Mad Scientist

“Has anyone ever told you you look like a mad scientist?”
    It was coffee hour. The questioner was maybe 20 years old, maybe 15. I can’t tell anymore.
    Hearing a negative reply, she said, “Well, you do.” And after a bit of silence, she went on: “And that’s a compliment.”
    Compliment received, I inquired their names (she was with a young man, younger than she to my eyes, but again, I can’t tell anymore). And I wondered what it meant, to look like a mad scientist, and for that to be a good thing.
    Well, I thought, at least they didn’t say I look like Jesus.
    But what does it mean to look like Jesus?
    Jorge Luis Borges, the great, blind Argentinian writer of short stories, has a parable called “Paradiso, XXXI, 108.” The title references a line from Dante—“was this, then, the fashion of thy semblance?”—a question posed by a traveler who beholds the image of Christ on the cloth with which, in pious story, Veronica touched his face as he carried his cross. Borges’ parable is about our loss of the face of God. We once had the image, but now it is gone. There are hints, but we lack the full image. “Paul saw it as a light which hurled him to the ground; John saw it as the sun when it blazes in all its force: Teresa of Leon saw it many times, bathed in a tranquil light, and could never determine the color of its eyes.”
    Yet there is a marvel that Borges sees in our loss of Jesus’ image. Anyone might be a bearer of some feature that was also Christ’s. “A Jew’s profile in the subway is perhaps that of Christ; the hands giving us our change at a ticket window perhaps repeat those that one day were nailed to the cross by some soldiers.”
    Indeed, “some feature of that crucified countenance” perhaps “lurks in every mirror.”
    To look like Jesus is a possibility latent in every human being.
    How does Jesus look? He looks human. In him is revealed what it means to be human. All of the rest of us fall short; sin keeps us from being fully human. But despite falling short of full humanity, we still carry the possibility of looking like him.
    Even if we look like a mad scientist.
    Out & About. This Sunday, the Day of Pentecost, I am to preach at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas, at the traditional services at 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.

Age and Time

    If you write about getting older, you get replies with a lot of wit. One person wrote: It’s easier in France; everyone calls you mademoiselle until suddenly one day it’s madame. Another, claiming extra points for knowing where Poughkeepsie is (I may double those points since he’s a Texan), affirmed that time accelerates: slowly it goes—until it’s speeding by.
    There are good things about looking older. Before I went to seminary, I taught junior high math at a pueblo in New Mexico. During a test, one of the students loudly whispered “Austin, come here.” I went to his desk and leaned down. The student asked, “How old are you?” I was stunned. “Dominic, get to work; this is a test.” “No, really,” he said, “How old are you? She says you’re 30, and I say 35.”
    “Get to work and be quiet,” I said, leaving him and not about to cede my newly-found advantage. They were both wrong; I was 24.
    “Do you sense she’s still with you?” I was speaking about Losing Susan, and the questioner wanted to know whether I experienced an on-going presence of my wife following her death.
    The answer is no, but for me there’s no lack of comfort in it. Susan has gone to be with Jesus; she is “sleeping in Jesus,” to use that special image. We don’t know what it means, but we do know that whatever it means, it has to be good.
    Still, we can think about it. We can ponder this biblical teaching: until the final resurrection of the dead, the departed lack a body. The “life after death” they have is to be distinguished from a future life still to come, what N. T. Wright calls “life after life after death.” In that “yet more glorious day” all the departed are given resurrected bodies.
    So for now, for the departed who lack their bodies, what might time mean? The answer is not at all clear. Time seems connected to space, to action and movement. It would seem odd for the departed to be occupying some sort of non-spatial universe that is parallel to ours, in sync with our time, able to “look down upon us” and share in our on-going life. Maybe they are connected through their being hid and held in Christ. In any event, one senses there are problems here of physics and metaphysics that are beyond our grasp.
    For what it’s worth (which may not be much), the sense I’ve had almost from the moment of her death is that Susan has gone off on a journey. She has gone off: our paths have diverged for now, and so they may remain until that future general resurrection, when all paths converge in the cosmic final assembly.
    Is there a kind of time in which all at once we are young and old and timeless? Where vigor and wisdom and constancy are met together and kiss each other? And is this but another way of saying with Augustine that our hearts are restless until they rest in God?
    Out & About. On Whitsunday, May 20, I’ll be preaching at the traditional services (7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.) at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas.
    June 4-6 (Monday evening to Wednesday noon) the CCET has a conference on “Hope Today” in Baltimore. We have a great line-up of speakers. More info here.

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The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: