Perspective is valuable. This is especially true when our lives seem inundated by rolling tides of information. So much of what we hear is emotional, more of it manipulative, and too much of it angry. Consequently, rhetoric gets hotter, feelings get colder, and caring for one another and what happens to the rest of us leans precariously in the direction of complacency bordering on cynicism.
Perhaps we can benefit from expanded vision.
I recently led a workshop in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, just across the U.S. border. The area is part of a larger region that includes Niagara Falls. One afternoon, five of us shared a car and went to the falls. If you have not visited, it is hard to describe—the magnitude of water, the immense size, the roaring sound, the sun shining through the rising mist creating constant rainbows over thundering waters. The two enormous falls—one on the American side and one on the Canadian—cascade over 180 feet of space, pouring a combined 3,160 tons of water per second all day, every day.
Experiencing Niagara Falls was awe-inspiring. Yet there’s so much more than the falls themselves. A Canadian friend drove us downriver, explaining the Niagara escarpment, the cliff and geographic phenomenon created by the sharp drop of the earth of 300 feet in one cataclysmic event thousands of years ago.
The Bigger Picture
Offering beautiful vistas, wine growing, sporting, leisure and an entire micro-climate, this part of Ontario is surrounded by a giant water system of which these amazing falls are only a small part. Lake Ontario to the north where the Niagara River flows, and Lake Erie to the south, where Niagara’s water comes from, combine to moderate temperatures—thus creating milder summers and winters and better soil for excellent crops. All kinds of vegetables and fruits, including plenty of peaches and apples, are harvested, along with grapes that produce some of the best wine in the world.
Much of the water that flows from Lake Erie over the falls into Lake Ontario, up the St. Lawrence River and eventually into the Atlantic actually begins hundreds of miles south in the even larger, more complex systems of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and beyond. The total expanse covers 2,400 miles.
Considering how mind-boggling and awe-inspiring this all is, it is not surprising how prone we are to thinking too small and imagining too little. Cynicism pales in the face of wonder.
The Even Bigger Picture
Eben Alexander discusses this idea of “too-small thinking” in his book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. His account of a near-death experience has helped change the way many think about our connections to a much larger and sacred mystery. Unlike other recent theorists on this subject, Alexander describes in intimate detail and scientific specificity the absolute impossibility of what his near-death experience gave him. As the result of a massive e-coli viral infection, he was clinically brain dead—with a non-functioning neocortex, the part of the brain responsible for consciousness. There was no ability to think, dream, imagine or remember. Yet, despite the limitations of human language, he describes in detail the indescribable and unimaginable. He doesn’t dwell on the unspeakably profound ramifications beyond our here and now. Rather, he rose from his coma with a simple, two-part message: do not be afraid and love.
The richness of life is bigger than we know or can even imagine—the vitality of life, the vastness for our potential to do good and experience beauty, how we are interconnected across races, religions and regions, and how deep and wide and precious God’s love for us is. This is the consistent message of scripture and especially the life and teaching of Jesus.
We are called to better vision, to see with eyes of wonder the many ways our lives are touched and blessed by others, along with how many opportunities we have to touch and bless the lives of those around us. Let us be wiser. Let us be grateful. Let us love God and one another with all we have and all we are. In doing so, we do God’s will, on earth, as it is in heaven.
Living with faith today, then, requires this expansive vision Jesus advocates. Faith evolves over time slowly and sometimes strangely. Faith in and through those who have come before us also has journeyed a circuitous route that includes confusion, digression, hatred and vast misunderstandings that still continue.
But most of all, living with faith offers this good and broader perspective of who we are, whose we are, and what we can and should do in our community and our world. During these strange, confusing days, let us join together to live with expanded vision and daring imagination. Doing so just might dissipate the confusion of our information overload, lessen the anger, loosen the tension – and come a little closer to fulfilling God’s hope for us all.