The Brood: Eye Exams, The Kingdom of God, and Object Permanence

by Holly Mohr

I identify as a progressive, but let’s be honest: I am really, really, profoundly bad with change.

Biblically speaking, when Jesus tells Mary Magdalene not to “cling to him” when she recognizes him after the Resurrection, I definitely take it as a personal affront. Every time I read it, it stings all over again, as though Jesus is calling both of us out. When Peter tries to build a permanent residence for all the Jesus-BFFs during the Transfiguration, it seems like the next most obvious step to me. I cry a little every time I read about their coming back down from the mountain.

I basically go kicking and screaming through any change at all, even good ones, even changes I initiate. (I know, it’s a problem).

And yes, of course I get it. Something has to die to birth forth something new. Progress demands evolution. Growing requires leaving behind what doesn’t fit anymore (literally and otherwise). Somewhat counterintuitively, I actually love the reminder at the end of yoga class to “let go of whatever no longer serves you.” But while finitude and well-clarified boundaries are so important to me, my instinct is definitely to cling. Change is good, sure, I’ve seen it! But so is stability.

Yesterday morning I called my eye doctor’s office to make an appointment for my yearly exam. The voice on the other end was not the one I have heard every year for the past 11 years when I have made my appointment. The woman scheduling me was friendly and helpful; she seemed perfectly competent. But when she asked me if I’d ever been there before, I almost cried.

Overreact much? Yes. Always.

I mean, I even kind of knew it was likely I would be hearing a new voice. There’d been trouble in eye-doctor land last year (a divorce between the office manager and the doctor)—it makes perfect sense that they would stop working together. And to be honest, the office manager had always made me a little nervous—she had moods, like I have moods.

But also, I loved her. She would ask me perceptive questions about religion and culture, the kind that were challenging, but challenging in a real way, not a “gotcha” kind of way. And really, anyone who wants to talk about anything real (rather than small talk) automatically gets filed in my “enjoyable person” collection. I saw her once, maybe twice a year (year-long contact supply pickup post-exam) but seeing her was something I enjoyed. It was a piece of my life that mattered, at least a little.

Do I have some kind of attachment issues that could/should be psychologically evaluated? Yeah, sure, no doubt about it.

But I like to imagine there’s more to it than that. While I envision the Trinitarian God of Christian theology to be an active, dynamic force (some go so far as to characterize God as a verb, rather than a noun), and I love so many things that are creative, vital and evolving, I also envision the Kingdom of God as a wholeness.

The theologian John Henry Newman spoke of something called an “illative sense.” It’s this insight that while the yearning of so many human hearts for God does not prove there is a God, the very fact of the yearning says something important. It seems to say something about humans being made in a certain way, and that maybe, just maybe, the craving speaks to a future fulfillment that is real.

I think of that illative sense a lot, particularly when something (or more importantly, someone) changes (or is taken away permanently, as in death). Again, while I can clearly see the need, the good, for so much change (I really hope my eye doctor’s office manager is feeling happier and healthier not working in that office anymore!), there is something epistemologically and metaphysically strange to me about change. “But THIS IS!,I always want to shout to the Universe. And if THIS is not, or will not be in some future iteration of reality (and we all know that future is coming), what does reality mean at all? What do the events of our lives mean if they all (we all!) vanish?

My illative sense has me believe that my unyielding yearning for both dynamism and stability says something about what is or will be, about what is ultimately most real. I picture the Kingdom of God, or heaven, as a “place” (or experience) of being reconnected with everyone and everything I have ever experienced before, but not in a heavy-making way, not in a way that weighs down. In my idea of it, all of these experiences are light, joyful, fitting together somehow in ways that never made sense before. Here (there?), there is room for all of them. We are all connected, but/and we also all have our own space. We don’t need to cling because none of us is going anywhere. We have object permanence, except we’re all fully subjects, respecting each other, loving each other easily, understanding each other perfectly, pulling back and drawing nearer in an eternal dance of flow.

There’s a lot I need to let go of, absolutely. And praise God for change, truly. But maybe, just maybe, this is, after all. And maybe that matters.

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