Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Signum sacro sanctum efficax gratiae

It's that time of year again. My phoebe is back to her old nest in the root cellar. Five tiny white eggs, one a day, like cluckwork. Now she sits, and resists the intrusions of cowbirds and me. The male hangs about, proprietary, but not inclined to share the chore of incubation.

I suppose I am destined by my upbringing to experience the world sacramentally. In Catholic theology, a sacrament is an outward sign of invisible grace, instituted by God for our sanctification. Here is a paragraph from the Catholic Encyclopedia web page on sacraments:
The reasons underlying a sacramental system are as follows: Taking the word "sacrament" in its broadest sense, as the sign of something sacred and hidden (the Greek word is "mystery"), we can say that the whole world is a vast sacramental system, in that material things are unto men the signs of things spiritual and sacred, even of the Divinity.
It's a simple and elegant formulation, which translates readily enough to religious naturalism: Every object of the natural world bears within itself a mostly hidden relationship to every other object. In attending to these webs of relationship we integrate ourselves more fully into the fabric of the universe. Grace, in this sense, is that which enables us to live gracefully.

Unfortunately, this valuable insight into our deepest spiritual longings is -- in typical Catholic fashion -- lost in a stultifying gobbledygook of theological flimflam (see the rest of the linked article). My phoebe reduces the nit-picking of the theologians to absurdity with her deeply mysterious ability to find her old nest, lay and incubate her eggs, and, for a few weeks in May, become an outward sign of the inward grace that lifts my daily walk out of the ordinary.