also the near-silent lament of the agony of life unraveling. A mosaic emerged telling of the wholeness and brokenness that we as people are. And along the cracks of unmet expectations, spilled out the deep inner hope that God is making all things new.

C. S. Lewis speaks of these kinds of things much more eloquently the closing of his sermon titled “The Weight of Glory”.

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

While I disagree with Lewis on what he refers to as the “Blessed Sacrament”, I suggest that our neighbors may be equally sacred to the body of Christ.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Luke 25:34-40 (ESV)

Often think of these words in terms of helping the needy but they also are our most basic needs—friendship, water, food, clothing. And in gently, passionately and joyfully helping each other to everlasting splendor, we too are making our calling sure. He has called us by his glory and goodness, let us arise…