Posts Tagged five senses

On Being Sensory and why I don’t ‘hug’ online.

So I was walking home for lunch, and had to slow my stride to a dawdle in order to take in the luminous magenta paintwork on a car, standing out from all the whites and greys and dark greens around it like a red rose in a blue sky.  And as I drifted closer to this intense colour experience, the Roast Station in the food-court called out to me with all the richness of it’s many-flavoured meaty menus.  I paused to drink it in.  Then on I went around the corner where a fresh, sharp wind slapped my office-heating-flushed face alive and made me blink away tears.  It was a concatenation of arresting experiences, one after the other.

I love being alive to these unsophisticated, everyday pleasures.  I love the thrill such simple things give me.  They aren’t particularly meaningful, but they are immediate, unexpected, delights.

But when I was trying to write the title to this post, I struggled for words.  ‘Sensuous’?  ‘Sensual’?  Both words mean what I want to say, but they have become entangled – mostly, I think, due to advertising – with the erotic.  And there’s nothing wrong with eros.  The sensory pleasure of an erotic moment is right up there with the whiff of Richie’s Roasts.  But there’s so much more to being sensuous than sex.  Sex must, inevitably, have some societal sanctions attached to it.  Those sanctions, in our changing society, have become a battleground for competing world-views, and so much truth about sex is forgotten as we wage our ‘culture wars’ that other concepts, like sensuousness, are dragged down with it.  Now it seems like sex is the only sort of sensuous pleasure we still talk about.  And maybe chocolate.

What a pity.

Sensory pleasures, like the ones I described above, are so rich, so free, so easy to access and share, that they should be celebrated much more often.  But we lack the language.  Not just the words, but the very concept.  We need to relearn how to immerse ourselves into the goodness of creation around us.  We need to come alive again to the value of what we hear away from the jangle and clatter of industrial life, and what we feel beyond our protective fabrics, and what we smell and see and taste.  We are bodily beings and that’s something to celebrate!

And that’s why I refuse to ‘hug’ over the internet.  Internet interactions are great for the cerebral, but pathetic for what is fully human.   This morning on social media one of my acquaintance reposted a banner that said she needed a hug, and I could ‘hug’ her by reposting the banner.  I get that she’s lonely.  I get that being single she’s not getting anywhere near the physical affirmation I enjoy myself, immersed as I am in an affectionate family.  But I also get that reposting that banner will do practically nothing about that.  The initial author of the banner might be gratified by multitudinous repostings, and my acquaintance might (did) get some positive written responses, but did she get hugged?  No.  A hug is wonderful.  When my son or daughter wraps their arms around me and squeezes and holds me, I know I’m being loved.  It’s a bodily thing.

I don’t want us to stop expressing our regard for one another in non-physical forums, but nor do I want us to delude ourselves into thinking we can be human if we cut ourselves off from our bodily experiences.  In an increasingly touch-phobic/techno-centred society (see http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/20/young-people-japan-stopped-having-sex) we need more touching, not less.  We need to be more sensory, not less.  And we need to listen to and understand what our own senses tell us about what is good, what is enough, what is too much, and what is not enough.

'Far Away' XKCD comic by Randal Munroe

This isn’t saying that we should be dominated or controlled by our senses.  We can – and sometimes must – consciously endure sensory unpleasantness for greater goals; I need to defer my sexual desires out of respect for others.  I need to pass by the sweet-smelling fruit on the grocers stall and not just help myself.  I need to suffer the physical pain of a needle prick in order to give blood.  These are not pleasant sensations – but they are easily bearable given the vast range of pleasant sensory experiences I enjoy elsewhere.  Yes, we are far more than sensory, but we are certainly no less than, and enjoying sensory experiences in no way means that we lose control of our actions.  Let’s not expect ourselves, or those around us, to live in a state of sensory deprivation.  Let’s touch one another, and shower sensory blessings upon each other; give gifts of fragrant flowers, soft cloths, rich foods, and luminous colour.

Maybe then, when we acknowledge and enjoy the full range of positive sensory experience that is available to us every day, we will be less overwhelmed by the porn/violence/gluttony industries.

Go on, be a world-changer.  Really hug someone you love today.

 

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Everyman

Yesterday I was supposed to be doing nothing but keeping my leg up, to try to force down the swelling from a spider bite.  Mostly it worked, and I used the enforced inactivity to do more than 50% of my sermon preparation for next week – so how’s that!  Halfway towards Sunday by Monday avo!  I was also supposed to be soaking the bite in hot water for 15 minutes three times a day.  I managed twice.  And given that this spider bite is on my… upper leg, I needed to be actually seated in the bath to do so.  Which sort of precludes using the lap-top to further my sermon prep.  So I had to resort to good old-fashioned books for my bath times. 

I read Everyman.

Everyman is a medieval morality play, published in English in the early 1500’s and probably translated from a Dutch play that is practically identical.  In it an ‘everyman’ figure, neither particularly rotten nor particularly good, is confronted by death and told he has to take his final journey and to give an account of his life before God.  He’s not especially thrilled by this prospect, thinking that his moral accounts are rather a long way into the red (an early instance of triple-bottom-lining?), and looks around for someone to accompany him to the Judgement Seat.  Fellowship, Family, and Wealth all refuse him in turn – in the first two cases only after promising to go with him to Hell itself – and then discovering that it might be necessary after all, and so swiftly recanting.  Wealth not only refuses, saying that Everyman is a fool if he believed that riches could ever be always his, but points out that the use Everyman has made of his goods has in fact been partially responsible for his present parlous state.

Finally Everyman turns to his Good Works – but these are moribund, able to do little but lie there and suggest that Everyman look to Knowledge instead for help.  Knowledge appears, and gives the quote that is burned into my brain from seeing it in the frontispiece of so many editions of “Everyman” classics as a boy: “Everyman I will go with thee, and be thy guide in thy most need to go by thy side.”  From this point Everyman’s fortunes turn.  Knowledge brings along Everyman’s other allies; his Strength, Discretion, Beauty, and Five senses.  These together point out to him the need for confession and penance, and so he is shriven, allowing his good works to stand up for him after all.  Finally Everyman comes to his tomb, and here, to his disappointment he is abandoned in the end by all his erstwhile allies excepting Good works.  These alone go into the grave with him, and they only by God’s grace that has removed (via confession and penance) the burden of sin that previously prevented them from being of any account at all.

It was written in Medieval English, and so wasn’t always easy to read (they tended to use ‘u’s for ‘v’s and vice versa – but not consistently) and it was dogged by Roman Catholic theology (with a very heavy emphasis upon the role of the church and the sacraments and therefore a substantially reduced role for Christ and his work of redemption) but I found the little drama deeply moving,  In a naive, simple, plain way it told the simple truth about the certainty of death and the necessity of preparing for it.  If I could preach as effectively as that Sunday by Sunday I would be very happy (and our congregation, I think, would be very different!). 

I liked, too the way in which the story arc maintained its integrity – Everyman’s journey was a hard one in the beginning, and that never changed.  Friends and familiy might desert a man in his dying, but a mans five wits will also desert him when he’s actually in the grave.  Though there was a moment of redemption, the story of abandonment didn’t simplistically stop or reverse.  Death remained implacable. 

Finally, I was intrigued by the notion of death as a journey.  The only other place I’ve come across that in a Christian work is in JRR Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle.  And Tolkien, of course, being a scholar of ancient languages, would have been more than familiar with such a recent work as Everyman.  Interestingly, Tolkien’s story really takes off at the point where Everyman ceases – the grave.  His is a thoroughly Roman Catholic (and very winsome) story about the real meaning of purgatory as the process of healing redeemed souls – and his church is practically invisible but his Christ is very audible!

Conclusion?  Today as I discussed the material for this week’s sermon with my elders and a member of our Community Ministries staff one commented that she had been struck recently by the need to keep short accounts with God.  With our recent Christchurch earthquake, and the huge quake off Japan, we’ve been reminded that death can come without warning.  Are we ready?  And while I might have theological niggles about the Catholic neglect of Christ in favour of the church, they surely had the right idea that the church has some work to do in offering God’s grace!  Let’s get out there…

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