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BEFORE THE CROSS | A relationship with God should engage physical and psychological senses

Holidays noticeably engage the senses of the body, but we need to work to engage our spiritual senses

In the last week of the liturgical year, we’re reading from the Book of Revelation. Repeatedly, John writes: “And then I looked and saw this … And then I heard this …” It’s interesting to note how both seeing and hearing are engaged in John’s relationship with God.

We certainly pick up on this theme at Mass. There are things to see and hear; there are things to smell, touch and taste; the congregation sits, stands and kneels. The Mass very deliberately engages all the senses in worship.

We also have psychological senses. For example: a sense of pleasure or distaste; a sense of fear or calm; a sense of certainty or anticipation. A vast array of psychological senses are part of our daily experience. See how many you can name: sense of gratitude, wonder, confidence, distrust, understanding, confusion, etc.

Many of our physical and psychological senses are engaged in our preparation and celebration of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving dinner is a good example of things to see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Christmas provides excellent examples of a sense of anticipation and eagerness, but also of anxiety and loss.

Our relationship with God can and should engage all of our physical and psychological senses. If we neglected any of the physical senses in Mass something would be missing in our worship. Similarly, if we don’t allow all of the psychological senses to be part of our prayer, then something will be missing in our spiritual life.

It’s clear enough how all of the physical senses are involved in the Mass. But do we think carefully about how the psychological senses help our spiritual life, or how the failure to engage them hinders it?

For example, what’s the difference between memory and imagination? A great movie appeals to both. There’s no reason our prayer life should be less vivid than a movie. But if we don’t deliberately engage both memory and imagination, then it will be less vivid.

Or what’s the difference between beauty in things we see and beauty in things we hear? A good movie is accompanied by a good soundtrack, so that the things we see and the things we hear work together to draw us into the story. Our prayer life can be as vivid as that.

Finally, a movie can give us a sense of hope and a sense of fear at the same time. Our spiritual life also has the capacity to engage both of those at once. But it won’t if we don’t deliberately cultivate them.

In the Book of Revelation, God engages John’s senses of seeing and hearing. In the Mass, God engages all of our physical senses. As we walk through the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, experiencing how they involve our physical and psychological senses, perhaps we could think about how to open all of our senses in our relationship with God.

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