Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ninth day: the Great Novena to the Holy Spirit

Today is the last day of the Great Novena - it seems to have flown by, as the whole of Paschaltide has flown by. But, as I pointed out a few days ago, every Sunday of our lives is a "Sunday after Pentecost" - we live in the world which has been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, Who continually reminds us of everything that Jesus told us.

The gospel today is that strange teaser from St. John, about how the "whole world couldn't contain the books" about all the things Jesus did while He was here. I forgot to change "world" to "cosmos", since that of course is the Greek word, and I think a bit more suitable to our Space Age lives. That line is a lot like the famous phrase from Michael Ende's great Never-Ending Story: "That is another story, and will be told another time." Providing we do not throw out our own chapter of the Story, we shall get to hear the rest of it when we move on to the "next chapter". It is this grand sense of Story produced by Chesterton and Tolkien and Sayers (not to exclude others, but these three have written more about the thing than others have, at least to my knowledge) which ought to excite us ion our daily lives. We tend to forget that the stories we read are just the exciting parts of what are most likely lives just as dull as ours are, and even the story of our Lord has that mysterious 18-year period where we know nothing except that Jesus was "the Carpenter's Son". It is, however, the kind of thing that Chesterton helps us grasp, with quips like these:
We must certainly be in a novel; What I like about this novelist is that he takes such trouble about his minor characters.
[GKC quoted in Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 63]

Truth, of course, must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for we have made fiction to suit ourselves.
[GKC Heretics CW1:66]
So we are minor characters... but ones about whom the Author has taken "such trouble"? Hm. How does this relate to our topic of prayer?

Well, this is very interesting. As in so many cases, it ties into both my scientific studies, and to the highest of all technologies, which is the technology of the human body - as well as into the Arts (as we shall see in just a moment) and also to the Sacred Scriptures: specifically to one of those grand letters from St. Paul. It is of course, even more delightfully, sealed and stamped with the most elegant of all possible seals, that of the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul points out. So let us proceed.

I shall start with the Art. In my little book about Subsidiarity, I quote a line from the composer Robert Schumann:
If we were all determined to play the first violin, we should never have a complete orchestra. Therefore respect every musician in his proper place.
[quoted in Music: a Book of Quotations 42]
My analogy is akin to his: our roles as children of God may be considered in the same way as the many instruments of the orchestra. There are a whole lot of violins, and lesser numbers of violin-like things - and then a remarkably few others which have very strange sounds (like the oboe) or very loud sounds (like the trumpet). Some only play a very limited range of notes (like the chimes) or only one that has to be adjusted before use (the tympani) or no note at all (the cymbals or the snare-drum). And yet, every one is needed - maybe not all the time, but they have to be there at the right time! It's a marvel.

The analogy would be even more glorious if I transposed it to the pipe organ, but there are not as many people who will recognize the parallels... so I shall save that for another day. Except to tell you this: any given pipe in the organ is responsible for exactly one note. Also, the pipe requires two things: the authorization of the Organist, and a bountiful supply of Wind... what more fitting analogy could one seek on the Eve of Pentecost, when the Spirit was heard as a great Wind?

So, let us now proceed to the second portion of the analogy: the tech one, which is derived from a very observant statement in St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians:
For as the body is one and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body: So also is Christ. [1 Cor 12:12]
This is the origin of what I have called "mystical histology". Histology is the branch of biology which studies the makeup of the various organs of the body (human as well as animal), be it at a larger scale of "tissues" or the smaller scale of cells. The Pauline analogy addresses the various gifts and powers of a person - his role, not only in the spiritual, but even in the mundane realm - and shows that these gifts are as varied and distinct - and yet cooperative and necessary - as are the varied "members" (tissues, or cells) of the body. Yes. Now, I grant you that St. Paul didn't study biology; certainly he didn't have a microscope, and likely he never did a dissection. But his insight was accurate, and it applies to more than just the "Mystical Body" of Christ, the Church, or to the human body. It even applies to things like sports teams, social organizations, corporations, even governments - since it is linked to the very tech idea of Subsidiarity, and to those words of our Lord about how we are the branches on His vine. But I must not get off the track here, since I am saying all this for a reason.

And this is the reason: the fact that there are a variety of gifts (all given by the Holy Spirit) and a variety of roles, as distinct from one another as the bones are from the blood - or from a muscle or from the cornea of the eye - this fact of variety implies that there are varieties of prayer life as well. Obviously, everyone can and will participate in certain public forms of prayer: the Mass, the Divine Office, a burial service, a group recitation of the Rosary. But when it comes to personal prayer, or the prayer of small groups, then there will be a multitude of prayer-forms, paralleling the multitude of praying members.

Let me give a very poor analogy. The erythrocyte, or red blood cell, can readily be seen to analogize the holy priesthood, since it is celibate (it has no nucleus and cannot divide), it has no fixed home (it travels through the bloodstream) and it spends its life bringing the gift of fresh air to the rest of the body. (I think you can grasp what that might be.) Any given cell is constantly returning to the heart and lungs, again and again - its very special duties set up a most definite rhythm, and hence the priestly duty to daily recite the Divine Office makes sense: in the daily recitation of the Psalms, the priest makes a continual return to the Source of the Spirit and to that Beating Heart which impels him on his journey... but this is just a poetic glimpse.

How about the laity? But there we see so many possible things - let us not try to construct an analogy. Let us simply note that there is stability of another kind, while there is also growth - for any given cell, its task is to achieve its proper role in the body - you might just try it for yourself. St. Paul hints at it when he talks about the eye versus the hand, or the foot, and the other, somewhat veiled statement about the "less honorable" members... it may be a bit squeamish to explore the whole of the analogy, and it takes a strong sense of reverence for the mystery of the body - but it is worth the effort.

Ahem - but Doctor - What does that have to do with prayer?

The point here is simply that there are bound to be different kinds of personal prayer, just as there are different kinds of persons. The thing that is common to all is the necessity of prayer, and the understanding that the prayer itself is bound for one-and-the-same destination. I will try another analogy. It's not that you write your letter with a quill on parchment, and I write mine with a laser printer on standard copier paper - or that I misspell every fifth word, and yours is elegant in diction and tender in emotion - or that I write mine sitting at my desk in the busy afternoon and you write yours in a desperate hour while the world sleeps. We will both drop them into the same mailbox, and they are both addressed to the same Destination.

But there is one other truth to the matter of prayer - one other thing which every member of the Body must have in common - one other attribute I wish to conclude by mentioning. And that is this:

We ought to pray often - not just because Jesus told us, or because it gives glory to God, or is our only hope of obtaining what we need and cannot possibly get otherwise. But because it is the way in which we practice for what we shall do in heaven.

Oh - you never thought of that, did you?

Just what do we do in heaven? Did you ever think? I can pretty much guarantee we don't flop around with harps - there's far too much to do. No, it's not like I have had a revelation or hacked into God's systems (hee hee) - it's just straightforward reasoning, but I don't have time to go into all of it. One of the things that is clear, of course, is that the messy forms of communication that we use here on earth will all be transcended. We've all seen fantasies where a person "mind-reads" another - that's a little of what it would be like. Since heaven is about truth, and about true and total union with God, we'll likewise be united with each other. We'll have all eternity to explore God, and we'll be in constant contact with each other in the delights we discover - but here's the best part of all: we won't be sitting on clouds, stumbling over words to describe things! We won't have to backtrack to explain things to each other. We'll all know whatever we need to grasp the thoughts and delights of the others who are there too. Don't get frantic about (let us say) understanding automata theory, or quantum mechanics - or the ontology of grace, or the dynamics of a dramatic plot or other such literary technical stuff. You'll have it INFUSED. Furthermore, you will share in those things we don't usually talk about as "communication" except when we mean "poetry" or something of that sort: the warm love of a mother, the honor of a soldier, the excitement of a child, the thrill of the martyr's love, the unspeakable mystery which is the priest's during the consecration... But we shall have all this, since in heaven the barriers of this cosmos that bar our souls from each other are abolished. In heaven we shall be able to commune - that is shall PRAY as we ought.

This is not really a theological principle, but a mathematical one. It might (as GKC says, for the pleasure of pedantry) be called the Celestial Transitive Property of Prayer. If, in the Beatific Vision, I am in direct and total intimate contact with God, and you are also, then (by the CTPP) you and I must likewise be in direct and total intimate contact with each other. There is nothing scandalous about it - we are no longer bound by earth, nor could we do, or want to do, anything other than God's Holy Will... so it is clear that something in the Celestial System will enable this form of communication. It's quite clear, even though I have very little formal theology to go on, that we must somehow "see" in God what His will is for us, and so we share in an intimacy that is not possible on earth. One more item must be added to this silly little hypothesis of mine. Or two. Such intimacy must be fruitful, for no gift is given without a reason. What is the fruit? What is the reason? Simple: we share our persons and our personal perceptions of God with each other in order to glorify God. The other item concerns the angels. What are they doing? Obviously, they share in the same communication, and thereby also glorify God. It's what they sang - remember, we've already gotten TWO chunks of angelic communication on record: the one which starts "Glory to God in the highest", and the other which says "Holy, holy, holy... heaven and earth are full of His glory."

So Doc you really think Heaven is like this?

Well - no. but parts must be true, as far as it goes. Actually I think it will be far better than any of us can imagine - but it must be orderly, and it must be "in the form of" communication - which means it ahs the form of prayer. So if we expect to spend eternity doing it, I think it wise that we practice prayer here and now.

My best wishes for a grand Pentecost - and do try to spend some time in prayer, not only today, but often. It's what our Lord wants us to do.

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