On Holy Saturday night, I met a woman whose son has a disorder on the autism spectrum known as Sensory Processing Disorder. As she explained it to me, this amounts to an inability to tune out any information coming in by the senses, making focused functioning in anything but extremely tranquil environments very difficult.
The interesting corollary of this disorder is that most normal-functioning people, therefore, are able to get along productively only by tuning out most things most of the time. We have the ability, to be sure, to take in whatever sensible is in our immediate environment, but we do not ever do so. We marshal our senses to our goals, and we filter our environment for those data that strike us as relevant to attaining them.
It has been a long time since I have written. I think I’ve been undergoing the intellectual equivalent of SPD. My conceptual life had become nearly completely monochrome, nothing had any pop; I was mired in inputs, each seeming to make an equal demand on my attention, my time, my consideration, and my composition.
On the whole, I found it a profoundly healthy experience. We are, in fact, completely belittled by the sheer potential that we possess by nature. The interrelationship of all knowledge, the integrity of the Universe itself requires that, for the complete satisfaction of our intellectual enterprises, we must attain complete command of all possible data. In fine, mastery of every subject, no matter how obscure or arcane, and a thoroughgoing understanding of its relationship to every other subject. Douglas Adams conceived of a machine that could extrapolate the Universe from a piece of sponge cake. From the other side, it is the whole Universe that yields a piece of sponge cake, and any depth of understanding to which we can come about that sponge cake is, by virtue of our limitations, necessarily incomplete. How, then, can we decide to eat it?
I think it only natural that, having realized how microscopic our intellect is against reality, we should experience a certain paralysis of will. Responsibility demands that we act with knowledge; but if we cannot even know all the possible choices available to us, we cannot hope to act responsibly in any meaningful sense of that term.
When I was an undergraduate in a public university, there was a small forum on religion held in the lobby of my dorm. At the time, I found myself disappointed in the Catholic speaker and more sympathetic to the representative of Islam. The Muslim, you see, was offering extensive philosophical argument for his position, and he came off as quite well-considered and reasonable. The Catholic speaker merely dwelt on the Faith as a response to a divine invitation. While I still feel that his presentation was inadequate, I think his approach was much more correct. If we do not benefit from the true perspective that God can offer, we are bound to act either irresponsibly or not at all. Even if my final approach was something like what the Muslim was suggesting, an acceptance of intellectual propositions on the basis of argument, nevertheless it would require some intervention beyond my intellect to put me in the traffic pattern, to put the appropriate questions and arguments before my intellect.
It will be, then, either the light of God or the fires of passion that illuminate our path and give direction to our intellect and will. The more I reflect, the less it seems possible to me that any man should act on impetus of his reason alone. Do not doubt the good faith of those you meet, but remember that all men are led either by God or by their passions; the purely rational man is simply an absurdity, unless he refuses to act altogether.
I suppose this meditation has also impressed upon me the need for constant, serious, listening prayer, as well as serious combat against the passions. If we do not dispose ourselves to follow God at His leading, we will either suffer from SPD of the soul, or we will allow our passions to tune out the graces that God tries to give us.
Remember Newman’s verses:
Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!
Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.
May such be our prayer.