Those who know me, know that I was a Catholic seminarian after high school. Those who know me well, know just how deeply religious I used to be. I would often skip class to pray the rosary, I would pray in front of the tabernacle long into the night, and I served the morning Mass everyday of my life for more than a decade. I was super into it.
I’m no longer into it in that way. Seminary was…an eye opening experience for me, and the many experiences that followed my expulsion were similarly eye opening. But, when I meet someone from those days, one question always follows. “What’s your spiritual life like now?” I get asked this question a lot. I’m grateful for the question, because it forces me to examine these things more concretely. So, what is my spiritual life like now?
I do marble and tile work. The other day, I was installing a piece of pink Ozark granite in a customer’s home when I was struck by how magnificent the stone was. It was really very pretty, and had been expertly polished. the customer should have put it outside so the neighbors could look at it too. But I was struck particularly by two aspects of the stone: the mundane and the mystical.
I use “mundane” here not in the sense that it is ordinary, but in the sense that it is material- “mundus”. I also don’t mean to imply that its mundane aspect is not beautiful. In fact, the journey that delivered that stone to me is very beautiful. People quarried that stone and placed it for sale, where it was then purchased by a stone shop who cut and polished it. Then it was purchased by a customer and finally given to me to install. That would be wondrous enough, but consider everything else along that supply chain that produced that beautiful stone. The people at the quarry used shovels. Those shovels have handles that were milled from timber cut by someone else perhaps a whole world away. The shovels had heads that were similarly extruded, refined, and shaped by unknown people in unknown quantity, working in tandem with each other while being thousands of miles apart.
The same can be said for every person along that chain, from the people driving the trucks that delivered the shovels to the store where the shovels were bought by someone who supplied a group of quarry workers, to the people who grew the food that filled the lunchbox of the truck driver who delivered the shovels to the store that sold them to someone who supplied a group a quarry workers. You could spiral endlessly in considerations of how complex the chain really is. And we haven’t even cut the stone yet. Whats more, all of this, the whole totality of the market interactions that delivered the stone to me, was all done by people with no knowledge of the whole. They were preforming a particular function which fit, perfectly, into a larger system. All of those people are similarly part of other supply chains delivering other goods. None of this process was ordered from above. There was no Tzar in charge of granite slab production from quarry to counter- nor anyone else in charge of all the other things that came together to create that system. It all just kind of…happened.
The mystical component of that stone is equally impactful, at least to me. We can think of the stone as merely a slab of rock that will be (expertly) glued down to a counter-top, but you can also look at that same stone as a tangible piece of a mystical world. The stone came from the Ozark mountain range here in southern Missouri. The Ozarks are a chain of extinct volcanoes that were born about 2.5 bIlLiOn years ago. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly a billion and a half years before plants. It was plants that pumped oxygen into the atmosphere, and it is oxygen which gives the sky its color. (Light refracts off of the mixture of oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere and that refraction appears blue in direct sun.)
As the volcanoes went dormant and then extinct, about 600 million years ago, give or take a few hundred million years, and the magma beneath the surface cooled and condensed, forming granite. So while it was true that I was looking a mundane slab of granite, it was also true that I was looking at the frozen heart of a volcano, a heart which last beat at a time before the sky was blue. Its like something out of Tolkien!
When it comes to “meaning” we’re each on our own. There are lots of different ways to look at the world; lots of different paradigms. Some can make you feel bad (like the Marxists, those people must feel very downtrodden with how horrible they perceive everything all the time), and some can make you feel wonderful. When it comes to deciphering meaning from all of this, I chose to believe that everything, all of it, including the stone, all of it, everything, was done on purpose. It’s the idea that all of those things, all the volcanoes, all the billions of years, all the machinations of the market, all those things, were made especially for me, right there in that moment, so that I could experience the joy of appreciating just how beautiful it all is. They were made for you too.
This is all completely arbitrary, yes. We’re all sort of meat-robots trying to make sense of everything, and everything is about as arbitrary as what’s written above. But, for me, seeing the world as purposeful and beautiful, that the purpose of the world is so that you can see how complex and wonderful it is, is a pretty good way of looking at things. It makes me excited. It makes me ravenous to know things and to see things and that’s not a bad place to find oneself.
Anyway, I’m super into it.