There was a time when anything felt possible.
When the world was enchanted, shot through with the presence and power of God.
When nothing was “just” bread, “just” water, “just” music.
Today, by contrast, we live much like the Apostle Thomas. Unless I can see it with my eyes, unless I can prove it with data or brain scans, unless I’ve come to this conclusion by studying chimpanzees, I won’t believe.
After all, it’s just words. Just bread. Just water.
But what if we’re wrong?
What if the two are not mutually exclusive? What if something as simple as water, or words, or even air is the doorway into the most real reality there is?
What if the physical world is the very place we were created to connect with God?
You see, our souls and brains have a body. It was never God’s intention to simply create a mind as much as to create a man. Yes, we must learn about God – we are called to love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. But of we believe we can simply think our way to God, to holiness, then we have no idea what it means to be truly human.
Because we’ve been trained for several centuries now not to see the world as enchanted, trying to see it any other way can feel like putting on a pair of glasses you don’t really need – they may be cool, but they seriously distort reality and end up handicapping more than helping us.
But may I suggest that in reality, we are suffering from a severe case of near-sightedness? And because we can’t see all that we can’t see, we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s not really there?
It would take a long history lesson to go into the many ways the enlightenment period and the advance of technology has seriously shaped our society – including our Christianity. The sheer number of books and articles written to scientifically defend the faith is just one example of how much pressure we are under to produce facts and data in order to believe.
I’m not here to discount the importance of education, research, learning, or data. These things certainly have a good place and point us towards God. But I also can’t help but think of the many times God has defied the “laws” of nature in the past. How He confounds the wisdom of the wise and never, ever works like we would expect. How the literal definition of being God is being outside of “reality,” of our human definitions and limitations. God may have created data and science, but He also transcends it.
At the risk of getting in over my head, let me get to the point: For thousands of years, humans experienced the world as enchanted – that is, shot through with the spiritual world. (It’s also worth noting that I’m writing to a very Western audience here, as there are still plenty of places in the world where this is the case). We have lost something very precious by throwing this away with all of the superstitions and animism and idol worship that we (rightly) don’t endorse in the Church. We have flattened the world to our five senses and squinted so long in nearsightedness, we’re blind to all that we can no longer see.
But what if we could train ourselves to see the world with different eyes? What if we could step through the doorway and see everything in three dimensions again? That is exactly what we must habituate ourselves and our spirits to do. If you remember my blog on liturgies last year, this is also one of the reasons we have been drawn to liturgical and contemplative prayer.
A trembling membrane is all that separates us from the world beyond our sights. The problem is, we’ve been living another way so long, it isn’t easy to remember this. It takes intentional focus to “stop squinting” and see life with a new lens. But when we do, we live differently. We go through our days tangibly conscious of the loving presence of God – whether or not we “feel” it. A smell, a sound, a familiar touch – all of these become a way we not only appreciate the world, but commune with God.
This is why I started the Pilgrimage Poetry Project. I want to challenge myself to practice this way of seeing the world. I want to go through my day with an unbroken conversation with my God, and that means I need to show up and pay attention to the world and the people around me.
I want to notice my days, savor the gifts they bring, and learn from them. Mostly, I want to remain attentive to the whispers of the Spirit in my own heart. And maybe someday, I can be present with others in their questions and their search for wholeness, and I can help them listen to the whispers in their own heart as well.
But it starts with my own work, my own transformation.
It starts here. It starts today.
Am I paying attention?