Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Great Divide

There's something disturbing about this week's Mission Moment from St. Augustine... You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. - St. Augustine I thought that God and the soul and spiritual things were, well, spiritual. What's with the breathing and smelling fragrances, the panting and thirsting? Augustine sounds so... sensual! Wasn't he off somewhere? Wasn't he getting a little carried away? Haven't we progressed from this 4th century, pagan outlook on God and the soul? Actually, we've regressed. In some ways, we've fallen prey to the very heresy that Augustine was set free of back in the "old days." It was called Manicheanism: a gnostic belief system that espoused that the body and the material world as we know it are bad, bad, bad. Material things were made by an evil god and the Manichees believed the only path to salvation was to hate the body, discipline it, and escape from it through their own secret knowledge of God. For the Manichees, God was always and only a pure Spirit, so far removed from the earth that only the wise and initiated could find Him. For them, God would never touch this evil earth, let alone take on a body Himself! Hmmm. Now the Church and Her heroic saints dealt heroically with this heresy, especially our saintly Augustine (it's an amazing story, check out his book Confessions). But let's look at the ways this heresy about the body has crept into our minds like a black and oily smoke. Let's peer into the Great Divide that surrounds us making us believe that the body and soul are at best, battling brothers. Is this part of the plan? Did any of us grow up thinking that the body is somehow less good than the soul? That the body is somehow dirty or a distraction or a hindrance to my "spiritual" self; like some intrusive piece of luggage we have to carry with us on the way to Heaven, where we'll finally "shuffle off this mortal coil?" Well, that's not the way it's supposed to be! In the beginning, God made a harmony out of humanity, marrying the material to the spiritual! And we are His master work. The body is good, God made it! The world is a gift, His Hands shaped it! God's plan is always this union, this communion of the two. The Devil's plan, in his insane jealousy of humanity, is always to divide, to pull apart, to separate. Death, which is the consequence of sin, is the epitome of this Great Divide. Death separates our souls from our bodies. But this is not God's original plan! That's why death is so ghastly, a horror and a smear on the face of the universe. Ghosts and corpses are frightening because they were never meant to be (see Peter Kreeft's article for more on this thought!) But it will not always be this way. For God Who is Love is stronger than death. There is a promise we're given and to which we must cling like the sick woman on the hem of Christ's garments; we will rise again. Our very bodies will rise again! It's to this hope that Augustine sings his love poetry: You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. And he is only echoing what he had read in the Scriptures, written so many centuries before: As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My being thirsts for God, the living God (Psalm 42:2-3). O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1-3). And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad; even my body shall rest in safety. For you will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay (Psalm 15). To be continued...!
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