Monday, May 29, 2017

The Plausibility of the Ascension

Apology for Something in Previous Piece

First of all, some comments did not appear after approval. Anything is possible, including Bear clicking the wrong button. Nothing was deemed unsuitable or deliberately spiked. Bear apologizes. Using Tourette Syndrome as a joke is probably not the most sensitive thing to do. He is sorry and will not do it again. It is a particularly hurtful reference, Bear realizes, because it is a little-understood disease that draws embarrassing attention and displays ourselves as something we are really not.

From now on, the Bear will refer to Ursine Homelitic Explosive Disorder.

The Ascension

Icon For the Win

Now, let's talk about the Ascension. The Bear makes this little speech just about every time, he thinks.

The image of Christ floating up into the sky until he disappears into clouds has always struck the Bear as ludicrous, especially since the Bear was a private pilot. Satan is on his shoulder yukking it up about the ceiling, the pattern instructions for that airfield, whether Jesus was under visual or instrument flight rules and other lame jokes.

The Bear has a problem, then, that you probably don't and no one should. Bear wonders if we all have our little niggling difficulties like that. As Newman said, "a thousand difficulties do not make a single doubt." That is a blessed phrase to engrave on your memory.

It is not because the Bear cannot imagine the Ascension. It is because he can imagine it all too well. It would not take a very big CGI budget to make it happen in an utterly convincing way in a movie these days.

The Bear appreciates our often hyper-realistic, sentimental Western religious art. But when it comes to the Ascension (and other events) he has to hand it to the Orthodox. Icons are not meant to be a representation of what one might have seen had one been on hand. They convey the reality of the event in a way that is physical but clearly meant to be something both more and less. The icon of the Ascension is not meant to look realistic. It is meant to convey the event from a different perspective.

The Bear's publisher is an expert on icons. Perhaps he might prevail upon her to write a piece for us. As former Orthodox, icons are dear to the Bear's heart, and an oil lampada burns day and night before a lovely (if non-traditional) Russian icon of the infant Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

How to Make Difficulties Your Friends

Whenever the Bear has a "difficulty" like this, he stalks it like a Bear. He circles it and calculates the implications for every angle.

Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Who came from Heaven in bodily form from the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, had accomplished his earthly mission. It was time to go. The only question left is how?

What is the Best Possible Way Jesus Could Have Left?

He could have just wandered off into the desert. That would have been a bad choice because anyone could then wander out of the desert claiming to be Jesus returned. It also lacks the dramatic finality and leaves open the question of his heavenly origin.

He could have finished by descending into the earth. Boy, would that have sent the wrong message.

He could have just disappeared, like he had previously done to escape the crowd of Jews who wanted to kill him. Yet, he had simply reappeared after that. Not much finality there. Also that would leave no indication of where he went, or how he might return.

No matter how you look it, only one departure makes any sense. Only the Ascension takes him away from us in his body (hugely important for Christology).

Only the Ascension returns him from whence he came. Not the sky of clouds and birds, of course, but better. When Genesis records that God created heaven and earth, "heaven" is a Hebrew word that covers several meanings - just as in English. There would be no doubt in the minds of witnesses that he was returning to the realm of God and his Heavenly Host.

(By the way, the angels arrive as messengers for the King, suggesting that Jesus was something higher than an angel.)

Only the Ascension demonstrates how he will return. (Not to mention implies that he will return.) There will be no confusion. Jesus is very clear on that point. The Gospels are vague, and even apparently contradictory on the timing. But in any case he tells us not to worry about that. Just be ready. When Jesus returns, everyone will know about it. He left publicly because he is coming back in the greatest show on Earth.

It was also a great way to generate buzz about the fledgling Church.

So, as weird as it seems, the Bear concludes that if Jesus really did return to Heaven, the Ascension was hardly ridiculous at all. It was the best possible choice for God. It was also a choice that is so perfect that it strengthen's the Bear's faith when he meditates on it, rather than weakens it.

The Judgment of Elvis

The Bear used to have all sorts of silly difficulties that are embarrassing to relate. The idea of Elvis being judged seemed so incongruous that the Bear could not think about it without rolling his eyes. The ultimate worldly icon being judged? Would he be wearing his white Vegas outfit, maybe with a mic in his hand singing Amazing Grace?

The Bear will let you figure out how he resolved that one, and in a way that was edifying. Here's a little secret. Your tempting demon is terrible, but he is no match for your guardian angel. If you turn your attention from your left shoulder to your right (where your guardian angel lives, as everyone knows) she will smile and draw a lesson even from the devil's jokes.


  1. The cloud bit is important to me, I imagine Christ going up about 100 feet or so then disappearing in a thunderstorm, which then itself subsequently disappeared. I don't know why this makes it so much easier for me to digest; I think the image of Him gradually disappearing like a balloon that's been let go just seems ridiculous, that's probably why. Of course, I have no idea how it actually looked.

  2. Yes, I think we might all have our niggling difficulties. I really value your advice about looking to our Guardian Angel on our right shoulder...the most underappreciated guide God has given us.

  3. Well if it helps any, apparently Elvis is still alive and was just recently spotted at a Waffle House near Graceland. Eyewitnesses report he's ditched the Vegas outfit, for a white male romper. That ain't right.


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