Friday, February 26, 2010

For the Greater Glory of God

Father Dubay made an impression on me when he said that everything we possess or use is an extension of ourselves. .... we take up a knife in order to cut or chop, we pick up a receiving blanket to swaddle a newborn, a child plays with a toy in order to extend himself out into the world in the particular way the toy calls for.

The way we extend ourselves should be good -- good is defined by Aristotle as "that at which all things aim." The good of a toy is its play value, the good of a blanket is warmth and support, the good of a knife is cutting. The overall good for us in these things would be perhaps cutting vegetables for tonight's dinner, providing for our infant, developing a young mind and imagination through the senses and skills. By these possessions we provide something that couldn't be provided without them.... we are helped to enact our roles.

We humans, as those who employ these things, are bound to think about what the good is in what we have around us.

I started getting rid of things as soon as I started rereading the book because I felt convicted that things that aren't being used are the equivalent of extra fat on the body. The two things, household surplus and bodily fat, seem very much the same to me because excess fat is the energy that we are consuming and not using, while excess possessions are the things we are storing and not using.

Now right at the moment, in trying to simplify my house, I haven't even got to the equivalent of what you might compare to "eating better" to keep the pounds off permanently and increase health. I haven't even gotten to the point where I am looking at what remains after getting rid of the unused stuff and trying to figure out what is truly good to keep and what is the parallel of "junk food" in our house. It seems to me that having things around that you are using but that aren't really what Father Dubay called "necessities" might be similar to the junk food we eat. Let's say I eat lots of junk food or take-away food or unnecessarily luxurious food -- Aquinas says this, too, is a form of gluttony even if one isn't actually eating too much. Maybe this is parallel to having a whole bunch of cheap things around, or always shopping and getting new things, or buying expensive unnecessary things.

With regard to eating, Aquinas called this:

* Praepropere - eating too soon.
* Laute - eating too expensively
* Nimis - eating too much.
* Ardenter - eating too eagerly
* Studiose - eating too daintily
* Forente - eating wildly

Doesn't it seem that there are parallels with how we collect our excess "things"? We buy things "just in case" or that we might need sometime in the distant future. We buy things that are unnecessarily expensive. We buy too much. We buy too eagerly, we buy "dainties" or luxuries, we buy things on impulse. And we end up with it weighing us down, even if someone gave it to us for free or we bought it at a yard sale. Note that buying for the future or buying relatively expensive things because we are buying for durability or handmade is not in itself wrong, any more than it would be wrong to buy healthy food or buy enough groceries to last for the week or month. Sometimes this is prudence. I think he is saying that we need to avoid the attitude of the heart that takes security or inordinate pleasure in such things.

When Father Dubay says that a sparing lifestyle makes room for other and better things, doesn't that sound just a bit like how you are more likely to eat carrots and wholesome bread if you are not stuffed with Twinkies and Doritos?And please remember my disclaimer about not being more than a beginner -- I'm thinking aloud, not preaching from my practice! I am not saying junk food or fine dining or such things are uniformly harmful. Nor do I say that some recreational things around the house or some pricey appliance is always wrong (I couldn't say that without being a complete hypocrite). Father Dubay takes a stronger tack than I can afford to take from my own example. He says that we really want to consider before we indulge in something whether some neighbor is truly suffering from want, and how that must look to God who gave us everything we have. If you think about this hard enough it's difficult to justify many extras at all because "the poor will always be with us." There will never be a time when we can feel comfortable that no one is in need, so there doesn't seem a time when we can feel good about surplus. This is the main point in the book and I am really not there.

But getting back to the idea of our things being an extension of ourselves. Father Dubay says that if we are Christians we will want to do everything "for the glory of God". Our motivation, or "movement, stirring" comes from wanting to take everything in our lives captive for Christ. This is from 1 Corinthians 10:31

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
What does doing everything for the glory of God actually MEAN? The thing is that everything that exists is as far as it exists, a GOOD thing, as Augustine says. Evil is the loss or privation of good. So our stuff is to a greater or lesser degree good in itself. What's NOT good has to be using it the wrong way, which includes hoarding it.

When I was thinking of this I thought of the natural ecology -- God's creation. It has several characteristics that seem to me to compare to some of the things Father Dubay lists in what he calls in chapter 10 "Level One radicality" -- ordinary voluntary poverty or frugality. Nature seems admirably frugal. Etymologically, "ecology" comes from the Greek for "house" and means something like "study of living relations". Nature acts according to its laws and not according to its own choice. But we, as humans, have free will and have the dignity of choosing to cooperate with truth or not. Our things have intimate connections to our choices, our priorities. So what Nature does by rule, we can choose to do intentionally.

I thought in the next posts I'd go through the other points Father Dubay makes in chapter 10 using that comparison of the natural ecology.

1 comment:

  1. Love the junk food analogy - that resonates with me because I think I struggle more with "real" junk food than clutter, even though I understand it's bad for me. But since the superfluities of my life still seem overwhelming, I'm all for trying to lessen that "junk food of stuff". I think it will make more sense to me if I look at each thing and say, "Is this junk food? How does this glorify God?"


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!