This is the second part of an extended eschatological parable I wrote in 2012 after encountering the work of Oliver Davies and the emerging school of “Transformation Theology” at King’s College London (you don’t need to know anything about that to understand the story). The original dedication read that “It is dedicated to them in one sense, but in a more important sense also to all who continue to ask questions even if they do not expect an answer.” The central question that the story addresses is “where is Jesus?”
Written in Birmingham, AL in Summer 2012.
It looked like a ketch. A ladder would not do, of course. A ladder was not conducive to travel among the heavens. There are likely not enough trees on the earth to build enough rungs to make it where I wanted to go. So, it looks like a boat. It does not have sails, of course. It did not have to look like a ketch, but I have a romantic side. Technical education, but a romantic streak. I had some problems with the civic authorities at first, so I moved my project out of the city. I was apparently working on top of the District Line, and that was simply unacceptable. I told them that there was no way in heaven or hell I could make the District Line any slower, but if they let me finish my project, I could check. They found that incomprehensible and not in the least amusing. So, I moved my supplies up north where no one could find me.
I lived in a little house tucked between two hills. It was about a fifteen-minute walk from the nearest town. It was Lent, so it was still cold in the Highlands and I did not encounter too many hikers. One from the village came up though. She was visiting the local isles. She liked sheep or something — student from the States or whatnot. She began to ask questions about what I was doing. After incredulously examining my large metal boat for a while, she spoke.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Looking for heaven.”
“Have you ever heard of the Council of Chalcedon?”
She did not seem in the mood for talking after that.
The next day a group of the townspeople came up to see my contraption.
“Must think it’s going to rain,” the innkeeper said.
“How do you reckon that?” asked his wife.
“Nobody builds a boat on the land unless they think it’s going to rain an awful lot.”
“Aye,” said an angler, “Think that’ll hold two sheep and two sheepdogs?”
“Does anyone have a female sheepdog around?” I asked. “Two by two, you know.”
After that, they didn’t make any more jokes.
They were right, however, it did rain — a lot. The ship began to sink into the ground because of its weight. I knew I had to finish soon. I finished the last touches on the large engine fastened to the starboard side and tested it a few times. The locals still wonder what the giant green flashes from the spring of that year were. Once the product was satisfactory to me, I climbed aboard and shut the door behind me.
First, some smaller engines fired and pushed the ship along the dirt. I kicked up soil all over my house. I didn’t mind too much as I didn’t figure I’d be coming back any time soon. The boat slid along the ground, fiery jets turning the ground to ash. I picked up speed as the ship began to make its way toward the cliff ahead. I looked out the window to the port side to see that the townspeople had gathered on the hill to watch. I felt the ship begin to lift off the ground as the large turbine hummed to life. Red flame mixed with green and the metal ship plunged over the cliff toward the sea. I wish I could have heard the townspeople gasp.
The ship never touched water but soared above it toward one of the isles. Before it ever reached one, I climbed in altitude toward the sky above flying straight toward the moon.
I had heard of an anomaly discovered recently by one of the new telescopes. The centre of the galaxy did not look the way we had expected. As we enhanced the resolution, the less we were able to see. If I was in search of heaven, I figured this place was the first to look. So, I built the ship and set sail (metaphorically, of course) for the center of the Milky Way. I had no idea what I would find, but it just might be heaven. And that was enough hope for me.
I passed many wonders on my trip, things no human had ever really seen. I passed planets that we had only seen by probes. I could see stars we previously only saw through telescopes. I sailed past nebulae that looked like massive pillars. If I did not know better, I would have told you that they held the galaxy upright as it spun in oblivion. Stars twinkled behind what appeared to me as massive clouds or plumes of smoke. I wanted to see giant birds fly or fish swim through this incomprehensible deep. Never once did I encounter such a creature whose name would have been to magnificent to know.
Towards the beginning of my journey, I stopped on planets to observe them. I found some with plenty of gravity so that I could walk as I did upon the Earth. I trod upon this new earth looking for anything that might point the way for me. I prayed each night from our book, seeking the assistance of the Divine in my quest. God remained strangely silent in the deep dark of space. Sometimes I found this fact troubling, but other times I thought this silence, this true silence might be the ultimate description of God. I think this space, this vast deep, was what silenced St. Thomas at the end of his life. Of all the words I could have spoken of God, in the end, in space, all was silence. Perhaps we contemplated each other like good friends who simply know how to sit in silence with one another, perfectly at ease with each other.
Other days, I thought the silence and the blackness was the ultimate refutation of everything. The madness, the futility, that despair would settle in on the edges of my mind. What lived in the camps on the margins of my consciousness occasionally took centre stage and told me to turn back. It was indeed a miracle that I had survived this long. I should quit while I was ahead, call this one a win, turn back to what I knew and loved. If I turned back now, everything could still be OK. If I turned back now, there were guarantees and safeguards — family and friends. If I turned back now, I could lie down in my own bed in my old flat just above the District Line.
But my very hesitation I took as my sign. I ventured ever onward into the perpetual night.
The next day (I suppose) after one of my more existential moments, I was standing in the crow’s nest above the glowing sails of circuitry and solar panels. I looked with my own eyes upon one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. Swirling colors of blue, purple, and green. It looked nothing like the images we developed of what stalked the space between the stars. Plumes of what looked like smoke but moved like water wound around each other like a giant double helix. Stars in the distance shown through the massive structure that stood so far away but looked so close. I held out a hand hoping to brush the DNA of the universe, but it was too far. It was too wonderful for me, but I truly felt as if I no longer saw through the dark glasses of our poor earthen technology and instead saw the universe face to face.
As I began to come around the corner of the helixical pillars, I saw the darkness. A red haze drifted in front of my vision of all of space as the helixes faded behind me. Giant black clouds moved before me and my ship was headed straight for one of them. Panicked, I called the elevator and shot down the tube to the nest back to the control room. I grasped the wheel in my hands but the cloud was already upon me. What looked like lightning passed through the black and I could see nothing. There were no stars, only black. The room was lit only by the console indicators. Their blue glow over my face felt like the last light of goodness in the universe about to be squelched by the darkness. For what seemed like an eternity, the ship passed through this cloud.
It passed through and I jumped for joy at more light, but what I saw before me made me quake with fear. A large nebula that looked as black as death hung in space before me. Tentacle-like plumes reached out toward the stars and more of the lightning flashed inside it. Small points of light appeared and disappeared within a maw of stardust. I could not see them, but I determined that great fire must burn inside. Oxygen or no, great fire and pain is all that could be inside so sinister a structure. For a long time after that, I did not sleep. But I found myself midway through my journey.