Monday, February 19, 2018

conversion of heart

From my window in the library, the view opens up onto downtown South Bend, which is really not very far from campus at all. And beyond it to the south, there are lines of trees and fields, and telephone poles of countryside I realize I've never explored at all.

I squint my eyes and instead of fields and trees, I see the mountains of Jordan in the distance, from a roof-top in al-Eizariya, or from Hebron Road, by the Church of the Kathisma (or at least so I pretend to myself).

I look at the maze of building and sidewalks down below, and I wonder how the Old City of Jerusalem would look from this window. According to Google Maps, it would fit neatly into the view, as it is only one-fifth the size of the campus which surrounds me. That seems implausible, as there are so many worlds which fit inside the walls of that city, and the multitude of stories layered into the stones of the city render it so much larger. It feels larger, and I think that's because it really is. At a certain point comparisons falter. What does it mean to say that the Old City of Jerusalem is smaller than this university's campus? Such geographical information is irrelevant as it signifies nothing about relative importance or length of history or experience of either city.

Except, it is mind boggling to think that the distance I walk from one class to the other would be a very different imagined difference if, one morning on the way to class, I were to pick myself up like the Google Maps fellow and drop myself down half a world away.

And let that be a lesson to you, my heart reminds me, the depth and breadth and height of anything is not measured in square footage. Acres are rather meaningless when it comes to measuring meaning.

How do we measure meaning? I wonder. And could I navigate between two systems, like Celsius and Fahrenheit, and would the calculations to equate the two be just as mathematically clumsy? Could I convert from one system to another without much trouble, or is the transformation always messy?

If experience is any answer to the last question: conversion between two systems of meaning is always messy. And complicated, and perhaps never complete.

Someone I once read said that those who love God more than their sin have no reason to fear the last judgement, but rather they welcome it. Perhaps it's because they have spent their lives trying to convert to a new measure of meaning, and they realize that they've carried the numbers all wrong, or their sum came out poorly, and the day of reckoning is just a giant session where we correct our test answers. Show your work, says the teacher, and we realize that our sincere efforts at mathematics ended mostly in poor calculations, but, with some slight correction, we produce the valid equations we were seeking all along.

In the meantime, I guess our task is to cultivate a love of mathematics and try our hand at small sums and simple formulas, Psalm 131 style.

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