Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ephphatha




Today's EF Gospel is how Jesus cured a deaf and mute man by touching his ears and touching the man's tongue with a spit-moistened finger, and saying "Ephphatha," be opened.

That is gross, but totally worth it, and much less invasive than modern-day surgery for cochlear implants.

"Ephphatha" is a very weird way to write a word with two f-sounds; what would be so terrible about writing "Effatha?" It is an Aramaic word, and as we can't use the Aramaic letters, why not use the letters that would look less bizarre? I kept thinking there was a missing vowel in there somewhere.

Trying to say both f-sounds distinctly does give the word a very slushy feel that goes well with the salival message of the day.

The crudeness of our corporeal reality was indeed shared by Christ. Sometimes, when I hear the phrase "spiritual but not religious," I am tempted to say that I am "religious but not spiritual," because I am so rooted in the corporeal realm. I am only tempted to this thought, because I know that I am also a spiritual being.

I am fascinated by the interconnections of spirit, soul, and body. How do traditional thoughts about our souls, the seat of our consciences, work considering how much our physical brains affect our ability for decision-making and self-control? Damage the brain in the right place, and the personality may change; maybe the person will have less ability to control his temper or speak politely -- or no ability. How does the development of a well-formed conscience coincide with the development of the pre-frontal cortex, which is involved in foreseeing the consequences of our actions, and doesn't finish developing until age 25? A child, though, may have a better-regulated temper than an abusive parent. Who and what are we, at the depths of our being, both dependent and independent from our neurons? How does the Holy Spirit really speak to us?

I enjoy reading scientific studies about the brain's activity during prayer, especially those that involve asking nuns to pray while hooked up to EEG or MRI. Of course they use nuns -- what loser researchers want to ask ordinary laypeople to pray when they can peek into the neural activity of the Catholic Church's ultimate prayer champions! So far, researchers have discovered that nuns who claim to feel a sense of peace during prayer actually do have a change in emotional state; they ain't lyin'! I would be even more interested in the brain activity of nuns who ONCE had intense spiritual/emotional responses to prayer but now feel nothing. What did Mother Teresa's brain look like when she was in the Dark Night of the Soul for decades, all while praying throughout the day and working with the poor? Her soul was growing closer to God, but this growth was not reflected in her emotions. What about when prayer does NOT give a "sense of peace?"

How can we be open to God showing us the way?

I think it is fascinating to be a Christian, and to believe that there are so many possibilities for what we can experience in the world.

If we "feel inspired/called" to do something:

1a) We might just feel that way because we like or dislike something
1b) We can make stuff up to back up (1a) (see: pattern finding)
2) We can be feeling the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
3) We can be misled by demons

I am quite interested in the interplay of 1a, 1b, and 2. I think #3 can usually be avoided by not doing anything obviously sinful ("I feel called to tell you what a B**** you are..." is probably NOT the prompting of the Holy Spirit, people")! I believe that God answers prayers and the He can guide us, but I also believe that people are very good at justifying what they want to do anyway by talking about God and that we are very good at looking for "signs" in nature to support our desires. I also believe that we are supposed to use our rational minds to make decisions, and that not every choice needs to be madly discerned in the hopes of a voice from Heaven speaking out to us. I do pray before all my big decisions, and I pray for their success, but when I feel myself turning from petition to anger or resentment at God for not answering me quickly enough, I realize that I am trying to avoid adult responsibility in choosing the good. If only God could just tell me what college to go to or where to live! But, perhaps, He has simply called me to go to a college at all -- anywhere -- and to live out the Gospel while there.

I think we put a lot of store on the big life decisions, the first of which for most American Catholics is deciding on our college &/or major, but the Gospel is lived out in all of the daily moments of our lives. God may be more intent on calling us to take time for the people who need us and to change our hearts toward the people who annoy us than He is on the particular place in which we might serve. We want God to call us by solving our problems for us; but he may have another call for us entirely.

We want to be open to the call of God and to our consciences.

I have found the best way to be open is during Adoration. Somehow, the truth of my life is revealed to me there, and it is there that I feel most aware of my failings and blessings. It is in quiet meditation that I realize something is bothering me -- how I get so angry when I drive, for example. By the way, the only way I've found to prevent road rage is to take a less busy road or drive at a calmer time of day. Praying the rosary while driving almost led to a crash!

I also liked learning about Jesuit discernment. I am not all that great at it, but I liked very much that it was rooted in a good understanding of human psychology. One of the best parts about it, in my opinion, is to avoid making important decisions in a time of of spiritual desolation. That is often a time I WANT to make important decisions -- when I feel depressed and lonely, I like to try to figure out where I could move instead. I usually just end up more stressed than ever. When I am happy and feel very content in my life, I don't usually think about the next move, but I am better equipped to assess my life accurately. Our emotions, hormones, and physical well-being have a HUGE effect on the way we perceive the world, and I appreciate that good Catholic discernment requires us to assess our physical state before we try to assess our call. By acknowledging that we are biological, rather than ethereal, beings, we are embracing our reality, which is the only way we can move forward in a truly rational way.

1 comment:

  1. Pedantic ClassicistAugust 12, 2012 at 7:01 PM

    Haha, truth be told, I always thought it was "ephaphtha"! Must be the Greek coming out. They have no problem stacking aspirates the minute you cross them. Look out! (I'm not kidding: φθίνω means "to waste/decay" and can be causal in certain tenses! Sufferin' succotash!)

    Anyway, I commend you, SG, for your Seneca-like ability to go from crazy quotidian observation to really deep philosophical food for thought. Thanks for these fine reflections. Some really good stuff on the brain/mind(soul?) distinction here. I am also really interested in this, and have often thought about how important it is to disabuse oneself of the commonplace that the soul is "inside" the body. A soul that can be locked inside of a body can possibly also be destroyed with the body, so no thanks to that!

    By the way, for my money, I would say that the brains of those in a "dark night" experience would not register much on a machine. The "consolation" that CAN be measured by machine (viz., that is related to the brain which is material) is certainly important, but the accumulated spiritual wisdom we hold dear is savvy enough to know that the soul is immaterial and hence transcends the brain. Hence the soul can be very close indeed to God without any apparent material effects. Thank heaven for small favors! ;)

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