Thou dost cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine,
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
(Psalm 104:15-16 RSV)
At a literal level this is clearly a song which blesses God for the fertility of the harvest and all the gifts which we as Man (male and female) derive from it. Because the psalms are divinely inspired works, though, the Church has always encouraged her children to look at the spiritual pearls which are buried in the field of Scripture. We might, for example, consider the three sacramental elements mentioned by the psalmist, wine, oil and bread, as representing the actions of the Father, Holy Spirit and Son respectively.
I shall leave you to meditate over that in your own way. Here I propose to look at the two heart relationships that are described. The divine gift which gladdens and the divine gift which strengthens. It is not fanciful to see in the wine divinity transcendent and in the bread divinity incarnate. Since these are not two divinities but the One God then responding to the one will lead us to the other. That is, loving and desiring the Transcendent One will lead us to love and desire His manifestation in the world which we physically inhabit, and not only does He have a name and a face here, Jesus Christ, but He is also present within all of us, so love of God in His illuminated transcendence leads us ineluctably to love of our neighbours. Conversely, when we have a disinterested, selfless love for our fellow creatures we will be led to love also the source of life that animates and then flows through them into the world, which is of course the Transcendent One.
Although it is the same God who is both transcendent and incarnate He is perceived by us to be operating in two different modes and so He has these two different effects upon our hearts, gladdening and strengthening. As the Transcendent One we see Him as being rather than as doing. So in gazing upon Him we are entranced by His beauty, His stillness, His silence, His infinite depth, His light, His pure love and so on. We, in a sense, drink Him in and He is a source for us of unending joy for so long as, being in a state of grace, we can contemplate Him or reminisce about our time in His presence.
As Emmanuel, God With Us, the Incarnate One has come down, so Jesus Himself tells us, as bread from heaven. In consuming Him we are strengthened, He Himself enters into us and we enter into Him. Because He is everything that we are, apart from sin, our weariness is His weariness, our sorrows are His sorrows, our weakness is His weakness. The strength that comes to us from Him lies in the truth that all of these frailties of ours proceed from our journey towards death but He is the Resurrected One, He has defeated death and lives forever and so long as we are in Him we too can share in His eternal victory starting here and now in this Today.
Insofar as love is real it is empty of Self and consists of a perpetual act of giving. Insofar as it is false it consists only of Self and aims at a perpetual state of receiving. The love of God for us, then, is an eternal giving of gifts, the wine that gladdens, the bread that strengthens. Our loving response cannot consist simply of a passive receiving but must be of the nature of a constant giving in return. St Catherine of Siena reports the Lord as saying “The service you cannot render me you must do for your neighbours.” That is, while we can directly give Him praise, thanks and worship the only way we can give Him consolation for His pain, water for His thirst and food for His hunger is through the good that we do to those whom we share the world with. So the gladness and the strength which we receive is not simply for our own benefit, so that we feel good, but for the benefit also of those around us to whom the divine gifts flow and overflow out of the abundance which we have received.
Now, you may think that all of the foregoing is mere inconsequential rambling. If so you quite possibly show good judgement. The point, however, is not how well I have carried out the exercise but the fact that I have carried it out at all. If this blog (and its predecessor Catholic Scot) has any purpose at all it is to rescue from disuse the practice of seeing Scripture as a multi-layered text which contains deep meanings that are not obvious at first glance.
Since the, ahem, changes inflicted on Christianity by Luther and his successors there has been a tendency to see literal readings of the Bible as the only legitimate form of interpretation. This has been compounded by the academic historical text criticism approach which seeks to limit Scriptural meanings to the historical context in which they were written, a context which archeology and other disciplines have increasingly recovered to a degree of fullness not previously known. All of this work is valuable and useful so far as it goes but it is too one-dimensional. The Spirit and spirituality flowed through the minds and fingers of the original authors of our sacred text. It contains depths and heights which go beyond the immediate context of their time, place and level of conscious awareness. They recorded on the pages of the books which they wrote not simply the things of which they were aware intellectually but also many things which they apprehended in ways beyond time, place and sequential thought. They left us, in the Bible, a great spiritual treasury and Christians, with the mind of the Church, should use all the tools at our disposal to unlock it.
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