Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Old Stuff

This post links to Convert Journal and RAnn's Sunday Snippets
see if it still works

Let's look at some miracles.

First, God thought matter into existence. That is, some of his immaterial love is so dense that it actually manifests itself as stuff. You know: fermions, gluons, bosons, all the impossibly tiny little grains of love that everything else is composed of. Then he thought the stuff into things such as our bodies. Isn't that miraculous? I think it is. And until the Fall, it was all good, being ultimately made of love.

But we sinners have made a mess of it, and now know God at a remove. Still, God helps us and communicates to us, often through physical bits. F'rinstance after the Flood, God used a rainbow to communicate something important to Noah's family...ehh...I forgot what it was.

Regardless, God later mediated his power through Moses' and Aaron's staffs. They whacked the Nile, canals, the Red Sea and rocks with miraculous results.

Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground due to the power in the Ark of the Covenant.

Elijah and Elisha each crossed the Jordan on dry ground by striking it, Moses-like, with a cloak.

At Elisha's instruction, Naaman the pagan leper was cured by bathing in the Jordan.

After Elisha passed away, a dead man hastily thrown onto Elisha's earthly remains was restored to life.

But miracles aren't just an Old Testament Thing. God kicked off the New Testament by putting a star in the sky...something to do with Jesus.

Jesus worked miracles too, often fixing not just physical problems, but spiritual ones, "healing the sin-sick soul" as the song says. And he worked these miracles through his physical nature, living stuff face-to-face with the afflicted or an intercessor.

Sometimes Jesus didn't even need to be directly involved, but simply physically available, like a cloak or a bone. Recall that the woman with a hemorrhage barely managed to grab the trailing tassel of Jesus' prayer shawl. Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me.” Just plug into the Holy Battery, get a nice jolt.

But miracles aren't just a Jesus Thing, either. After the Ascension, Paul and Peter could also heal without being directly involved. Peter's shadow could heal as it fell on someone. And "God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them."

Sticks, bones, water, aprons, cloaks, people, the common stuff of the world; none of them magic, all of them sacramental. God has related to the world sacramentally since the Fall, and there is no expectation in the Bible that he'll stop until the Second Coming. Miracles aren't just a Bible Thing. So think of the sacraments as Jesus-supercharged miracles in which divine power still flows through bits and pieces of love older than Creation itself.

Think big. Think Catholic.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets.

Who Knew?

It's no surprise that the more clever the West becomes, the less inclined it is to take the Bible literally. Not that cleverness is a bad thing, but it does tend to feed The Pride Beast. And I'm not saying every Scriptural jot and tittle should be taken literally, if only because God can speak though the writers by using simile, symbolism, metaphor, and parable.

On the other hand, we aren't able to fully perceive the reality around us, even with the help of instruments. Are there more dimensions? Do time and space twist and fold without my noticing? Are there wormholes? Does Heaven surround us like the Cloud of Witnesses? Is the Universe a sphere, flat, or saddle-shaped? Given our limitations, is it possible that stuff in the Bible is literally true, but we just can't tell?

Look, here's an easy example. In Catechism class, we cover Isaiah 22, especially "I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open." Usually a child will notice that resembles Matthew 16, and ask if the key is real. We'll sort out that it's probably not a physical key that can open the House of David, since "house" isn't a single building, but an extended family comprising a kingdom. But it might be a physical, ceremonial key that symbolizes the power invested in the keyholder. Or it might be a physical key that actually opens a gate, or a room, or a chest full of money, and also serves as a symbol of vested authority. In any case, I think Hezekiah's key is real and physical whether it unlocks anything or not.

Later we get to Matthew 16, including, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Right away the kids ask: "Are those real keys? Well, first you tell me: is Heaven a physical kingdom? I don't think so. Right- where does your body go when you die? Does it rise up into the clouds like Jesus? No it gets buried. Yes. What goes to heaven? Souls. Yes. Are they physical? Right. But are souls real? Yes! Right- so some things are real even if they aren't physical, even if we can't sense them or see them with telescopes, microscopes, x-rays or whatever. So I think they are real keys, but they aren't physical, because the kingdom isn't physical. Yes? I saw a painting of Peter and he was holding regular keys. Yes, he's often shown with physical keys; they are a symbol of his authority. But how can a key be real if I can't hold it? I don't know- the same way a kingdom can be real even if it's invisible. The Bible is literally true in saying there's an invisible kingdom; and may also be literally true in saying that kingdom has keys."

The idea that there are real things that we only partly perceive, or don't perceive at all, but take completely on faith is normative in Catholicism. E.g., the miracles in the Bible are literally true, although what makes them happen is impalpable. And by extension all the sacraments are real, although their energies are undetectable as well. Put another way, the Church expects us to think of reality as being much bigger than what we can directly access via our sin-flawed physical existence; and thus Catholics are primed to understand the Bible more literally than anyone else.