Thursday, June 22, 2017

Leave 'em wanting more

"There were mysteries, but only the devil had secrets."
-Alice Thomas Ellis

One of the things I find attractive about Catholicism is that it resists always giving clear-cut simplistic answers and, at some point, when you get down into nitty gritty bits about free will, human acts, and Divine Providence, we simply have to shrug and say "welp, it's a mystery!" ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Or else you can give yourself a headache à la Augustine who had to have God/an angel come and tell him "staaaahp it."

Recently, on Twitter, I got into a discussion about the nature of prayer:
- Whether God causes us to cause Him to effect things
- Whether God is immovable and we cannot cause Him to effect things in any sense

The tension with the second point (which I held and still hold but will be reading up on - there's an essay recommended to me as being pleasingly-Thomist -- I don't identify as a Thomist, tho. Just like Tommy Boy and it shows.) hinges on two things:
- Human acts correlate with effects BUT 
- These effects are not caused by Human acts 

If human acts do not cause these effects, what is the value of these human acts? There are ways to answer that question without robbing the human act of value - but I realized as I was going through this topic, that, in some sense, it didn't matter to me, practically speaking. Not that it doesn't matter in se, or that there is no right answer, or that there aren't implications depending on how you answer, but that whichever one it turns out to be will not affect how or whether I pray because it is so remote from my day-to-day life and the answer contains no proximate directive. And I'd hazard that few people would think the matter worth even a teeny crusade, though it might be worth a heated discussion at some Irish pub where you hurl friendly invectives at each other before going home while thinking the other person a bit stupid but nonetheless good-hearted.

But this sort of question about prayer is different from other sorts of questions:
- Whether it is permissible to use the death penalty in the US 
- Whether abortion is permissible or no
- Whether euthanasia is permissible or no 

And this sort of question about prayer is also different from these sets of questions:
- Whether there is a god / one or many gods 
- Whether Christ is God 
- Whether the Eucharist is Christ's Body and Blood

Answers to these questions have a direct bearing on human action and entail certain precepts: how we are to vote, how we are to worship, how we are to live. They are also, in a way, a bit easier to answer.

But it is a relief to admit that some realities are not easily boxed in, that there are questions which do not resolve easily, and that, sometimes, there is no satisfying answer, and that that's ok. There are mysteries. If it were otherwise, the world might not be as delightful.* 

As a child, I preferred shadows and hiddenness to the bright sun and exposed areas. If there is a dark secluded nook, what might be there? Maybe I could hide and there be found. Part of the joy comes in the seeking, part in the finding, part in being found.

It won't always be so in this way. In beatitude (should we reach it), we will contemplate the visage of God and be secure in Him, so there's some earthly aspect to the seeking that won't be present in heaven. What exactly heaven will be like, I dunno. God being infinite and human beings being finite there might still be a seeking of some kind but we will never thirst or feel an agonizing distance.

As we are, it is a mercy to have God hold some things from our human understanding. We are not held accountable for vastness of Divine Providence, there is sacred ground where we fear to tread but long to go, and we hand back to God our freely given trust and faith and He, in turn, gives us the gift of His infinite mystery.
...God is not absurd, if anything he is a mystery. The mystery, in its turn, is not irrational but is a superabundance of sense, of meaning, of truth. If, looking at the mystery, reason sees darkness, it is not because there is no light in the mystery, but rather because there is too much of it. -Benedict XVI
The world is better for that Mystery.


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*My words about delight come from a studied reflection, not a naive or flippant belief that all is faeries, puppies, and kittens. If y'all want background on where I come from, see here. Being bitter and angry is no fun.

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