Why Ineffably Precious?

Moses Receives the God-written Tablets of the Law
painting by João Zeferino da Costa, 1868

Here are two “fun” quotes that I wish to share today from one of my favorite quotable authors, David Bentley Hart. As I’ve said, his writing celebrates the beauty of words. Reading him makes me re-appreciate again and again the intimate link between the Word and the feast. Those who love God’s Word also love language itself for its luminous capacity to unveil the God-inscribed nature of things. Whether that script be carved into the Book of Nature, in history or on the human face of God, Jesus Christ, deciphering its meaning by engaging the linguistic arts transforms life into a perpetual feast on the Word that falls from the heavens and springs up from the earth anew each day.

There’s a German saying that enriches this view of language as celebration, “Bach gave us God’s Word, Mozart gave us God’s Laughter, Beethoven gave us God’s Fire. God gave us Music that we might pray without words.” And if we can say that Liturgy is the highest expression of language, we can understand better the essential role of music in Liturgy (and music’s daughter, joy) in worthily lifting human speech back to the uncreated Fire under the form of adoring beauty.

Related to this, Hart said in his theological masterpiece, The Beauty of the Infinite,

What Christian thought offers the world is not a set of “rational” arguments that (suppressing certain of their premises) force assent from others by leaving them, like the interlocutors of Socrates, at a loss for words; rather, it stands before the world principally with the story it tells concerning God and creation, the form of Christ, the loveliness of the practice of Christian charity — and the rhetorical richness of its idiom. Making its appeal first to the eye and heart, as the only way it may “command” assent, the church cannot separate truth from rhetoric, or from beauty.

In my judgment, Hart never separates truth from rhetoric, or thought from beauty. Nor does he, as he engages his opponent’s arguments with ironic jabs and subtle skewers, ever resort to crass vulgarity as he ably engages in what George Weigel aptly calls the the gentlemanly art of the insult. In this he demonstrates what my grandfather taught me many years ago in a letter he sent me when I was a Freshman in college: “Those who resort to profanity in emphasizing their point demonstrate both their lexical poverty and the shallow character of their trivial souls.”

But I digress within my digression.

The Quotes

The first quote is from Atheist Delusions, and makes brief mention of modernity’s  indebtedness to the Christian Gospel for its “unnatural” reverence for the inalienable dignity of the human person, while the second quote, from his bracing article in First Things, Christ and Nothing, makes reference to some consequences that flow from the cultural abandonment of Christianity that is nearing completion in the West. If you want the full argument, I highly recommend both the book and the article — though be warned, they are not quick reads, and will require a Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary by your side. At least it does for me.

Enjoy.

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The ultimate  power and meaning of the Christian movement within the ancient world  cannot be measured simply by the richness of later Christian culture’s art or architecture, the relative humanity or inhumanity of its societies and  laws, the creativity of its economic or scientific institutions, or the perdurability of its religious institutions through the ages. “Christendom” was  only the outward, sometimes majestic, but always defective form of the  interaction between the gospel and the intractable stuff of human habit.  The more vital and essential victory of Christianity lay in the strange,  impractical, altogether unworldly tenderness of the moral intuitions it succeeded in sowing in human consciences. If we find ourselves occasionally shocked by how casually ancient men and women destroyed or ignored  lives we would think ineffably precious, we would do well to reflect that theirs was-in purely pragmatic terms-a more “natural” disposition toward  reality. It required an extraordinary moment of awakening in a few  privileged souls, and then centuries of the relentless and total immersion  of culture in the Christian story, to make even the best of us conscious of  (or at least able to believe in) the moral claim of all other persons upon us, the splendor and irreducible dignity of the divine humanity within  them, that depth within each of them that potentially touches upon the  eternal.

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Modern persons will never find rest for their restless hearts without Christ, for modern culture is nothing but the wasteland from which the gods have departed, and so this restlessness has become its own deity; and, deprived of the shelter of the sacred and the consoling myths of sacrifice, the modern person must wander or drift, vainly attempting one or another accommodation with death, never escaping anxiety or ennui, and driven as a result to a ceaseless labor of distraction, or acquisition, or willful idiocy. And, where it works its sublimest magic, our culture of empty spectacle can so stupefy the intellect as to blind it to its own disquiet, and induce a spiritual torpor more deplorable than mere despair.

Per crucem ad lucem

I wrote a poem 3 years ago for a friend of mine who has lived as a hermit in a pine forest for over 25 years, and who wrote about some intense physical suffering he has undergone – and about what a gift that pain was to him to come to know Christ in such an intimately physical way.  He referenced in his letter that the crib-wood and cross-wood both opened to him access to the same Tree of Life.

This reminded me of a number of medieval women-theologians who spoke so vividly of their own bodily suffering as, far beyond intellectual knowledge, a supreme form of knowing Christ-crucified. In our highly anesthetized cultural approach to suffering, this insight is hard to access.

Hand me that Ibuprofen.

I was so flabbergasted by this hermit’s capacity to be transparent to this vantage, I had to poeticize my thoughts for safe viewing; so I wanted to share here his white-hot wisdom seen through my safely scattered refraction.  As with everything I write, it is merely an extrapolation on the Cross and its life-giving sap.  What else is there?

Here’s the poem:

Solitude, lonely God-flesh

hid mid pines and wood,

bled of slivers, silver doves

flutter above; silently stars

light-bathe a blazing Cowl.

Solitude, lonely God-flesh

hung on Oak, stolid Post,

bled of iron, crimson love

streams down; shamèd sun,

tenebrous day, soiled Face.

Solitude, lonely God-flesh

entombed by Stone-sealing,

bled dry, gray; lifeless air

hushing Sabbath, linen corpse

resting Sheol, nay, Unshackling.

God, why can’t I see you?

If you’ve ever asked a form of the question, “Why does God seem to hide?” this brief (5 minute) snippet of a Peter Kreeft lecture (referenced on StrangeNotions) is well worth your time. Really, anything Kreeft says or does is worth your time. It’s embedded in my post, so you have to visit NealObstat to see it here:

Consuming God on Black Friday

Black Friday 2011

This year’s Black Friday push-back into Thanksgiving evening, 7:00 p.m. has caused a stir as many people feel that something is amiss. But exactly what is it that’s amiss?

I was listening to a talk radio show the other day, and they were interviewing people in a Mall asking them what they thought of the incremental encroachment of sales and store hours into the sacred space of Thanksgiving Day evening – a process they dubbed “Black Friday creep.” Many said they think it’s a shame that stores just won’t leave family time alone. Others offered a more pragmatic view and said that an earlier opening Thursday evening allows people to not feel they have to stay up late into the night to take advantage of sales. One Corporate rep from a store that will open early said “it gives consumers a choice they’ve never had before. It diversifies their options, which is what drives the market and keeps our economy healthy.”

The fact is, consumerism unrestrained by a “thick” ethical and theological worldview (like that articulated in Caritas in Veritate) spares nothing in its ravenous appetite for more, insidiously, relentlessly commodifying persons and placing the core values that undergird marriage, family, childhood, adulthood, sexuality, religion, leisure, or the meaning of the “feast” (e.g. the Sunday Sabbath, Thanksgiving or Mardi Gras) at the service of the market.

On that last point, Josef Pieper powerfully argues in his book Leisure: Basis of Culture that the authentic role of leisure and the feast is to guard those God-given foundations upon which all human dignity lies: truth, goodness and beauty. When the market does not serve, but overtakes these three “transcendentals,” truth becomes a market-driven statistic, goodness a market-driven appetite, and beauty a market-driven advertising ploy.

David, Take it Away

But let me not waste any more time here trying to say poorly what David Hart, yet again, says so incisively. This is taken from his latest book, which I am also wading through with great joy, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss.

Late modern society is principally concerned with purchasing things, in ever greater abundance and variety, and so has to strive to fabricate an even greater number of desires to gratify, and to abolish as many limits and prohibitions upon desire as it can. Such a society is already implicitly atheist and so must slowly but relentlessly apply itself to the dissolution of transcendent values. It cannot allow ultimate goods to distract us from proximate goods. Our sacred writ is advertising, our piety is shopping, our highest devotion is private choice. God and the soul too often hinder the purely acquisitive longings upon which the market depends, and confront us with values that stand in stark rivalry to the one truly substantial value at the center of our social universe: the price tag. So it really was only a matter of time before atheism slipped out of the enclosed gardens of academe and down from the vertiginous eyries of high cosmopolitan fashion and began expressing itself in crassly vulgar form…In a sense, the triviality of the movement is its chief virtue. It is a diverting alternative to thinking deeply. It is a narcotic. In our time, to strike a lapidary phrase, irreligion is the opiate of the bourgeoisie, the sigh of the oppressed ego, the heart of a world filled with tantalizing toys. (313-14)

Compassionate with God

9/11/01

I have made the point in this Blog on a number of occasions that our society’s ever-increasing inability to see and accept that there are “tragic” dimensions to life that admit of no ethical resolve “this side of Paradise” leads to such unthinkable and unethical “solutions” to real-life’s painfully tragic limits as the creation and destruction of human embryos to remedy infertility, the redefinition of marriage to canonize same-sex sex, the intentional killing of the terminally ill, or the extermination of 90% of pre-born babies diagnosed (rightly or wrongly) with Down Syndrome (see here).

The Christian story of the Passion of Christ bears within it all of the tensions of human tragedy which find resolve in re-creating, redeeming, tear-wiping Triumph only after the awful finality of agony, torture and death; only after the Tomb is sealed by a lifeless stone and the humanity of God descends headlong into the deepest chasms of Hell.

Spe salvi. In hope we are saved, and hope-bearing Christians would never choose to face the tragic elements of life with a will bent on wrongful compromises with evil in order to alleviate and eradicate the tragic elements of this life. That said, the Samaritan Christian, bearing within the light of Resurrection already now, does all in his or her power to raise up the fallen, to shine the paschal rays of the rising Dawn into every dark Tomb, and to face the tragic elements life in manners that move with the grain of God’s justice, love, mercy and will that all be saved. Just as the martyr’s unwillingess to do evil that good may come of it implicates him or her in a fatal embrace with a tragic fate, so the Christian, ever-called to live such martyrdom, sees in every tragedy a moment of Christian witness, a call to imitate the Master, an encounter with the tragic love of God in Christ that has embraced our disfigured world so that, with Him, we might participate in the ultimate transfiguration of every human story in a new creation where “there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away. ‘Behold, I make all things new.'” (Rev. 21:4-5)

“Walk with me”

When I lived in Des Moines, I had a young man walk up to me one day while I was reading in a coffee shop (my favorite pastime) and say to me, “I saw you make the sign of the cross. Are you a Christian?” I said, “Yes, I am.” He said with disarming bluntness, “I’m gay and I’m Christian, too. But here’s my problem. The churches I have wandered in and out of the last several years, since I came out, have either demonized or legitimized my orientation. And I feel lost in both those worlds. I don’t know you, and you’ll probably think I’m freaky, but I think God told me to talk to you. What I’m asking is that you don’t try to demonize my orientation or legitimize it. I just want to know if you’d be willing to walk with me?”

Needless to say, I was stupefied by his openness with a complete stranger, but even more by his willingness to face his profoundly painful personal history and inner struggles with such courage, and with a rare openness to living in ambiguity and uncertainty. I won’t reveal the rest of the story, but suffice to say his journey is a “way of the Cross,” marked by an abundant capacity to, as the Catechism words it, “unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (CCC 2358).

Houselander

All this thought was provoked by an absolutely brilliant reflection of Caryll Houselander (early-mid twentieth century lay Catholic ecclesiastical artist, mystic, popular religious writer and poet in Britain) that I read in the Magnificat this last week.  She is a brilliant author, worth reading, and her insights always provoke new insights and convictions. Drink it in:

There are too many common sense Christians, afraid to spend themselves on anyone from whom they do not get visible results. They are ready with hard work for reform, they pour out good advice, they are proud to be realists who repudiate everything that seems to them to he impractical, including the poetry of Christ, but they have no use for those baffling human creatures who won’t—or can’t—play the game by their rules. These “realists” refuse to see that there are problems that can’t be solved, griefs which cannot be healed, conditions which cannot be cured. They are impatient with the suffering they cannot end; unable to accept its reality, they wash their hands of it, because they cannot, so they think, do anything about it. But we cannot make an end of Christ’s suffering, for as long as the world goes on, the Passion of Christ will go on in his members; and he will ask, not for his suffering to be mitigated, but for sympathy. In Gethsemane Christ tried to awaken his apostles, not because they could take away his agony, but because they could give him their compassion.

Pope Francis’ Compassionate Moment (ABC News)

Our Symphonic God

I heard a great talk recently that stimulated in me a firestorm of insights. So I offer you here a hybrid of that talk and my mind:

God dispenses his gifts uniquely to each person in view of the whole, with an eye toward the flourishing of every person, and in a manner that requires of human beings mutual interdependence and abiding solidarity. In this sense God is like the author of a symphony who writes particular musical scores for each musician, or group of musicians, in a manner that complements the other scores written for the other musicians in the orchestra in order to produce a unified event of complex beauty

This metaphor translates into the way we must approach discernment of God’s will for each one of us. We must ask, ‘How can I, with the God-given gifts and desires, as well as the human limits and dissonances that constitute my life, contribute to the good of all? How can I be of service to the harmonious unfolding of God’s symphonic Kingdom within history, in this unique time and place?’

This consideration raises yet another point: How do I face the seeming uselessness of my sinfully discordant dissonances? How do these infidelities not irreparably detract from God’s beautiful symphony and sour the sweet melodies with me damnable cacophony?

Well, God is the Master Composer who, Lover of Beauty that He is, is both willing and able to resolve every dissonant note – especially those freely surrendered to his merciful love by each fumbling musician – into the first note of a new, sparkling and more magnificent movement within His still-unfinished symphony. This divine capacity to resolve dissonance was revealed with a most exquisite and ineffable artistry on the Cross, in the Tomb and on the third day as Christ, the Key Note of God’s new song, rose triumphant to lead the powers of heaven and the lowly of earth in deathless and unchained melodies.

If I had to choose an arrangement that strikes my fancy at this moment, reflecting aright this new divine song, it’d have to be this arrangement of the Hebrew wedding folk song Hava Nagila, “Let us Rejoice” that is embedded here:

A last word on this from my favorite theologian:

So in your harmony of mind and heart the song you sing is Jesus Christ. Every one of you should form a choir, so that, in harmony of sound through harmony of hearts, and in unity taking the note from God, you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father. If you do this, he will listen to you and see from your good works that you are members of his Son. – St. Ignatius of Antioch, 108 A.D.

Caught in the Matrix

Okay, I feel compelled to interrupt my regularly scheduled Blog post today to insert this ridiculously marvelous reflection Pope Francis gave Wednesday on the topic of the “communion of saints” and scratch out a few reflective thoughts.

Read this excerpt:

John’s Gospel states that, before his Passion, Jesus prayed to the Father for communion among his disciples, with these words: “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (17:21). The Church, in her most profound truth, is communion with God, intimacy with God, a communion of love with Christ and with the Father in the Holy Spirit, which extends to brotherly communion. This relationship between Jesus and the Father is the “matrix” of the bond between us Christians: if we are intimately part of this “matrix”, this fiery furnace of love, then we can truly become of one single heart and one single soul among us. For God’s love burns away our selfishness, our prejudices, our interior and exterior divisions. The love of God even burns away our sins. If we are rooted in the source of Love, which is God, then a reciprocal movement also occurs: from brothers to God.

What an image.

He’s saying: Real, authentic, abiding Christian unity and communion can only be had if Christians become saints who freely abide in the relational “matrix” of “fiery love” that burns between the Father and the Son. That’s a sort of tautology, since saints, by definition, find themselves caught up in the deep mystery of the interior structures of God’s inner life — the “matrix” — which include, as the Nicene Creed magnificently reminds us, divine acts of eternal begetting, being begotten, born and proceeding. These are verbs, taken from the Scriptures (see here), that describe the origin and relationships of each divine Person to the other Persons, all of whom are consubstantial, i.e. all three Persons are whatever-it-means-to-be-God.

Yes, that’s God-breathed mystery language that alludes and gestures toward the reality of God revealed to us fully in Christ. But because it’s mystery-language, its intelligible content, though true, always by necessity super-exceeds our human capacity to understand, like the water of the Niagara River forever and thrice exceeds the rocky precipices named Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.

Prayerfully consider for a moment that God became man so that man, through Baptism and all the Sacraments, might possess fully the terrifying joy of being granted immortal entry into divinity’s infinitely excessive dynamism:

…the Only Begotten Son of God,

born of the Father before all ages.

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made, consubstantial

with the Father…

the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son

Credo

When you say/sing “I believe in…” with living faith, you are claiming no mere foggy assent to an abstract intellectual proposition about what God might be like. Rather you are choosing  to freely re-plunge into the dangerous, roiling, turbulent, inscrutably mysterious and supremely peaceful structures of God’s infinite manner of being Thrice-God.

That’s really, really mind blowing and should cause us to blush for even trying to articulate it apart from the sublime gild of sacred music, the eye-shielding grace of shrouding incense, the articulated awe of bodies bent over or the cathedral space of celestial silence measuring one half-hour (Rev. 8:1).

Amor saca amor — Love begets love

But, the Pope adds, those who allow themselves to be caught up in this Father-Son Furnace of endlessly out-flowing/in-flowing love also overflow and boil-over – with God — outward with love toward other persons — toward “brothers” in the communion of saints who also find themselves caught up in the Trinity.

That’s the foundation of Church unity: sharing in the eternal Communion of Persons in God that preceded not only the Church’s birth at Pentecost, but the creation of the universe.

It’s not about us, it’s about God-for-us, God-with-us.

In the first instance, ecclesial unity/communion is not something we build in 5 year strategic plans, or diligently work toward and strive toward with problem solving ingenuity. Rather, it’s something we receive and participate in by freely allowing ourselves to be caught up in the immortal and burning Fire of that Father-Son matrix, that infinitely fertile “space” in the loving gaze ever-exchanged between Father and Son.

In other words, ecclesial unity requires you to be a saint.

Well, what are you waiting for?

The Beauty of the Time-worn Eternal Gospel

I have spent the last 3 years trying to complete David Bentley Hart’s book, Atheist Delusions, and the great pleasure I take in reading his inimitable celebration of language makes me wish the book had no final chapter.

In any event, there was one quote (pp. 215-16) on the utterly singular contribution of Christianity to ethical thought that I felt compelled to share here in its entirety. Brace and pace yourself for its density, but let me opine that the yield of insight is worth the labor!

…In short, the rise of Christianity produced consequences so immense that it can almost be said to have begun the world anew: to have “invented” the human, to have bequeathed us our most basic concept of nature, to have determined our vision of the cosmos and our place in it, and to have shaped all of us (to one degree or another) in the deepest reaches of consciousness.

All of the glories and failures of the civilizations that were born of this revolution, however, everything for which Christendom as a historical, material reality might be praised or blamed, fades in significance before the still more singular moral triumph of Christian tradition. The ultimate power and meaning of the Christian movement within the ancient world cannot be measured simply by the richness of later Christian culture’s art or architecture, the relative humanity or inhumanity of its societies and laws, the creativity of its economic or scientific institutions, or the perdurability of its religious institutions through the ages. “Christendom” was only the outward, sometimes majestic, but always defective form of the interaction between the gospel and the intractable stuff of human habit.

The more vital and essential victory of Christianity lay in the strange, impractical, altogether unworldly tenderness of the moral intuitions it succeeded in sowing in human consciences. If we find ourselves occasionally shocked by how casually ancient men and women destroyed or ignored lives we would think ineffably precious, we would do well to reflect that theirs was-in purely pragmatic terms-a more “natural” disposition toward reality. It required an extraordinary moment of awakening in a few privileged souls, and then centuries of the relentless and total immersion of culture in the Christian story, to make even the best of us conscious of (or at least able to believe in) the moral claim of all other persons upon us, the splendor and irreducible dignity of the divine humanity within them, that depth within each of them that potentially touches upon the eternal.

In the light of Christianity’s absolute law of charity, we came to see what formerly we could not: the autistic or Down syndrome or otherwise disabled child, for instance, for whom the world can remain a perpetual perplexity, which can too often cause pain but perhaps only vaguely and fleetingly charm or delight; the derelict or wretched or broken man or woman who has wasted his or her life away; the homeless, the utterly impoverished, the diseased, the mentally ill, the physically disabled; exiles, refugees, fugitives; even criminals and reprobates. To reject, turn away from, or kill any or all of them would be, in a very real sense, the most purely practical of impulses.

To be able, however, to see in them not only something of worth but indeed something potentially godlike, to be cherished and adored, is the rarest and most ennoblingly unrealistic capacity ever bred within human souls. To look on the child whom our ancient ancestors would have seen as somehow unwholesome or as a worthless burden, and would have abandoned to fate, and to see in him or her instead a person worthy of all affection-resplendent with divine glory, ominous with an absolute demand upon our consciences, evoking our love and our reverence-is to be set free from mere elemental existence, and from those natural limitations that pre-Christian persons took to be the very definition of reality.

And only someone profoundly ignorant of history and of native human inclinations could doubt that it is only as a consequence of the revolutionary force of Christianity within our history, within the very heart of our shared nature, that any of us can experience this freedom. We deceive ourselves also, however, if we doubt how very fragile this vision of things truly is: how elusive this truth that only charity can know, how easily forgotten this mystery that only charity can penetrate.

All of which, as I take leave of this phase of my argument, raises certain questions for me. A civilization, it seems obvious, is only as great or as wonderful as the spiritual ideals that animate it; and Christian ideals have shown themselves to be almost boundless in cultural fertility and dynamism. And yet, as the history of modernity shows, the creativity of these ideals can, in certain times and places, be exhausted, or at least subdued, if social and material circumstances cease to be propitious for them. I cannot help but wonder, then, what remains behind when Christianity’s power over culture recedes?

And the Word was made neurological, and dwelt among us

[This is a re-post of something I wrote two years ago that I felt was worth unearthing. We'll see!]

For all the immense good the ever-expanding Theology of the Body (TOB) movement has achieved, there’s still lots more to be done. Recently, I was able to re-think a bit more about what that might mean.

A friend of mine who is a psychotherapist and a woman of faith was sharing with me some of her research on the relationship between mental health and the body; or more specifically, between biochemistry, neurology and emotional health.  She shared that she has long hated the term ‘mental illness’ because what is ‘mental’ in the human mind is actually a profoundly embodied, bio-chemical phenomenon centered in the complex and fragile wonder of the human brain. She also shared with me her hope for a more robust integration of these marvelous discoveries of science with spirituality and the Church’s proclamation of virtue (especially chastity).

From our exchange (and her lectures) I also gained amazing new insights into the biochemical/physiological ground of human emotion, and the various modes of treatment that can be used to help heal and/or work with the strengths and limits of our embodied minds.

GodsHands

From http://s89.photobucket.com
“God’s Hands”

So what of theology?

Well, in addition to sparking a lively meditation on the Catholic vision of the body-soul relationship, her data-flush made me reflect more deeply on the fact that there can be no Christian spirituality or ethics that is not wholly conscious of and engaged with our embodied nature.  I also re-realized how any ‘theology of the body’ that deals with, for example, sexual ethics must be able to go-bio and go-micro and see in our sexualized bodies not just as fraught with abstract symbolic nuptial language, but an organic mash of God-fashioned fleshy-sinewy-hormonal complexity.  To see a thought of the divine present in the messy, oozing and tumultuous biochemistry of sexuality is to see creation aright. Conversations about moral integration and chastity must, therefore, be as keenly attentive to the unseen world of neuro-psychology as to the mysteries revealed in Genesis’ grand theological narrative of the muddy creation of Man-Woman; though, of course, divine Revelation is always the final arbiter of the truth of the human person made in the divine image.

What evocative and engaging topics would arise — the hypothalamus and chaste living; the medulla oblongata and the virtue of temperance; the frontal lobe in service to a redeemed eros; clinical depression and Christian joy; marital fidelity and the hormonal dimensions of concupiscence.  Let’s talk about bio-virtue, and allow science, philosophy and theology to convincingly demonstrate the unity of truth. From this vantage, one would be empowered to link all of that complex medical diagnostic jargon a doctor throws at you in her office with your own unique vocation to offer your flesh-and-blood body as a living sacrifice.

Theology of the Flesh  

Maybe we could capture this more ‘messy-soupy’ approach to the Theology of the Body movement via the more graphic-concrete Hebrew-Greek biblical word, flesh (basar-sarx), that seems to me to more vividly evince human fragility. We could then call our embodied theology a Theology of the Flesh. This would render more gritty and dirty — though not overrun — the more abstract tendencies of the present state of the Theology of the Body, enriching its prescriptions for pursuing a chaste sexuality (all embodied virtue) that’s grounded in the whole truth of the human person. In particular, it would help to tether down some of TOB’s more lofty idealism and offer specific practical aids to those whose weak flesh could really benefit from a more generous dose of the light of reason.

Jesus said to his sleepy disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, when his own flesh underwent immense duress, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:31). If the flesh is weak in doing the right and avoiding evil, the spirit would benefit greatly not only from more prayer, but from more empirical information as to why that might be so.

This complexification of the body would also invest the faith-science dialogue with a new energy, and it would permit a new space for science to offer theology’s heavenly wisdom an empirical handmaid that would greatly enrich our pursuit of holiness-in-the-flesh.  You might also say that such an enriching conversation would permit us to more clearly peer into the wondrous nano-intentions of God.

Mirabilia Dei!

During the season of Easter we celebrate the truth that human flesh is forever glorified in the heart of the Trinity, as God himself has forever made his own blood and nerves and bone marrow and hemoglobin. We liturgically marvel over the Risen Christ who still eats fish, and who bids us to eat and drink of his deified Flesh and Blood in the Holy Sacrament.

Let us rejoice in the fragile, complex and wonderful gift of our messy, fleshy souls that are made in the image of our fleshy God, Jesus Christ.