I think I need to delve into the concepts of time and reality. All roads seem to be leading me in that direction. I can’t guarantee that I’ll come up with anything coherent. Today’s post might very well be a jumble of thoughts and examples, perhaps with no real direction. I have a feeling, though, that such a document will be “right” somehow.
Today’s Magnificat includes an introduction to the day’s Mass readings. There’s nothing unusual about that; it’s just that the introduction, for me, is more helpful than the reading itself. The reading comes from The Book of Samuel, and it relates the story of how the elders of Israel came to Samuel demanding a king. All other nations have a king, they say; we need one, too. Samuel tries to dissuade them, telling them that they’ll regret it, but they continue on in their demands. When Samuel goes to God with the situation, He tells Samuel to grant their request. Here’s the introduction:
Fallen human beings try to refashion reality. That is why the people of Israel defiantly demand that Samuel appoint for them a king; that is why the scribes repudiate Christ’s genuine authority to forgive sins. The “splendor of our strength” is walking in the light of the Lord’s countenance.
Both Luigi Giussani and Jordan Peterson deal with the topic of reality, and both tell us that we need to meet it and deal with it on its terms. Pretending it doesn’t exist or telling lies about it will get us nowhere good. We see this, if we are willing to be honest, all around us. We make laws and regulations to bring about something we want, but in doing so, we ignore the way things really work. For instance, a number of years ago, the federal government came up with a program called “Cash for Clunkers” in which car dealers were offered money with which to entice people to trade in their old, fuel-inefficient cars for newer, better models, so the old cars could be destroyed. It was supposed to be the latest and greatest way to “save the environment.” Did it, though? As far as the “environment” goes, did the program amount to anything more than a drop in an ocean? The reality was that people who couldn’t really afford to buy newer cars were buying them, because human nature/our society tells individuals that they “deserve” such niceties. These entities tell us to ignore the reality of our financial situations and do it anyway. Further, thanks to the program, the inventory of cheap used cars declined, so people who could afford nothing better found it harder and harder to buy a vehicle.
Hmmm … that got me a bit off track. Where do I go from here? I feel like I’m at a crossroads. Which direction do I take? Do I head down the straight and narrow, looking back at old posts about Giussani’s and Peterson’s writings to connect them here? Do I veer to the right and move on to discussing the concept of time, especially as it is portrayed and interpreted in Laurus, the novel by Eugene Vodolazkin I finished reading last night? Do I, instead, move to the left and pull in the words of Gregory Wolfe that I read the other day in Beauty Will Save the World?
I’m heading down the path towards Beauty, but I fully realize that I may regret it.
I had the book on the table in my studio so I could copy into one of my commonplace books a passage I marked with a Post-it Note the other day. Before I started writing, though, I noticed a Post-it Note placed in the book near its beginning. I turned to that passage and was shocked to find that it is a fuller explanation of the passage I marked two days ago. I’d claim that I have a one-track mind, but that is not really the case.
Okay, I’m going to give you the first, fuller passage (and yes, it does relate to the way in which we relate to reality):
To the Christian humanist, culture and art can become analogues for the Incarnation. In particular, art is like a sacrament: a union of form and content, the inherence of divine meaning in the crafted materials of this earth. In a little-known essay entitled “Art and Sacrament,” the twentieth-century artist and poet David Jones wrote that the Eucharist—the preeminent Christian sacrament—consists of bread and wine, not wheat and grapes. In other words, the gifts offered to God at the altar are not the untouched products of the earth, but artifacts, transformed by human hands through an art. As the literary scholar Virgil Nemoianu has written, “Christian humanism is nothing but reclaiming the basic inheritance of the world as it is: the natural and organic connection between the works of culture and the religious roots and vistas of the human being. It is the current separation that is artificial, not the other way around.”
The reason this excerpt speaks to me so powerfully has everything to do with my relationship to wheat: I can’t even touch it, which makes receiving the Eucharist—which, according to Canon Law, can be made of nothing but wheat and water—impossible for me. While my family can drink wine from the chalice, I am unable to do even that. Therefore, I am left at Mass to pray for Spiritual Communion.
There’s more, though: a number of years ago, an online Catholic group related to health topics I founded fell apart (well, I dissolved it) after a discussion about the Eucharist had me at wit’s end. When I asserted, and provided evidence to back up my claim, that humans are not designed to eat wheat (because no human can fully digest it), all hell broke loose, with indignant members stating that it could not possibly be true, because at the Last Supper Jesus consecrated wheat bread and grape wine and told us to eat His Body and Blood. What I could not, for the life of me, make these people understand is that Jesus did NOT consecrate wheat and grapes, He consecrated bread and wine: foods universal to nearly all cultures. The bread and wine He consecrated may have been created from wheat and grapes, but not necessarily (at least one source I found made a convincing case that the bread at the Last Super quite likely was made from barley). I pointed out to the people in my group that if the chosen people had lived in the southwest section of North America, Our Lord may very well have held up a corn tortilla. (I bet you can imagine how scandalized they were by that comment.) I was not, however, arguing that the Code of Canon Law should be changed (although that would be nice), I was not arguing that Jesus might not have known that wheat is bad for people (He is God, after all), I was arguing that Jesus chose bread and wine, not wheat and grapes.
Why am I sharing this here and now, especially since it was a painful experience for me? Because it matters. Because it is relevant. These people who refused to understand the point I was making brought their preconceptions to the discussion. Further, they refused to let go of them, because doing so threatened everything they fiercely believed in, even though, in reality, it didn’t.