“What do I make of all this texture? What does it mean about the kind of world in which I have been set down? The texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is the possibility for beauty here, a beauty inexhaustible in its complexity, which opens to my knock, which answers in me a call I do not remember calling, and which trains me to the wild and extravagant nature of the spirit I seek… The texture of space is a condition of time. Time is the warp and matter the weft of the woven texture of beauty in space, and death is the hurtling shuttle.”
— Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
“Every religion that does not affirm that God is hidden,” said Pascal flatly, “is not true.” What is man, that thou art mindful of him? This is where the great modern religions are so unthinkably radical: the love of God! For we can see that we are as many as the leaves of trees. But it could be that our faithlessness is a cowering cowardice born of our very smallness, a massive failure of imagination. Certainly nature seems to exult in abounding radicality, extremism, anarchy. If we were to judge nature by its common sense or likelihood, we wouldn’t believe the world existed. In nature, improbabilites are the one stock in trade. The whole creation is one lunatic fringe. If creation had been left up to me, I’m sure I wouldn’t have had the imagination or courage to do more than shape a single, reasonably sized atom, smooth as a snowball, and let it go at that. No claims of any and all revelations could be so far-fetched as a single giraffe. The question from agnosticism is, Who turned on the lights? The question from faith is, Whatever for?” — Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
At some point a month or two ago I gently put aside Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It was right around when things got very busy, when bad news began to stack up around me like junk mail, when processing the deeper concepts behind Annie Dillard’s words became a bit more than I wanted to tackle at the moment. Everything has its time.
Yet the questions remained.
What do we make of all this texture? Every ridge line traversed, every waterfall’s mist tickling our skin, every deep conversation with another, every swim in a salty bay, and every sunrise glimpsed are but texture to our lives. But then again, so is every mosquito bite. It’s all so damned far-fetched, and yet here we are.
I have a sister who is firmly in the God camp. I’m more skeptical of the Hallmark version of a loving God moving the world around like so many chess pieces. We both know life isn’t fair and throws you a curveball now and then to keep you on your toes. We just happen to disagree about “who” is winding up to throw it. And yet we peacefully coexist in both the universe and family dinners—we just don’t question each other’s beliefs.
It’s easy to be outraged by the other side of the coin. They’re tossing around beliefs that just don’t jibe with our world views. Yet we’re the same coin. It’s fair to ask both “Who turned on the lights?” and “Whatever for?” We’re all asking our version of What’s It All About Alfie? Who said that we are ever meant to know the answers?
Thankfully, we aren’t alone in pondering the imponderables; as with Dillard and Bacharach framing the questions in this post, we may draw on the wisdom of the ages at any time. Philosophy doesn’t answer the questions for you, but it does help you structure those questions better. We only have our short time to dance with the mysteries of the universe, and will never have all the answers.
And yet… we get so caught up in the “who, what and why” questions that we forget to ask: How do we make the most of our present condition? For the universe only asks us to live in our time. You come to appreciate the tapestry of life a lot more when you learn to weave yourself into it and let the questions fall away.