*another entry in the “Overly Serious Things I Think About At Work” category. Yes, these are the things I think about while I file, process payments & get harassed by customers. I miss classes that much.
As I’ve mentioned before, I took a class on the Gospel of Judas in my last semester at Mary Wash. The other students & I struggled to fill in the gaps as we learned the basic tenants of Gnostic belief. We would blurt out questions like “If the Gnostics hated earthly life so much, why didn’t they just kill themselves?” or “If the body is a prison for the divine spark, how could a believer even think about having kids?”
One question I always remember came from another girl who had to present on the relationship of the soul to the Unknowable God, a splinter of the divine missing from the whole. She said, “If the world is so far removed from God’s notice, then why should He care about us? Does He just want His sparks back or what?” Professor Goehring then patiently explained that understanding Gnostic ideas were about tweaking the traditional Christian point of view. “Consider the change in perspective when you view human life as a separate creation versus a part of God meant to be restored to him,” he said. The whole point, he continued, was to strive to live in self-awareness in order to remain free from the traps of this world. To overcome the obstacles between yourself and the divine.
(Of course, it is no small coincidence that this was the same semester that I took a Russian lit course, where developing a character’s self-awareness is Dostoevsky’s highest priority.)
I find myself coming back to Professor Goehring’s explanation because it makes the most sense to me. (Probably also because it’s reinforced by taking 3 years of classes with Professor Stewart, who loved discussing the concept of suffering into wisdom.) After all the lit I’ve studied, living in active self-awareness and continually engaging with the world (despite its great pain & seemingly rare happiness) feels instinctively right to me. But I still ask “why?” Mainly because it’s a difficult choice to make and because the whole creation vs part of Deity idea asks different questions.
The human-as-creation idea bring to my mind questions like “Is living is full awareness a consequence of eating the apple?” (a question I’m not comfortable with since I was raised in a tradition that doesn’t recognize Original Sin) or “Does realizing the limits of human understanding just prove how little we know compared to God?”
The soul-as-part-of-the-divine idea asks me to reconsider the phrase “God will never ask more than we can give.” What if He does? What if He asks for more than the demands of our self or identity? Giving selflessly to Him is the denial of desire or attachment to this world, which only strengthens the divine spark within.
I think about these things mainly because the older I get & the more I learn, the more anxious I become about the parts of myself that I leave behind. I know that with every experience, I change. Everyone outgrows some old part of their personal perspective in order to accept new understanding. I know I will always be a work-in-progress, but I don’t know how I’ll turn out.
I actually take a lot of comfort in the Brontes, who are perfect examples of writers working from this fear. Many of the characters in these novels live in fear of the changes they stand to undergo in this life and the next. Heathcliff and Cathy are damned because they refuse to recognize anything greater than their obsession with each other. Jane Eyre struggles against St. John molding her soul to his own version of divine service. As Gilbert and Helen discuss perfect love in Heaven, he says, “So perfect, I suppose, that it soars above distinctions, and you will have no closer sympathy with me than with any one of the ten thousand thousand angels. . . can you contemplate with delight losing me in a sea of glory?”
Even though choosing to live in awareness of this world & my own place in becomes harder & harder to accept as time passes, it is the right choice. Though I can’t say for certain that God thinks more of me than as some shiny spark to snatch back up, I can face the uncertainty knowing others fear the realities of the divine too.