French priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who lived in the first half of the 20th century, was quoted as saying, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
If we stop and think about what our faith teaches, de Chardin’s statement is obvious. The Church teaches that at the moment of our conception, God infused our physical being with an eternal, supernatural soul. Once our bodies die and see corruption (don’t forget what they repeatedly say on Ash Wednesday: “Remember Man that you are dust and to dust you shall return”), our supernatural souls will live on forever, either in the joyful presence of God or in a despairing separation from Him.
So, if our souls are going to exist for far longer than a billion times a trillion years, while our bodies are going to live for 60, 80, or if we’re really lucky, 100 years, then it’s pretty obvious which is more important, our spirits or our flesh. When you compare an infinity of centuries to one century at best, our spirits win in a landslide. It’s not even close.
With this in mind, how do most people, including many professing Christians, live their lives nowadays? Well, if you’ve been paying attention, you know that we live as if our natural, physical existence was all there is. OK, maybe some folks pause to get in touch with their spiritual side for an hour on Sunday mornings. (Or if you’re like me and your mind tends to wander, 20 minutes tops.)
For those of us who claim to believe in God and profess that the core doctrines of the Church are true, why do we spend so much of our time and energy focused on fleeting, natural things, and all but ignore our soul, our spirit, and the eternal world?
Well, that’s an easy one. It’s because focusing on the natural world is the path of least resistance. As our science teachers taught us many years ago, all of Nature seeks the path of least resistance. This is fine when you’re applying the laws of physics to, say, an exhaust fan or a water pump (as I do regularly in my HVAC engineering sales job). But following the path of least resistance is a poor way to develop a strong spiritual life.
What exactly do I mean by the path of least resistance? First, let’s consider what life was like in a bygone era, for example, the 18th century. People woke up, went to work, came home, had dinner, and then during the time between dinner and bed, there were a few hours to light a candle and sit and talk. Or sit and read. Or sit and pray. It was quiet and there was plenty of time to ponder deep things, such as Why did God make me? What is my purpose in life? Where am I going?
Nowadays, we are surrounded by distractions: TVs, smartphones, iPads, computers, playlists, earbuds, websites, social media, video games, etc. It is rarely quiet and we never ponder anymore.
(Full disclosure: as I type this essay, I’m on the couch with my laptop, and the TV on the wall is showing an NFL game. The iPad on the coffee table has a baseball game. Next to me on the couch are my computer mouse, the TV remote, my iPhone, and the case that holds my earbuds. I am lamenting the loss of solitude and ponder-time, while sitting here up to my ear holes in noisy distractions. So yeah, most of the time the main point of these essays is to encourage myself.)
The path of least resistance allows a slew of electronic distractions to dominate our waking hours. We don’t have time to ponder, we don’t have time to pray, we don’t have time to listen to God’s quiet voice trying to speak to our souls. The path of least resistance causes us to be “spiritual beings having a human experience” who promptly lock our spirits in a vault and throw away the key.
We really need to stop drifting along on the path of least resistance. (And by “we” I mean “me.”) We need to do the difficult thing and turn off the electronic gizmos once in a while and learn how to ponder. After all, if we really are spiritual beings dwelling temporarily inside earthly bodies, our spirits need to grow and mature. I mean, who wants to arrive at the gates of Heaven with a spirit that flunked out of Kindergarten?