I once read a piece that argued that all of the world’s problems could be solved by an increase in devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. At first I thought it a somewhat silly statement but the more I contemplate it, the more powerful a statement it is. What could not be changed if men and women were able to see within the Sacrament all that they are called to be as members of the Body?
There we can fix our reference point such that violating one another or even creation itself becomes unthinkable. Bound up in the Sacrament are all we have been and all we are called to be in the patient Body given for us. That fixed and yet ever-expanding reality has the power to undo our false perceptions and blind us with the light of true sight. It may be such devotion – such mystic perception of reality that even extends across traditions and religions – that may hold the key to so many of our earthly dilemmas.
With the loss of a fixed point of reference outside the cosmos, that which is observable, there has been a commodification of culture and a turn toward nihilism. John Milbank argues that “…because post-modern culture emphasizes rapid change and impermanence, differences become less significant, even as they are proclaimed more loudly.” Milbank writes,
“In post-modern times, there is no longer any easy distinction to be made between nature and culture, private interior and public exterior, hierarchical summit and material depth; nor between idea and thing, message and means, production and exchange, product and delivery, the State and the market, humans and animals, image and reality—nor beginning, middle, and end.”
The challenge, the dissolution of limit, is the removal in post-modernity of a sense of natural limits or meaningful direction. We too often metastasize rather than grow. Without the limit of the Divine we lose the sense of the outline, the shape, that God offers for us to truly find calling and hope.
Our culture is a death-denying one that struggles against the limits of nature while at the same time placing increasingly little meaning on those limits. In post-modernity, the notion that the self is the center has eroded notions of individual limit and propelled us into a space in which this dissolution of limit has left us unmoored and disconnected from the divine and one another. The self is asserted for the sake of self and no limit can be tolerated – the true sadness is that this quest to assert the self in the face of dehumanizing societal energy results in the grinding down of good people who have lost the means and the gift to see just beyond – just over the horizon of heart where God is always reaching.
The dissolution of self-limit and perceived non-participation in the divine present us with a host of real difficulties that are not transcendent or philosophical problems, but measurable evils in the world. The invasion of nature by culture, the AIDS crisis, the virtual elimination of public space, and even global warming all have some root in the pursuit of difference in the context of post-modern indifference, blind transmigration, and ultimately the rejection of the transcendent.
These ills can be challenged with a return to understandings of indeterminacy and infinite personal relation in which we actively seek to participate in the divine which suffuses all around us. It is, in some ways, a contemporary rephrasing of Abraham Kuyper’s famous quote, “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'” The recognition that all creation participates in the divine demands a level of respect for the created mystery of all creatures. We are part of a dependent co-arising, caught up in the love of God, given our true form in God’s self-offering.
There is something unknowable, mysterious, and inherently both immutable and immaterial which lies at the heart of matter. Bread can be more than bread. Wine than wine. The Body than a collection of individuals.
Christ’s revelation in the Sacraments mirrors the divine/human revelation of the Incarnation. Matter and form are ennobled in his holy condescension and all of creation has been baptized and renewed by that indwelling. Common things are given a new destiny by grace.
Because of their participation in the Divine, all creatures are in one way or another as transcendent as the Lord we know is Present. Even as he has walked with us he is calling us beyond and deeper into holy mystery, into his ever-revelation. All as participating in the gift of more. This transcendence liberates us from post-modernity’s seeming boundary-free geography of no-where (in which we are always lost because we imagine we know the lay of the land – a land without true direction or arrival).
This immanent divine is accessed in myriad ways across the religious traditions – and may especially be known in the Presence of the Mass.
The ground of the transcendent is open for conversation across traditions and religions. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity offer manifold, cross-cutting theological arguments. Each of them possesses a mystical tradition which emphasizes the fundamental rooting of all in a transcendent unity. Yet, for the Christian, this unity is more than transcendent for the Christ has been carried in a mother’s arms, born our sins and sorrows, and risen to new life – and opens the way for us as well. This is a transcendence that is more than mystic unity – it is flesh and blood oneness with us.
This unity give richness, depth, and definition rooted in mystery and grounded in reciprocity and hope. We may just find that, if we can open ourselves to the potential and Presence of the Sacrament, we may come to see the whole of creation in a new way – in the way God himself might see it and us – potentially full of grace and calling for our love and care.