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How Big Is Our Box?

“The Big Green Box”

Imagine a box—a big box. Now think bigger and think green—a Big Green Box (BGB). Why “Green”?  Because I like green.  Ok, the BGB is big enough to contain the earth, and the solar system, the galaxy, all galaxies and even the Universe. Almost beyond imagination, isn’t it?

See Nature/Super-nature Chart

(yes, I actually illustrated the Universe.  You’re welcome!)

Everything is in the BGB. In fact, everything IS the BGB. Ok, now that you have that impossibly huge universal package in your mind (an inadequate container, I know), here’s a question: Is there anything outside the box? And one more bonus question: Is there anyONE outside the box?

We all have storage boxes for things, even mental things, places where we store our imagination—our images, our worldviews. The brain is a nicely complex living box.

If we believe in “God” we have a place we put that. In the ancient world, God was “up” there, on a mountain, in the clouds, or beyond the stars. God was “up” maybe because the sun was “up” and we were “down” here on this great, spherical mystery-box called Earth. What was “down,” beneath us, was dark and dangerous—even devilish. Our fears populated the boxes with all kinds of scary things, so we kept our eyes toward the “heavens” where we found comfort in the big light of day and the smaller lights of night. We might bend our knees to the earth but our eyes always drifted upward.

This “three-story” universe I’m describing seems to be with us to our day. Listen and watch what people say and do with faith and see if you can tell.

In more modern times, I was having an online conversation with a person who calls himself a progressive Christian. I asked him if there was anything outside the box of universal Nature. He said no. Because he still considers himself a believer in God and Jesus and something called the “spiritual,” I asked him to look at the BGB and tell me where they are. He said there is nothing outside the universe so anything “spiritual” is a part of the universe, built in to Nature. Yet, he explained, he is not a pantheist and does not believe in a “super-natural.” My brain-box was bursting.

I couldn’t let this go; I kept asking for more information. If there is nothing and no one outside the BGB, then how does one talk about God or Spirit and have that make any sense?

Here’s an illustration that works for me. This past week I watched a bobcat walk nonchalantly by the open door. Later, a black bear wandered by. On a walk we saw a great blue heron soaring, muskrats in the stream and a snapping turtle in a smaller pond. Now, as a naturalistically-minded person, I enjoy all this wild Nature at the doorstep, sometimes literally at the door. In my “spiritual” days, I might look for lessons in each creature, wondering what God might be trying to teach me in these living parables. Now, in my “secular” days, I just appreciate the beauty of the natural world, without the need to look beyond or behind for something else. That “something else” is what the word “supernatural” was made for.

If I’m walking with someone and we see these wonderful wild things and my companion says they “see” more than the animal, more than the bird, more than a tree or more than me—I have to stop and ask, “So, you are experiencing the world differently, through different senses, because I don’t see what you’re seeing.” When people like my online friend start to use mystical words, speaking of the sacred, holy or divine present in the world, I cannot cross that line. I cannot step across the “edge” of the BGB with my senses or my intellect. That would be stepping into literal non-sense.

During my years as a chaplain I would often read “mystics” of various traditions. One of them was Teresa of Calcutta (now a saint) who said that when she was tending the wounds of a poor person she would see Jesus—for her, the most vulnerable and afflicted human being was actually Christ, “in distressing disguise.” I liked that. Later, not so much. Those of us who were out among the poorest people may have felt we were doing the work of God, but we weren’t feeding God, housing God and advocating for God. These were real people of the BGB and for me; they seemed to be in too many boxes already and didn’t need to be pushed into a Big God Box.

As I see it, we have a tendency to “sneak into the super”—we use words without handles, talking about “things above” or “deeper,” believing we know something about something outside of Nature, beyond the Universe.

These things can make my head spin and eyes roll, like the spinning planets and rolling earth. I suppose the Big Questions about the BGB will always orbit our human reason and catch fire like suns and supernovas for both skeptics and the superstitious.

Maybe the box isn’t green, but isn’t it Big Enough?

Chris Highland
2017, 2019

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