19. Keeping in Touch

Bring your body along with you. Rather, let it bring you. The journey into reality is the journey towards becoming fully human and fully alive from “seeing” God. We cannot do this in an abstract or theoretical way. It has to be real. This is why our bodily senses are so important on this journey.

Our intellect enables us to understand the information that comes to us through our senses. We analyse, make inferences, and draw conclusions. We plan and give direction to our work. Our intellect makes all this possible. Intellectual understanding is part of being human and being alive.

The delight we find in beauty or goodness of any kind is a window through which we see God.

But intellectual understanding is abstract. It is one step removed from the world that touches us through our senses. Isn’t this what happens when the child who looks with wide-eyed wonder at a flapping, chirping bundle of warm flesh and feathers is given the generic name of what it sees; forever afterwards the child sees only “sparrows?”

Through your intellect you know about things; through your senses you know them. The journey into reality involves coming back to our senses:

We must go back and start again with those five senses whose first messages to us in childhood were faultily decoded and then misunderstood. Then, they were heeded, ignored, edited or discarded to fit our small, subjective games. Now they must be given their true value, whether or not they suit our plans.

These five senses remain our one certain link with the world outside us ... We must first be prepared to waste our time. Away with the crowded schedule, itself a symptom of self-importance, a sign that we see ourselves as supermen. We must sacrifice a little time, surrendering to the senses, not thinking but feeling the world as it really is ...

We must watch the world, not to collect material, to utilise facts, to evolve theories, to propose and answer questions, but to become one with the world of senses through eye, ear, touch, taste and smell. One has but to undertake this exercise for ten minutes to grasp that the solution of our problems is at hand. The strain of life drains out with our self-importance when we mess in with the universe and abandon our individual pose.

(Bernard Bassett, SJ, The Noonday Devil)

The delight we find in beauty or goodness of any kind is a window through which we see God. We look at a window in order to see through it. To look only at the glass is to miss the view. And so it is with God.

To miss the transition from sensuous delight to a delight beyond the reach of our senses is to miss the upward movement of the inner life. Without the runway of the senses we could never take off. Yet, how shall we get airborne if we stick to the runway? In order to move through the senses to sense we must leave the senses behind….What our senses are after is sense. The goal of all our striving is meaning. Only in sense, in meaning, do our restless hearts come to rest.

(David Steindl-Rast, A Listening Heart)

Steindl-Rast uses the image of landscape and horizon to picture the relationship between senses and sense:

Awareness of dying belongs to mindful living as the horizon belongs to the landscape. Death is the horizon of life’s landscape; sense is the horizon of the landscape of the senses. The horizon lies always beyond; we can distinguish it from the landscape, but we cannot separate the two. The same is true of sense and the senses. Reject the senses, how will you find sense? Get stuck in the senses and life will be equally senseless.

There is paradox here: it is through being “in touch” that we transcend what we are in touch with. Sights and sounds vary in their ability to help us see God. There are pieces of music that lift us effortlessly to what lies behind their beauty. But we will miss both the beauty of the music and the beauty that it hints at if our environment is crowded out with noise. “Tuning in” means making choices and being selective. It calls for self-discipline and courage, even a sense of adventure.

Paul was being wonderfully inclusive and yet selective when he counseled the Philippians:

Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honor, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. (4:8)

For Practice

Enjoy beauty. Look at something beautiful. Listen to something beautiful. Go out and do something beautiful for somebody else.

For Prayer

O give thanks to our God who is good:
whose love endures forever.

You sun and moon, you stars of the southern sky:
give to our God your thanks and praise.

Sunrise and sunset, night and day:
give to our God your thanks and praise.

All mountains and valleys, grassland and scree,
glacier, avalanche, mist and snow:
give to our God your thanks and praise.

You kauri and pine, rata and kowhai,
mosses and ferns:
give to our God your thanks and praise.

Dolphins and kahawai, sea lion and crab,
coral, anaemone, pipi and shrimp:
give to our God your thanks and praise.

Rabbits and cattle, moths and dogs,
kiwi and sparrow and tui and hawk:
give to our God your thanks and praise.

You Maori and Pakeha, women and men,
all who inhabit the long white cloud:
give to our God your thanks and praise.

All you saints and martyrs of the South Pacific:
give to our God your thanks and praise.

All prophets and priests, all cleaners and clerks,
professors, shop workers, typists and teachers,
job-seekers, invalids, drivers and doctors:
give to our God your thanks and praise.

All sweepers and diplomats, writers and artists,
grocers, carpenters, students and stock-agents,
seafarers, farmers, bakers and mystics:
give to our God your thanks and praise.

All children and infants, all people who play:
give to our God your thanks and praise.

Benedicite Aotearoa, A New Zealand Prayer Book: He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa