Immortality and Paradox

By Floyd Vernon Chandler

The underlying concepts of all religious faiths seem to be rooted in paradox.  We miss the mystical essence of faith when we limit our religious beliefs to the outer shells of creeds, dogmas, doctrines, and rituals.  Theological terms and symbols are mere signposts that point to that which is beyond words.  The mystery of faith!  Belief in the soul and immortality involve embracing paradox.

The language of parables and riddles is more apt for communicating spiritual insights.  How can we understand immortality from mere intellect?  It is difficult to experience paradox with our rational minds.  Spiritual disciplines, such as meditation and prayer life, enable us to perceive and appreciate the paradoxes of faith.

Anthony de Mello tells the parable of “The Little Fish.”  In The Song of the Bird, de Mello writes:

“Excuse me,” said an ocean fish.  “You are older than I am, so can you tell me where to find this thing they call the ocean?”

“The ocean,” said the older fish, “is the thing you are in now.”

“Oh this?  But this is water.  What I am seeking is the ocean,” said the disappointed fish as he swam away to search elsewhere.

It seems that grasping the spiritual concept of immortality is akin to the little fish recognizing the ocean in the water. It is paradoxical thinking.

Consider the lowly caterpillar as it weaves its shroud-like cocoon.  Does the caterpillar have any inkling of the looming metamorphosis that will transform it into a butterfly?  Does the butterfly remember its life as a caterpillar?

How amazing that in a dormant seed there is the potential for a giant oak tree!  But the shell of the seed must die for the new life to emerge.

Hidden in the apparent death of winter is the hint of spring.  Nature continuously choreographs the dance of life, death, and rebirth.

Death is the great mystery.  Life is the amazing miracle.  Life is a gift that always ends in death.  We share this journey of life with other living beings, all of whom face certain death.  What a paradox!  All life is in this boat together.  Our destiny is death. Do we choose love, hate, or indifference toward our shipmates during this brief existence?

All of the world’s major religions stress the value of love and loving kindness. Christianity teaches that God, the ground of our being, is pure love.  Early Universalists affirmed that God is Love.

Might love and immortality be akin to experiencing the ocean in a wave?  When the waves cease, the ocean remains.

Early Universalists believed in the spiritual concepts of soul and immortality.  The term “Universalist” is derived from this belief.  Universal salvation is a belief in paradox.  Paradox is shrouded in mystery.  Paradox is beyond logic and reason.

As I approach my 70th birthday, I believe in the paradox and mystery of immortality.  I believe in love.  I believe love transcends death.  I believe in the paradox that defies rational explanation.

(A retired Army chaplain, Vernon Chandler provided parish ministry to Universalist churches in Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He is Editor Emeritus of the Universalist Herald.  Vernon adheres to the practice of daily meditation as taught by the World Community for Christian Meditation.  Vernon and his family reside in Ansbach, Germany.)