May 30, 2010

"The roots are the deep down things"

Father Dwight:

...One of my main points is that the ritual of liturgy with its signs, symbols, gestures, actions and language help us connect with the deep down root level of our existence. I liken it to a tree. Branches and leaves are the everyday life. Trunk is the level of our beliefs and values. The roots are the deep down things. This level of life is sub linguistic. This is where the language of myth and symbol and sign and gesture operate. These are the language of the depths.

How sad and stupid then, just when our shallow culture needs some real depth therapy more than ever, and the Catholic Church is the only religion that has the wealth of imagery, symbol, sign and gesture, action and sacrament, that so many Catholic priests and people have turned the liturgy into some sort of para-Protestant self help group.

The very thing we need the most i.e. sign, symbol, sacrament--in order to touch the depths is exactly what the relevant revolutionaries have abandoned. Out go the vestments and statues and icons and holy hours. Out goes the incense and processions and Eucharistic adoration. Out goes the rosary and candles and flowers and all those 'absurd' and 'irrelevant' Catholic devotions and in come the social workers, the lay ministers and the enthusiastic cantors....

An underlying Catholic assumption seems to be to be that the "deep down root level of our existence" is not that far from the Kingdom of God. We can touch it—or rather, it can touch us—in mysterious ways at any time. But God is hardly ever pushy or demonstrative. He might slam you with a vision, but that is rare. Usually it's more like a moment's eye-contact across a crowded noisy room. You can easily ignore it, and most of us do most of the time.

Another Catholic assumption is that God loves the physical world. (He created it, after all. And then said "It's very good." True. You can look it up.) We humans are hybrid creatures; both physical and spiritual. And we tend to think of the physical part of ourselves as tacky and inferior, and dream of existing mostly in the "spiritual" realm. This is called Gnosticism.

But God is delighted to interact with us in our physical selves, and the Catholic Church is chock-a-block with all sorts of physical oddments that seem to help us to do this. And they all drive gnostics crazy! Most Protestants are somewhat gnostic, and they go plumb nuts thinking that God could stoop so low as to give mucky sinners access to Grace through signs and symbols and material matter. From simple things like dipping a finger in Holy Water upon entering the church building, to the splendiferous one of allowing His own Blessed Mother to help with the work of Salvation.

* Update: Today's Old Testament reading seems apposite:

Thus says the wisdom of God:
"The LORD possessed me, the beginning of his ways,
the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
from of old I was poured forth,
at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
while as yet the earth and fields were not made,
nor the first clods of the world.

"When the Lord established the heavens I was there,
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
when he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
when he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the human race."
    -- Proverbs 8:22-31 NAB

Rocky Mountains in the distance

Posted by John Weidner at May 30, 2010 9:38 AM
Weblog by John Weidner