So this business of being human is rather more difficult than it first appeared, isn’t it? Have you found yourself feeling that way from time to time, perhaps increasingly so as you aged from childhood to youth to early adulthood?
Having a voracious hunger for information and insights, and a consuming fear of missing out on whatever the right answer actually is, I have wandered through many intellectual landscapes to at least see the sights and hopefully capture some sort of clue to living on the way through. Thomas Aquinas, among others, deserves some credit for this. When I had been prompted in his direction by Dante and John Ciardi (as I discussed here) and picked up the Summa Theologiae to read some articles at random, I was struck by the fastidious way in which he tried to give the maximum possible credit to every one of his wide range of sources.
I came away with the suspicion, not conscious in quite this many words at that early date, that probably every human being who has taken the time to write something down has thought something through far enough to merit my efforts to understand what they’ve said and digest it and incorporate as much of it as I can into my own worldview. I can at least note down that I think they are saying something essentially the same as items I already believe, and let them convince me to consider those items more closely. Maybe I’ve forgotten them, or never made enough of an effort to let them change my actual thoughts, words, and behaviors.
Two years ago, in January of 2017, I was on my way out of yet another temporary position in academia. I had books that I’d wanted to write for over 20 years, a journey to at least one edge of mathematics and physics that I’d allowed myself to give up on, and I had been working a Twelve Step program long enough to have gotten behaviorally sober but still feeling bereft of purpose. I was just getting into listening to podcasts, and I became a founding subscriber to Don’t Keep Your Day Job (I feel like I ought to have a bumper sticker or a secret handshake or something).
That podcast covers a lot of ground, but one thing it has pushed in front of me is the contemporary phenomenon of sort of “New Agey” self-help practices. In particular, for whatever reason I felt moved to actually buy the book of one guest, Jen Sincero, with the memorable title You Are a Badass. This book is stuffed to the gills with hilarious woo-woo terminology like “raising your frequency” and Law of Attraction stuff and so forth. Of course, you can get it all kinds of other places, the vast majority of which I have not yet explored.
The thing about it is that I’m pretty sure there’s something underneath all this weird cartoon spirituality, sometimes a murky distance below the surface, occasionally behind a piece of something I reject for very cogent reasons, but there is a substructure that makes sense to me. It might make sense to other people and enrich their lives if it weren’t encoded in such an off-putting way.
Thus, another recurring feature for this year will be CNAG, my attempt at a Catholic – New Age Glossary, where I will take a term from this milieu and give you my best interpretation of it in Catholic Christian terms. Along the way I will point out some reasons why understanding that term and its usage might help us in our tired and underconfident contemporary Catholic culture to appreciate the significance of teachings we’ve forgotten, never bothered to learn, or are being called to understand in a new way given the strange new world we inhabit.