Sunday, November 1, 2020
“After this I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:
‘Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.’”
As I write this on Sunday, October 25, I am nearly at the end of my 10 day quarantine for the health department. It has been a time of illness and recuperation, isolation and rest, solitude and prayer. In some ways, quarantine has made my world much smaller these past days. Most of my time has been spent within the four walls of my bedroom. It bears resemblance to the prayer and solitude of some stricter forms of monasticism or, even, hermits. Although much more comfortable, I’m sure, there may be similarities to the author of the verses above, John, exiled on the island of Patmos, caught up in the Spirit in prayer, and given apocalyptic visions. To be clear, I haven’t had any mystical visions, but the smallness of my world these past 10 days may be similar to the smallness of John’s world on Patmos. In reality, whether we are exiled or quarantined or not, each of our own lives have an element of this smallness. No matter how wide our spheres of influence, we all eventually reach our limits. No matter how connected we are or how deep our relationships are, as Matthew McConaughey said, we all sleep alone. We are finite individual persons. At some point, in and of ourselves, there is always a boundary, edge, or end. Whether as explicit as quarantine, a monastic cell, or being exiled on Patmos, we are all limited, finite, and small.
Yet, that is only part of the story. Solitude also demonstrates the depths of the interior life. At our outer limits, we can turn inward. With intentional silence and solitude, our limited, finite, and small world can open to the vast richness, contours, and depths of our soul. I have some remnants of wanderlust, that desire to experience new places, people, and things. It can be a vociferous appetite for the novel and unknown. A lifetime could be devoted to satiating that desire and exploring endless possibilities. The interior life can be a similar adventure. Within each of us are intricacies, profundities, and horizons that we can hardly imagine. Navigating our souls yields discovery, creativity, and peace. The truth, reflected in our very being, is revealed. It takes time, effort, and resilience, but we can reach the very center of who we are: the place, as it were, where we are truly alone. There we find, in our very conscience, that we are alone with God. God is the light of our existence, the breath of our soul. By reaching our limits and turning inward, we find within us the infinite. God dwells within. Our smallness hides the truth of limitless love. It is the potential within every human being. It is the dignity of every life.
John, exiled on Patmos, touches the infinite vision of God. Going deep within to the place where we find the eternal, John’s visions give us a glimpse of what eternity with God can be. In apocalyptic imagery, John reveals something beyond the words or images themselves. He reveals the truth of love, a Lamb upon a throne who has defeated evil through the sacrifice of love. It is a perfect sacrifice for all, a great multitude that no one can count from every nation, race, people, and tongue. In the end, the interior vastness of eternal love overcomes our limits and draws all to the perfection of communion. We may all sleep alone, but we live forever together. We may still reject this truth, but salvation comes from our God.