While I am not nearly as fond of Plato as some, I think I can understand why many Christians hold to somewhat of a Platonic Idealism; the belief that “the other side” is more real than the physical world seems to fit in with much of Christian thinking on the nature of reality. I thought that C.S. Lewis did a marvelous job in exploring that concept in The Great Divorce, one of my favorite Lewis works. I also can understand – in a sense – the belief that parallel universes exist. The idea that reality branches off in a decision tree, where all potentials are real somewhere, is intriguing, even if the theory is based on some questionable approaches to mathematics. Some of my favorite fiction is that which explores the nature of reality. It’s just fun to think about.
And then, sometimes I just encounter reality.
My neighbor, Randy, is pastor of one of the larger churches in our area, which I understand is one of the only 3 growing churches in town. Randy’s a really great guy, we like him a lot. His church, on the surface, is one of those white, middle-class, conservative evangelical churches that I have a really hard time with. However, this church is not your normal evangelical church, and Randy is not your normal evangelical pastor. He knows, for example, that life sometimes is very hard; a few years ago his son, still a teenager, simply died after a game of golf. Randy never lost his faith, however the joy of golf is no more.
So, we visit Randy’s church on occasion. He speaks truth, from the heart, and has no need for followers, or for your money. The church is on its 2nd huge building project in 6 years, but they only build what they have money for. They don’t take an offering, people drop it in the basket on their way out. The first time we visited, I confess I had a hard time dealing with the whole middle-class evangelical culture thing; while I sensed there was something more beneath the surface, I wasn’t sure that I had the patience to deal with the surface. Then, of course, there’s evangelicalism itself…
While I have some difficulty with evangelical culture, I have perhaps more of an issue with evangelical theology; being self-consciously modern, they’ve done away with anything approximating mystery or the unexplainable, preferring to turn sacraments into mere memorials or “testimonies.” They have, for the most part, accepted Plato’s dualism; they live life in the “cave,” looking for some future escape into a supernatural reality. Sometimes, in their attempts to bring some kind of faith element back into the sacraments, they become more like superstitions than anything else. For this reason, I don’t take communion in the church we’ve attended for 7 years, or in most evangelical churches.
Surprised by Reality
This past Sunday, Randy’s church celebrated communion, which they tend to do once a month. There, I had an experience of Reality. Rather than tack communion on at the end of the service as kind of the “weird uncle” of church practice, they center their morning around it. I was amazed… even Lutherans don’t put that much emphasis on communion. Even though this is a regular practice for this church, Randy spoke at length about the meaning of communion as if they had never done it before, and I think what he had to say would have made most Lutherans feel at home, as well as most evangelicals. As we took communion (even though they were little crackery things and grape juice), I encountered reality, or what is sometimes called the Real Presence.
I am not talking about any molecular changes or pseudo-cannibalistic superstitions, but a simple experience of Reality, a connection between parallel realities. It’s not a physical multiverse thing or even a Platonic vision of reality, neither of which I believe in. I do believe that our material universe is entirely real, is not just a cave of shadows, but is “spiritual” in its own right. However, I do believe that there exists another reality, known theologically as the Kingdom of God/Heaven, and that God has provided a number of “contact points” by which this reality can be touched by those of us currently inhabiting our material universe. Communion is one such point, where – in a manner of speaking – Heaven touches Earth.
Being I was in a setting where I didn’t expect it, my epiphany, this sudden awareness of Reality, took me by surprise.
Is it mystical? You bet. Is it detectable by any scientific means? I don’t think so. Is it irrational? Not at all; such a reality is, as I’ve said, conceivable by better minds than mine. To those who haven’t encountered Reality, it is indescribable. However, for those of us who have encountered Reality, it is simply undeniable.
I’m no Platoniac, but the Apostle Paul’s “through a glass darkly” has a bit of the cave allegory in it, I would think.
Still, we devalue the world by thinking, as Lewis speculates, that heaven is “realer” than the here and now. Both are equally real to the fullest extent as different modes of the same totality.
Lastly, I appreciate your concluding couplet. Robert Palmer would be pleased.