Friday, August 23, 2013

Soul Sex

I wrote a post a while back reflecting on Ted Seeber's language in talking about sex. I didn't let him know mostly because there were already some very long conversations with him going on at Patheos and my aim was not to start one more but to reflect a little deeper on one aspect of it. Well the topic just didn't go away. Strangely enough, about 9 months later it seems to have given birth to something. Ted got a chance to read my post and seems gung ho to use my post ends with:
Really we need 2 words. One for good, Catholic sex that we want to use very positively. Then we need one for the opposite kind of sex. The sex that is not good enough and is therefore immoral. That can be a bigger challenge because you want to use this word negatively. You don't want to be insulting or judgmental but you do want to highlight a significant lacking in many sex acts that are not typically seen as lacking much. I am wondering whether to offer a suggestion. All I can think of right now is soul sex and soulless sex. There has to be something better.
Then Ted's response:
Oooh, I'm going to start using that. I wish I had found this last November.

Soul sex and Soulless sex- and the physical proof of that soul sex is 9 months later you have to give it a name and it won't leave until it's grown up and ready to get married itself.
Not sure where that will go but it should be an improvement over the language of rape that he has been using for quite a while now. I do think we need some good words to communicate the much misunderstood Catholic philosophy of sex.

There is another interesting fact. Micheal Sean Winters over at NCR wrote something on one line in the mass liturgy.  The word "soul" is part of the line and part of his reflection.
Our word “soul” does not capture the Latin word “anima.” And, our own word “soul” has now largely been displaced in our understanding of the human person by the word “mind,” as Edward Reed detailed in his extraordinary book of the same title, “From Soul to Mind: The Emergence of Psychology from Erasmus Darwin to William James,” a book that should be on every bookshelf.
“Anima” is our deepest self, our “I” if you will, which is why the previous English translation rendered the phrase “and I shall be healed.” But, “I” does not capture it either or, to put it differently, the “I” in the modern West has taken on its own trajectory and acquired a meaning that is too ridden with autonomy to capture what is meant by “anima.” "Anima" is something that unites the human race and the "I" is not understood that way. And, as noted, in the biblical passage, the phrase is “my servant shall be healed.” So, what are we to do? If there is no imperfect rendering of the word, let us at least try to excavate what is meant: In our deepest, darkest, most broken selves, the parts where we do not want to let the light shine, where we prefer not even to consider because it just hurts too much, Jesus can shine His light and bring healing. “My soul” or “I” is not the key, is it? The key is the healing.
Read the whole thing. It is very good. But the passage strikes me as getting at what we mean by Soul Sex. Something that really impacts us at a level that we don't even dare contemplate. That is so deep that only Jesus can get us into contact with that part of ourselves. Sex and marriage are powerful enough to let us connect with our spouse at that level. That connection is agape love which is the essence of God Himself. The same love that unites the 3 persons of the trinity into one God can unite man and woman into one flesh. That is soul sex. That is what we should be aiming for when we enter into the sexual embrace.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Mind And God

Patrica Churchland has a new book on the Philosphy of the Mind. She makes a bunch of statements about religion. Mostly the same old errors. God of the gaps in reverse. Instead of arguing gaps in our knowledge prove God exists they assume a lack of gaps proves God does not exist. The argument does not work in reverse. A physical cause and effect and a spiritual cause and effect can both exist. One does not exclude the other. So when a farmer prays for rain and it rains he sees the spiritual dynamic of God answering prayer. A meteorologist might look at the same storm and see high pressure systems and low pressure system interacting and causing rain. They are both right. This is explained a bit more in point #1 here and here.

Then she says something truly interesting.
You begin your book, right off the bat, dispensing with the idea that human beings have a soulsome ethereal spirit that inhabits each of us.
It doesn't seem to be. It's hard to see how it could be given the dependency of personality, mood, memory and seeing and perception on the physical brain. Once that's gone, what's left? There really isn't anything left. Except one can still have a sense of continuity with the wider universe while recognizing that the continuity is very biological in its underpinnings.
You mean like "ashes to ashes, dust to dust"? 
Yes. I think some of the old boys had it right. Were there to be a resurrection it would have to be a resurrection of the body; but then, of course, it wouldn’t be quite the same body. It would have to a body that was glorified, and they're not quite clear what they mean about that, but it was obviously a better body than the one you died in.
The "what's left?" comment is the error about the physical cause and effect pushing away the spiritual cause and effect. But then she talks about the resurrection of the body. It makes a lot of sense in this context. Why does Christianity insist on a life after death with a body? One reason might be that a lot more of who we are is embedded in our body than we really think about. Our memories, our personality, our moods, the list seems to keep growing.  That does not cause a problem for Christianity because it teaches we will be going into eternal life with a body and a soul.

Many faiths do not say that. They see us as continuing without a body. It is one thing to imagine yourself without hands or feet but it it is a lot harder to imagine yourself without your memories or personality. In what sense are you still you?

It also makes more sense of the notion of purgatory. The idea of physical pain being associated with purging us of the stain of sin. If a lot of the brokenness of sin is physically in our neurons that control our thought patterns and subconscious reactions then why shouldn't we expect physical pain in repairing such things?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Big Lebowski

I finally saw this movie. I have heard it referred to countless times on religion blogs. Makes you wonder. It is about a guy who just exists. He bowls. He uses the F word a lot. He is unemployed and not the least bit uncomfortable with that. Not working towards any goal. Not building anything. Not studying anything. Not looking for a marriage partner. Just being. In modern society we have a lot of men like that. They lack ambition. They lack drive.

This Lebowski dude is very frustrating in his lack of desire. He finds himself in a crisis situation. He does not really rise to the occasion. He shows a little concern but only in relation to his friend who is completely apathetic. He lets his friend do stupid things for selfish reasons and complains but never insists on a better course of action. All he has to do to be moral is to reject some truly bad ideas and he even fails at that. You wonder about a culture that has heroes like this. Someone who can confront all sorts of sexual deviancy and not show any trace of moral outrage. Someone who reacts to life and death situations by smoking more drugs. Someone who lets other people control him even when they are obviously morons.

You wonder how to evangelize a culture like that. It seems like the natural human desire to pursue what is true and beautiful and good has been dulled by sex and drugs and rock'n roll. I am reminded by a quote about our deepest fear:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
This is the fear that Lebowski seems to have conquered. He is totally OK being not very bright, not very talented and not very good looking. That is OK if there is some other way you are called to greatness. You need to be comfortable with the gifts you don't have. But Lebowski does not have some other greatness like the St Therese of Lisieux or even the Blessed Virgin Mary. He has nothing. He bowls a lot. He has many stupid conversations with his friends. He smokes drugs. There is no hidden greatness anywhere. We used to call people heroes because they did something great. Now we call people heroes for avoiding any impulse towards greatness.

The truth is we were made for something better. We know it. We are supposed to change the world. God created us to do that. If He created us for something then we are going to have the talent to do it. We are going to have the heart to do it and enjoy it. Ultimately, if we ask God's help, we are going to be successful. We don't have to marvel at how someone can let a bunch of immoral fools run his life and still end up happy. We can let God empower us to be true heroes and profoundly satisfied with life.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Prophet, Priest and King

When we are baptized we are given the 3-fold office of Prophet, Priest and King. This correlates well with what we often hear about the role of church leaders. People talk about how they are to teach, govern and sanctify. Teaching is the prophetic role. Sanctifying is the priestly role. Governing is what kings do. So we can see what that looks like in the clergy. But we are all called to be prophets and priests and kings. What does that look like? This is particularly relevant regarding the New Evangelization because a lot of what you see out there tends to emphasize one of these areas and imply that the others are less important. The truth is we need them all to succeed in the New Evangelization or any other spiritual endeavor.

Being a king involves governing you affairs in a holy manner. Think of the fruits of the spirit: love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control. When Catholics do these things they become magnets for lost souls. People want to know how to love authentically, how to have deep joy, how to be at peace with who they are, etc. Our role as laypeople is to show them that.

You look at the response to Pope Francis. What do people comment on? How he seems to really care about the poor and how he seems to be so real and so happy. It touches people. But we are all called to touch people with our holiness. Somehow society has associated holiness with being judgmental and boring. Whose fault is that? It is ours as lay Catholics. We have either not looked any different or the differences we have shown have not been clearly rooted in love and producing joy and peace. Obviously this is important for a bunch of reasons but it is also going to be the primary way to draw people to Jesus.

Secondly we have the priestly office. For laypeople that is prayer, fasting, alms-giving, and various other sacrifices we can offer up for the salvation of souls. How often do we do this? We are busy but a little can go a long way here. If we learn to lift up the struggles we face and turn them into an intercession for the soul of a loved one. That is what a priest does. He offers a sacrifice to God for another person. When we do that it not only aids in saving souls but it really sanctifies all of our life. It means we don't just pray when we have nothing else to do but we pray whenever we suffer. Way more often.

Lastly, being a prophet implies speaking God's word into a particular situation. Laypeople don't give homilies. Still they do need to know God's word and be able to communicate it. Many Catholics hate doing this. But the gospel is important. We need to understand it well, first of all, for ourselves, but also for other people. Yes we can draw people's interest with our actions and with our prayers. They are not going to respond to that by reading the Catechism or signing up for RCIA. What they are going to do is ask us questions. We need to be comfortable answering them. What is more we need to do it in a Christ-centered way. Don't just say "that is how I was raised" or give some other secular rationale for what you do. That is taking glory that rightly belongs to God and ascribing it to man. We believe the good we do comes from the grace of God. We need to say so both for our sake and the sake of the person asking.

For the New Evangelization to be a success we need to get all these things right. It is not a question of picking one and declaring it to be the key. We need them all. The good news is we don't need to start with a big group. The first evangelization started small. When we get it right it will grow. As long as it is growing it is only a matter of time before it transforms the church and eventually the world.