Posted by: John B. Switzer, ObSB, PhD | July 29, 2014

Consumed by the Cosmos

a5a4abeb0ed72edb629cff32db1641ddInsights about life’s meaning can arrive at any time if we allow them to come in for a landing. I spent much of this morning mowing grass. At one point I looked up to note a mockingbird who had landed nearby. I’m sure she was feasting upon the grasshoppers that had been churned up by the passing mower–now much more obvious to her eyes with the grass cut short. There was also a flurry of dragon flies overhead. I wondered if they were munching on the tinier winged insects who had been upset by the mower and the grass flying out from the spinning blades beneath me.

It was a classic circle-of-life moment: creatures eating and being eaten, green clippings falling in order to die and become the soil in which new grass will grow. A certain wondrous beauty seemed to linger nearby, along with a sense of comfort. But then a question emerged for me. What if I were the grasshopper being swallowed by that mockingbird? What if I were one of the tiny insects being hunted by the dragon flies?

Well, if truth be known, I am. So are you. From the moment of our existence we’re part of something much bigger, much greater than ourselves. We are startled into a world that we did not ask to visit; we are gifted into existence. That existence brings with it the process of aging, the experience of suffering and sickness, loss, and eventual death. The cosmos that brought us into life gradually consumes us. This happens naturally because we are part of the universe. We belong to the cosmos. We have a place within it.

Some great thinkers like to remind us that our existence is a continual movement toward death. I think it’s more accurate to speak of it as cosmic advancement. We’re moving inevitably toward the ultimate fulfillment of our place in the created order. We become so engrossed and overwhelmed with our desire to be that it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) saw this desire for what it is: an overwhelming impulse that prevents us at times from finding joy in life. We Christians can learn from this insight.

We regularly pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.” We’re trying to convince ourselves rather than God. Each of us is but a speck in a very large created order. For a reminder of just how small you are, watch this video from the American Museum of Natural History.

I have a friend who is struggling with incurable cancer. He has faced his predicament with courage and faith, but I wonder at times if he feels like the grasshoppers and other small insects in my yard who have become prey to other hungry creatures. It is perhaps much easier to think of death when we have no sense of its imminent arrival, but birth and death are simply two sides to the same coin. They are brief moments in a larger process whereby the cosmos grants us being and then consumes us. This consumption is not an act of destruction on the part of the cosmos but serves as its way of bringing us to an eternity of intimacy.

This eternal intimacy is the realm from which the resurrected Christ presides as Pantocrator, the ultimate ruler of all. Over and over in life we celebrate our birthday. At times those annual celebrations seem to be like talismans meant to ward off the supposed evil of eventual death. It seems unfortunate that we think this way. Death is not a departure but a fulfillment of the process of being consumed. It is a doorway to the larger life at the heart of all that exists. We don’t even realize that we yearn for this; we desire fulfillment and intimacy with the source of our creation. Perhaps St. Paul said it best: “From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free” (Romans 8:22-23, The Jerusalem Bible).

You and I belong to the cosmos because we belong to God. And God is the One who simply is. God is no entity. God is no being in any sense like we use the word “being.” God is far beyond all of that. God is the great IS … the essence of is-ness, pure perfection of being. It would appear that in the divine plan the cosmos was granted the freedom to self-evolve, to develop not separately from God but within the plan of God. The Incarnation is God’s way of being present to us who are forever being consumed as the cosmos continually remakes itself. This is one more way that the universe demonstrates its catholicity.

So, as I mowed grass this morning in the midst of this mystery, I found cause to rejoice. I’m not just the mockingbird. I’m also the grasshopper.

This blog post is dedicated to my friend, James Henry LeBatard, who died of cancer on August 13, 2014.

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Responses

  1. You did very well Grasshopper! (You even have the skin head.)

  2. Everything belongs. How marvelous! Unity is the word that comes to mind as well as connection. Everything is connected.

  3. The understanding that “for us life has changed and not ended” (1979 BCP, burial proper preface) is a always a faith statement for which I give thanks; however, the sorrow of loosing a loved one has a profound effect on my life. Getting back in sync with daily prayer and devotion was hard for me to do. At least the daily prayer. My faith isn’t shaken, but my soul grieves to a major distraction of this extraordinary life. With God’s help, and witn a little help from friends, I know this will pass. But it sure is a kick in the ass.

    • Amen, Scott. Well said … “it sure is a kick in the ass.” Thanks for visiting.


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