My husband laughs (kindly) at me because there are two or three themes that run through my thinking at any given time and I have a knack for always bringing everything back to one of these things. Right now the two most prevalent of these are habit (proper forming of them and the way our lives run in them and how the mere practice of habit can turn, into reality, that which was only pretending before), and something I like to call the "sacramental nature of the physical world".
Anytime I hear the word "habit" a little buzzer goes off in my head. So I throw the word, encased in its context, up onto my mental turntable and sit back, examining it in 3-D, to see if I can match it to an existing nuance of the word, already in my brain. Then I tuck it away for later use. I am constantly collecting scrap fragments pertaining to these two ideas, and fitting them into proper files, as if I am writing a book on the subject. (And actually, the more I do this the more these two particular strands of thought seem to converge. So perhaps some day- a long, long time from now- I will dust off the files and drop them into a book.)
I devoted two of my previous posts to habit and talked about the origins of the idea in me, personally. I don’t honestly know when this second idea, “the sacramental nature of the physical world’ began evolving in my thought, but I know I only started using it as a phrase a few months ago.
I think it came to me in an epiphany moment, but one with a small group of precursors, unrelated to one another, which somehow coalesced.
The idea stems from my belief that God created human beings as both physical and spiritual entities and that one is not more, in quality or quantity, than the other. In fact, I think that one is incomplete without the other, which is why death is such a terrifying and unnatural thing: it disembodies the soul.
As my friend, Stephanie mentioned recently, on this blog, the way we care for or neglect our bodies has profound effects on our emotions and mental well-being. We have more proof for this now than we ever have, because of our ability to study the components and functions of body and mind and environment in detail and with great accuracy.
This is why it strikes me as odd that the world is changing into the largely intangible one created by internet technology. There is talk of the next great evolution of humankind into disembodied mind (which sounds to me like the same thing as death), and this is heralded as freedom from our current restrictions of time and space and mass. (Didn’t we already reject this idea when it presented in Gnosticism?)
Many “communities” aren’t localized, anymore. I (to my shame) have not said more than two words to my neighbor in two years, but I exchange ideas and struggles with my friend, Andrew, in
A very large majority of us, in the
I saw a movie once (can’t remember what it was) in which a Native American shot and killed a deer for food. He followed the blood-trail to where the animal, lean and beautiful, lay dying. He held its head in his hands; I imagined he could feel its warm breath, coming out in shallow snorts. As the doe’s bright, innocent eyes turned glassy and opaque, the man, still kneeling in the dirt beside it, said a ritualistic prayer for the animal’s soul, bidding it to go in peace. I was so struck by this portrayal, because I had never seen the killing of an animal presented beautifully and with respect for its life. The man needed food and the deer’s life had to be sacrificed; but blood was not shed lightly. The pangs of death were felt by hunter and hunted, alike.
Very few of us grow any of our own food and none of us is going to starve if the rain gods refuse to smile on us. We don’t know what kinds of wood or stone are best for particular forms of craftsmanship. I don’t spin thread from wool and knit a sweater to last my son for the winter; instead he has so many clothes of every sort that I have to navigate around giant, never receding mounds of clothing in my laundry room.
Again, I am not suggesting that life in some falsely conjured “good old days” was easy or even ideal. I am only pointing out that the further we remove ourselves from the things which sustain our lives, the further we remove ourselves from purpose. And this is because the earth was given to us to cultivate and care for, and to give us a glimpse of something beyond ourselves; something holy and beautiful and meaningful. The way that my work becomes an extension of myself and I become the work that I am doing – the way soil feels loose and rocky or the way it smells when I pull out weeds: mineral-y, ancient and fresh all at once; the pungent taste of wine; the melodious laughter of a friend; the alien and yet familiar look in an animal’s eye- the inexplicable way in which all of these things inform and shape and administer grace to our souls: This is the sacramental nature of the physical world.
Like most things I think about and form opinions about, I am sadly inconsistent in my application of these things to my life. And, in great part, that is why I live in a state which continually pushes me to the point of despair. To restate a comment from a reader: Life is full of meaning and I am not living in that meaning.