Friday, May 02, 2014

Making Sense of it All

This is a subject I would say more about if I weren't so lazy at the moment.  That the sacred is also sensual should be a given.  It is Neo-Platonism that teaches us the "intellectual" is higher, the physical "lower," and ultimately lesser.

Such a distinction is at the heart of religious belief as "mere" brain function (there was an article at Salon on this point, but it's not readily available, and I'm not going to search for it.  It wasn't very good, anyway.  Which is not sour grapes; it really wasn't that good.), as something we can identify with certain sectors of the brain, or as "merely" neurological function (which is all science is, too.  Why is one of these things more real than the other?)

All we truly know of the world (it took the British empiricists to hammer down this wall of dualism, and yet we reconstruct it every chance we get) is through our senses, and that includes our knowledge and/or experience of God.  It is all known within the brain, which is where the "mind" we think we have is, as well as the "heart" (which was once the liver).  Why do we continue to think that diminishes the spiritual to something less than authentic? Stevens thought he was being critical of religion (more specifically, as ever, Christianity) when he wrote:

Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul.

But he was right; and the church has always affirmed the measures of the seasons (hence a liturgical calendar) and the importance of the senses (hence organ music; stained glass windows; vaulted spaces, often darkened; liturgical colors; and bread and wine and water).  True, most of this separation of sense and mind occurred because of the Protestant rejection of the Roman Catholic censors (for incense, not silence), statuary, and even art.  I know a Congregationalist pastor proud of his "meeting house" because it contained no religious iconography at all; yet he is as devout a Christian as I.

But even Protestants are rediscovering the value of the liturgical calendar and liturgical colors, and no one today abandons the iconography of the nativity scene, or eschews the power of the "live nativity" or the "Christmas pageant," with its roots in the mystery plays of the medieval church.

And yet we still insist that what is in the mind is false (unless it is "science" that is lodged there) and what exists in the world is only what it is (while we infuse everything from colored cloth to buildings with meaning, sometimes to intrinsic we don't realize we're doing it).  And we use this all to divide, divide, divide; when it could be as easily seen as all of a piece, and all of it suffused with the spiritual.

1 comment:

  1. Off topic, I think you might get a chuckle out of the beginning of this comment thread.