Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Eternal Now and the two baskets

Our friend Barbara Crafton, who was with us this past weekend for an Advent retreat at St. Paul's, sent this missive this morning. Barbara puts in writing much of what she reflected upon in her time with us: the "doctrine of the two baskets."

I summarized her ideas in an earlier post, but this is much better coming from her:

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By Barbara Crafton

If it is so -- as it surely must be -- that God has no past, present or future, but encompasses all of these in an eternal NOW, that the One who "has the whole world in His hands" holds everything material but is neither held nor limited bit anything, then it must also be the case that we are also in it. Already. It is not an afterlife, at the end of a linear progression of minutes, years and centuries; it is an also life, existing all around the life we know, and containing it.

It is as if there were two baskets, a large one and a small one. The smaller basket sits in the larger one, which easily holds it. We live in the smaller basket: we and everything we love and hate, we as we are now, and we as we were. We as we shall be. The world as it was before we arrived, and as it will be when we have departed it. The universe from its first inorganic breath to the final sigh of its extinguishing. What was, is now and what shall be -- it is all in the smaller basket, our beautiful home.

We love it here. Almost all of us never want to leave. We count our departure from it as tragedy, the departure of those we hold dear as unbearable loss. Many of us refuse even to discuss that ending: won't make out a will, won't see the life insurance agent, won't choose a healthcare proxy. Won't even say the word "died.". And the ending of the universe that contains us? We find it inconceivable.

It is in the nature of baskets to have holes, is it not -- openings between the strips of wood or straw or grass that have been woven together to form them? If you were in the smaller basket, you might, from time to time, peer out one of the openings to see what's out there. Sometimes you see it in a state you call dreaming. There's something out there, that's for sure, and sometimes you get a glimpse. But the opening through which you peer is small, and you can't really get a good look. And who cares what's out there, anyway? You like it here. Everything you love is here, in the smaller basket.

One day, though, the smaller basket begins to crumble. Soon you stand amid the shards of it. You look around and see that you are in another basket. You see, in fact, that this is the very place you saw, those times when you peered out of the tiny openings in the smaller basket. Oh, you say to yourself, I know this place! I have always been here. Everything I loved has always been here. Everything is here.

All our times are there. All our loves. All our possibilities, including the ones that never bore fruit here in the smaller basket. Everything has always been there. As you have aged, loss has stabbed you many times, and you have bled freely from the wounds. But take heart. The fragile loves we clutch in a vain attempt to hold them here? They all wait there, just outside the basket's thin walls. The smaller basket is pregnant with us.

Our first birth into this world is frightening, I think -- a perilous journey through an impossibly narrow opening. It must be terrifying for the little traveler -- even a year or two later, you try to put a turtleneck on a toddler and it evokes an unpleasant memory. But the journey inaugurates the life we love. It's worth it.

We live in fear of our second birth, the one we call death. But it is probably the same: a transition from one state to another, from the rules of one world to a world in which they do not apply.

So be of good cheer. And stay tuned. What we see is not all there is.
Photo of Barbara Crafton at St. Paul's Memorial Church, Dec. 4, 2011, by Gwynn Crichton.

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