darren_thumbBy Darren Atherton

I have to admit, I fell for it. Just a little.

The winds picked up the night before the 21st of December, hail fell upon the roof top, and the whole day leading up to it had been, it seemed, an unnaturally gray and gloomy one. I got to thinking, “No, no. It couldn’t be. Were the Mayans right? Is it all going to end?” The last couple years I’d never really looked into this ancient-calendar business and just sort of shrugged it off. But were all the conspiracy-theorists and those huddling into their bomb-shelters, after all, correct? Were they going to have a last laugh during the final minutes of this Armageddon and be able to pride themselves in a little vain foresight? I was pretty sure it wasn’t the case, but, in being totally honest, I was only pretty sure.

I went to sleep, I woke up, and with the faintest degree of surprise I saw that here we all were! Yet I didn’t actually get to sleep without first considering some of the implications of a world-ending scenario. The Urantia Book student might think of a certain Melchizedek quoting Jesus’ statement about the profound reassurance of a God-knowing mortal: “To a God-knowing kingdom believer, what does it matter if all things earthly crash?” We are asked to wonder what it matters. Have you ever directly asked yourself that? It might occur to you that perhaps it really does matter in some definite way. As natural human beings we certainly don’t have an utter disregard for all things earthly, do we? Many of us can think of even the most impressively faithful people we’ve gotten to know and bring to mind some mere “thing” they regard with untold sentimentality: their home, their trinkets, an old hat, a photograph of something cherished which had already been lost to them long ago. What are we ourselves holding onto personally, and is it interfering with our experience of the kingdom of God within our hearts, the kingdom of a God who desires our hearts in their entirety?

Let’s look to the Master. Jesus himself lamented the destruction of Jerusalem and showed due concern for the physical welfare of his friends, family and apostles. In his travels he ran to the defense of assaulted strangers. We saw him attending to an ill young man with skill and tenderness, and the list goes on. He gave up very much once he left home and entered upon his public ministry, but up until then he was preparing, working, relying upon earthly goods and providing them for those he cared for. Surely there was no overlooking physical necessities or making light of them. Surely he didn’t let the bodies of those he loved go hungry with the excuse that, if these mortal vessels perish, what does it matter? There’s an eternal career ahead! He never said, “Fend for yourselves, and if you can’t don’t worry.” Not at all. Even as he gave himself up to hang upon the cross he told the women not to weep for him, but rather to look to the troubles ahead – even the nightmarish sack of Jerusalem which would occur decades later.

So, do we disregard the physical and finite because we know ourselves to be in the hands of the spiritual and Eternal? It wouldn’t be quite proper to answer with a no. And as spiritual religionists we’re not going to be quick to disregard the heavenly in the face of earthly circumstances. The conclusion I came to, as might be expected, involves a balanced perspective.

The Urantia Book says,

(139.4) 12:8.1 ‘“God is spirit,’ but Paradise is not. The material universe is always the arena wherein take place all spiritual activities; spirit beings and spirit ascenders live and work on physical spheres of material reality.”

The physical world is an arena, a place in which to perform, act, or do combat. It is also defined as a field of conflict or endeavour. It is no more than a means to communicate to others (the family), and to God the Father, our values, our deepest beliefs, our intentions, even our love. But when the arena becomes for one reason or another unusable, we must be ready to give it up. We are not expected to discount the needs of this world even though they be shadowy and material. And yet we are asked that through them we display the fruits of the spirit. True religious faith can foster neither ‘social smugness’ in good times, nor ‘stoical resignation’ in the bad (116:0.1).

In a book which was composed not too many years before the Urantia Book, Auguste Sabatier wrote: “…there is always a double relation between nature and the spirit; Nature remains for the moral consciousness a necessary support which it has no right to despise, and at the same time an obstacle which it ought to overcome, and a limit which it must overpass.”

We must display in our lives a genuine trust in our most loving Creator. The material world and its circumstances, these bodies, the pleasures and pains, the sweet sentamentalism, all of it is really a means of communication. And when this figurative telephone breaks or just becomes outdated, we should be gladly willing to start making use of the next one at hand.

So with prayer and reflection I was able to achieve a more meaningful appreciation of the following: Our experience of friendship with God is a gift; our opportunities to share it in the world is a capacity-expanding privilege; our ability to bear attentively, wisely and lovingly with the world’s troubles and part with all of it when the time comes  –  a sacred, quiet, and joyous duty worth preparing for.