Sunday, January 15, 2012

More than the sum of the parts

In my article 'Tears in Things' I point out that throughout history, art has had a powerful pull on human emotion. Art can reduce seasoned warriors like Aeneas and Odysseus to tears, but it can also lift us to heights of joy and happiness. Certain types of art can even blur the distinction between joy and sadness, evoking a type of bittersweet longing that is hard to put into words. 
 
There is a certain paradox here. How can something purely physical, like the drawings on a wall or the sound-waves produced by a musical instrument or the human voice, have such a profound effect on the non-physical world of our psyche and emotions? Though we may not be able to answer this question with metaphysical precision, it is clear that when human creativity brings inanimate matter together in a certain way, the resulting configuration is often more than merely the sum of the parts.

Christian theology is full of similar examples. When Christ meets us in the blessed Eucharist, something is happening that goes beyond the mere physicality of the properties being presented to us. Though different Christian traditions have debated what actually happens when God’s people gather to receive the sacrament of communion, most would agree that in this event God somehow meets with man.

When I receive and partake of the sacraments in faith, there is more going on than merely one person eating bread and wine, just as there was more to the mural in Carthage than mere paint.

In the world God created, things have significance.

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