Do not let your hearts be troubled. In my father’s house there are many dwelling places.
In the Gospel of John Jesus gives us an image of the afterlife and of life and of the whole universe very different from the image that the culture teaches us. The culture teaches us that matter is all there is, just the physical, and I think deep down that frightens and depresses us. We look at the images of the galaxies and the stars that the new James Webb telescope is sending us and we think how beautiful the universe is, but also how vast and impersonal, just gases and forces and random events, and we are just particles, too, briefly winking in and then winking out.
But Jesus says no, the universe is a great house, a mansion, a wonderful mansion, warm and safe and welcoming, and we all have a place in it, we all have our own dwelling places, and we’re not insignificant—we are precious and we are loved, forever.
Imagine how different things would be if we could believe this! How free we would be!
Nothing comes from nothing, and the something that comes can never pass away. We learn languages and fall in love and are full of talk and ideas and energy and creativity, and then we die, and maybe it seems that all of that is just gone. It’s just disappeared. But no. No. Every creative act, every kindness, every smile or glance influences all of us, flows out to us in ways we can’t measure, and none of that goodness and creativity ever dies. What we love in others and what they love in us is something immortal.
Look at the resurrection that occurs every day, Saint Clement tells us. “The night lies in sleep” but “the day rises again.” Look at the sower who goes out and casts each seed into the ground, and from those seeds rise up all that we need. St.Clement’s image is of God holding us all in his hands: “Where can one go, where can one escape to, from the presence of him whose hands embrace the universe?”
In Dante, the great poet of the Middle Ages, the image is of a vast and beautiful rose, the Mystic Rose, in which all the countless souls of the just are arranged, tier upon tier, “mounting with the light,” as he puts it. I love roses. We have dozens of them on our deck where the deer can’t get them, and I especially love the yellows and the oranges and the creams, and when I delight in them as I do I glimpse heaven, I am in heaven, and whenever any of us are delighted, whenever any of us see beauty and feel love and are most ourselves, are most free, we glimpse heaven, too. What we delight in is finally beyond all science and beyond all imagination.
There, far and near cause neither loss nor gain,
for where God rules directly, without agents,
the laws that govern nature do not pertain.
Nothing comes from nothing. Science cannot account for beauty and it cannot account for loneliness and it cannot explain how we got here in the first place or how anything got here. To call consciousness an illusion is to be conscious of an illusion, and that consciousness is from God and returns to God, and deep inside the Rose there is place for each of us, it is vast and it is beautiful beyond all imagining. “Into the gold of the rose that blooms eternal,” Dante says, every petal is “a throne.”