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Do You Suffer from PERS?!?!?
In a recent talk – Home Schooling to Rock the World – I mentioned some symptoms that a person may be suffering from ‘post-Enlightenment reduction syndrome,’ (PERS) or ‘flattening’. This is the atrophy of one’s analogic sense – a reduction in the metaphoric dimension of human being. The problem is a disconnect in the person’s capacity to relate concrete and abstract reality. Its source is the cultural vacuum caused by man’s attempt to believe there is no God. Man without a context for being (In Him I live and move and have being) is like an astronaut untethered from the space ship – dying for lack of a life-supporting atmosphere.
Of course this is a great over-simplification of an enormously complex problem. My hope was to point out to Christians that they, too, may (and probably do) have PERS to some degree. Here are a few ‘flatitudes’ – indicators of a flattened metaphoric dimension, or analogic sense. Each one has an opposite ‘floatitude’ – another way people avoid the tension and turbulence of the territory of freedom.
Sadly, people with far-advance PERS won’t be easily able to recognize these symptoms in themselves. But if we can all get honest about the ways we are compromised by and “conformed to the pattern of this world,” we can grow better able to rescue the perishing together, imho. That’s the world-rocking I’m talking about!!
Since I placed the Flatitudes and Floatitudes in juxtaposition, I can’t seem to recreate that formatting here. Read the PDF and then….
The last paragraph:
I imagine you get the idea: we Catholics have access to and support to move freely in the vast territory of human freedom. ‘We’ can usually see when ‘they’ move from freedom to ‘license,’ but are less aware when we ourselves have moved from ‘free’ toward ‘tame’ under the pressure of PERS. I believe that, if ever we become fully, abundantly free, the enormity of our joy, the magnanimity of our giving, the certainty of our faith, and the expressivity of our love would communicate Christ to the world!
Naturally, I’d love your thoughts on this. Sadly, one of the huge losses due to PERS is the lack of responsivity to ideas…sigh…
With her circle of Romantic, ‘free’ spirited friends, Mary Shelley perceived the dark side of the ascendancy of scientific, materialist rationalism over nature, poetry and feelings. She was less aware of the dangers to humanity of her own set’s elevation of emotional passion and nature worship into the vacuum left by the Enlightenment’s dismissal of God. Their reactionary pull to the opposite extreme placed the demi-gods Artist and Lover on the throne that Science had usurped.
There are traces, in Frankenstein, of the author’s emerging awareness that her own position was somewhat shaky. The mad overreach of the scientist makes Victor Frankenstein the story’s villain, but the possibility that the monster is culpable makes him also a candidate for this role. The monster’s failure to be perfectly humanized by his amazing self-education, time spent in nature, and appreciation of beauty and human goodness may be the most human thing about him. If ever a ‘Noble Savage’ (the Romantic conception of a purely natural man) was shown to have an irreparable wound, and a bent toward evil despite his initial ‘innocence,’ and his humanistic education, it is this creature.
If Victor aspires to be God, the monster surely aspires (like Enlightenment Man) to be godless, to bring his creator down to his level, and to have vengeance upon God for the pain and suffering of his life. We wondered, as we read, whether Shelly recognized herself as her lover’s self-reflecting creature, who became less valuable to him as she was tarnished by grief at the deaths of her babies. How many modern lovers lose that romantic feeling if a baby threatens to displace them in a woman’s affections, or if her longing for a child reflects back their own infantilism instead of their perfections? Were these babies just ‘her problem’?
Was Mary awakened to her own blind adoration of Percy as she wrote Frankenstein, and described the worshipful and ridiculously uncritical regard that Victor’s father, teacher, fiancé and friend had for him despite his most erratic and selfish behavior? Perhaps she had already begun to long for the stability of some of the staid, boring conventionality they represent. Maybe she had intimations of danger, or inability to love, in “the one who rises above and flaunts moral norms and limitations.”
Might Mary have seen in herself a monstrous and unnatural creature, brought to ‘life’ by the spark of romantic love by a demi-god who then could not bear the actuality of her womanly being, her pain and depression, her grasping need of him? Surely she did experience being made unfit for and outcast from society. It must have hurt her deeply to look in upon hearth and home, family love, simple human goodness with yearning, but to be shunned as something like an abomination. Did Mary fantasize just a little about loosing rage upon those who rejected her – of being a monster with no culpability for its actions?
Notice that Victor was not so much horrified by the idea of meeting the monster’s demand for a female creature, but by the possibility they might procreate and their offspring wreak havoc in the land. How surprising to a congenial, conversational, romantic couple must be the reality of an impending child. And oh, how the babes do wound you as a woman – open up depths far below the surfaces you might have lived on, otherwise; ruin you for ‘Love Lite’ by eliciting a new and sacrificial and imploring love that is a constant prayer – whether God exists or not – from a mother’s heart for the life of her child. Can a creature be human who has not sprung from a womb, affected a mother in this way, but only is a combination of man’s mind with inert matter?
Could a woman living as an abstraction of a man’s self expect him to comprehend, to share, even to sympathize with the piercing actuality of her grief at the loss of her baby? I think not. Mary wrapped her story in a story, with another layer of (Walton’s) narration. Our study group thought it still peeked through. Ultimately, Mary’s humanity found no correspondence in the being of her ‘creator,’ just like the monster that emerged from her imagination. How different their lives might be in a world where God still reigned supreme.
Note: I chose Frankenstein for a Moms and Sons literature group and a Moms and Daughters lit group. Then I found it in the lineup for this year’s Well Read Mom readings. Great minds…same ruts! Do pull a lit group of some kind together for fun like this, or join WRM.
This feels awful, and it’s only partially helpful to know that someone’s inability to love you is their problem, not yours. The only real cure is to love. Find somebody you can love hugely, with open affection, with words and deeds, with generosity. As you give, so it will be given back to you, but a hundredfold! Fill your love bucket by pouring out love wherever you can.
It’s an uncomfortable thing to become aware of your own lack of excellence. The only cure is to work at and to give of your less-than-greatness. The work may improve you, and the giving-anyway will help teach you humility. Humility is a plus for the greatest and least of artists, learners, mothers, or whatever your area of weakness.
Being in Pain
Whether your pain is emotional, or physical, you’ve got a real burden to bear. The only cure is to suffer creatively. There’s no good way to avoid pain entirely (distraction and drugs may help, but one doesn’t want to go too far in that direction). To suffer it creatively is to release it to Christ as whole-heartedly as possible, turning it into a prayer for your intentions, or asking Him to use it as He will.
Hard things often need a simple, direct approach. When you’re suffering, a complex one may make things worse.
Sometimes, my heart is breaking for a friend, or I have pain of my own to bear. Often, the tears are joyful. The sight of a baby can bring me to tears, or of a dear friend. My tears may be both sorrowful and joyful at once.
More often, though, my weeping begins and ends in the Mass itself – without reference to the circumstances of life, or the people around me. I’ll just be heart-pierced by the reality of the Real Presence of Christ, or the nobility of the priest as he reaches up to bear the Unbearable Beauty for my sake. The words to a hymn, or psalm will pierce my soul. The beauty of Christ’s people – His Body in the world – often breaks my heart wide open. I’m struck with affection for all these people, in every sort of ‘distressing disguise.’ Size, age, handicap, crummy clothing, beauty and finery, tattoos, attitude – none of it hides the glory that seems to shine through in those first moments after they receive Christ in the Eucharist.
Sometimes tears begin with contrition for my sins, or with a particularly urgent prayer request, but for the most part, they signal that I am deeply affected by the actual people with whom and through whom I’m to realize Christ in the world. He remains in me, within His Church, and I remain in Him by building community with these people. It’s an amazing reality that moves me to tears!