Being Incomplete

A professor working on the effects of sunspots on Earth’s soil said something like this to me this week: “You know the sun is about halfway through its life [I didn’t], so in five billion years….” When I heard “halfway through its life” I thought, this whole end of the solar system thing is closer than I realized. Then came the five billion years.

Also this week a friend sent a prayer written by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the first line of which I’d heard before: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” Fourteen billion years-ish so far—slow indeed. I worry about the way weeks and months speed up, seeming to contain less time every year. As they age, the stars say to each other, wow, a million years is just nothing anymore.

Teilhard’s advice is not surprising coming from a paleontologist and priest, nor is the end of the prayer:

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

“A new spirit gradually forming within you”—something that is not there now and has not been there before. That’s remarkable. The sun may apparently stop having sun spots right about now—give or take a few thousand or maybe million years—as this is something that can happen to stars halfway through their lives. Something new after five billion years, something gradually forming.

“Accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” Whatever this new spirit is, it will never be complete, will never come to a point of stasis. I don’t know whether the sun feels anxious, but its formation—its birth—involved an epic, fifty-million-year struggle between gravity and fusion energy. And now it exists by burning itself up. It will die, but it will never be complete.

We are not somehow separate from this existence we find ourselves in. We are part of a grand becoming that has little or nothing to do with the way we want things to be or think they should work.

Over the next billion years, the sun will heat up and Earth will become inhospitable to life as we know it long before the sun engulfs the planet. “Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you.”

Like It or Not

Coming into being is apparently not easy. From galaxies to stars to humans to any being that has to break its way out of an egg or a seed, taking form in this existence involves a good deal of struggle.

It’s so tempting to ask why, but that’s like asking why the lupine dotting the hillsides these days are purple. You can explain it in terms of the wavelengths of light, but that really only answers how they are purple, not the more fundamental why not red? In this case, why is not a useful question, as it says in one of Anne Lamott’s essays.

We are always coming into existence, but we—or at least certainly I—am not always happy about the struggle. There are things that we accept are going to be hard—giving birth, climbing Mount Everest, losing a loved one—and there are things that we can see will be hard for others—adolescence, for example. Yet we don’t tell anyone, you know, why don’t you just skip this whole adolescence thing, it’s not much fun. Whether a society has healthy or unhealthy ways of helping its members through this stage, they all still have to go through it.

And we don’t emerge fully formed at 20. As long as we’re alive, we’ll continue to be drawn forth. We’ll be invited to deeper and deeper communion with life, we’ll continue to be created, and that means we’ll continue to struggle.

In all likelihood, we’ll continue not to like that struggle, but maybe there’s something beyond our liking or not liking it. Maybe there’s a way to say, oh, this is happening, not in a passive but in a participatory way. And maybe that’s when it gets easy, not the kind of easy I generally picture where everything matches the version of life in my head but some other kind of easy that we can’t understand until we experience it.

This is one of those things I didn’t make up. The great religious traditions all include this idea. Now if only I would listen.