Jo Walton (papersky) wrote,

Joyful and Triumphant (St Zenobius and the Aliens)

For brotherguy.


It's a bit of a cliche, but the first thing I thought when I came to Heaven was that I didn't expect aliens. It's a cliche because it's the first thing we all think -- aliens are a surprise. And what a delightful surprise! Welcome, everyone, whatever your planet of origin. Joy to you! Heaven welcomes you. My name is Zenobius, and I am from Earth. Earth is a perfectly ordinary planet. We had a perfectly standard Incarnation. If we're known for anything it's our rather splendid Renaissance, which I'm proud to say has been artistically quite influential, but although that happened in my own city of Florence I can't take any credit for it because it happened centuries after my death and I didn't really participate.

I'm the patron of Florence, and those of you who are human are probably Florentines who don't have a specific devotion to any other saint, because there are very few humans who are particularly attached to me. If you're a Delfein on the other flipper, you're probably in my welcome group because you did pray for my intervention. You're wondering why I'm an alien when I'm always pictures as a Delfein in your art? The simple fact is that we don't think of ourselves as aliens here, we're all just saints. So I helped out on Delfein despite being human as St Christopher helped out on Earth despite being Rhli -- we do what we need to. St Christopher became very popular on Earth, and I became popular on Delfein. It just happens that way sometimes.

Now you may be worried that you're going to be asked to intercede on alien worlds and you won't know enough about them. The other side of that is that there are all these wonderful alien planets for you to learn about, their art, their customs, their way of life. They really are fascinating. And by the time anyone on them needs you, you will know enough. In any case, to start with you're unlikely to be asked to intercede by anyone but your personal friends on the planet you just left. And tempting as it is to produce miracles for them, I wouldn't go beyond a sense of your presence and happiness. If you do want to, talk to me. In fact, that's what you should do at first when prayers are directed to you -- talk to me, or some other experienced saint, and we'll let you know how and whether to take it higher. By the time you become popular at home, or on some other planet, you'll know enough and have enough friends here you can talk to. And you may not become popular -- and do you know, we have a special name for saints who aren't the patrons of places or jobs, saints whose names nobody remembers and begs for intercession. Our name for them is "lucky".

We don't mind our responsibilities to the living, it's part of what we do here, listening to their petitions and helping when we can. "When we can", leads into the whole issue of the problem of pain, so I'll just clear that up quickly before I move on. The problem of pain is mostly a semantic problem, people confusing "good" with "nice". I'll come back to this. But the reason we call those who don't have to deal with a lot of petitions and intercessions and welcoming sessions "lucky" is because they can devote themselves entirely and completely to the Great Work of Heaven, without any distractions.

You may have heard it called "worship", but we usually call it the "Great Work". Those of you who have a theatrical tradition on your worlds can think of it like putting on a great play. It's also been compared to doing scientific research, and to the Renaissance. It's our great work of art. Your life on your planet has honed you into a tool for joining in. It's like music and like painting and sculpture and chemistry and cosmology and dancing and costuming and a whole host of other arts and sciences you may be interested to learn. We all participate in our different ways. It's a performance, a great performance with its acts and seasons, a performance that began with the Big Bang, an artwork whose canvas is galaxies.

You know that God has three aspects. The way we think of them here is that one of them is the Creator, participating with us in the Great Work, the second is the Audience for that work, and the third is the Incarnation. You're in eternity now of course, but eternity has seasons. The seasons are marked by Incarnations. There are a lot of planets out there, and God sends himself, his incarnate self, down onto each one. We rejoice each time at his birth there, and even more at his return to Heaven, bringing us each time a whole new world of souls. Each story is the same and each story is different. We tell his stories, as we tell our own stories and the stories of the dance of atoms and the dance of galaxies.

Which brings me back to the problem of pain. Of course God could have made the universe without pain, but a universe without pain is a universe without change, without movement, without stories. God could have contemplated nothing but his own glory for all eternity. He chose to have a universe with stories, and there are no stories in utopia. There are those who feel this was a mistake, and they too are part of the harmony of Heaven, even when they think themselves most in opposition to us. When you're asked to intercede, when somebody prays to you, they are often asking to be relieved of pain. What you have to ask yourself is whether the pain is necessary for the story. At first, you might not be able to tell. Don't be afraid to ask for help. I'm always ready to listen and help, and so are other older saints. And you'll soon figure it out. It's all part of the Great Work, really.

You all have a lot to learn and a lot to contribute. And it's so marvellous that you're here today. For today, the Incarnation has gone down to another planet, to a humble family in poor circumstances on a world of methane breathing electrophores with very interesting customs! They can't imagine what this means yet, that he is about to be born and present on their planet. Come and see! Come and bring them the tidings of comfort and joy.

Come on now, all of you. It'll be such fun.

Note I have been trying to imagine what people actually do in Heaven for literally decades. I couldn't have written this without Florence. Before Florence, all I could imagine was the library. This was also largely inspired by reading Fred Clark at Slacktivist and Thrud at Ex Urbe.

My position is that Christianity is a fascinating mythology often wasted on its practitioners. Using the mythology of a living religion is different from using that of ones people don't believe any more. I try to be respectful. Actually, I try to be respectful to any mythology I use.


2010: Deep Resounding Joy
2008 Sing, Choirs of Angels
2007 In Winter's Heart, the Dark Turns Back
2005 A Traditional Old Fashioned Christmas Story
2004 What Joseph Felt
2003 The Hopes and Fears of All the Years.

Merry Christmas to those celebrating, and to those for whom this is just an ordinary Sunday, peace and joy and goodwill to you, today and every day. Christmas is just a reminder to say so.
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