Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
— Rainer Maria Rilke, from Sonnets to Orpheus II

On my last Sunday as a working minister, the choir in our congregation sang the soulful Irish hymn Be Thou My Vision. I sat rapt behind the pulpit, deeply moved, juxtaposing my own struggles with advanced glaucoma with this spiritual invitation to a wider vision. For the truth is, my physical vision is narrowing into darkness, year by year, despite all medical interventions to date. The encroaching darkness has grounded me from driving, nudged me into unplanned retirement, and makes it difficult to read or move about without fear of bodily injury. There’s no getting round the natural human reaction of distress and fear of going completely blind, feelings which I know must be fully felt as I “move back and forth” into the change.

But there is more to vision, isn’t there? Perhaps this is where “the bitter drink” transforms me into wine, After all, there is the unseen, the spiritual, the inner vision that transcends our five senses. Helen Keller displayed remarkable vision and hearing even though being deaf and blind. She could “see” the beauty of the world in ways we can’t imagine and she “heard” music through feeling vibrations. Beethoven heard music in his mind when he grew deaf, creating the Ninth Symphony, his magnum opus. Keller and Beethoven were drawn to the spiritual world and the world of beauty and music. Such luminaries remind me of the untapped possibilities beyond the five senses. This is possible because the reality we live in is much larger and more interesting than we once believed.

In the world of David Hume, rock star of the Scottish Enlightenment, we can only know what we perceive through our five senses. But after the revolution in science in the early twentieth century, we see that quantum physics opened us to a much more interesting view of reality for both scientists and philosophers. The great philosopher and mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead, taking this new reality of the invisible world of quanta into account, proposed that the world of knowing (epistemology) is much larger than the five senses, and includes the Divine presence, too.

God is present in the world in a most intimate way, but is also more than the world (panentheism). That “moreness” may be something we experience more fully after this life: a holy reality called by many names: heaven, paradise, the depths of God. I find it fascinating that so many of those who have reported Near Death Experiences reveal common stories not only of radiant light but also of a loving, embracing darkness at the core of everything. The womb of God? Perhaps.

But here we are, adventurers in this earthly experience, struggling to find our way together — some of us stumbling over furniture and cats as we lose light and clarity. We all struggle against the darkness, either metaphorically or literally. But there is good news, too, which was my joy as a minister to share with others: Within this ever-expanding universe, God is present in every droplet of experience, luring us to incarnate possibilities for beauty and wholeness. God feels my experience with me — even the frustration and fear — and within this deep knowing, fashions fresh possibilities for ongoing novel experiences and new ways of knowing the world.

And so, if my visual darkness is to be a bell tower, then, with a little effort on my part, I can become the bell, ringing out a new song, enlarging my soul, discovering fresh adventures of the spirit. Part of this transformation includes the other four senses: will I learn to hear with more sensitivity? But more than this, there is an invisible realm to the world, and that includes the presence of divinity in every unfolding moment.

I love the God of process theology, who is “the fellow sufferer, who understands.” This intimate Companion — Soul of the world-- is the source of novelty and creativity in the universe. And yet, God is invisible. So much of what matters is invisible, like the music of bells and the experience of love.

The visible and invisible unfold together inside a divine yearning for beauty — improvising, uncertain in every way, and often tragic. The whole cosmic process is enticingly mysterious. Besides the world of energy events that make up what we think of as matter, 95 % of the universe is dark matter and dark energy: dark matter holds everything together in an invisible embrace while dark energy hastens the expansion of the universe. What a contrasting pair of invisible friends! While science probes this mystery with the launch of Europe’s Euclid space telescope, we will perhaps find something that ignites the next scientific revolution. In this universe of wonder and beauty, we know that something important happens in the dark.

We continue to evolve with deeper insights in science, philosophy, psychology, theology, and in every area of human endeavor. But one thing we know now: we are not limited to the five senses. Reality is larger and more interesting than we can imagine! This gives me solace on bad days. Instead of feeling that I am losing something while my world gets narrower and darker, I can “look” with my inner vision to turn “disability” into possibility.

I really hope for a cure for glaucoma in my lifetime, but thanks to my moorings in process theology, I know that whatever happens, I have deep reservoirs for “seeing” with spiritual eyes, for expanding my soul, and for discovering a whole new realm of beauty in the darkness.

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