In the journey of faith a lot of time is spent, rightly so, on the quest for spiritual maturity. To speak in Thomistic and Aristotelian terms, our spiritual selves, our incorporeal souls and powers of intellect and will, separate us from the brute animals. Our rational soul makes us human, higher than other animals in the hierarchy of created things. We foster spiritual growth so we can advance in virtue and holiness.
But there’s something else I only recently considered too, and I think it’s a function of the clean sterility that we (especially housewives) tend to seek in our organic lives. What makes us human is that we are also corporeal, made of matter, and that aspect of us is important too. Why? Because as much as our rational soul separates us from other animals, our corporeal body separates us from angels. Angels are spirits without bodies, and thus they possess knowledge differently than we do.
Angels are infused with knowledge from God, according to the accepted teaching of St. Thomas, and what they know is never conditioned or affected by any bodily function, since they have no bodies. Not so with humans. We cannot know or think anything free from any effects of bodily functions. We have a brain and a nervous system, along with the senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch. We are affected by hunger, noise, pain, and suffering. We are emotional. Although we can reason abstractly beyond emotions and imaginations, we do not gain knowledge free from our corporeal nature. It’s what makes us human, lower than the angels, higher than the brutes.
Although that description of mankind is ancient, even back to pagan Greece, I think we too easily forget it in the modern day of unprecedented cleanliness. We forget what we loved as children in the Springtime, for instance. We forget what it’s like to run with abandon even if it hurts, to roll in the grass even if it itches, to be silent and listen to the birds even if we are in a hurry. We forget to stop dead in our tracks to pick the newly blossomed daffodils so Mommy can place them by the kitchen sink — the little things.
Maybe it’s the kids and dogs who have overwhelmed me with dirt, a force that forces me to come to terms with my corporeal side, but it lifts my spirit to a new freedom to just accept that life is sometimes messy. Perhaps there’s wisdom and spiritual growth in getting our hands dirty once in a while too.