JOYFUL NOISE

Complainers and judgmentalists make the most intolerable company. Who can remain in comfortable proximity with someone rehearsing aloud an endless stream of grievances, or directing scorn – not always moral, but often enough – at the shortcomings of others, however much it might be deserved? Of such noisy horns of self-righteousness, whatever their other merits, one eventually begins to dread the sound of their knock on the door, to find reasons for declining their invitation and excuses for escaping their conversation. All the more so as one’s own nature tends towards forbearance and forgiveness.

And now recall that God is love, and that love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. And recall that God knows the heart. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus instructs us to cleanse our hearts, first and foremost? How else could God tolerate our company?

The problem is that our interior life is not under our control. Our conscious experience arises from depths of personality to which it is impossible for us to descend, from foundations of our life which we did not lay, and which we cannot change.

It is instead the work of the Holy Spirit to reach those depths, and to pursue the cleansing and fortifying work there to be accomplished. That is, in fact, the accomplishment of Christ, to enable God’s Holy Spirit to tolerate and do its work in the company of the sinful human heart.

A sure sign that Christ’s Spirit is working in us and making progress is when we find ourselves, in our outward behavior but much more importantly in the inward theater of our consciousness, making a joyful noise unto the Lord.

CLOWNS

I enjoy clowns, and one of the things I like best is to watch a clown who’s pretending to be some very important person: a flag waving politician with a constantly growing nose, perhaps, or a severe judge with a gavel the size of a sledgehammer, or a lascivious doctor putting his stethoscope to questionable use with a pretty aerialist, and so on and so on. They’re always very sure of themselves and they comically expect deference and respect from the people around them.

When we see this in real life, it doesn’t strike us as funny, but it does when we see it from a clown because, after all, it’s a clown!  With a big red nose and orange hair and baggy trousers and size 50 shoes!

It’s very plausible that God – who invented humor, after all – looks at each one of us the way we look at clowns.

LIGHT

In the beginning, God spoke His own point of view into creation, and called it Light. Then God spoke his own nature into existence: Beauty, Goodness, and Truth. Then God gave His light to men and women, and that’s why we all originally share God’s point of view towards the lovely and the unlovely, towards righteousness and unrighteousness, and towards the rational and the irrational.

But Light also creates Darkness: one cannot exist without the other. And they are in perpetual conflict: one cannot exist with the other. They are like the opposite poles of a magnet

Maintaining anything in existence requires effort: this effort is God’s Will. The effort is like that required to keep the opposite poles of a magnet apart, or like the wick of the candle, or the energy of the sun.

It is God’s Will alone that maintains the existence of Light, Beauty, Goodness and Truth against the weight of their opposites, but the light given to each of us has no such support. Our individual lights are like seeds, and we along with the culture in which we exist are the soil.

Our individual light can fail in different ways, and the ways in which it fails define the various spiritual pathologies: gluttony, wickedness, pride, and their permutations. Those in turn add their pollution to the cultural soil. The growing conditions for our seeds of light become more and more difficult, and the pathologies more and more commonplace.

And as it fades from populations of individuals, it fades from cultures. Thus, in the West, we found first the yielding of beauty to ugliness in so-called Modern and Postmodern Art, then the yielding of righteousness to unrighteousness in so-called Moral Relativism, and we are now experiencing the yielding of rationality to irrationality in various grievance movements: call it Truth Subjectivism.

Men and women without light themselves cannot provide it to their culture.

I wish there were good news.

THE DOLL

A mother picks up her baby, turns it to face a doll, and then taps the doll on the head and repeats: Doll. Doll.

That’s an image of the problem Jesus has with human language and understanding.

A FOREIGN COUNTRY

When you find yourself in a foreign country, the only way you can communicate is through signing your desires and instructions.

That’s an image of the problem Jesus has with human language and understanding.

THE TRUCK

A farmer needs to transport his abundant harvest of grain to market, but the only vehicle he has is a flatbed truck.

That’s an image of the problem Jesus has with human language and human understanding.

THE WORD BECAME FLESH

There are three spiritual elements that distinguish us from the rest of known creation.

(They are present in everyone, although our spirits, being delicate things, are all-too-often twisted and damaged, starved into insubstantiality, or overwhelmed and imprisoned in spiritual cages of pride, lust, envy, and so on.)

The first is what we might call moral sensibility, which has both an emotional component (empathy, pity, gratitude) and a cognitive/willful component (the recognition of fairness, of the difference between good and evil, along with the resultant motivations.)

The second is aesthetic sensibility, which responds to and feels gratified by beauty in all its guises (the emotional element), and strives to create beauty (the cognitive/willful.)

The third is what we might call rational sensibility, or simply, understanding. The emotional element here is the longing for and love of order, and the cognitive/willful element is the ability to recognize that order, along with the motivation to seek for it and make use of it.

These of course touch upon and blend into each other in many ways, as the functions of the physical body do. Your body’s ability to metabolize food is related to your body’s ability to heal itself. Just so, your sensibility to visual beauty may be related to your abhorrence of cruelty. But the distinctions – though in the substance of an actual life, they may blend and mix in various ways – are still real.

Our rational sensibility is today’s focus.

John’s Gospel uses the thought of logos – the Word – to express the Christian revelation that Jesus is both the order in creation, and that in each of us which recognizes and responds to that order. The truth, as Jesus represents it, is not simply a correspondence between propositions and reality; it is the shape of reality itself, and the resonance between that reality and our own spirits.

There is, therefore, a certain comic absurdity in questioning or contending that God does not exist, since that which can contest and contend rationally is itself God in us.

SAINTS

Once we have done anything, the consequences, like birds released from our hands, are outside our control. A word once spoken now has its own life, separate from the speaker, and the accomplishments of that word stem entirely from the world into which it is spoken. That’s why a gentle act of mercy can result in death and destruction; while an act of cruel murder can save a civilization. And that’s why the effects of one’s actions have no bearing on true sainthood, and why we cannot read backwards from the effects of one’s actions to the quality of one’s life.

Only God knows the heart.

The Catholic saint must be proven to have performed a miracle, that is, to have done something, after which something inexplicable happened. But since everything that happens once an action is released into the world is a function of the world, for something truly inexplicable by the world’s reckoning to have occurred it must have been accomplished by God, who is beyond the world’s reckoning. Why then would we credit the supposed saint?

The things we do and say, in fact, are like material we offer to God, who may either allow the world its way with them, or who may put them to some special purpose. But that is God’s decision, not our own.

Whether one’s reputation for being a saintly character spreads out into the world – how far, and to what effect – is also beyond one’s control. From the general tenor of Christ’s teachings, I expect God has no interest in it, and probably regards it, if at all, as a source of temptation.

The true saints of God, I am quite certain, are people we’ve never heard of.

THE NARROW GATE

There is a tendency to think of the realm of God and the realm of the world in human terns, as if these were geographic designations. But there is no gate between the two, pearly or otherwise. Jesus wasn’t talking about physical barriers, but about changes of perspective.

Entering into the spirit of the game can mean different things depending on the game, because the spirits of the games are different. Entering into the spirit of a game of chess will look very little like entering into the spirit of a game of hide-‘n-seek, or a game of baseball, or a game of chance. One thing, though, they all have in common: an acceptance of the rules and acquiescence to the manners and mores of the game.

Of these, the rules are the most obvious. The pieces on a chessboard can only be moved in ways defined by the rules of chess, and to enter into the spirit of a game of chess must require, at a minimum, to abide by those rules.

The manners and mores of the game are much more nebulous, but in a way more important, and probably what we usually have in mind when we speak of the spirit of a game. The spirit of chess, to stay with our illustration, has elements of respect for the deliberation of one’s opponent. Although its practice is nowhere prohibited within the formal rules of chess, it goes without saying that whistling loudly while awaiting your next turn would not be at all in the spirit of the game. Just so, wandering without curiosity, aloof and morose, would not be entering into the spirit of hide-‘n-seek. And so on.

And what is true of games is true of most of the elements of life. To enter into the spirit of a festive holiday meal is quite different from entering into the spirit of holy communion; the spirit of neighborliness has nothing in common with the spirit of battle; the spirit of worship differs dramatically from the spirit of tyranny, and itself may look very different in different religions.

What Jesus revealed to us is what we might call the spirit of heaven, its rules, of course (which are only two ), but more importantly, its manners and mores. The many images he uses of gates and doors and precincts, the symbolic miracles, the explicit beatitudes, are all about entering into that spirit, as he himself is its embodiment.