Blog Template Theology of the Body: Catholics Responding to the Election: Final Thoughts

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Catholics Responding to the Election: Final Thoughts

Since I had the good fortune of finding myself in Chicago- the home of the new US President Elect- on election day this week, I decided to dodge the crowds and get lost for a bit in the quiet, peaceful environ of the Shedd Aquarium, which I have always loved. (After a weekend at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, it always seems wise to me to steal away and consider the animals anyway). There is something so magical about looking into the wild, exotic, weightless world of the fragile and dangerous creatures that live in a separate universe -within- our- universe; and this particular visit did not disappoint. There were new seahorses intertwining their little tales affectionately, and soft, elegant jellyfish shimmering in and out of gentle currents, and massive sharks and a playful otters. Best of all were the new weedy water dragons, which you can see in the pictures- I could hardly tear myself away from these particular figments of God's gorgeous imagination.

After a little while I noticed that, on this relatively quiet day in one of the nation's best aquariums, I was accompanied at a distance by a group of young European priests who were also taking in the beauty and the quiet of the water world on an election day. Their presence and obvious enjoyment of the creatures made me think of a chapter from C. S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain, where he considers a brief theology of the animals, and with it, a theology of mediation and priesthood as well.

Lewis thinks that humanity entire has a priestly and redemptive role in the creation- or, at least, might have had one: "It may have been one of man's functions to restore peace to the animal world, and if he had not joined the enemy he might have succeeded in doing so to an extent now hardly imaginable." This is a view, incidentally, taken up and developed at length by T. F. Torrance who holds firmly to the link between human and creaturely corruption and who postulates that it is "man's task to save the natural order through remedial and integrative activity, bringing back order where there is disorder and restoring peace where there is disharmony." Lewis insists that we consider the animals not in isolation, but in relation to humanity, since it is through humanity that they relate to God; thus the wildness and obedience of the creation will continue in beautiful balance in the obedience of the animals to man, since man is the priest of creation. As Lewis puts it, "the old picture of the beasts fawning and sporting before Adam may not be wholly symbolical; for man was made to be the priest, and even in one sense, the Christ of the animals- the mediator through whom they apprehend as much of the of the Divine splendor as their natures will allow." (Lewis, PP 66)

(In this regard, I have a habit of responding in a certain way to my little dog's reproachful look when I go out to Mass: I remind her that I am going for both of us, because the creation groans to be re-united to its Creator, and I am a member of the only species that can receive our Maker into itself, so off I go, on behalf of wind patterns and seagulls and trees and spoiled dachsunds)

... on the whole, this little vignette at the Aquarium recalled for me the enormity of what we are doing on this planet, in our discreet lives which will come and go, in our little realms of responsibilities and routines, in our grand political system that is off to a new start. These all come together in our hopes for an eternity of joyous worship of the One who began it all in the first place.

Just as Christ gave Himself to God for our sakes, we do what we do on behalf of creatures great and small. And we have a lot of work to do.

Note: my bishop's request for prayer for the president elect is available here