After that last chapter, I hope you don’t imagine that our family is regimented by a lot of ironclad rules. At Sechelt, however, we do have one procedure that is rigidly observed and enforced by us all. After we’ve been using the boat, even though it has been pulled up high and dry on the beach, we always tie it to something heavy or immovable. We have learned to do that without fail because we know what can happen if we ever forget.
Kay’s birthday comes late in August. One year Elsie Carson and I conspired to have a surprise birthday dinner for Kay over at Carsons’. She had to be removed from the vicinity so that she wouldn’t walk in on the preparations. One of our kids—name withheld—invited Mom to go for a “nice birthday boat ride,” to see if any new cabins had been built that year along the shore of Salmon Inlet.
Just before supper time the guest of honor was returned. The two families welcomed Kay ashore with repressed excitement and hustled her over to Carsons’ place.
It was a great occasion, complete with birthday cake, candles, ice cream, presents and a glorious sunset. The kids did the dishes, then we all sat down and sang for an hour around the fireplace. Heavy clouds had rolled in, and it was very dark outside. Down on the shore we could hear waves coming in. It was a good evening to be indoors.
Suddenly Kay looked at me in alarm, and I looked at her. Together we gasped, “The boat!” In the excitement about the birthday supper, had anyone remembered to tie up the boat? We knew that by now the high tide had sneaked well up the beach. We grabbed flashlights and dashed across to our place. The water was already up to the foot of the steps in the landing bay. No dry beach at all left. And no boat!
Our boat was gone. By now it might be anywhere out there in the dark night. That boat had been a substantial part of our lives at Sechelt. It had carried us to many happy adventures. I had repaired its little punctures and cracks so carefully. That patched-up fiberglass boat of ours had real character. Now by sheer carelessness, we had lost it. Out there somewhere it was drifting farther and farther away from us.
Should I go out in the night to look for it? Herb and Elsie came over. It was dark out there on the water, and quite choppy. Maybe we should wait until morning before trying to find our lost boat. By then it might be smashed up on some rocks, or carried miles farther away. Maybe even carried out through the Skookumchuck into Jervis Inlet and lost to us forever. Somebody else might find it and decide to keep it for themselves. The salvage law of the sea—finders keepers!
Carsons had sold their big boat with its searchlight. Only our catamaran and Herb’s rowboat were available. Neither of those was a proper search vessel at night. How would we see anything out there? Our chances were very slim. Nevertheless, we decided to go out immediately and have a look.
Our bigger motor was still attached to the missing boat. Nothing left but our little secondhand three-horsepower putt-putt. We loaded it into Herb’s pram and took it out to the catamaran at its moorage buoy. Herb had a big flashlight with a fresh battery, and I brought along our glaring gasoline lantern.
When the motor was mounted, we were ready to cast off from our moorage. But which way should we go? The missing boat had had a long head start on us. If we chose to go searching in the wrong direction, we’d be farther away from it than ever.
But we knew the general direction of the current, for the high tide was still swirling into Fido Bay. The wind had probably not changed its direction, so we believed that we had our best chance of finding the boat somewhere along the curving shore to the north. Up there a wide shelf of jumbled round rocks extends out from the base of a steep hill, and a jungle of trees spreads a network of low branches out over the rocks. It’s really wild along there.
The old outboard motor eventually responded to our efforts to start it, and we headed off northward. Herb was steering. I hooked one arm around the mast up front and held the lantern high, on the lookout for rocks, floating logs and a missing boat.
Kay and Elsie watched us go off into the dark. No doubt we were one of the strangest apparitions that had ever floated over those waters. Herb kept probing the shore with his flashlight, but all we could make out were the dim shapes of dark trees.
Slowly we pushed on in glum silence, peering into the night. We couldn’t risk moving in much closer to the shore. Just one pontoon holed by a sharp-pointed rock, and we’d have been in real trouble. The deck of the catamaran was cold to my wet bare feet. The chilly wind and choppy water didn’t help much. We hoped there was enough gasoline left in the tank of our little motor. How far should we go before turning back?
Then suddenly we spotted a patch of light greeny blue away in under some low-hanging branches. Our boat! There it was. We raised our right fists and shook them with victorious shouts.
Herb cut the motor and we drifted in as close as we dared. He took the gas lantern. I took his flashlight, and stepped off into the cold water among the rocks. Groping for footing, I stumbled off balance and tore my foot on a barnacle.
But the boat was still intact and afloat. The motor cowling had caught on some low branches. The prow was rubbing against a big, smooth, half-floating log. The oars were still in the boat. I worked it free of the sweater-snagging twigs and out past the worst rocks. Then I got in and rowed home in triumph, following the lantern on the catamaran.
The women had a warm fire going and we received the welcome of heroes. With mugs of hot chocolate we celebrated the success of our search. As warmth seeped back into our bones we resolved that never, never again would we leave a boat untied on the beach, birthday or no birthday. Now you know why our whole family is so diligent about making sure that no tide will ever again make off with our boat.
All the way
Our carefulness in this matter reveals that the boat is very important to us. Why is it important? Why do we want that boat, to have and to hold? It’s easy to say that we want to use it, but why do we want what the boat helps us to get? The answer to these unusual questions lies very deep and far beyond any commonplace reason for tying up a boat.
I bought that boat in the first place because I owned a piece of property that could be reached easily only by water access. In an office in the city I had been dreaming about having a place out in the woods, where I could undertake challenging physical projects and give my family some freedom, recreation and enjoyment in an unspoiled world. Without that little boat, those fond dreams would not have actualized. Our car could bring us to the ferry. The ferry could deliver our car, family and goods to the Sechelt Peninsula. But it was up to that little boat to bring us from the boat landing around the cliff to our lot. The boat provided the final and essential link that completed the long path which would connect our home in Vancouver all the way to our Sechelt place.
Anything is “valuable” if it enables people to go where they want to go, to get what they want to get, or to do what they want to do.
On shore the night our boat floated away I had a little old motor and a gasoline lantern. If they and I had been on the catamaran out there at the mooring buoy, I could have closed the gap between me and the lost boat. But I couldn’t swim out to the moorage and take them along too. Herb Carson and his little rowboat closed that gap between the shore and the catamaran by transporting us out. For other purposes the motor had value. The lantern too was valuable. The catamaran was salable. But none of these were valuable for reaching our drifting boat until Herb and his little pram linked them all together in a continuous chain of communication that ran all the way from our beach to the missing boat. Then each single link in that long chain became valuable for my search. ……
Value is associated with pathways for communication, media for messages, all means of relating. Something is valuable if it enables someone to get through from a deprived here to a desired there.
I love it when the cashier at a store where I’ve purchased something hands me my parcel and says, “There you go!” The contents of the parcel fill some “missing link” in one of my plans. Now I can go ahead with what I want to do. “There you go!”
Smart manufacturers produce items which will enable people to forward their purposes. Somebody had once built that little boat of ours, knowing that someone somewhere would be looking for just such a boat—one light enough and small enough to go on top of a car, but big enough and in the right shape to carry a useful cargo. A racier, narrower, V-bottom boat with a high prow would have attracted boat buyers with purposes other than ours. We preferred this blunter, wider, semiflat-bottom craft for stability while carrying a heavy load.
This particular boat happened to be available secondhand, AND the price was right! Our money was valuable because it enabled us to buy a boat that would make it possible for us to transport ourselves and our goods to our summer place. The monetary system is a very, flexible way of translating many valuable things into common terms of paper money and coins. These can be transported easily from place to place, and exchanged for bulkier things that enable people to reach the fulfillment of their desires and the satisfaction of their needs.
The whole business about values starts with people’s dissatisfaction and uneasiness with things as they are. This quickly becomes a searching for a way to make a difference to the situation, to set up a new situation which is more satisfying and comfortable. What people value is what fulfills their dreams, their hopes, their wishes, their yearnings. If nobody ever wanted anything, everything would be valueless. Without desire, nobody would make a move toward anything. No reason for taking action would exist. Manufacturers would stop building boats and no one would want to buy one anyway. Kill desire and human initiative goes dead.
But why should anyone desire anything? Why not remain as we presume a stone to be—content with things as they are? It’s because things never do stay as they are! Things inevitably change. The supply of energy which keeps a living thing going is quickly used up. Creatures will die if these resources aren’t replenished. Physical motions eventually grind to a halt unless they are given fresh impetus. Without careful maintenance the familiar form of everything we know and use will eventually be chewed up, battered and eroded into uselessness. Whatever information we may possess just now cannot hold our attention forever. Consciousness is sustained only by the onset of different differences. In order to persist, life must feed upon something else. The same things cannot be eaten twice. New food must be sought. What is fed upon usually resists as best it can, for it too has its own desires and tendencies.
But why should life want to continue to live? There is an unexplained law that physical motions will persist in going on as they are unless and until some other force interferes. Even things which appear to be at rest resist being moved. There is a fascinating mystery about momentum and inertia. Why does a past state of things tend to prolong itself into the future?
Life also has its own kind of momentum that seeks its own continuance. Life, however, is at least a process, and as such it cannot be content to remain exactly as it is. Life cannot continue if nothing ever changes. Life ceases with the end of all comings and going of material, energy and information. Input must more or less balance output in a kind of precarious, dynamic equilibrium or death will inevitably ensue. Living means continually gaining something and continually losing something. Life essentially consists of a reaching out to obtain sustenance, a characteristic way of processing what it takes in, and an ejection of what seems to be unnecessary to sustain the living, processing unit.
An amoeba doesn’t just sit there hoping for food to come along. It extends pseudopods to capture and ingest food particles. Sprouting seeds produce eager rootlets that go after nutrients and moisture in the soil, as well as leaves that spread out to capture the energy of light.
But even if a dormant seed should find itself in the “right conditions” for sprouting, why does it actually commence to sprout, instead of remaining peacefully dormant? In the same conditions, a pebble never stirs. Why don’t newborn animals just lie there and die rather than make those “right motions” with their open mouths that can bring them into contact with food? They seem to want to live, and to keep on living, although they don’t know at all what they’re in for.
By a variety of methods, living things reproduce themselves. Why? Some single-celled creatures divide to form separate new organisms which are on their own. Why bother to produce these supernumeraries? Why should a self-sufficient organism work to produce a colony?
In sexual reproduction, why should sperm cells which know nothing about eggs, swim off into the unknown to find an ovum? Why should an ovum, even if fertilized, go to the trouble of developing into the complexities of a fully developed organism? Why does a plant prepare and project spores, seeds or plantlets into its environment?
Why does an animal seek a mate? Why do incubator-raised birds gather nest-building materials and build nests similar to those of their ancestors, having never seen even one such nest? Why does a female bird sit patiently day after day upon the eggs in her nest, having never seen a single egg before she herself laid one? Still more mysteriously, why would a male bird ever sit upon eggs he never even laid? Why does a pair of birds work so hard all day every day searching for food to bring back to their nestlings? The nestlings would seem to be mere liabilities. Why do salmon turn back from distant waters in the ocean to head up the very stream where they were spawned?
We have a Welsh Corgi dog. Like his ancestors, Torgi is a landlubber. Nonetheless, when we’re out for a run in our boat he loves to perch like a figurehead up on the prow. Once Torgi fell off into the water half a mile from shore. Why did he immediately start swimming toward the distant shore instead of back to the boat? After all, the boat was much closer to him.
Biologists used to explain the unlearned tendencies and inborn skills of animals by tossing off the unenlightening word “instinct.” Nowadays they provide us with an even more mystifying explanation. In their cells, organisms have “genes” which somehow regulate preprogrammed sequences of behavior. These may be “triggered” by the appearance of certain “signals.” Female moths emit volatile airborne substances. When a whiff of this exciting pheromone aroma reaches a male moth of the right species, it triggers in him some complicated “track down the source of that scent” behavior. The male responds to the scent because instructions from his parental genes (half of which came from a female) built that particular “pattern of reaction” into his constitution.
In realistic terms, however, no one seems to know anything very specific about the connection between the actual chemistry of “triggering substances” and variable patterns of behavioral responses. It would be hard to trace the linkage between genetic molecular structures (forms in space) and sequences of complex actions (forms in both time and space).
If an organism is to survive wounding, its wounds must somehow be healed. Essential ingredients of the healing process originate throughout the entire body. When emergency strikes, the right team of those healing substances must be quickly notified, recruited, mobilized and assembled at the scene of the accident. How is that done?
Genetic preprogramming cannot adequately explain all this incredibly coordinated activity. Which genes in which cells know where the wound is or where the potential members of the healing squad are presently located? Which genes send out what messages to summon the right things to appear where they are needed? Which genes (or brains, for that matter) automatically know what “the right things” are? Who set up the program that coordinates such an amazingly extensive operation, complete with a triggering arrangement? Something more than the concept of “triggering a program” is required to account for what actually happens. What is the connection between disrupted local cells and the whole organism? How does the healing squad know when to stop its emergency activities and retire?
Similar problems arise when this same explanation is applied to cell division, especially as a fertilized ovum is moving toward becoming a mature organism. From time to time the growth process speeds up or slows down, starts up or remains inoperative, changes direction or ceases altogether. How could the right portions of the genes of newly formed cells become sufficiently aware of the state of development already attained by some organ-in-the-making so that each of those new cells would spontaneously proceed to do “the right thing under the circumstances”? For that matter, how could a gene anywhere know anything about the general state of affairs at any given moment over the entire organism? Besides, it’s one thing to trigger a process and get it going, but it’s an entirely different thing to stop it or change its direction at just the right moment.
Difficulties with “triggering programmed behavioral patterns” keep cropping up when this conception is used to explain any or all of life’s “goal-seeking” tendencies. Eventually all movements toward goals will have to be explained in terms of microevents which take place at inaccessible depths in the physical chemistry of living substances.
Particular structural patterns of DNA molecules have been put forward as explanations of an organism’s macroactivities. Presumably, however, the same genetic structural patterns occur in every cell throughout the same organism. How then are the various cells capable of performing such a great number of specialized functions at diverse times and at different locations? We need an explanation that accounts for differences in behavior, not merely for similarities.
When a “triggering signal” comes, each cell which it activates must respond in a slightly different way. Otherwise very complicated sets of muscular movements could never be coordinated so as to reach any specific goal. The same muscles, moreover, may be continually redirected moment by moment (as in handwriting) so as to attain a succession of different goals. Which gene is so clever that it is able to disseminate a finely tuned cloud of instructions over the whole organism such that every cell will respond to the right signal at the right time in the right place so as to effect a vital change? Which defective gene of mine is responsible for my poor handwriting? There is much more to a well-organized shooting match than a random pulling of triggers. It’s easy enough to explain a gun going off, but that explanation says nothing at all about the incredible refinements of aiming, taking into account distance, wind drift and timing.
Now that we have discovered that genetic DNA is arranged in wonderfully integrated patterns, the big question is: how did those intricate patterns ever get organized so cleverly? In any case the constituents of DNA and enzymes do not derive their distinctive effectiveness merely from the list of their ingredients, or simply from the order of their occurrence. Their capabilities involve the form of the molecular string, i.e., its folding and its “active sites.” The whole complex arrangement is just too, too clever to have only “happened.”
In chemistry, which atoms join up with which others to form a molecule depends largely upon the physical characteristics of whatever molecules happen to be in the vicinity at the time. Some atoms readily join together, yet certain others are ignored or entirely shunned. Why this selectivity? Chemists believe that some atoms (ions) are “hungry” for additional electrons and other atoms have a few to spare, so they get together. In other cases the phenomenon is explained in terms of the “attraction” between unlike electrical charges and between unlike magnetic poles. Like charges and like poles repel each other.
But why is this so? In particle physics the current fashion is to explain electromagnetic attraction and repulsion by means of “virtual particles.” Each subatomic particle is conceived to be surrounded by an atmosphere-like field of outward-tending virtual particles of energy. They are only “virtual” particles because as yet none of them possesses in itself enough energy to enable it to break loose and become an independent unit.
Apparently a virtual particle is in a predicament like that of a man who wants to leave for a distant appointment, but his car is confined to a parking lot by an automatic gate. A quarter in the slot will open the gate, but he has only two dimes. Until he begs, borrows or steals a nickel from someone he won’t get away.
Similarly a virtual particle is conceived as yearning to leave its home base to take off on its own. But first it must grab some additional energy, either from its home particle or from one that is passing at close range. If it succeeds in snatching energy from a passerby, the phenomenon of “attraction” occurs. If it succeeds in kicking off, the phenomenon of “repulsion” occurs. “The exchange of particles” is held to explain many physical, chemical and gravitational phenomena.
Notice that this theory explains “attraction” by a virtual particle’s yearning, ambitious desire to acquire and escape. But why should such a particle (if there are any!) want so desperately to get away? This explanation only substitutes the mystery of “desire” for the mystery of “attraction.” But I’m glad that physicists appear to concede that right down at the most basic constituents of matter, there exists an inexorable reaching out for wholeness. It seems mat a relentless search for completion lies at the roots of both the behavior of investigating physicists and of the physical phenomena which they investigate.
On whatever level of reality a scientific explanation of things may be sought, an “intentional” explanation in terms of desires and purposes appears to be every bit as legitimate as an explanation in terms of material and efficient causes and so-called natural laws, expressed with mathematical formality.
One of the most obvious things about this world is that its constituent particles are not evenly distributed throughout the universe. Many of them have come together in clusters, which we loosely term “things” or “observers,” if not atoms or molecules, stars or galaxies. Why do certain things clump into certain kinds of clusters, and not others? Why do some clusters hold together while other temporary gatherings and associations never “jell” and quickly disperse? Why do some things appear to “belong” together, white others are loosely coupled at best, if they are not altogether incompatible?
Whatever the subatomic explanation for the tendency of things to move toward each other and cluster together, it remains a mysterious phenomenon. All substances, animate or inanimate, manifest unaccountable tendencies under certain conditions to reach out selectively toward something at a distance, while ignoring or bypassing all else. An “outsider” might call this movement either a kind of propulsion or an attracting force, but from the interior it could just as easily be called “desire.” No one can show conclusively whether this motivation actually comes from within or from without—or from a Source beyond inside and outside.
“Family groupings” nonetheless do emerge from this attracting, reaching-out, clustering activity. Whatever the interactions or forces involved, the attracting and repelling actions sort much of the universe into “family” groupings. Should we not give a name to this universal attracting and repelling, this sorting out which results in certain preferential, clustering arrangements? What about “family feelings”? Explanation by such family feelings is as legitimate as any other as long as it accounts for all of the important aspects of an event and predicts what actually happens.
However satisfactory Newton’s laws of motion may be for explaining the behavior of bodies moved by contact with other bodies, they do not provide an adequate explanation for action at a distance, as in electromagnetic phenomena, gravitation, or the experience of desire. The forces of attraction or desire largely make this world what it is, and they should not be neglected.
If this complexly organized world emerged simply by chance throws of some unlocatable “dice,” one must ask how the dice came to be so carefully loaded as to produce so many stable and productive cluster-situations. Those who claim that the present arrangement of things in the world has resulted from aeons of random associations seldom mention that the dice have obviously always been loaded.
Who or what made the most basic constituents of the world, equipping each kind of them with its own limited repertoire of possible ways in which it can relate to other things? Having been made that way, on every possible occasion each seems to do its thing with enthusiasm.
There is at least one module in the world about whose inner desires I think I am qualified to speak, namely, myself. (So is the most materialistic, deterministic scientist.) I know what it is to reach out toward something “on purpose,” feeling that I “want” to do so. Why deny the same purposive feelings to others—or to anything, for that matter?
When a brain surgeon stimulates a certain location in a patient’s brain, the patient promptly utters cries like a baby. If the surgeon asks, “Why did you do that?” the inevitable response is, “Because I wanted to.” Undoubtedly at least among humans a strong correlation exists between externally observed activity and internally observed feeling.
Everybody knows what it is to want something. The plot of every story hinges on somebody wanting with all his or her heart to do, to be, to have and to hold something. “Because I wanted to” is always a sufficient and satisfying explanation.
I’m prepared to assume that everything experiences desire. Why not? No one can prove it is not so. The feelings of electrons may be very dim and diffuse, or on the other hand they might be far more ardent and intense than yours and mine. I have never heard a valid, convincing reason for rejecting the possibility that inanimate physical things might have an inward dimension of feeling. We just don’t know for sure about what goes on inside anything or anyone else. My own organism is a society of modules with many levels of modulation. Why shouldn’t my most basic moving particles have feelings of desire? My own feelings have to begin somewhere. Perhaps they begin with the feelings of my most elementary ingredients. No one knows where else feelings begin.
The desires of different beings aim at different goals. This is just as well, for it avoids a good deal of competition. Certain kinds of atoms “have an affinity for” certain other types of atoms. Atoms that “attract” each other interreact more readily than those that will combine only when they are heated, or when some catalyst or go-between adaptor is present. Only under very special circumstances will what are called the “noble” gases—helium, neon, argon, krypton and xenon-react with other substances. Gold and platinum are also relatively inert. All organisms have preferences as to their foods and environments. They find themselves attracted to some specific things and environments more than to others.
Human beings have a very wide spectrum of likes and dislikes. In general it’s true to say that we desire those things that seem to do us good in some way. Some things make us “feel better”—i.e., stronger, livelier, more satisfied, more “ourselves.” When food ceases to be mere nourishment and becomes a perpetual substitute for whatever would satisfy other desires, we may eat too often and too much—with “inflationary” consequences. Unlike most animals, we can desire what could destroy us in the long run. Some of the things which we desire maintain our wholeness and health, but other dubious desires may create serious problems for us and others. Intoxicating drugs temporarily seem good to some people, but may become harmful.
Every entity seeks for more than what is absolutely necessary to maintain its own wholeness and health. Atoms don’t need other atoms for maintaining their own wholeness. Parent birds themselves don’t need nestlings to feed. I could live, as many other humans do, without a boat, or a car, or this book.
Many technical achievements in food chemistry, pharmacy, medicine and engineering contribute greatly to human nutrition, health and welfare. Their products are therefore most desirable. Great pyramids, temples, statues, tall towers and space probes however do not seem to be necessary for any individual’s biological wholeness. They do, however, have some relevance to a society’s cultural identity and welfare. For sufficient reason a society may be willing to jeopardize the health and welfare of certain individuals temporarily or permanently. Slaves may have to risk their lives for their owners. Soldiers may have to die for the nation. Parents may suffer for the sake of their family’s well-being, and so may children. But just as individuals may have dubious counterproductive desires, so social groupings may be caught up also in unwise cultural metadesires. History and experience are well filled with sad instances of disastrous dreams, grandiose schemes and unrealistic enterprises.
A human being is born with desires for things that contribute to personal wholeness. Each individual is endowed with certain abilities which demand exercise and seek gratification. Each also has disabilities, handicaps and deficiencies. As well each has to cope with difficult situations which inevitably appear in any social and natural setting.
Thus when we are born into this world, a complex problem, peculiar to each person, is set before each of us—a special task to perform and a specific place to fill that could not be filled in the same way by anyone else. Such being our situation, this unique combination of our opportunities, constraining circumstances, personal assets and liabilities, largely motivates and channels our lifelong search for wholeness, for completion, for the attaining of our heart’s desire.
Buddhists teach that life is intimately connected with desire. They are right. Through a discipline which aims to annihilate all desire, they seek a blissful enlightenment which will be so fulfilling that they will nevermore want for anything. A desire to annihilate desire at first seems as paradoxical as the snake that is alleged to have swallowed itself by the tail. Buddhists believe in an ultimate unity of all things. This great unity, of course, is assumed to be free of desire, since it already possesses everything. The Buddhist simply wishes to lose the individualized, isolated, limited self with all its desires by merging into the great, desire less unity of being.
While the universe as a whole does possess everything there is, that is not to say that all of the things which it possesses necessarily occur in the right places at the right times or in the right combinations. Enormous possibilities for desirable rearrangements of things may therefore remain to be achieved within the universe as a whole. To have everything is not necessarily the same thing as to possess perfect peace or any other sort of perfection. Unless all of the rather obvious motions, processes and flows of things that characterize the world of our common experience are dismissed as mere illusion, the existing universe as yet doesn’t appear in any way to be at peace. If it had already attained a state of perfect rest, we might not be alive enough or alert enough to make the essential observation that it is so.
The universe, as we ordinarily know it, could be seen as seething with desire for the rearrangement of all the existing configurations of things. Nothing is entirely at rest. It is possible, of course, to ignore this cosmic appetite for diversity and change, just as it is possible to go to sleep beside great responsibilities, or to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to obvious facts, or to starve oneself to death. Any attempt to bypass all desire whatsoever, even on the part of the whole universe, would require a very strong and overruling desire for personal peace and for solidarity with all things, whether or not attainable. Avoidance of all desire whatsoever would seem to be utterly impossible.
The mystery of desire
The unceasing transformation of the whole universe, moment by moment, from state to state, may reflect the perennial and as yet unsatisfied desire of God. I suspect that our own ceaseless desiring is interwoven with God’s as-yet-unsatisfied creative desiring. I believe that our reachings-out and journeyings-forth—the external counterparts of our interior desires—somehow participate in the vast cosmic reaching-out of God for the fulfillment of his own desiring. Our desires, plans and purposes are local expressions of his greater plans—our interpretations of an ageless, all-encompassing purpose that activates us all. Accompanying the human race’s trek through history there is a pillar of clouded fire and a winsome, persuasive voice that lures us on.
Desire is always for something that is not presently in hand. What is desired may be entirely absent, invisible and inaccessible, even entirely unknown. In such a case how does the desirer know what to seek after? When he or she finally comes upon the object or person or state desired, how does the desirer recognize that particular one thing, situation or person as the very one that he or she has been seeking all along? A single man knows neither the real nature of marriage nor the specific description of the woman who will someday become his wife. She has a similar problem in reverse.
Surely something or someone in touch with both the seeker and the sought-after must connect the beginnings and continuations of the separate pathways that bring them together at last at a common goal. What third party, what indirect Relater brings seekers and sought-after together?
After a very long journey, dogs and cats left behind during a family’s move to a distant place are often reunited with “their family.” Is there an unseen link between the pet and the new home?
The newest crop of northern monarch butterflies will find its way to the very same southern locations which were frequented by last year’s generation. How do they do that?
A solitary, migrating Arctic plover may fly south for thousands of miles across the open ocean, from one hemisphere to the other, to a land it has never seen. How does it know where to go? For navigational purposes it may be using very subtle clues such as the position of the stars or the earth’s magnetic field. But whatever directional clues it may be utilizing, they bear no information whatsoever about the purpose of the flight or of its destination.
I can understand how an intelligent human being with imagination and considerable personal experience, as well as the shared experience of a well-traveled, knowledgeable society, could reach out across a gap of considerable size in space and time to take possession of something already known, or to reach a known desirable goal. But I can’t understand why an incubated male bird would sit on eggs if it had never seen an egg and hadn’t the slightest idea of what eggs were for. A male moth may seek out a female by following a streaming odor, but how does he know what to do when they meet, other than stroke his whiskers and say, “Oh! Hello there!” Neither “instinct” nor genetic DNA explains the connection between an odor and the complex details of mating behavior.
The world is full of things that, all unknown to each other, are mutually seeking each other from a distance. When they meet the right one, they find that they match and somehow belong to each other. The new wholes, the satisfying partnerships, the cooperative, emergent phenomena that appear when the right things meet, are surely a clue to the desires of the Metamodulator of the universe. He it is who brings things together with fruitful results. It’s all part of creating a world.
Certain things seem to belong together, as do certain persons. Hence all sorts of clusters appear. An ecosystem consists of those kinds of plants and animals whose ways fit the needs of each, other and fit into a certain specific environment. Work people need their tools. The tools would not have come into existence nor would they have reached the fullness of their destiny as tools if no one had ever used them as tools. Parts require wholes and wholes have their parts. Animals and plants establish many kinds of cooperative relationships. Together certain groupings attain a higher order of wholeness and unicity than the things or persons in them would have possessed singly and separately.
The Creator apparently is a “joiner,” one who puts together pieces that were made to fit each other. He’s a matchmaker, bringing desirer and desired together.
This is probably a good place to make mention of prayer and its answers? “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.”1 When you want what God wants, you get it.
Sorting things out
Desire creates a selecting process. We take what we want, but we leave the rest. We are apt to do what we prefer to do and to avoid doing what we don’t want to do. We believe what we want to believe and reject undesirable alternatives. When we choose “This” we have to forsake “That.” When we move, we keep what we value and put the rest in a garage sale, or trash it. This sorting process which inevitably accompanies desire is always present when things are gathered into clusters, clumps and families. When there is a gathering together somewhere, there is a thinning out of that kind of population elsewhere. When a new thing is made by combining items that formerly associated with other things, the older connections must first be broken. Family unicities which are begun by marriages are purchased at the cost of separatings. While desire may eventuate in great satisfaction, it inevitably leads to various levels of tragedy and suffering.
Need I go on to point out that desire, which separates, gathers and sorts things into “family” clusters, functions in the same way as the technical triad which we noted in chapter 13? We saw how the main kinds of tools are used to divide things, to connect them, and to sort them out. That is because tools function as the instruments of desire. Tools simply help people to accomplish what they want to have done. The basic triad of logical operations—dividing, including and selecting, symbolized by “or,” “and” and “not”—are likewise the instruments of human desire. Science uses both tools and logic. Since human desire is as integral to science as it is to any other realm of human endeavor, it does not deserve to be excluded from receiving proper recognition by scientists.
The physical world of communication functions in a closely similar triadic way. Before a signal can be sent from an originating source to a destination elsewhere, energy must gather in concentration at the sending point. When a portion of that accumulated energy is released from that gathering, it takes off at once through whatever open channels it can find. Energy’s ardent tendency to try everywhere for an opening greatly resembles desire. The resulting signal, having withdrawn energy and information from its source, will add something to what is already in place at its destination. The depletion of the origin thus contributes to a new gathering and concentration of energy and information in some other place.
This process of “gathering, dispersal and regathering” also describes rather well the propagation of waves. Signals, which are traveling waves of differing, are the basis of all communication. Without communication there can be neither “families” nor satisfaction of desires. Without communication there would be no relating, no knowledge and no physical world to be known. Triadic unicity therefore seems to be written into the constitution of the world.
After their travels, waves arriving at a destination do not always meet with a ready reception. Light may fall upon an ear or a blind eye. Sound waves may encounter an eye or a deaf ear. If waves are not resonantly accepted and passed on in another form, they will be reflected, deflected or dispersed in useless heat. The tuning of radio circuits is a commonplace example of this physical sorting. As the social world of human beings has its “fitting in,” its “appropriatenesses”—what is socially “right”—so also does the physical world.
I believe that God has a family feeling for this universe in all its diversity. “God so loved the world,” In, by and through this world, he will ultimately fulfill his desiring. While the universe has not yet become what it’s going to be, already much that is definitely good has arisen within it. The process of creation is only part way along. Here on this earth right now, important responsibility has been given to us human beings for helping to bring our corner of the universe farther along on the rest of the way. In Genesis God said what he had made was good: he didn’t say that it was complete or perfect as it was.
Instead of complaining about the problems he and we have with this world, we should rejoice that there is anything at all here that isn’t altogether a problem. We should be amazed that so much that happens everywhere, every day, actually goes right. There is righteousness. God, I’m sure, is getting a great deal out of his world—even now.
According to the Bible, the Creator has a special liking for adventurous people of faith, such as Abraham—people who are willing to leave settled, secure situations to work out the possibilities of new arrangements. People of courage and initiative, such as Moses, who lead others through wildernesses to promised lands, are especially useful for new developments. The prophets of Israel warned the people against worshiping any god who could be domesticated into a static, conventional idol. Worshiping a living creator makes for creativity among the people.
It appears that God hoped to use Israel to reopen stagnant civilizations for new creativity. Unfortunately, for long periods Israel settled down into a life-style similar to those in all the neighboring kingdoms. The Israelites too often supported the deceptive values, the unjust social structure and the inflexible conformism that characterized other nations. As a result Israel became less and less effective as an agency through which God could do new things throughout the world. At times, like our float-away boat, the people God needed for fulfilling his desire among the nations drifted off into relative obscurity in human history.
Christians assert that God therefore embarked in human flesh, braving the treacherous waters of the created world in order to find what he had lost. His voyage cost him a terrible hurt, but he did find what he had lost. God was able to make a new start within Israel. Jesus of Nazareth became the pioneer of a larger conception of God’s people. He envisaged nothing less than a new humanity as modeled and exemplified by the church. The social revolution which started around Jesus and his followers has been spreading ever since into every land. It is still continuing, though not always under Christian sponsorship. All peoples seem to be getting into the act.
My own life, I believe, has been part of that ongoing creative thrust. It is my hope that whatever I have been doing toward reintegrating theology, science and technology, has had some value for God. Perhaps however there were other, less conspicuous things that I did somewhere sometime which he has been or will yet be able to use in his ongoing adventure as he forms and transforms the world.
It is important to be faithful and careful about “little things,” for in the sight of God there are not likely any little things. I believe that God values everything and everybody. Every bit of this world is somehow necessary and important in forwarding the continuing process which is fulfilling God’s desires. “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”2 Everything and everybody is included in God’s family feeling for this world. His desiring has been called “love.” From that fierce and relentless divine desire, every other desire derives its force and its meaning. Every human desire must be judged and assessed with respect to the Creator’s beneficent desire.
1. Matthew 7:7.
2. Ephesians 3:14-15.