Jesus Thoughts (3) : Day of the Dead

Halloween.  Day of the Dead.   Strange carnival abolishing time & space, life & death, the living, the undead - by way of twilight parades of kids en masque, costumes from other times, other planets. Thinking as I walked home from work today of T.S. Eliot's line from Four Quartets : "Humankind cannot bear very much reality."   & of the famous phrase of Pascal : "Le silence eternel de ces espaces infinis m'affraie." (The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.)

These came to mind today as I had been pondering (& bloggifying) the riddle of resurrection.  If there are countless earth-like planets out there, circuiting a zillion stars - and even if, as Giordano Bruno speculated, God has sent his cosmic "Son" in some fashion to redeem those myriad worlds - still, on the Day of the Dead, that infinity, that vastness, can project a melancholy image : chill the bones a little, when we think of all that space as a theater of final separation from everyone we love & keep near.

Yet there is something bracing in the effort to imagine that daunting "very much reality".  Jeffrey Schnapp, in his book on Dante (The transfiguration of history at the center of Dante's Paradise), describes how Justinian's architects laid out the mosaics in the Ravenna church at St. Apollinare in Classe - & how Dante figured their design in his Paradiso.  Over the image of the martyr-saint (Apollinare) hovers a tremendous cross-in-circle, composed of 99 stars, with a small face of Christ at its center : representing both the resurrection-body of Christ - prefigured in the Gospel narrative of the Transfiguration - and the eschatological "sign of the Son of Man" which was to appear in the heavens at the Day of Judgement.  In the church, the sacrament of the Eucharist, performed at the altar over the fragmentary relics of the saint, enacts a communion of transfigurement : the body of Christ becomes bread and wine, becomes the collective Body of Christ (the Church itself, the "communion of saints"), and finally becomes the unimaginable "resurrection-body", when "in the twinkling of an eye, we shall all be changed" (St. Paul).

& when we circle back to the logical foundation-stones of this "Way", which I sketched very casually in the first section of this thread - that is, when we keep in mind the concept of God's creative Mind & Being as the origin of the universe which we inhabit (as in a dream) - then suddenly the idea of death's finality, the threat of remote separation from those we love - is modified.  We recognize the limitations of our human vision : we acknowledge the brevity & fragility of our lives within the framework of eternity & infinite space : in an almost Buddhist or Hindu or Zen state of mind, we behold the road of infinite experience stretching out before the soul.  But most of all, we sense, in the love-beauty-joy that we have actually experienced in this world (somehow manifested out of nothing at all) - we sense a promise of future happiness, we feel the warmth, the smile of a cosmic victory hidden within the suffering at hand.  (Relativity & quantum physics have begun to alter our sense of mystery in this regard : things are seldom what they seem.  What seems infinitely remote may actually be too close to perceive; what we thought was matter might actually be mind; life might indeed be more like Poe's "dream within a dream" - to quote a well-known Halloween author).

It's intriguing to remember that behind the stodgy old stone walls of ancient churches, people are gathering for a rite of communion which is indeed a kind of pantomime, a mystery play, representing the transfiguration of the "body of death" (the body we know so well) into the body of Christ - the holy fellowship of spiritual glee : that is, the grace of an intellectual perception of shared life beyond death, when "Death itself shall die" : and then "Death, where is thy sting?"  And "Death is swallowed up in victory."

Here's a Halloween poem I wrote years ago, which glances at some of these things :

Halloween.  The sun’s already down.
Everywhere leaves are gathering,
lightly rustling and shivering,
their ruddy bloom already fading,
the sun’s dry wine drunk to the dregs.
The neighborhood grows anonymous.
Soon the small ghosts will appear,
flickering and half–transparent
under the streetlights, costumed
for space travel, or the Middle Ages.
This is that ancient harvest night.
Harvest of time, harvest of souls.
Tonight the years are buried quietly
under a shroud of old leaves, and I
am a child too, standing at the door.

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