Thursday, July 03, 2008

Reality vs. Appearance and Seeing with God's Eyes

Yesterday, Jennifer F. from Et tu?, described her prior search for understanding of the concept of self, in the context of overcoming an early bout with depression:

For quite a few years in my late teens and early 20's, I struggled with depression. It was clear to me that there was some kind of chemical imbalance going on in my brain, and it permeated every aspect of my life and thoughts. I would sometimes lament the fact that I just wasn't "myself" anymore...yet I was never comfortable with that idea. In my worldview, the human person was nothing more than a collection of molecules; selfhood was nothing more than a unique set of chemical reactions firing in the brain. In that case, how could the current set of chemical reactions be less "me" than the chemical reactions that were going on a few years before? * * *

Eventually things changed, and the depression lifted. I was grateful and relieved to finally be myself again. And yet, this "selfhood" that I had "recovered" clearly had a rather different set of chemical reactions and patterns of behavior than the version of me the last time I'd felt like myself, when I was a young teenager. How could this be?

This reflection by Jennifer led me to thinking -- it is not merely a different set of chemical reactions -- are they not also a different set of cells, a different set of molecules and atoms making up, not only the brain, but the entire body? Indeed, is not our physical body of today an entirely different body from years past?

The cells in our body are continually being replaced, which is to say that the cells that make up our body are being replaced, which is to say, the physical body is itself continually being replaced. The purely physical "me" that walked the earth as a child is long, long gone, and the current "me" is something entirely different. And yet . . . I have the same thoughts, same memories, same desires, same anxieties. I am "me" and "not-me" at the same time.

Is this simply a case of an invasion of body snatchers? Are we all secretly pod people?

The answer, of course, is No, we are not pod people, but people possessed of a transcendent spirit, which remains the same in its essential aspect regardless of what may happen to the physical body. To be sure, the spirit even survives the death of the body.

Nevertheless, this idea of the continual replacement of the cells of the body got me thinking. Is this phenomenon a way to greater understanding of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, which we have been discussing?

As said before, this continual process of cell replacement eventually leads to the physical body being completely different from the one that was before, even though it may look like the exact same thing. That is, the superficial appearance of the body is not necessarily the same as the reality of it.

Is this not what goes on in the Eucharist? The items in front of us look the same as before, a type of bread and wine, but they are, in reality, no longer as they were before. They are something completely different, just as your physical body today is, in reality, different from the body you had as a child.

An imperfect analogy, I'll admit. The reality of the body today is still a physical body, not something else. But the fact remains, it is different from what it was before, even if it appears to be the same. It is not at all illogical or contrary to reason for a thing to appear to be one thing, yet be something else entirely.

It might help if we were able to see with God's eyes. If God were sitting in the pew, would He see a round piece of bread and a chalice of wine? Or would His eyes of truth show Him the Body and Blood of Jesus? Is it simply a matter of perspective? the God who is Truth is able to see the ultimate reality, and is not bound by the mere superficial, as we are?

Perhaps it is like us looking at a circle. From our human perspective that is exactly what it is. Or, rather, that is what it appears to be, and we have no way of testing it to determine if it is something else. Meanwhile, God looks at it from the perspective of complete Truth, and sees that it is, in actuality, a cylinder, not merely a circle. Viewed in its true perspective, it is something else entirely from what it appears to be from a limited, superficial, and flawed perspective.

Well, this much we can agree is true, human analogies to describe the divine will always fall short, but they do allow us to gain some additional understanding. What is important is what is really real, not what appears to be.

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