HOW MATERIALISTIC ARE YOU?
A beautiful Christian teaching says that every creature is a word of God; in other words, every creature is a revelation of God, every creature ‘speaks’ God. Therefore seeking God does not mean shunning creatures, but attending carefully to them and respecting them whole-heartedly.
But, you say, should we not try and loosen our attachment to material things in order to draw close to God, who is spirit?
One has to say, first of all, that God is no enemy of material things, but their source. “God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1). Go to the heart of the creature and it will reveal God to you. The trouble is that we seldom go to the heart of anything, but only to the surface; and the surfaces of things can well distract us not only from God but from any depth whatsoever in our life. “Deep calls to deep” (Psalm 41:8), but it is also true that surface calls to surface; the more we relate to the superficial aspects of things, the more superficial we become ourselves. The answer is not to try and break our connection with things (how?) but to relate ever more deeply to them. This leads a person to have a truly contemplative Christian spirit. The ‘other-worldly’ attitude is a caricature of it.
Is the modern world materialistic? If materialistic means ‘in love with matter’, then one has to ask: is it out of love for matter that we are poisoning the air, the land and the seas? Is it out of love for the earth that we have become the most destructive species on this planet? Is it love for matter that allows us to risk reducing whole regions of the earth to heaps of radioactive dust? Is it for love of matter that we are creating nuclear waste that will be unsafe for tens of thousands of years? Again: does modern art demonstrate a love of material things? Are modern buildings generally a proof of greater love for natural substances? And on the domestic scale: look at the material things on your mantelpiece and count how many were made by crafts people and how many were mass produced. If we loved matter, the world would look quite different, beginning with our mantelpieces.
How does the world speak to us now of God? Where do our symbols and images come from? They tend to come now, not from the world of nature but from the dream world: they are dredged up from the pit of the tortured human psyche. The world is perceived as dead or meaningless, and there is a flight into the self.
Of course you cannot really get away from the material world, for the very good reason that you are part of it; it goes with you as your body. It is not surprising that so many of today’s major problems are about sexuality: any structural stresses in a person seem to register immediately in that area. The body is then thought to be the origin of these problems, but nothing is more certain than that is not the body but the mind. Your body is decent material; it is your mind that is disordered. It is the sick mind that sends deranged messages to the body. We have much to learn from the body, as we have much to learn from every creature, every word of God.
Chesterton once remarked that a lunatic is not someone who has lost his mind, but someone who has lost everything except his mind.
Donagh O'Shea OP