I grew up along the Atlantic Coast near a barrier island called Assateague and I have never gotten over this. Remembrance of the sea and the shoreline, the subtle changes of topography and vista as the seasons passed, the feeling and sense of the surf and the ocean tides all the way down to my bones; these things have framed, colored, and contoured how I see the world and how I see myself. My deepest longings and most aching desires are always translated into dreams of the sea, even as I write from a thousand miles inland. As I collect all the bits and pieces of incidents and accidents, calm and catastrophe, relationships mended and broken, the story arc of my life moves from and through and returns to the ocean, as living metaphor and actual yearning.
And so, each of our lives is like a collection of puzzle pieces or, better yet, of broken pottery fragments, whatever story we tell ourselves about them. We are all trying to fit these fragments together into some satisfying whole that we believe will give meaning to our lives. We read, we are told, or we imagine the whole and so try to arrange all the pieces of our lives in some way that we hope will tell us a true story of who we are, and why we are here.
How, and why, do we end up who and where we are? Nature and nurture, genetics and upbringing, character and choices, circumstance and chance, all play their parts. Is there anything else? I believe there is: A divine undercurrent, at times barely detectable, sometimes undetectable, a deep Reality beneath and beyond the surface of Appearances; a reality that moves and marks everything, and to which we choose to respond or not. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes spoke of it when he said,
“God has placed eternity in the inner being of men,
though they cannot plumb the depths
of what God is doing from beginning to end.”
Some will call this General Providence or perhaps the Sensus Divinitatis, which is Standard Theological Terminology. I will call it simply the Tides of God.
I have ended up as a Conservative Evangelical Christian (all caps and no irony intended). By this I mean, not just that I am associated with a particular socio-religious sub-group, but that I am cognitively and existentially persuaded that the key to Reality is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that there is One God who exists as an eternal Trinity of relationship-in-love, and that God has communicated to us in verbal-cognitive form a set of essential accounts and teachings which has come to be called the Bible. The disagreements and dismays which I may have with Conservative Evangelical Christianity are family squabbles. If this sounds as though I am detached and analytical, only half of that is right. I am involved and analytical. I gladly own this identity, this story. Take it as you will, but I take the story of God-revealed-in-Jesus-the-Christ as the one True Story. In Standard Philosophical Terminology we would call it a Metanarrative, which I believe is the metanarrative, which we could also call The Christian Worldview. This is the Story I believe makes sense of my story, and of all our stories. Yet, I must admit that at times I find living in and through this story surprising, strange, and disconcerting; a mingling of the beautiful and the harsh, of tragedy and joy, of longing fulfilled and hope deferred.
I take it seriously when the Story says that the universe is God’s Creation. If this is so, and I think there are good reasons to believe it is, then the universe will reflect both the engineering and artistic capacities of its Creator. In our experience of the world there will be a rational order that bespeaks a Rational Mind and aesthetic qualities which reflect a Beautiful Person; God as Artist and Engineer. That we find these things amidst the chance, and chaos, and conflicts of lived human existence doesn’t change the fact that we do find these things.
I am also taking seriously what the Story says, again in Standard Theological Terminology, of the Omnipresence of God. It seems to me that many Evangelical Christians take this as either like one giant eye in the sky or something like a nearly infinite number of iterated ghosts sitting close by everyone, watching us and eavesdropping on our conversations and, perhaps, taking notes for future reference. I take it simply as meaning that God is present to, and with, everything in Creation. Every person, animal, vegetable, and mineral. Every grain of sand or flower in a crannied wall. Every quark and Higgs boson. Everything. Everywhere. All the time. If this is so, and I think there are good reasons to believe it is, then God can use, and I think he does use, anything and everything as signs and suggestions of his Presence and Desire, his desire that we seek and be found by him.
God is the great Story-teller, and the story he is telling is the great drama of Reality, unfolding before us and of which we are all inescapably a part. And so I am collecting fragments, in Philosophy, in Science, and in Art and holding these fragments up to the light and turning them this way and that, and trying to see and say how the Story—the metanarrative, the Christian Worldview—is involved in, and makes sense of, every aspect of our being-in-the-world (to borrow a term from Heidegger and take it where perhaps he did not intend for it to go). And by doing this I hope I am helping to light the way Home; back to the sea, the ocean, the Ocean of Infinite Love.