Do you remember the passage in Our Town
where Rebecca Gibbs says a preacher sent a letter to a sick child and addressed it to, "Jane Crofut, the Crofut Farm, Grover's Corners, Sutton County, New Hampshire, United States of America, Continent of North America, Western Hemisphere, the Earth, the Solar System, the Universe, the mind of God"? I've always loved that passage, though I used to think it was nothing more than whimsical. But there are a lot of legitimate physicists working today who think the whole field of physics is headed toward an understanding that the universe we live in is a projection of or is contained by some other, transcendent reality. Physicists are generally reluctant to identify what that other reality is. Some say it might be another universe with another set of dimensions, some use the word hologram in ways I don't really get, but virtually all of them agree that whatever it is, it's not limited by time and space, which suggests, to me, something eternal and omnipresent. So what if Thornton Wilder
, speaking through Rebecca Gibbs, was right, and that transcendent reality that physicists are scrambling to figure out the mathematical proof for is the mind of God? Maybe that's where we all ultimately exist, in the mind of God.
I like to think so. It explains a lot. It explains where archetypes come from, for example, much more eloquently than saying they're part of the collective unconscious. It explains intuition, dÃ©jÃ vu. It also explains where fiction â€” and all art, for that matter â€” comes from.
If we all exist in the mind of God, that suggests a new way of reading the Bible. For example, when Jesus said that the greatest commandment was, "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind," I can't summarize everything he meant by that, but for fiction writers, or for me, anyway, it means, "Be passionately engaged with the universe. Write with all your heart, from the depths of compassion and empathy that you can find for your characters; write with all your mind, paying attention to structure and story and detail and craft; and write with all your soul, the place where God dwells and that therefore connects you, through him, to every other person in the history of this planet â€” those who lived long lives, those who barely lived at all, those who lived before you, those who will come after you." And I'm not trying to sound strange, but here's how I think of it: also those whose lives are imaginary, fictional, existing on this planet primarily in the minds of their writers and readers â€” they, too, dwell in the mind of God. And when you are writing with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, you have the privilege and the obligation to tell the stories that are given to you as truly and as well as you can, to use those holy and awesomely powerful things called words, to create flesh, flesh that, as John in his gospel described Jesus, the Word made flesh, is full of grace and truth.
That's how I understand writing as a form of prayer â€” that what I'm doing when I'm writing, at my best, is connecting at the level of my soul to the universe, to God, to everything else that is in the mind of God, including the souls of my characters and the souls of my readers. That is, for me, the basis for hope that my characters' individual experiences can transcend their specific realities of race and gender and ethnicity and nationality and religion to express universal human truth. If that weren't possible, if we were each stuck in our own skins, unable to enter into the lives of others, to feel their humanity and touch their souls, I think we would eventually destroy each other. I think as long as we remain unable to realize our deepest connection to each other, we will, to that same extent, continue to go to war with each other and ignore each other's suffering, even when that suffering reaches the levels of famines and epidemics and genocides and holocausts. But I also believe that through fiction, we can transcend the limits of our own individual existences and connect in profound ways to each other, to the universe, to God. That's what I hope and pray to do in my work. And it's what I hope and pray for this planet.