Being Beings and Discovering Mystery

John Shea’s essay, “Exceeding Darkness and Undeserved Light,” outline four different environments that we all share, best understood as “the basic contours of our existence.” (Shea 2) The environments are made up of the self, loved ones, society and institutions, and universe. Our experience as humans may appear to be summed up by our interactions with these four, but there is a fifth environment which encompasses these: Mystery. Our basic experience can be understood in having two points: ourselves and the environment we encounter (for instance, I (1) eat bread (2)).  When this interaction reveals a dimension of Mystery, we experience sacramental awareness (the addition of the third point). In the instance of eating bread, I might understand it to be not only bread but my personal participation in the account of Christ who gave his followers bread and told them it was his body, broken for them.

There are five primary ways Shea outlines as a means of becoming aware of the ultimate dimension of our experience as humans. First is contingency, “what Kazantzakis calls the luminous interval between two darknesses.” (Shea 13) Sometimes it looks like the gift of living fully and joyfully in the moment, amazed by the very experience of it all. At other times, it can be a reminder of how very fragile and finite out lives on this planet are. The second path is dialogue and communion. Through dialogue people discover who they are and in communion they discover a love and acceptance gifted to them by their community. The third path is collapse. “When order crumbles, Mystery rises.” (Shea 16) This is the falling apart of the beliefs or knowledge we clung to and our reaction to that loss. “A fourth path to Mystery leads through a deepened sense of the ambiguity of our moral activity.” (Shea) While we strive for moral ideals, we most often find ourselves falling substantially short.  Last is disenchantment. Well known throughout history, it refers to an awakening which ultimately calls us into a maturing religious consciousness.

When we read Pigeon Feathers, by John Updike, we see a boys journey to sacramental awareness. The main character, David, experiences these environments in such a way that he becomes disenchanted, one of the five paths mentioned by Shea. David has an encounter with Reverend Dobson over heaven when he didn’t answer David satisfactorily.  “His indignation at being betrayed, at seeing Christianity betrayed, had hardened him. The straight dirt road reflected his hardness.” (Updike 36) He searched and searched for truth, but he was lost in the darkness that can fall when one realizes there is a question but no answer. He saw his classmates and their ill-fated path towards imminent death and eventually lost his desire to read altogether. Although concerned, his parents resolved to give him a gun for his fifteenth birthday. We can see the “universe environment” and it’s influence on David as he practiced shooting, which put fear into his dog who he would sometimes comfort. “Giving this comfort to a degree returned comfort to him.” (Updike 43) Ultimately, David is asked to use his new skills to clear out the pigeons in the barn. Although he didn’t have a desire to, he did as he was asked. As he killed more and more pigeons, he enjoyed it more, feeling the power he held with his gun and his ability to predict the pigeons path. Yet it was when he went to bury them that Mystery entered into his world: “He had never seen a bird this close before. The feathers were more wonderful than dog’s hair… a pattern that flowed without error across the bird’s body. He lost himself in the geometrical tides…And across the surface of the infinitely adjusted yet somehow effortless mechanics of the feathers….no two alike… designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture, with a joy that hung level in the air above and behind him.” (Updike 50) He was startled by the intention behind them and the fact that they were treated like pests. In this encounter, he rediscovered his God, “….that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.” (Updike 50)

References

Shea, John. “Exceeding Darkness and Undeserved Light.” Stories of God. Liguori, Missouri: Liguori Publications, 2006.

Updike, John. “Pigeon Feathers.” Olinger Stories. New York: Vintage Books, 1964. Short Story.

 

 

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Radical Amazement Excerpts and Quotes

These are excerpts or short summaries from Radical Amazement by Judy Cannato that I’ll be using for my presentation tonight.
WHAT IS RADICAL AMAZEMENT?
  1. “Radical amazement is the chief characteristic of a religious attitude toward life and the proper response to the divine… According to Herschel, radical amazement “refers to all of reality; not only to what we see, but also to the very act of seeing as well as to our own selves, to the selves that we see and are amazed at the ability to see.” (pg. 10)
  2. Radical amazement catches us up in love-the Love that is the Creator of all that is, the Holy Mystery that never ceases to amaze, never ceases to lavish love in us, on us, around us. (pg. 12)
AMAZEMENT AT WHAT WE SEE/DON’T SEE
  1. Abraham Heschel said, “Awareness of the divine begins with wonder.” (pg. 7)
  2. Thomas Aquinas said that a mistake in our understanding of creation will necessarily cause a mistake in our understanding of God. (pg. 7)
  3. (1473-1543) Copernicus proposed the Earth rotated around the sun and rotates on it’s own axis once a day shortly before his death. (pg. 22)
  4. In 1609 Galileo substantiated Copernicus’ claim. Humans could no longer see themselves as the center of the universe. (22-23)
  5. The Milky Way is one hundred thousand light years across and ten thousand light years deep with between two hundred and four hundred billion stars.  (pg. 8)
  6. As recently as the 1920s we thought that the Milky Way Galaxy comprised the entire universe but in 1923 Edwin Hubble photographed the Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million light years away. Today we know that there are billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars. (pg. 8)
  7. In 1998, Wendy Freedman and a team of astrophysicists concluded that the Big Bang occurred about 13.7 billion years ago. (pg. 8)
  8. In 2003, Scientist determined that 25% of the universe is what is called dark matter (exerts gravitational pull) and 70% is dark energy (causes rate of expansion of the universe to accelerate). Only 5% of universe is composed of “ordinary” matter. (Pg. 9)
  9. If Big Bang had been one trillionth of a trillionth of a percent slower, the gravitational force would have been to great and the universe would have imploded. Equally faster and matter would have escaped gravitational pull and the cosmos would have been flung apart. (Pg. 9)
AMAZEMENT AT OUR SELVES
  1. Cosmology is the story that flows out of the study of the origin and development of the universe, including who we are and what we are about. (pg. 19)
  2. Atom discovered with the creation of the microscope (pg. 23) Scientists thought it was possible to separate the observer from the observed, being completely detached without influencing the observation. (24)
  3. We are stuck in the dualistic, hierarchical, either-or thinking that has created the very problems that threaten us. We are not mechanisms with separate parts, but interconnected holons that are mutually dependent. (pg. 14)
  4. To live and to work in one world and believe and pray in another makes our lives seem fragmented and disconnected, even alienated from what is truly lifegiving. (pg. 21)
  5. Besides challenging his listeners to consider who they were, Jesus urged them to consider who God was. (pg. 20)
  6. Evolution as a creative process urged on from within by the very Spirit of God. It recognized the special significance of the human species as the consciousness of the cosmos, the universe having emerged in such a way that it is conscious of itself. (pg. 15)
  7. I Cor 12:20-22 “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable.” (pg. 62)
  8. Salvation, at its root, is to be whole, means to be whole. And since we cannot be whole without acknowledging all of the parts that make us one, our salvation-our own wholeness-is intricately bound to the salvation of all. (pg. 62)