The Personalist Project

A couple months ago, I posted on God’s fondness for diversity.  How else to explain His making us male and female (“as different as possible without being separate species”), different colors, shapes, and sizes, with different temperaments, talents, and senses of humor? 

It would be surprising, then, if His dealings with us had a generic, one-size-fits-all kind of tone.   Yet that is what we can fall into imagining.

In the back of our minds, even if we know better, may lurk the sense that what God really wants is for us to familiarize ourselves with His objective rules and regulations, calculate how they apply to our case, and conform our wills and behavior to them until we die.  Then we’ll be allowed into the place where only the most successful conformists are admitted.

If we’re in doubt about God’s will, we might think, that’s what the Magisterium is for.  No need to bother Him with a request for a personal audience.  He has more sublime things to do.  Go look it up in the Catechism. 

Yes, we know we’re instructed to ask for our daily bread, but it would probably be a lot more respectful to just stick to “Thy will be done” and leave it at that.   Why bother Him with specifics? There’s a sense that He cares about the salvation of our soul, and our progress in virtue—which will happen, sure as Doritos falling to the slot when you push the Doritos button,

if we just obey the rules.  All the rest is surely beneath His notice, and would be beneath ours, too, if we were a little holier.  We should be grateful He created us at all and gave us a chance to go to Heaven.  Only little minds get mired in details.

Well, here’s my evidence to the contrary.  This happened just the way I’m about to recount it:

Early one icy New Hampshire Wednesday morning, I sat slumped at the kitchen table, dithering over whether go to mass.  On the one hand, the hardest part was over: I’d already come out from under the covers, and I was mostly vertical.  On the other hand, the icicle outside my window was six feet long and as wide as my two-year-old.

On the other hand, it was no colder than usual for this season, this latitude—and the 7AM was the only Mass on offer that day. 

But on the OTHER hand, a whiny voice inside my head chimed in, it was just a WEEKDAY Mass.  It wouldn’t be a SIN or something to stay home and stealthily devour a nice, big bowl of the kids’ tasty General Mills Honeycomb® cereal before they woke up...and I couldn’t do that and get to Mass too, because by now it was well into communion-fast time.  I stared at the Honeycomb.  Those little hexagonal nuggets of sugar and toxic chemicals were looking more irresistible by the second.  I was far too old to be tempted by such stuff, and yet…

That thought almost finished off my better instincts, but a small shot of grace kicked in just then, and I threw on my coat and heroically strode out the door.  A few minutes later, as I sat slowly defrosting in the pew, a word from the responsorial psalm hit me right between my half-closed eyes:

The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold. Sweeter also than honey and the HONEYCOMB...

Well, that was enough to keep me awake for the rest of Mass.  I knew King David didn’t have General Mills Honeycomb® in mind when he and the Holy Spirit composed that line thousands of years ago.  But the Holy One of Israel knew even then how it would all play out as St. Joseph's in Claremont, on that far-distant Wednesday morning.

I knew He was omniscient, the inventor of both the real honeycomb and the intellects and imaginations of the people who had invented its namesake, the cold cereal that had almost tempted me away from the Bread of Life.  I shouldn't have been surprised that He could orchestrate this staggering, millenia-long, intersecting arrangement of ancient poetry, insect behavior, junk-food marketing strategy, and liturgical rhythms.

But what kind of a God would bother?

Not a humorless accountant type, with no patience for the details when it comes to arranging a special treat for one of His children.  

No, I think we have to concede that, for lack of a better word, He's a personalist.

Comments (5)

Michael Healy

#1, Jul 9, 2012 1:58pm

Great post, Devra!  I appreciate your articles and the accompanying wealth of illustrations.

I had an experience of this kind of minute detail of providence in the early 90's.  I was academic dean at Steubenville and had to go to a number of conferences: ACPA, FCS, Dean's conferences, etc.  They were not so often held on the West Coast due to the time difference.  However, at that time my Aunt Agnes, who had raised me like a mother after my mom died, got sick with cancer.  She was hospitalized, treated, sent to follow-up recovery hospital, and finally home again. My sister would normally have helped out since she lived in California, but she was sick too and had just had her thyroid taken out.

Well, that semester it just happened to turn out that every one of my conferences was in Southern California such that I could help my aunt.  Each time I was there to take or pick her up from the hospital, recovery place, and back to her apartment.  I could check out library books for her and be back (for the next conference) in time to return them.

Michael Healy

#2, Jul 9, 2012 2:04pm

When I say "every" conference, however, I must explain one exception.  The Dean's conference was in Tampa Bay Florida.  However, the airline I was flying had a promotion going: for an extra $75 you could stop off anywhere you wanted from Pittsburch to Tampa--so I paid that extra out of my pocket and "stopped off" in LA.  

In always has seemed to me that God in his mysterious, all-powerful providence, had arranged the conferences of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, and Deans of Private Schools--and the airline promotion--just for the convenience of little old Aunt Agnes that fall!

Ann B

#3, Jul 9, 2012 6:32pm

Thank you both for these stories. I loved them. Even if sometimes there are no comments on a post you make, or very few, please know that this doesn't mean the posts are not read or appreciated, or that the personalist God isn't using them to touch someone personally!

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Jul 9, 2012 8:14pm

Shall I tell of my own latest experience?  It happened yesterday.  I had just posted "Forgiveness and Dysfunction."  It had cost me a lot, emotionally, and I was feeling tense and vulnerable.  I knew I was opening myself to misunderstanding and recriminations.  I was keenly aware of at least one thing I have in common with St. Therese: "Even my best good acts are infected with impurities." However carefully I chose my words and conscientiously I expressed only what I believe is true and helpful, it would still have flaws and holes.  I knew, too, that God might want to use the occasion to chasten and disillusion me further, as He has in the past, which I both want and dread.

"The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."

I said my inward "fiat!" wrote to a few especially close friends to ask for prayers, then got out my Magnificat to say prayers of my own.  

My eyes fell immediately on the first antiphon of the day: "Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you.  But you shall say to them: Thus says the Lord God!"

Make of it what you will. :)  

Devra Torres

#5, Jul 11, 2012 6:39pm

Michael, that's a great story!  It makes you realize how silly the instinct is that sometimes makes us want to sit back and say, "If I were God, I would have done it this way.  If I were in charge of the universe, I wouldn't have done it that way."  It's all way, way farther beyond anything we could figure out than we could ever imagine.

Ann, thank you for your kind words!  Since I started blogging, I've gotten great insight into lovely vices like vanity and self-centeredness, and the tendency to value your human dignity according to how many "likes" or comments you get.  But I'm happy to put out there whatever I can manage to put out there and trust God to use it if and however He wants.

Katie, I'm not even going to get myself in trouble by opining on that one!  or at least, I'll save my opinions for the "forgiveness" comments page.

Sign in to add a comment, or register first.

Forgot your password?