Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Resurrection that "Matters"

Resurrection has always puzzled me. As if the scientific problems with a resurrected body weren't issues enough, the notion of going back to a physical, limited body seemed distasteful. Why would anyone want to be in this one human body forever and ever? Isn't eighty years in it quite enough? As the desirable thing Mormons paint it out to be, it didn't strike me as very appealing. And other questions arise: how does the resurrected body "work?" Is it temporal or timeless? Is it somehow infinite and if so, how? All in all, resurrection seemed altogether too "fuzzy" a concept for me to put much stock in.

But a fuzzy concept also leaves room for interpreting that concept. While the traditional notion of resurrection might strike me as distasteful, I've stumbled upon a conception of it that rubs me the right way. I'm going to give it here for your reading pleasure

What's the Matter?

In a similar way to my reincarnation post from earlier this month, I'll start by asking: "what is resurrected?" It's certainly not the physical "stuff" that makes me up right now, at least not in a literal sense; all it takes to go against that idea is the remembering fact that the matter in my body circulates in and out over a cycle of x many years, leaving none of material that originally composed it. No, I think that what is really resurrected isn't my physical body at all. Despite what others might say, I don't think that matter in its deepest sense is just composed of atoms, molecules, and chemicals--it's broader and deeper than that. The real nature of matter reveals itself in our language. When we ask "what's the matter with you?" or "this really matters," our words are more than just fluff. "What's the matter" is matter, in its real sense: the impressions, feelings, hopes, and dreams that our lives are built out of. This matter--what matters--is the substance of our convictions, what really means something to us, what gives weight to the stuff in our lives.

You can discern that matter if you're perceptive enough. When walking into a room, ask yourself: in what way do I feel different from how I feel in other rooms? When talking to another person, try to pay attention to the different "flavors" of interaction that come out between you. And when reading a book, notice the different feelings and emotional impressions that seem to "waft" from the pages. In each of these cases, what you're noticing is the matter of the situation, "what's the matter" there. And I used words like "flavor" and "waft" above quite deliberately--Emanuel Swedenborg described how auras--an analogous concept to what I'm talking about--are an awful lot like smells. For instance, he gives examples of this concept deep in his multi-volume work Secrets of Heaven:
Some have indulged in mere physical pleasure, without developing any neighborly love or any faith. Their aura smells like excrement. The same is true of those who have carried out a life filled with adultery, although their stench is even worse....When an aura of charity or faith is perceived as a smell, it yields intense pleasure. The smell is sweet, like the smell of flowers, of lilies, of different types of perfume, with unlimited variety.

Dream Matter

These auras are ways that the "stuff" underlying the situations in my life can come into sight. Likewise, this is the "stuff" which dreams are made on, quite literally: when I see my childhood house in a dream, there I'm seeing its matter, the colors, shapes, and textures that rendered it emotionally significant to me. So too with my friends and family: in dreams, I see what matters to me about them, for good or for bad.

Dreams "harvest" what matters in my life and shows it to me at night. So when Alma the Younger wrote that "that which ye do send out shall return unto you again" (Alma 41:15), he could thus just as well have been talking about this deeper matter. Moreover, Rudolf Steiner wrote somewhere (and I'm paraphrasing) that sleep is analogous to death. When I sleep, my body becomes still and I lose consciousness. But more than this, in sleep I go to a place in many respects like the spiritual world. As with Emanuel Swedenborg's descriptions of that world, in dreams I can go to places and make things appear with the power of desire and thought. Moreover, dreams speak using the symbolic language that both Steiner and Swedenborg say is characteristic of the spiritual world.

The Matter of Resurrection

If dreams harvest the deeper "material" of my life, could the same be said of "what dreams may come" after death? With death, I likewise conclude that this world of molecules and atoms is just food for the world of "higher" matter, of matter that matters." To use another image, this world is a fertile ground where seeds from that higher world can mature into fruit-bearing plants--the soil is just there so that the seed can have the nutrients it needs to realize itself. Or to use yet another image, this world is a mirror by which a higher being--made of higher matter--can see and realize itself as an object.

It is this higher being that gets resurrected, and the resurrected body is the aforementioned mature plant or image in a mirror. To my understanding, resurrection is the process by which a nascent being of this "higher" matter comes into itself, using "lower" matter as a foil. That higher matter's infinity (read: unboundedness) needs limitation and finitude to realize itself. To use a parable, the rushing fullness of water is useless unless it has a limited vessel to contain it, and an empty vessel is useless unless it contains the fullness of water. In this process, infinity and finitude meet and enter into marriage--both are worthless without the other. And the resurrection proper happens at the consummation of that marriage, when the boundless matter of infinity--again, what really "matters"--realizes its own nature in the looking-glass of finite, lower matter. In that consummation, infinity contains itself in limitedness and finitude realizes its own endlessness. The bounded and the boundless meet and become one.

But here's the real question: when does resurrection happen? If I'm being completely honest, I'll say that resurrection occurs whenever the "matter that matters" completely sees itself in the world's material. The last two Christmases have been like this for me. On both days, I experienced a closeness with my family that rarely comes on other days These were moments of love and joy when I saw what really mattered right in front of me--the matter of eternity laid bare, evident for me to see. But it also happens when I look into my girlfriend's eyes and time seems to stop--there's just us and what matters between us. These are a kind of resurrection--matter raised out of the drab obscurity of atoms and molecules to see itself perfectly.

But what about the resurrection, that ultimate consummation of the world's purpose toward which we're all heading? Well, I've had intimations and intuitions of a big change coming. By and large, the world is suffocating in the fire of desire--we want infinite satisfaction from finite objects and bodies, which, of course, can never happen. But, whether through pain or disappointment, we'll eventually realize the futility of this quest. At this point, the resurrection will happen when we stop clutching at the glass of the lower matter's mirror and instead see through it. We don't really want the literal matter of wealth, titillating bodies, or exciting new gadgets: we want what matters--spiritual matter, the matter of eternity, revealed for all to see. And it will happen, I have no doubt.

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