The dear dog is dying. He is as patient and noble in death as he was merry and boisterous in life. What are we to make of this event, solemn and awesome as it is even in dogs? I don’t believe there is a heaven to which we all go, presided over by an Almighty God who created the world. Such sentimental fairy stories do religion no favours. But I do believe there is another dimension of reality outside time and space to which, in the depths of our being, we all already belong. Evidence that this dimension exists is everywhere about us. Countless mystics down the ages have testified to direct personal experience of such a further dimension: enlightenment, union with God or saccidinanda or whatever you call it. We feel it in the beauty of nature. The flowers in a civic park might well be beautiful, but in the beauty of wild things there is something else. What can we call this something else? I call it the tremendousness. I feel it particularly in the sound of waves falling on a beach, the cries of wild flying geese, bluebells in a wood. All down the ages humanity has felt not just aesthetic pleasure but also this numinous presence in nature and has heaved up megaliths, cromlechs, temples and cathedrals in order to worship it.
‘What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset’ said the Blackfoot Indian Crowfoot in the nineteenth century with his dying breaths.’
‘Whenever in the course of the daily hunt the red hunter comes across a scene that is strikingly beautiful or sublime – a black thundercloud with the rainbow’s glowing arch above a mountain, a white waterfall in the heart of a green gorge, a vast prairie tinged with the red blood of sunset – he pauses for an instant in the attitude of worship’ wrote a Dakota Indian in 1911.
‘…even then I felt/Gleams like the flashing of a shield; the earth/ And common face of Nature spake to me/ Rememberable things’ wrote Wordsworth in The Prelude.
‘…it is rather in its chaos that nature most arouses our ideas of the sublime, or in its wildest and most ruleless disarray and devastation, provided it displays magnitude and might’ wrote Kant.
‘White massive clouds were piled up against a dark blue sky & and across them ragged sheets of vapour were rapidly driven. The successive ranges of mountains appeared like dim shadows; it was a most ominous, sublime scene – The setting sun cast on the woodland a yellow gleam much like the flame of spirits of wine on a man’s countenance’ jotted Darwin in his Beagle journal.
All artists know this other dimension, as if it is a greater voice speaking within them. Lowry called it ‘the other side’, Eliot ‘the auditory imagination’, Keats ‘negative capability’.
But perhaps it is science that provides us with the most persuasive evidence. In the depths of our bodies are cells, in the depths of cells atoms, in the depths of atoms electrons. But electrons, it seems, answer to a different logic than the if p then q of our everyday lives. To the surface dimension in which we normally live nonlocality, wave/particle duality and the superposition are irrational, illogical and incomprehensible. But in the depths of our bodies, nevertheless, that is where we dwell.
I don’t believe that God made everything that exists, as a watchmaker might make a watch. I believe with Aquinas that God is existence. God is not outside the universe, God is the universe in its deepest place. ‘God is within the universe and that innermostly’ he wrote. I share humanity with you. Humans share organic life with other animals. Animals share material existence with non-organic beings. We all share existence. God is this existence in which we all exist, everything as one, not simply as separate particle but also as unified wave.
All through nature we find subordinate elements joining together to form higher unities. Electrons form atoms, atoms form molecules, molecules form cells, cells form bodies. Yet if you ask a scientists ‘what is water?’ he (oh OK she) can only say two atoms of hydrogen compounded with one of oxygen. By definition science cannot find what it is that makes higher unities higher, it can only reduce them to their not-yet-high components. Science has found nothing material that makes higher unities higher. Why should two atoms of hydrogen locking onto one of oxygen in order to fulfill their need to have more than one electron in their outer shells become beautiful, sparkling water? It must therefore be something immaterial. God is the higher unity of all higher unities, the further dimension – the sublimity, the numinous presence so many people have felt in nature, the voice of creativity within the heart of the artist – in which everything that we experience as separate is one. I would rather say ‘is already one’. I don’t think we ‘go to heaven’. I think we already exist in this other dimension in which everything is one, aka God, but we are at present unaware of it. Death is not extinction, I believe – believe, how could I know? – but an awakening after this strange little sleep in which we had such amazing and mysterious dreams. I hope one day to awake to this greater reality myself and to share it with, among, so many others, the dear dog.
Electrons are particles as well as waves. Will everything be absorbed in the one and lose its identity or will it in some strange way also continue to be itself? Will I be I and the dog the dog as well as being absorbed into God? The Hindu sages will only say ‘it is true that everything is absorbed into the one but also it is not true that everything is absorbed into the one’. Not very helpful. They sound like quantum physicists. Well we shall see. Or not see, as the case may be. One can only guess and hope.