Monday, December 01, 2008

Advent 2008 Week One Sunday

In a valiant attempt to get something done this Advent on something beyond yet another story, I shall try to begin a rather extemporaneous approximation to the work I have been hinting about here and over on the ACS blogg. I mean:

The Bricks and Mortar of the Temple of the Spirit:
A Chestertonian Considers the Science of Food and Its Bearing on the Most Holy Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

That is one version (admittedly a lengthy version!) of the title. Maybe it rings a bell? Those of you who read Chesterton, and are blessed to own the amazing fourteenth volume of the Collected Works might recall this dialog:
Marjory was watching him [Petersen] keenly: she had just had a gleam of hope. His eyes were slowly filling with the pale blue fire she knew well: it was so he used to look when she read him a poem, or when the sunset grew red and gold over the wooded hill. At such moments he would say something which she couldn't understand.
At length the words came, with a kind of timid radiance.
"May I have jam?"
"Certainly," she said, raising her eyebrows wearily. He only smiled ravenously, but she felt sure that if any earthly chair had been high enough he would have kicked his legs. There was another silence.
"Some fellows like butter and jam," said the religious enthusiast of the morning's conversation. "I think that's beastly."
"The main benefit of existence," said Marjory bitterly, "seems to be eating."
"Hardly the main benefit surely," said Petersen calmly, "though I agree with you that it is a neglected branch of the poetry of daily life. The song of birds, the sight of stars, the scent of flowers, all these we admit are a divine revelation, why not the taste of jam?"
"Not very poetical to my fancy," said Marjory, scornfully.
"It is uncultivated," said Petersen, "but a time may come when it will be elaborated into an art as rich and varied as music or painting. People will say, 'There is an undercurrent of pathos in this gravy, despite its frivolity,' or 'Have you tasted that passionate rebellious pudding? Ethically I think it's dangerous.' After all, eating has a grander basis than the arts of the others senses, for it is absolutely necessary to existence: it is the bricks and mortar of the Temple of the Spirit."
And he took a large bite out of the bread and jam.
[GKC "The Man With Two Legs" (fragment) CW14:786-7, emphasis added]
Part of this effort has been stimulated by my meditations upon the Fifth Luminous Mystery (the Institution of the Eucharist) and related mysteries; part by contemplations during Holy Mass, where I often recall another powerful Chesterton quote:
...the Mass is very long and tiresome unless one loves God.
[GKC The Ball and the Cross]
Part, also, arises from the exceedingly slow development of my long-considered work which shall extend St. Paul's famous "Analogy of the Body", which might bring in the last few centuries of work in anatomy, histology, cellular and molecular biology, and biochemistry. It is this last topic which I hope to bring to bear on this matter. (And once I start somewhere, maybe the rest will follow. I hope so.)

Is this daring? Well, of course it's daring - since I am neither biochemist nor theologian; but I follow GKC who asserts (like H. G. Wells) "the reasonable right of the amateur to do what he can with the facts which the specialists provide." [Prefatory Note to The Everlasting Man CW2:141]

There is another, much more belligerent purpose as well, in the tired focus some people seem to give to the idea of seeing the Eucharist primarily as "food" - thus somehow avoiding, if not excluding the sense of sacrifice or sacrament or grace or anything else supernatural. Well somewhere there is a curious quote (which I cannot locate just now) where GKC suggests the right way of dealing with certain distortions is not to fight them but to magnify them. That means the way of revealing the error in treating the Eucharist as food is to study it as food. I think any honest and reasonable person will be quite shaken when he reads the rest of this work, and thereafter finds firey images of sacrifice and sacrament and grace on his dinnerplate or in his grocery store or his fast-food outlet... Oh yes. No longer shall the bland and tuneless (if not heretical) "Gift of Finest Wheat" be a stimulus to distress but merely to laughter, for the mysterious truth of the wheat-made-bread, of the grape-made-wine shall attest to the greater Mystery which no protestor would dare touch - or consume. Even Ceres or Bacchus would laugh to hear that song now!

But this writing is not that kind of thing - not a polemic, not a rhetorical device, nor even a poetic one - though I am only human and may forget from time to time. I am not going to argue a certain view of the Eucharist - I take It as It is given, by Aquinas and the teachings of the Church for 2000 years. I am going to present some rather well-known facts about food, and then merely give a hint or two about a larger (and typically Chestertonian) way of seeing those facts.

But does this topic touch on Christmas at all? Well, seeing as how "Bethlehem" means "House of Bread" and that Mary laid "her first-born son in a manger" - that is, the place where the farm animals eat their food, and that the great Mystery of the Wedding-feast of Cana is always seen as a "Theophany" (the revealing of God) coupled with the Baptism and with the Epiphany of the Kings - well, I ought to say, yes, food really is an important aspect of Christmas. And I don't mean cookies or turkey or plum pudding...

In any case, I wish to write something uplifting this Advent, and I have to get started, as I am already behind. Let us begin, then, as the Mass starts - or always ought to start, with a truly great psalm prayer, which begins so many important blessings and works:
Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.
Qui fecit caelum et terram.

Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Who made heaven and earth.
And all the constituents of the thing we call food - the bricks and mortar of the temple of the Spirit...

Dr. Thursday.
Monday December 1 2008

PS: The quote I was seeking may be based on this "Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious." Orthodoxy CW1:299, but there might be something else. I will find it eventually. Food, once you begin to study it, is a lot more supernatural than most of us know.


At 03 December, 2008 00:48, Blogger Sheila said...

Oh, hooray, you're finally writing this!

Only, I have very little time to read it now. Hopefully I will catch up at some point.

For now, I ought to be in bed.


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