Service in separation

10 04 2020

Having been born into a Hispanic culture, bloody melodramatic imagery both draws and repulses me. Here I speak of the bloody crucifixes, the Virgin Mary with seven swords sticking out of her heart, and the intense emotions these images are meant to evoke. I had an odd formation, both official and informal, of living in Latin America and experiencing the role that this imagery plays in culture down there, both sacred and profane. Death and gore are to an extent revered, many an academic could write a series of well-cited papers about this. The only problem is that my own metaphysical inclinations have been consistently anti-corporeal.

The philosophical problems boil down to: Does suffering have redeeming power? Is pain therapeutic? Is blood sacred? Being in the midst of the Holy Triduum, I will never be able to shake these questions from my mind during these days, even if I have definitively come to my own conclusions. Added to all this is the rather intense Holy Week that Christians have to live through this year. Their churches are empty, the anticipation is muted, and the devout must experience the high holy days at home or on a screen. Many faithful used to regular access to the church and sacraments are acutely suffering during this time. I sympathize with them on many levels: though I am at best a lukewarm church-goer, I have a private prayer rule and I look forward to feasts breaking up the monotony of daily life. Most responsible mature adults understand that we can’t always be as outwardly observant as we would like, but still, this extraordinary circumstance is a difficult trial that the world must endure.

My focus here is the question: Is there such thing as spiritual pain? Or is the spiritual pure bliss? Can separation from God being something greater than His presence? The obvious answer from Catholic tradition would be to mention St. John of the Cross’s dark night of the soul. Though I haven’t really engaged with that concept in the last decade or so, I don’t think it touches on what I am talking about. I am speaking of separation as an inherently good thing, not as a means of purification to achieve deliverance from pain, spiritual, psychological or otherwise. Read the rest of this entry »