Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Between Topographies

There are whole worlds hidden and obvious, and I walk past them everyday. Mostly I forget to look, but sometimes I see. I am learning again to look and when I do, I am confronted with spheres of life that overlap, coincide, collide. I find myself in-between the infinite and infinitesimal.

I bend my eyes to the frozen topographical map that splays out under my feet, and imagine that I am looking down at a planet, each of those cracks is a fissure in the crust, each bend a river. Now I am an explorer, charting this moment, memorizing what I can for later, when I'm starved for beauty in a stretch of dull grey cubicles, stress, and fluorescent lights. Packing a meal for my journey through the worldly world.

I continue running, the crunch of mountains and valleys under my feet is satisfying. Looking up into the white-capped blue, I catch a snapshot of the endless of the sky. It keeps going, and going. Giddiness. Suddenly, I am back in the upstairs bedroom as a gangly girl, darkening my room late at night, and training my telescope on the moon till she filled my vision and my heart skipped a beat. Every time. I puzzled over that. Why does seeing a faraway, bright thing so close make the heart race so? I'm still not sure, but it's possible that it has something to do with glory. I never had a hard time imagining that the ancients worshiped the great lights. But they "worshiped the creation rather than the Creator." St. Paul, who grew indignant at the neverending pantheon of gods in Rome, says that this is "to exchange the truth of God for a lie." My head spins with implications, but my heart rests secure now.

I am too large in some topographies, stomping like a clumsy giant over ants and ravines in the sidewalk cracks and snow-tipped tufts of brown vegetation. On the other hand, I am too small, lost with my blood pounding in my ears for all the glory out there brought too close. "What is man that you are mindful of him? And yet you have made him a little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory..."

Something else rings in the memory, something I read long ago: "les deux infinis" (the two infinities). Pascal. How did that go again? Finger runs along my bookshelf, and eyes across digital pages too, remembering, until I see and yes. This is what is happening. This is where I am. And it's meant to feel awkward:

"Let man contemplate Nature in its entirety, high and majestic; let him expand his gaze from the lowly objects which surround him. Let him look on this blazing light, placed like an eternal lamp in order to light up the universe; let him see that this earth is but a point compared to the vast circle which this star describes and let him marvel at the fact that this vast orbit itself is merely a tiny point compared to the stars which roll through the firmament. The entire visible world is only an imperceptible speck in the ample bosom of nature. No idea can come close to imagining it. We might inflate our concepts to the most unimaginable expanses: we only produce atoms in relation to the reality of things. Nature is an infinite sphere in which the center is everywhere, the circumference is nowhere. Finally, it is the greatest sensible mark of God's omnipotence, that our imagination loses itself in that thought."

And then,

"Let him behold the tiniest things he knows of. Let a mite show him in the smallness of its body parts incomparably smaller, legs with joints, veins in the legs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the humours, vapors in the drops, which, dividing to the smallest things, he wears out his imaginative power, and let the last object which he arrives at become now the subject of our discourse; he might think that this perhaps is the smallest thing in the universe. I wish now to make him see therein a new abyss. I want to paint for him not only the visible universe, but all the imaginable immensity of nature within the confines of an atom. Let him see an infinity of universes, in which each has its own firmament, planets, earth, in the same proportion as the visible world; within this earth, there are animals and finally, mites, in which he'll find again the same things as he found in the mite he started with; and finding again the same things without end, let him lose himself in these wonders.."

Let me lose myself in these wonders.


Henry said...

Yes. Beautiful essay. I too am caught between these worlds. Suspended just above this dust with my heart aching for heaven. Oh, so thankful that God has placed eternity within the heart of man... Dad

Anonymous said...

Oh yes Abbey; thank you. I say this not to inflate your ego, but to encourage you to continue in this vein. We take so much for granted!