Sunday, 28 August 2011

St Michael the weigher of souls.

A little more on Michael.  A popular theme in the iconography of this formidable angel is job of weighing of souls.   I was thinking about this in relation to the angel with the measuring rod in the icon and I remembered a passage  from The Divine Milieu which is apposite.   

Teilhard invites us to understand how we are, as individual human beings, part of a cosmic tapestry.  We are not alone. Our souls are woven into the very fabric of God’s creation.  In the Divine Milieu he says this:

however autonomous our soul, it is indebted to an inheritance worked upon from all sides-before ever it came into being-by the totality of the energies of the earth: it meets and rejoins life at a determined level. Then, hardly has it entered actively into the universe at that particular point than it feels, in its turn, besieged and penetrated by the flow of cosmic influences which have to be ordered and assimilated. Let us look around us: the waves come from all sides and from the farthest horizon. Through every cleft the world we perceive floods us with its riches-food for the body, nourishment for the eyes, harmony of sounds and fullness of the heart, unknown phenomena and new truths, all these treasures, all these stimuli, all these calls, coming to us from the four corners of the world, cross our consciousness at every moment. If even the most humble and most material of our foods is capable of deeply influencing our most spiritual faculties, what can be said of  the infinitely more penetrating energies conveyed to us by the music of tones, of notes, of words, of ideas? We have not, in us, a body which takes its nourishment independently of our soul. Everything that the body has admitted and has begun to transform must be transfigured by the soul in its turn. (Harper edition: 59)

What we are  - what our souls are becoming – is the outcome of all of the multiplicity of influences  (small and large ) that have shaped our lives.  We are what we eat, but also what we experience physically, intellectually and spiritually.  Out of all this material we fabricate or build our soul.   Making our soul is our great work – our magnum opus.  Teilhard says that : 

it is we who, through our own activity, must industriously assemble the widely scattered elements. The labour of seaweed as it concentrates in its tissues the substances scattered, in infinitesimal quantities, throughout the vast layers of the ocean; the industry of bees as they make honey from the juices broadcast in so many flowers-these are but pale images of the ceaseless working-over that all the forces of the universe undergo in us in order to reach the level of spirit. ( p60) 

This is our task, to enlarge our soul.  God  gives us a soul and we have to grow it, nourish it, feed the divine spark that we have been given as children of God.  And in so doing we not only build  up our soul:    because we are part of a great tapestry of existence, we contribute in our own small way to the building of  a new creation.  

Thus every man, in the course of his life, must not only show himself obedient and docile. By his fidelity he must build  - starting with the most natural territory of his own self – a work, an opus, into which something enters from all the elements of the earth.  He makes his own soul throughout all his earthly days; and at the same time he collaborates in another work, in another opus, which infinitely transcends, while at the same time it narrowly determines, the perspectives of his individual achievement: the completing of the world.……. Beneath our efforts to put spiritual form into our own lives, the world slowly accumulates, starting with the whole of matter, that which will make of it the Heavenly Jerusalem or the New Earth. (61) 

Above all, making a soul is about working with God: becoming a partner in building the new creation - the New Jerusalem  being measure by our angel in the icon.  

It is through the collaboration which he stimulates in us that Christ, starting from all created things, is consummated and attains his plenitude. St. Paul him self tells us so. We may, perhaps, imagine that the creation was finished long ago. But that would be quite wrong. It continues still more magnificently, and at the highest levels of the world. Omnis creatura adhuc ingemiscit et parturit. And we serve to complete it, even by the humblest work of our hands. That is, ultimately, the meaning and value of our acts. Owing to the interrelation between matter, soul and Christ, we bring part of the being which he desires back to God in whatever we do. With each one of our works,we labour-in individual separation, but no less really-to build the Pleroma; that is to say, we bring to Christ a little fulfillment. (p62) 

We make our soul throughout our earthly life.  Thus each one of us is called to make our  OWN soul, and thereby  contribute to the building of a New Earth.  That is our job. That is what we were born to do. St. Michael’s job is to prompt us into thinking about how we are doing!  So when we think of St. Michael we should be asking ourselves this question: how is our soul-building going? Have we been working with God to bring about a New Earth? 

Teilhard uses the idea of an industrious bee making use of all the sources of nectar.  He asks us to consider seaweed and how it filters out tiny particles from the great oceans to build its cells and structure.  Building a soul is  like that : it is work.  Indeed, it is our  life’s work.  Building a soul requires us to be active - in all things for Christ.  Making a soul requires us to struggle and take risks: to make a soul you have to get out there!     In the light of this  I think I understand afresh the parables of the talents and the pounds we find in the Gospels of Mathew(25; 14- 30) and Luke (19:12-27).   I always used to think that it was so unfair to punish the man who took no chances and just kept the money safe.   He returns what  he was given, after all!   But, of course,  God wants us to take risks and be busy and active: he wants us to be risk takers in a spiritual sense.  And to love with an open heart is the greatest risk of all.   He wants us to be like the bee and the seaweed: we have to work at it.  You can’t build a soul sitting on it.  Our icon is calling us to be active in bring about the fullness of God - the pleroma - we see before us. 

Perhaps what is wrong with so many people nowadays in our society is that they have no sense of having a soul.  They live in a world which is – in so many senses soul-less.  We live in a world which seems to be loosing its soul.   Sadly, we live in a world  in which the sacred is no longer present to people in the ordinary business of their lives - and oftentimes it is not present in places which should be sacred.  But the soul yearns and thirsts for the sacred and the holy: because  it  thirsts for God.  However, when human beings  loose that sense of having a soul and needing the sacred they also lose much else besides: above all  they lose their sense of being part of the great tapestry of existence : they have little sense of  being connected  or belonging or responsibility to others or to the planet as a whole.  All to often human beings are not interested in building their souls or building a new earth, so much as feeding their appetites for things of this world.  What the Gospels tell us is that there is a dangerous trade-off: maximize your material gains at the cost of losing your soul.  You make all the money in the world, but the price is that you fail to make your soul.   Perhaps that is what St. Michael’s job is.  He puts all what you have made of your material stuff in one cup, and what you have made of your soul stuff in the other.    

Nowadays many people ( like me) check their own blood pressure with a cheap but effective bit of kit that can be bought for a few pounds or so.   I think when I see St Michael on the icon now  I am going to check the balance on how my soul making is going.  Think I might put a picture of seaweed on my desk!  Be like seaweed is not so obvious be  like a bee, but  I think I am more like of a piece of seaweed than a buzzing bee. 

And finally:  when we think of 'making a soul' and 'building' a soul we need to think about the tools.   The supreme tools for helping us to make our soul are, of course, the seven sacraments which flow from the feet of Christ.  And for Teilhard this means a love of the Eucharist above all else. 

No comments:

Post a Comment