Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Catholic Imagination (AKA: Sensuous Catholicism)

I posted some time ago a description of the program I'm running this semester. Over the last few weeks, I decided to change the name from "The Catholic Touch" to "The Catholic Imagination." I thought for awhile about calling it "Sensuous Catholicism" but, like the "The Catholic Touch," there was a fear of evoking hints of the sex-abuse scandal. So we're being more benign.

So here's another articulation at the rationale:

Thomas Aquinas believed that human knowledge originated in the senses. This should sound pretty sensible: we "know" the football play because we practiced it, we "know" how to cook because we've chopped and broiled, mothers know the scent of their babies clothes, and even Thomas in John's gospel "knew" it was Jesus when he put his hand into the open wound. Entire industries have been built around our senses: vibrating game controllers, perfumes and colognes, richer and more luxurious textiles, stranger and more fantastic foods. Ours is a world of sense!

So it seems to me that we have lost something of this sensuous quality in the Catholic tradition. For so long, the Catholic Imagination was sculpted and shaped by the sensations that accompanied the day-to-day life of faith: rosaries, adoration, kneeling, incense, stained glass windows, statues, holy water. Our catechism classes or CCD have often neglected this aspect of our faith and focused, instead, on handing over propositions and ideas that are divorced from reality.

In a word, for a long time you have been in possession of the script to a great stage production. Yet often we've had to be content with only the text, perhaps a good preview, of the show. My proposal is that this year we act out our Catholic faith here at Fordham University, using the diverse resources only New York City can offer us.

I'm not saying that you haven't lived out your faith. I'm saying that my suspicion is that many of us are unaware of how deep and rich our tradition is. So this year what I would like to do is offer the Catholic Imagination as a program that intends both the cover some of the basics of the faith (catechesis) as well as incorporate some tactile experiences that will help incarnate what it is that we believe. So if the catechism is the stage directions that guide the performance, then the more experiential approaches are going to be our way of enacting our faith with our whole selves.


Tim Irish said...

Dear Ryan Duns,

I cannot find a workable link to your email address. Could you please send the address to me?

Thanks in advance,
Tim Irish

Snup said...

I like it.
Isn't there a book by Andrew Greeley called the Catholic Imagination.

I bet you could go to a lot of different liturgies in New York.

Anonymous said...

I think you're dead on here... I knew I loved my prayer beads, praying by candlelight, stained glass, incense.... now I know why.

Anglo Catholic
Visalia, Ca.