Up Up and Away – 2

The account given in the New Testament says he floated up into the clouds, and eventually faded from sight. This is more than levitation. He didn’t just go up and come down. He went up, then he disappeared. This sounds unbelievable, but isn’t this what we would expect if someone were to be taken physically from the material realm into the spiritual realm? Even if we think this is where Jesus went, the whole story sounds like “going to the spiritual realm” meant that he became less physical. Most of us have this annoying tendency to spiritualize such stories and make them ghostly, ethereal and weird.  But what if it is the other way around? What if Jesus did not become less physical but more physical? What if he disappeared because he eventually went into another realm which is not less real, but more real?

How can this be? Am I simply spinning theories and being fanciful? No. I’m serious, and as usual, everything depends on our starting point of view. We naturally assume that this physical world is the real, solid and substantial realm while the spiritual realm is ethereal, wispy, transparent and therefore less real. But who is to say which is more real—the invisible realm or the visible realm? Most people think the world of spirits is ethereal while the physical world is solid; but what if it is exactly the other way around? Let’s imagine Aunt Susan said she saw an angel pass through a brick wall.  We would assume that the angel was ethereal and “unreal” because we assume the brick wall is solid. But what if angels are more solid and eternal than brick walls? If they are, then it is the wall that is flimsy and insubstantial.

How do we know which one passed through the other? Physics tells us what we consider solid matter is mostly air. What if the angels (who we think of as creatures of air) are, in fact, made of some matter more dense and solid than the brick wall? Then the angel may have passed through the brick wall as a man passes through a bank of fog. If you didn’t know the nature of fog or a human being, and you witnessed a man step through a bank of fog wouldn’t it be easy to believe that he was ethereal and the fog solid?

Can we rely on our perceptions to tell us what is real and unreal? The physicists tell us that material reality behaves in very strange and contradictory ways, and the physicians tell us that our senses are very easily fooled. If the physical world is more fickle than we thought, and if our eyes and ears cannot always be trusted, perhaps the more trustworthy world is the one that cannot be seen and heard. Saint Paul agrees with Plato that the invisible things are more permanent than the visible. If this is the case, then the person who believes in the reality of the spiritual dimension may be more of a realist than the Man from Missouri. Similarly, if this whole material world is compacted from dust, air and water, and if it will eventually return to dust and ash, then the stout materialist is the one who trusts in the ephemeral.

To return to the story of the Ascension, it could be that while the disciples saw Jesus vaporize into the spiritual realm, he in fact, passed through a “cloud of fog” into a realm which was not less solid and real than this one, but more solid and real. From his point of view he was leaving the fuzzy, unreal world behind and entering into a world that is far more real, colorful, vibrant and alive than this world. What if all the lurid religious art with its ghastly colors and vivid detail points to some reality we hadn’t counted on?  What if heaven is as bright, colorful and flamboyant as a Mardi Gras parade, an amusement park or a Hindu festival? If this is so, then when Jesus went from this world to the next he was simply leaving a vague shadow world to step into a world where the light is like crystal and each grain of dust is as hard and beautiful as diamonds.

If this is so, then the story of the Ascension teaches us several things about the relationship between this spiritual world and this physical world. First of all, there is commerce between the two worlds. Plato thought the spiritual beings were able to assume physical forms. But if that world is more real, then for them to take a physical form would require them to slow down to enter a kind of submarine world. If you like, for them to become physical is to wade through a world that is thick and cumbersome, dark and cold. For them to take human form would be like us having to wade through icy water up to our necks.

But if the door between the worlds is open, and spiritual beings are able to make themselves visible in physical form, it would follow that after death, human beings might be able to enter that spiritual realm. However, humans are physical beings. Physicality is an intrinsic part of our nature. Our bodies aren’t shells for our souls. They are an indivisible part of our souls. Therefore human beings must enter the spiritual realm in some physical sense. They don’t become angels or ghosts; instead their physicalness becomes spiritualized. It is not done away with; it is transformed to a higher plane of material reality.  If this is so, then the Ascension shows this very process happening. Jesus didn’t just become a disembodied spirit. He didn’t turn into a ghost, he became a spiritualized physical being.

The Ascension was a unique event because it was a first in human history. When Jesus was “taken up into heaven” what really happened was that the door swung open for physical humanity to be divinized. Read More.