In Alfonso Cuarón’s beautiful film, Gravity, Sandra Bullock is part of a team of US space shuttle astronauts on a mission to repair the Hubble space telescope. As Dr. Ryan Stone, Bullock feels lost on earth, weighed down by grief, loneliness, and gravity. She spends her nights driving aimlessly, listening to the radio and trying to forget things that won’t be forgotten.
But adrift in space, weightless and floating free above this beautiful blue marble, Ryan is surprised to find that she hasn’t been liberated from earth’s hardships. She longs to breathe fresh air under the warmth of the sun and to feel the weight of her body on the soles of her feet. For the first time in a long time, Ryan stops drifting through life and struggles to get herself back to earth, back to gravity.
A common effect of depression is to make us doubt the value of our lives. We become trapped inside of a mental darkness full of doubt and despair, a darkness that speaks to us in lies, chief among them that we’re worthless, and our lives are meaningless. This is why depression so often leads to suicide: The darkness convinces us that the world will never notice our absence.
But it isn’t just that depression speaks lies: the darkness of depression is itself a lie, as if we’re locked in a virtual reality world that feels authentic but really just a bug in our mind’s software.
Now consider the reality that makes up our everyday experience. What if the weight of sorrows and uncertainties and fears that presses down on us is somehow a distortion of what is true? In nature, light responds to the gravity of massive stars by bending, leading us to see distant galaxies in places where they really aren’t. The natural world bends reality in all sorts of subtle ways, so that even if we aren’t depressed, we can’t always trust what we see and hear and touch.
Jesus spoke often of the “kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God.” He was describing something hard to understand, something that is all at once a place, a state of mind, a way of life, and a force that pulls us steadily towards God. Over and over again he taught that the kingdom of heaven has come near to us, like some dark moon that’s been captured in the earth’s orbit and invisibly shifts the tides and warps the seas.
He taught that the kingdom of heaven is like… yeast, or a net full of a variety of fish, or a treasure discovered by surprise, or a generous king hosting a wedding banquet. His explanations seem strange at times. They puzzled his listeners every bit as much as they puzzle us today.
As I read through them all, I come away with a picture of a reality that’s vastly different from this one, and vastly more attractive. It is a reality soaked in justice and drenched in beauty, a reality in which kindness and mercy and generosity are commonplace. It is a reality that attracts us, calls to us, and leaves us feeling that the life we now know, for all its beauty and pleasures, is less like home and more like being adrift in space, suffocating from a lack of air, shivering in the cold.
At the same time that we feel the weight of gravity under our feet and the warm sun on our faces, we also feel the shock of human depravity, the agony of rampant injustice, and the smell of decay in a world that was once a fragrant garden. We’ve grown used to gravity, we feel at home with the earth solidly beneath our feet, but we do sometimes wish we could shed gravity and soar above all of this sorrow.
And we shall. And we are. For the kingdom of heaven describes both a present reality and a future promise. The kingdom of heaven is tugging at us. God asks us to live into this invisible reality by faith, believing that all that we see around us is in some mysterious way not completely true. There is more, and that more is authentic in a way that this present world is not.
The kingdom of heaven is as subtle and as certain as gravity. It is pulling us towards a strong anchorage, a sustaining community, and a good and just place where the stars and planets, even our very lives, are held firmly in place by love.