The Dizzying Smallness of Life

The Dizzying Smallness of Life July 6, 2020

Do you ever burn with a sense of disproportion? A feeling that your desires are inexhaustible, that your experience cannot possibly be proportionate to your heart? No matter how far you might advance toward your fulfilment, it slips out of your grasp. When you do reach the cusp of joy, it is marked by the bitterness of fragility and transience. And each time you attend to your heart, you unearth a greater longing.

I’m not quite sure what to call this particular trouble. “Incommensurability angst,” perhaps. Or “the unease of the horizon.” Regardless, it haunts me. When I fail to attend to it, the discomfort is enough to make me renounce the search for an answer to my questions. I fall back into a reflexive nihilism. On those days, I am tortured by two particular features of my life: its smallness and its improbability. Yet, paradoxically, it is precisely the smallness of my life and the improbability of my destiny that save me from nihilism. For these bring me back to the threshold of prayer.

Your life is small

In the arc of history, your life takes up an infinitesimal amount of time. Our galaxy is almost fourteen billion years old. Life first appeared on Earth about four billion years ago, and the first primates almost fifty five million years ago, but it wasn’t until about 300,000 years ago that Homo sapiens evolved. If the history of the universe was fit into a calendar year, human life would start at 11:30 PM on December 31st.

Across the horizontal axis, your life is even smaller. The current world population nears eight billion. Of those eight billion, how many will you know or love? There are innumerable beautiful vistas and the powerful works of art you will never see, delicious foods you will never taste and languages you will never speak. How can you say you have known truth or beauty? Think of the wounds of injustice throughout the world: all the hungry crying out for food, the marginalised thirsting for welcome, the ill longing for healing and the traumatised for peace. Does not the scale break at the disproportion of your paltry offering?

Your destiny improbable

Every aspect of your life is improbable, starting with your genetic code. Generations upon generations of your ancestors had to successfully survive, meet, and reproduce for millennia. Each step of the way, fertilisation had to take place between one precise egg, out of about 100,000 in the mother, and one precise sperm, out of about 4 trillion in the father. Furthermore, in each generation, your antecedents’ genetic material underwent unique mutations and meiosis crossovers. Any change would have altered your genetic code, and you — as you are — would not be sitting here today.

The improbability doesn’t end at conception. Though the human person is resilient, she is also remarkably dependent. The development of the body and brain rely on an intricate dance of cell division and specialisation, through the exchange of endogenous biomolecules and environmental signals. Similarly, innumerable experiences of love and learning must converge for the psyche to take shape. And the soul has to be nourished and prepared to receive the gift of faith. In body, mind, and spirit, your life is improbable.

Looking forward to the future, your destiny is no more likely. You are fragile and weak. At any moment, your life or gifts could be taken from you. Even while they remain, you do not control them. While this lesson may be painfully learned through the loss of a loved one, its truth is immediately accessible upon reflection; just think of the last time you failed to do what you knew was right. If you cannot control the most minute events of your life, what makes you think that you can reach your heart’s fulfilment?

It is a dizzying position.

You are loved and made for the infinite

Yet the smallness and improbability of our lives reveal the love of our Father in Heaven.

You are small, yes, tiny! But this smallness is not insignificance. For you are loved infinitely, and made for the eternal bliss of union with God Himself. And here below, God has placed infinite desires into your heart so that you might thirst for His face. It is precisely your smallness that betrays your importance in His eyes, reveals His preference for you.

Your life is unlikely, nigh impossible! But your life exists. For before you were formed in the womb, God knew you and chose you. Indeed, He created you in His very image, and throughout your life He has been sustaining you in existence, even in moments of desolation. He is calling you to a unique mission, and it is His strength that will accomplish it in you. It is precisely the unlikelihood of your destiny that glorifies His work in you. Our God is a God of miracles.

If you ache with the pain of a disproportionate life, then, if you struggle with the improbability of your fulfilment, thank Him for it. For this is a reminder that your life does not depend on you. You did not create yourself, you will not save yourself, you cannot fulfil yourself. But you are being sustained in being by the One who can. The only reasonable position before your life is to beg to see His presence. As you learn to beg, your life will become a dramatic adventure in which every instant bursts with meaning.

The miracle of heart of God

And herein lies the miracle: just as our hearts beg for God, the heart of God begs for us. Indeed, He became Man so that we might encounter Him, and died on a Cross to take our mortal lives up into the infinite love of the Trinity.

In a stirring commentary on the miracle of the raising of the son of the widow at Jain (Luke 7:11-17), Romano Guardini writes that, though we may appear to be “barely visible motes” on a tiny speck in the cosmos,

For God, those mites on the grain of sand lost in immeasurable space are more important than the Milky Way or the whole universe; the short span of life in which life endures on earth is more important than all the light years of astronomy. The few years of human existence, the ten years of solitude that a widow perhaps has before her, weigh more in God’s eyes than all the aeons that solar systems require to evolve and decline… He is no mere astronomical God of systems… no mere God of History… He is the God of hearts.

Run to the God of Hearts. He is present in your unlikely life, nowhere more spectacularly than in the Eucharist. Your life may be small, but God gives you His Body and Blood as food for your journey to eternal life with Him.

 

If you enjoy the blog, click here to join my mailing list, or click here to follow me on Twitter.

And if you need a reminder of the drama of life, turn to Beethoven:


Browse Our Archives