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Bill was constantly looking for a new word — or an old word with a new meaning. A few years back OCCUPY made its appearance when a few hundred students set up a tent city in a New York park. In short order thousands of others around the nation, the 99 percent, protested America’s economic inequality by occupying a variety of public facilities. That is how a half-dozen protesters came to camp on the porch at our city hall. Bill decided to support them and suggested that we demonstrate our solidarity by joining the group planning to OCCUPY the Rose Parade!

Bright and early New Year’s morning we made our way to Pasadena carrying large yellow signs demanding justice for America’s economically oppressed. When the last float of the parade rounded the corner, we fell in behind it and walked the Colorado Blvd. parade route. The police didn’t bother us, but the parade’s organizers were demonstrably unhappy.

Bill was not your unwashed rabble-rouser. He had been president of a major seminary in Chicago and chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. I was captivated both by Bill and his fascination with words that led us to OCCUPY the Rose Parade.

Shortly before his death two months ago, Bill hit upon the word IMMENSITY. Dying, he said, was to join the IMMENSITY. He could not define the word and held that it needed no definition. It was not an adjective pointing to something larger, but a noun whose borders could not be measured. It was also a verb that denoted limitless action.

Bill’s interest in the world’s religions must have led him to affirm all religions as part of the IMMENSITY, even while he held that this image certainly did not exhaust the depth of the word. The IMMENSITY he would enter at death was far larger than the Christian heaven where a few of us hoped to join our relatives and live forever. Religions individually or together was just too small a notion. The IMMENSITY included all ideas, activities and possibilities. It encompassed much more than our modest planet, our solar system, galaxy and universe that spans untold billions of light years, and may only be the current example of universes that preceded it or the multi-verses that still or will exist — and who knows what else. Its energy however, came from and includes what we might define as God.

I am just speculating as to what Bill might have thought. We never discussed it. All I know is that a relative of his suggested at his memorial service that IMMENSITY was the final word with which he was fascinated, and believed that whatever the word encompassed he would enter it at death.

I recall that it was Teddy Roosevelt who once said that he would look up into the limitless starry night sky, remember that he was only a tiny five-eight, laugh at his arrogance, go to bed and sleep soundly.

Yes, we are limited, and in an attempt to understand the vastness of the IMMENSITY we create religious and non-religious structures, realizing how partial they are, but trusting them as the only way we can grasp the tail of the comet we call reality — knowing that:

“Our little systems have their day;

They have their day and cease to be:

They are but broken lights of thee,

And thou, O Lord, art more than they.”  

— Lord Alfred Tennyson

Charles Bayer

Charles Bayer is a somewhat retired theological professor and congregational pastor. 

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