Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Practicality of the Supernatural: Why Getting to “The State of Grace” Takes Action and Actually Means Something

I do not spend enough quality time reflecting on and rejecting the lies I come to believe everyday simply living in the world. I don’t intend to expound upon “the whole world is an evil place” dogma trumpeted by certain well-meaning Catholics. Instead, I want to point out simply that we are bombarded by ideas and theories everyday; some are necessarily incorrect, for many of them contradict each other. They aren’t all evil; they are simply insufficient or incomplete. I watch movies, enjoy TV, read the news, read novels, etc – and beliefs about life, God, the world, and our purpose on this earth are expressed implicitly and explicitly throughout much of these.

I do not spend the necessary time weeding out and recognizing the falsity of much of these secular beliefs. Our prayer, relationships, the sacraments, and service are tools by which we realign ourselves with the Truth that is Christ. Regardless, I find myself accepting many beliefs unconsciously, and spending much time untangling the mess I consider my intellectual foundation.

Here is one example that stuck me as I was tiling the floor in the bathroom of my soon-to-be addition. The preface to this thought is my recent reading of Thomas Merton’s “7 Storey Mountain,” a fantastically brilliant read, one I recommend to everyone. In this autobiography, Merton discusses the spiritual life in such concrete and real terms, with such a belief in its reality. It is Merton’s clear-minded reflection on how his spiritual life affected and affects his physical and psychological life that has left such an impact on me. It was as I was tiling the bathroom floor, my hands raw and covered in grout, that I realized a serious untruth that I often maintain unconsciously: the idea that the spiritual life is somehow not as real or practical as physical life – or that is shouldn’t act in a similar fashion as the physical world – especially in relation to certain Catholic teachings.

For example, I find certain ideas to be extremely hard to grapple with, like “being in the state of grace” vs. “not being in the state of grace.” How is it that a person admitting his guilt and a priest saying a few prayers drastically affects reality? More to the point, if there is a difference, why does the change take a person performing formulaic rituals? Doesn’t God know everyone’s hearts? Why would He wait till you go to confession to forgive you and put you in the “state of grace?” Can’t he snap his fingers and make everything good?

What this line of thought presupposes is (besides the possible idea that “supernatural reality” is a silly idea) the belief that the supernatural order of existence exists completely on its own, with no relation to the physical world. Now I accept that my physical state of being – for simplicity’s sake, let me simply use the terms “being sick” and “healthy” – is real; and I accept that I need to do something in order to go from one state to the other. Or, if I get better without doing anything, then my body was fighting the sickness. Either way, I recognize that certain things need to be done in order for me to become well. So why don’t I believe that something needs to be done, perhaps even physically, for me to go to a different spiritual state of being.

Spending as much time as I do in the world that I inhabit, it is no wonder I have subconsciously accepted two interrelated beliefs: a) it’s nice and OK to talk about supernatural reality, but it isn’t as “real” as the physical world; b) if supernatural reality exists, then it can’t be connected at to physical reality. How much of what I watch, read, and discuss contradicts these lies?

But these beliefs are purported by people who spend their time consumed with the physical world – people who never look up or beyond what lies physically in their paths. It is no wonder they hold these beliefs to be self-evident; but what is my excuse? I guess my excuse is my desire not to be over-spiritual. I don’t want to consult Jesus on what flavor of ice cream I will have for dessert. But in my hasty longing to avoid super-spirituality, I have lost much of my grasp on spirituality in general.

Why is it crazy to think that there are spiritual states of being, such as there are states of water or other physical matter? If anything, the spiritual life is more real than the physical life (although I write this with a suspicious look of confusion on my face). Furthermore, why is crazy for me to think that aspects of spiritual life are affected by the physical life? Continuing, why is it crazy to think that the Creator of all intended for the two to interact in real and awesome ways? So it isn’t a stretch to think that there is a real physical and spiritual purpose in the act of confessing your sins and the prayers of the confessor afterwards.

I need to remind myself continually to reflect upon the beliefs I unconsciously absorb through my daily life.

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