Pentecost 93

Pentecost 93
My Psalm 93

Finding Paradise

For the past two-plus years the Episcopal Church as engaged in a campaign simply called “Invite!” There were two other steps, what to do after someone answered the invitation, but the emphasis was inviting others to local parishes. I have spoken about this before so I won’t repeat past comments. I will say, though, that I think whatever our spirituality or beliefs are, we need to invite ourselves more than others. Let me explain.

The reasons for spiritual and religious beliefs are varied among man. Just as there are different hues of skin, colors of eyes and hairs, thousands of dialects spoken daily, there are internal and external reasons for why we believe and, believing, live those beliefs. Basically, though, even for those who claim no beliefs at all, they can all be summed up in two words: finding paradise.

What is paradise? Paradise might be thought of as a place outside our normal existence, a “higher place”. Most definitions list it as a place where one exists in balance and harmony. There are no wars or hunger in paradise, only peace, prosperity for all, and everlasting happiness. It is interesting and important to note that while paradise is considered a land of contentment for one and all, it is not described in terms of wealth or luxury and no mention of perpetual idleness is ever made.

Where is this paradise? In the New Testament gospel of Luke the man Jesus is being crucified with a penitent thief and Jesus tells the thief they will be together in paradise. Is paradise heaven? For the ancient Greeks the “other world” was known as Aaru and for the Celts, the Fortunate Isle of Mag Mell. The classical Greeks had the Elysian Fields and the Zoroastrian believe their Avesta to be the “Best Existence” or “House of Song”. The Vedic Indians had a bit more involved version of paradise. They believed the body should be destroyed by fire (cremation) and, afterward in the Third Heaven, it would be recreated and reunited in a state of bliss.

Other cosmological writings indicate paradise has already been; it was the world before the world was tainted by evil. For the Abrahamic faiths, that would mean paradise was the Garden of Eden. Paradise will once again be regained in the World to Come, the future in which heaven and earth will be reunited as the Kingdom of God. One important thing to note, however, is that in all of these definitions and descriptions, paradise is NOT synonymous with utopia.

Sir Thomas More first coined the term utopia in 1516 for his book, aptly named “Utopia”. More’s Utopia described a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean in which the society was nearly perfect. The inhabitants had highly desirable qualities. The word itself is rather tongue-in-cheek. It comes from the Greek words “ou”, meaning not, and “ronoc”, meaning place. In other words, Utopia was “no place”. However, the English word “eutopia”, which means good place, was often confused for More’s made-up word and thus the two became confused.

Since its publication and the resulting confusion, intentional communities have been established to create a utopian society, most often in cult settings. The first such utopian-esque society is mentioned in Plato’s “Republic” in which people would be divided into categories. Plato’s socioeconomic classes included golden, silver, bronze, and iron. People would train for fifty years to gain golden status and, being so knowledgeable, would be able to eliminate poverty and most wars. For the fighting that would need to be done, mercenaries would be hired and sent to fight, eliminating the death of the Republic’s valued citizens. Plato believed that only philosophers, those supposedly seeking truth and finding it, were worthy to rule.

Where is your paradise? Most in today’s world would describe paradise as a place without a socioeconomic class structure. Today we see truth as an ever-expanding entity so how can one know everything? French philosopher Michel Foucalt purported that knowledge varied widely from culture to culture and means something different age to age. Foucalt also proposed the idea of “othering”, the inescapable tendency man has of making note of those who are different – socially, culturally, in appearance, sexually, politically, etc.

Dante believe “The path to paradise begins in hell.” There are those that would offer that as the reason we struggle. After all, how great does our everyday world seem after we have survived a great crisis and return to what was previously considered a mundane existence? The truth is that we are closest to paradise when we are living our beliefs. As we go through our daily life, our belief system, if utilized and followed, can take us out of the world of pettiness to a higher place.

When we walk in communion with our spiritual beliefs, then we are living our soul’s prosperity. Those beliefs might not promise the largest house on the block, but they do promise that whatever house you have will be a place of peace. They provide for our heart’s everlasting happiness. Unlike Plato’s fifty-year training period, though, ours is a life-long journey. When we see with the eyes of our soul, there will be neither class structure nor any othering. We will see vessels of hope and not objects of scary difference. All of the faithful have value in the spirituality of the world, regardless of what those beliefs are called. We need to realize that paradise is possible on earth when we walk in calm and live with the knowledge that all matter and can be reunited together with peace.

My Psalm 93

Lord, we are but mortals.
You alone are the Knowledge.
No matter the challenge,
You alone prevail without waiver.
Your strength is great.
I acknowledge your power, Great Spirit.
I acknowledge my humanness.
May I walk with humanity toward all.

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