Tuesday, February 20, 2018

this is not sacramental theology, pt. 2

Not every sign of a sacred thing is a sacrament, rather, says the Angelic Doctor, some short while before a massive stroke stopped him in his tracks. Rather, he wrote, a sacrament is the sign of a sacred thing inasmuch as the sacred thing is making humanity holy.

It was very cold last night and it was very dark when I pulled up to the compact little ranch house on Bader. As always, I was late. And, as I opened the back door of my car to an empty backseat, I had left the halva at home.

I would have muttered a foul imprecation upon my own absentmindedness, but exhausted of self-criticism, I simply slam the door, and walk up the driveway, summoning up the energy to be charming.

I ring the doorbell, and am greeted with the smell of sake and sizzling pork belly. What’s for dinner? I wonder aloud, enchanted by the scent. Pork buns and ramen, responds the chef.

Instantly, I think of one unseasonably warm February night at Ippudo Ramen on 51st street, and drinking sake at the bar while waiting for a table, laughing and biting into the soft sweetness of the bao buns and the juicy pork.

These are sensible things, which might as well signify something holy. But they are not sacraments, because they cannot be called sacraments as we understand them at least scholastically, a strict Thomist would respond, because they do not make us holy.

But don’t they?

Sanctification is gathering at a common table, eating a common meal provided by the free gift of another, learning the common language of each other.

Surely, sacraments are the people who pull you back to grace. Who pull you out of the toxic spin cycle the dirty laundry in your brain's been slushing through for hours, and bring you back to something like reality. Who remind you that God is in this place.

Surely sacraments are formally if not materially the friends who walk out of the open elevators and laugh with you because you were just texting them. Surely they are those who always wait with you at the second floor tall table, the ones who a chance encounter in the library is worth pulling you out of your set trajectory, the one who you can talk to in a Starbucks, subway train, or sitting room in Jerusalem and nothing ever changes.

I walk from the dining hall, the warmth of Starbucks, or my car, back to my apartment, my little monk's cell. I haven't yet found the place I can commit to in indefinite stability. But for now, there's a small fourth-floor apartment all my own. It's not good to be alone there always, the rat-like voice of discouragement or desolation can prey on you alone. And grace comes most tangibly in those moments through the humans that show up to take up physical space which you cannot fill with your thoughts, just extensions of yourselves. To be in the presence of the other means there's less space for you, but you simultaneously can reach further into the world than you can alone. And that is heaven, mediated by the flesh and blood bodies which will one day meet us there. Heaven, brought to us by material objects.

Surely, pork buns and ramen, lovingly made in friendship make us holy.

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