This semester, I'm taking a seminar on the sacramental theology of the Western Church. The bulk of the course has been spent on the theology of the Eucharist, particularly as it developed in the Medieval period in the thought of Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas. This class has been quite an eye-opener for a Baptist with very limited understanding of Catholic sacramental theology. Indeed, there is a major difference between what we think we know about it and what it really is. (I hope to write a series of posts soon about the many common evangelical misunderstandings of Catholic theology that I have uncovered since arriving at UD.)
I remain in disagreement with Catholic sacramentalism in a number of respects. But, there are also a number of ways in which their sacramental theology has appeal for me. I appreciate the emphasis upon real participation in the Triune God. An essential aspect of the sacramental system is the vision of a way by which Christians individually and collectively participate in the Godhead. In various ways, Catholics believe, the grace of God uses the sacraments to incorporate the believer into the life of the Godhead--conforming the person ever more to Christ's character and bringing them into harmony with the work of God's Spirit. This participation is facilitated through physical, practical means: words, actions, and things--water, wine, bread, oil, touch, prayer.
This makes sense in some way because God has made humans to be bodily creatures. We experience the world in a bodily, sensual way. And, God revealed himself to humans in a physical way: the man Jesus of Nazareth. Since it is not against the nature of our God to reveal himself through the earthly and physical in Jesus Christ, why wouldn't it be fitting for God to continue to do so through earthly, physical means such as baptism and the Eucharist? Indeed, it has been the pattern of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob throughout history to use the earthly to communicate and mediate the supernatural: the pillar of cloud and fire, the Ark of the Covenant, the Paschal lamb of Passover.
All this is not to say that I'm "sold." As I said, I remain in disagreement with Catholic sacramental theology in a number of respects (that I won't go into here). Still, I have a new found appreciation for the very natural, human desire to encounter God in a real, tangible way. Faith remains key here. I'm not suggesting Christians should walk by sight, not by faith. But, it is understandable that bodily creatures would desire a bodily means by which to worship and commune with their Creator. I can sense this desire within myself and it pushes me toward a reconsideration of the Church's sacraments in a way that takes this into consideration.
With all this in mind, I share the following reflection with you. I'm not a poet, but it seemed best to write this particular train of thought in a poetic form.
My daughter gropes for my face
in the dark
Body becoming assurance
in the black
My fingers grasp the wooden pew
with hushed recitations
Mouth taking, eating
Savoring the taste
Understanding better now
for the crucifix--
for the body of Christ
My daughter gropes for my face in the dark
I search the world for the texture of God