This is just a meditation that's been percolating in my brain the past several days.
It began, oddly enough, when I was reading about how on August 21, Muslims will begin the fast of Ramadan. The mention of fasting got my thinking about how the use of food really is so integral to religion.
In the Christian tradition, the Eucharist, or Lord's supper, has always been a central part of worship. How interesting is that? Eating food is a sacred act of worship. Of course, it's been a part of numerous ancient religions, so it's hardly surprising, but it is interesting.
Food is pretty much life. That much never needs saying: without food, you die. So of course we would worship God by eating food. For the Christian in the Lord's supper, it's a way of saying Jesus is our true food. Thus Jesus is our life.
So naturally the next time I sat down to a meal (by myself--I've noticed how often I eat alone as a grad student) I pondered just what it means to eat food. Now this is probably not a thought that occurs to most people, but after all, I am a math grad student.
Maybe the stress of qualifiers coming up this week is really getting to me.
Anyway, what it really means to eat food is that matter that was outside of you is now inside of you, and it is now causing chemical reactions that fuel your life. You're taking stuff that was doing one thing, and you're making it do something else.
Matter doesn't ever go away--it just gets rearranged. This is a scientific fact that is also seriously spiritual. It's funny that we have this word "universe" to describe reality. It's a tacit acknowledgment that there really is unity to creation.
All that ever really happens in this universe is that matter gets rearranged into different forms. It would appear God spoke matter into existence but once; the rest was just housekeeping.
But housekeeping is precisely what it's all about. Everything we do is merely organizing the world around us into something. In fact, most of the organizing we do we can't even control.
From the time we are conceived a tiny cluster of cells starts working diligently to take nutrients from the outside, put them inside, and organize them into this beautiful thing known as the human body. This process continues on into old age--every time we eat, that's what's happening.
Okay, so aside from the fact that I enjoy contemplating freaky things, why do I care about this? Well, the reason is that I care about who and what we are as humans. I am interested in how we as humans think about ourselves, because I think it has real consequences.
We humans draw this distinction between "natural" and "artificial," a distinction which may be, well, artificial. We're part of nature. We are created, through and through. There is no part of us that was not created. We are part of God's continued housekeeping.
Everything we do, therefore, is part of nature. Many of us see ourselves as looking over nature, studying it so that we may understand and manipulate it. Others of us see ourselves as looking up to nature, inferior to it, and learning from it. I think we ought to see ourselves as parts of it.
There really is only one universe. What is a human? A human is a continued allocation of the matter in the universe into a thinking, feeling, relational being. We are part of a whole.
But that doesn't mean our purpose is simply to be dissolved back into this whole. It matters how matter is ordered. God said, "Let there be light," and then he separated light from dark. It is good for the universe to have parts, for exchange to take place, and for order to occur.
All of this causes me to meditate humbly about the sovereignty of God and the will of human beings. Behind everything, there is God--ultimately matter is one, and it is all in the hands of the One God.
But the human will does genuinely exist; it is created, just like all that exists. Human thought is part of that endless exchange of matter that causes the universe to have meaning. Perhaps, then, God is ultimately behind every human thought, but not in a way that makes it not our own.
If we are made in our creator's image, we ought to be good housekeepers. We ought to create intentional order around us. We ought to love beauty, harmony, and health. Our actions have real consequences, and contribute greatly to the ordering of this universe.
I could talk about so many areas of life this self-understanding affects: economics, science, art, politics, and so on. Maybe I will eventually write about all these things, but lately I'm most interested in how it affects religious practice and thought.
In particular, how might this way of understanding ourselves affect what we think "truth" really is? I think this thought needs a whole other blog post to write about, so I'll save it.
(To be continued.)