Having followed the link in my latest Philosophical Skeleton Key on prayer to a prior post in which I set forth some of the metaphysical prolegomenae thereto, commenter Hambone there wrote the other day:
Kristor, you said:
Having no way to comprehend spiritual realities, I could not even understand quite exactly what the articles of the Credo properly mean, or what I was meant to be doing in worship.
I’m somewhere in the middle of understanding this post and applying it – I have long struggled with making my faith *real* rather than mental affirmation coupled with ritual observance. What ARE you meant to be doing in worship? And how does that flow from the fundamental spiritual nature of life?
Commenter Rhetocrates then suggested that my response should be promoted to a post of its own:
That’s the $64 question, isn’t it? I’m still working on it. One never finishes working on it. One cannot. Worship is fathomless. How not? Its object is infinite. We cannot begin to have a complete answer to your question.
But, I can say a few things about it.
The first step is to move from mental affirmation of arid abstract philosophical propositions – those of the post above, for example, or those of Saint Thomas or Saint Anselm, or those of the Creed – to the actual reversal of figure and ground that must occur if we are to go from apprehending the corporeal as basic, and so more real, to apprehending that the spiritual is prior, basic, and thus more real; so that we can then see the corporeal as supervenient to the spiritual. This is the step of realizing, and then *feeling,* that the spiritual is *concrete.*
One sign that you’ve taken it is that your hair will rise with the wonderful, dreadful, mind blowing feeling that you are surrounded by spirits: angels, demons, the dead – *the living* – and indeed that everything around you – your clothing, the wood of the pew before you, the Missal, the stone pier, the ceiling, the window, the light, the smoke from the censer, your fingernail, that odd lady over to the right – is *entirely composed of spirits.* All of whom yearn for resolution and restitution, for reunion, with their Lord and Master, their Father and Husband; for rest, and for peace.
The more you rehearse this apprehension, the more readily it comes to you. Liturgy is one such rehearsal. So is prayer that intends God: that is directed ultimately toward God (perhaps through the intermediation of the saints) and that intends his purposes above and before all others, mysterious as they may be to us in any given situation.
Worship then opens up as an activity that you can undertake practically, as with anything else you do, such as cooking or driving. As with cooking or driving, there are many aspects to it: adoration, peace, prayer, repentance, discovery, understanding, glorification, communion, praise, blessing, integrity, healing, wholeness, exaltation, joy, song, quiet, rest, obedience, petition, and so forth. All are reiterated in each celebration of the Mass, at least a few times.
The key that opens all of them is your focused attention to what is happening in the liturgy, and what is meant by it. The liturgy of the Church is enormously deep. Every gesture, every word, is pregnant with layer upon layer of meanings and significations, derived from millennia of mystical experience, sapient philosophy, dazzling erudition, immense Biblical scholarship, and profound theological reflection – not to mention sublime musical genius, if you are so fortunate as to find yourself in a parish meetly participant in the Church’s artistic tradition (which at bottom is just that of the West).
The whole thing is quite intentionally engineered to bring the attentive, humble disciple to metanoia, and indeed to mystical ecstasy – to the vestibule of the heavenly Throne Room. No kidding; no exaggeration. This is true not only of the words and gestures of the liturgy, not only of the ethereal music – the resonant echo of angelic choirs – but also of the traditional church building, of the stained glass, of the vestments, of the needlepoint of the kneelers, of the carving of the pulpit and the pews, indeed of the very pavements. Every single item, in a traditional church, is the fruit of century upon century of mystical praxis, intentionally and carefully implemented for your benefit. Providence has arranged that it should be ready to your hand, ripe ever, and heavy on the bough.
Harvest that fruit. Take, and eat. It is right there, for the taking. Take, and eat. The Fruit who hangs on that Tree begs you to take him, and eat.
Pay attention in Church with all your might. Approach it with the same focus of mind you would muster for a dive out of an airplane, or a climb up Half Dome. For, it is far, far more perilous an undertaking than either of those, or than any other thing you might do; think, man: you propose to approach the Throne of Infinity.
That is what is at stake, when we go to Church. Or for that matter (if we are to be consistent about the pertinence of the Absolute to this or that moment of quotidian life) when we wake up, or go to sleep, or eat our breakfast. But, particularly at Church. For, the *entire point* of Church is to approach the Throne. Whereas, breakfast and sleep and so forth have, with those of the liturgy, also subsidiary objectives, to which we are too often bewitched, or by them confused. A properly ordered, holy life would find our morning ham and eggs – and, a fortiori, our coffee (thanks be to God for coffee) – as consecrate, and so as replete and as gorgeous as the Heavenly Banquet, of which they are salient and participant and significant.
Pay attention then at Church. Notice when you find yourself puzzled or intrigued by something. Take note of it – literally, write it down – and then research it. I promise you, you’ll be amazed at what you then discover. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you, right? Then, the next time you encounter it, you’ll relish and cherish it, and rejoice at the supernal genius of it. Then, the knowledge and understanding your researches have gained you will open up some new point of inquiry. It, too, will in like manner reward your study.
That development and expansion cannot end. Because why? Because God is infinitely deep, and *because the Mass on Earth is a participation of the Wedding Mass in Heaven,* by which we marry him, in and by which he informs us with his Lógos, and which proceeds sempiternally, plumbing ever deeper depths and soaring ever higher.
Let the liturgy teach you. Start with it now, soon. Just go, and humbly PAY ATTENTION. Then study, attend again, and wait. It will all come to you in time, and again and far more after time.
Excursus: Where the attention goes, all else follows; including the life of the spirit. Attend then to the right things, and you’ll be OK, however confused you may be to begin with. Attend to the wrong things, and boy are you in big trouble, no matter how tough your mind. This is why idolatry, sorcery, the occult, and magic are so abhorred by the Church (and any other serious mystical undertaking): they distract the attention from the proper ultimate object of all attention, which is God; and, so, they render the spirit vulnerable to the temptations of the demons, and lead her toward damnation.