Enhanced image courtesy of NASA
On December 24, 1968, Bill Anders, in the Apollo 8 spacecraft, shot this photo of an earthrise over the moon; a scene no one had previously witnessed. The images taken that day are considered among the most iconic in all photography.
Until recently, the history of Christianity (outlined in my previous blog) has been based mainly on an earth-centric cosmology. This photo became stunning visual evidence that our self-centered universe would require some re-thinking. I suspect this image has done as much to change Christianity as all scholars up to that time. Because now, even lay-people could see that our world is just a spinning sphere in the unimaginable vastness of all that is. The cosmology of the ancient world was put to rest.
Humankind, especially over the past several centuries, has looked for a good definition of what is the essence, structure, and purpose of all that exists. Many religions have tended to call it “God” or a parallel term. I would love to use that word because it’s so easily recognized. Unfortunately, it also carries several thousand years of baggage packed onto it by those who worshipped a cosmic being.
Ultimate Reality is ultimately un-describable
Instead of naming a deity, several times in my writings I’ve mentioned Ultimate Reality as incorporating everything that exists. My brother challenged me to describe it more fully. I can’t. In order to explain all that is, I’d have to stand outside the universe to see it all and try to describe it in some ethereal language. In the first place, just traveling beyond the universe is kind of hard, and on the way, I’d probably stumble and fall into a black-hole—which would end this blog. (Please don’t write and say that would be a good thing.)
Maybe if I share some synonyms for Ultimate Reality that have been offered by other writers—far more scholarly than I am, I can shed some light on concepts that might resonate with you. In no particular order, here’s a potpourri of English language terms parallel to Ultimate Reality.
All that is. This needs no modifiers. Many authors use this clean little phrase.
Oneness. I like this term because it encompasses all that is, and it conveys an emotional feeling when we become aware of the state of being in Oneness.
Singularity. This has numerous definitions, but scientists say it names the density before the Big Bang. So those who want to point to a Creator might say the universe was created by and from the Singularity.
Totality. The quality or state of being total. Well, that sounds like about everything. I’ve also seen “Absolute Totality,” but that’s redundant to me.
Unconditional. Any condition you place on God or Ultimate Reality means it’s less than everything. Even describing it in any language hints at boundaries and is therefore not all that is. I should note here that when I say “everything” I don’t just mean physical stuff, but all energies (forces), natural laws, mysteries, relationships, well, you know…everything! I generally don’t use this word because it looks like an adjective and makes people want to say, “Unconditional…what?” which promptly degrades its being unconditional.
Universe. The only problem with “universe” is that we tend to think of the physical properties and dimensions and don’t quite include the preceding creation—cause—of the universe. Buddhists see three realms of the universe, so I would say that implies not an ultimate reality.
Existence or Ground of Being. Paul Tillich used these terms as descriptions of God. If it “is,” then it “exists” or has “being.” Notice it doesn’t say it’s a being.
Universal Christ. Richard Rohr sees “Christ,” not as Jesus’ last name, but as “another name for everything—in its fullness.” It adds the concept of purpose to Ultimate Reality. (This is new to me and has piqued my interest, so I may have more to say later.)
Creation. Since this sometimes implies both a creator and a purposefully designed condition, it’s a term that I prefer to use when referring to our total environment.
Ultimate Reality. Why not just Reality? Well, it’s a semantic thing. Too often philosophy has used “reality” to mean a particular mental or physical construct. For example, when someone says, “That’s your reality.” It’s not really everything. Adding “ultimate” gathers everything into that concept. Although ultimate reality has no boundaries and is totally neutral—I think there can be a purpose for humans nestled within its scope.
God. Aha, you say. I’ve finally named the most obvious one. Well, not exactly. For most Western Christians, “God” is the name of a being which is separate from us, who has human characteristics, and who controls earthly events from a place called heaven. Any of those characteristics means that God isn’t everything. And, if you think Satan is an entity, separate from God, that reduces God even further in size. However, if you feel that God is simply a handy name for the unconditional all that is, then I might agree.
If it’s so obvious that no word in any language can contain ultimate reality, why am I trying to define it? I guess I’d just like to get everyone thinking BIG. Thinking beyond a conditional God. Thinking beyond our little world. I want people to see that if we’re grounded in all that is, we can begin to expand our concept of what is our purpose within this reality.
The actual term used is not important—because any definition is conditional anyway—but I want us to expand our thinking beyond what the first-century citizens, and even our pre-spaceflight families, imagined as their cosmology. Knowing the big picture allows us to better frame our little pictures—the elements that give purpose to our lives.
I didn’t try for closure on this list, because I want this to be an introduction to interconnectedness and non-dualism which I’ll cover next time.
_____________________________ Art Fabian — April 5, 2019
PS: You might have noticed that I can’t decide whether to capitalize “ultimate reality.” If I use it in place of “God” then it ought to be capitalized. If it’s just another term for “all that is,” then it probably should be lowercase. I don’t think eternity hinges on my choice.
If these messages intrigue you, please share them with others who might like to consider different meanings in life. You can receive each essay as soon as it’s written by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and say “subscribe.” Of course, you can unsubscribe the same way.
Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. He’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy walking towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.