Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Laws of the Flesh

To see Christ as God and man is probably no more difficult today than it has always been, even if today there seem to be more reasons to doubt. For you it may be a matter of not being able to accept what you call a suspension of the laws of the flesh and the physical, but for my part I think that when I know what the laws of the flesh and the physical really are, I will know what God is.

We know them as we see them, not as God sees them. For me it is the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the resurrection which are the true laws of the flesh and the physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of these laws.

I am always astounded at the emphasis the Church puts on the body. It is not the soul that she says that will rise but the body, glorified. I have always thought that purity was the most mysterious of the virtues, but it occurs to me that it would never have entered the human consciousness to conceive of purity if we were not to look forward to a resurrection of the body, which will be flesh and spirit united in peace, in the way they were in Christ. The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature…

Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being

Reflection – Again, much to ponder here. This will be my last day with Flannery O’Connor, in the interest of blog variety. As always when I am thoroughly enjoying an author, I want to just keep going with her, but too bad for me – gotta do something different, starting Tuesday (Monday is my day off, as you may have noticed).

Flannery is a deep woman, and she is going deep here. The idea that the true nature of the physical and the fleshly can only be understood in the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ—events which we call ‘miraculous’ and in our modern scientific consciousness deem violations of nature and the physical—this idea has deep implications.

It means that it is the nature of the physical and of the flesh to be completed, fulfilled, by the reception of God, the receiving of the Spirit. Far from some weird and inherently violent imposition of the Divine upon our unwilling and resistant humanity, it is the very essence of our humanity in its physicality to be penetrated and permeated and utterly transformed by divinity.

I believe that. This means, then, that we cannot talk about who we are and what our nature is and what fulfills us and how we are to be happy and have love in our lives and all those good things that people (rightly) get very worked up about, and expect to get anywhere in our discussions unless we gain this transcendent and divine perspective.

We think we know what we need to be happy. We think we know what it means to be a complete human being with a complete human life. But our thoughts are so utterly mired in the level of ‘the laws of nature and the flesh’ as we understand them—and we don’t understand them, not really.

So we think… we have to have sex. Or we have to have an intimate sexual love relationship, to put it more positively, which may or may not include marriage as we currently understand it. Or we have to have maximum autonomy in our personal choices. Or we have to have access to whatever career we wish. Or we have to have a level of economic security or freedom. Or we have to have… well, sex! This one does seem to come up an awfully lot in our modern notions of the laws of the flesh and the physical and what they demand of us.

It seems to me that this is why the life of poverty, chastity, and obedience is so important in the world. Those of us called to this way of life are called to bear witness to all flesh that there is a whole dimension to human fulfillment, human freedom, human security, and human love that is utterly beyond our normal human understandings and what appear to be our normal human capacities. The joyful, faithful life of a poor, chaste, and obedient man or woman preaches the Gospel of Christ to an unbelieving world with a unique power and conviction.

But this Gospel of Christ is true for all men and women. We are called, all of us, to receive the life of God into our human flesh. The nuptial imagery that fills our scriptures and our spiritual tradition truly is the heart of the matter. We receive God, as Mary received Jesus into her womb, giving her own human flesh to the matter, but the deeper reality being the divine person in this flesh.

As we ponder questions of same-sex marriage and abortion and euthanasia (I know, a complete grab-bag of unrelated issues, but the news is full of them right now), we who are Christians need to at the very least go to this depth of understanding in our own personal being. How to communicate this to unbelievers or people in anguish or in anger is another story altogether, but we have to get there ourselves first, and I think we often don’t.

Happiness, love, fulfillment, freedom, the nature of humanity—all of it is only found in the communion of love of the Trinity which becomes our communion of love in the Church on earth (imperfectly), and in the kingdom of heaven (perfectly). And that’s all for now, folks.

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