Exitus et reditus, so the Church Fathers reminded us. We come from God and spend our lives journeying toward His Face. This is the Christian narrative, that there is purpose to our lives, that there is intelligibility to the world, and that our existence is intentional and grounded in Love.
Our post-modern culture rejects this. Not only is there no grand narrative, but there is nothing reasonable about the world or human life. We are left with kitsch only, celebrating baubles for their novelty and glorifying only this present moment. Deep down, this post-modernism is rooted in despair, despair that anything matters, that anyone is truly good and that anywhere is where we are headed.
As I write this, my sweet baby is napping, and I laugh that such weighty thoughts absorb my attention. They came to mind yesterday afternoon, actually, when our son and I walked to the nearby elementary school so that he could practice his (mountain) climbing skills on the playscape; he’s only two, but, you know, we start them early in our agrarian family.
So, why did I think about post-modern despair as I watched him traverse the playscape? Because the shiny new red and green structure was architected from just such a philosophy. It looked like a madman’s invention. It was crazy. There were no simply monkey bars, slide, and swings. Rather, the structure was composed of many disparate parts that were a little dizzying when viewed together and various of the elements, while impressive in their form, were senseless.
For example, there was a feature that had three towers lined up, each twisted like a double-helix, and there were various holes for climbing up each tower. But, the towers themselves were useless. “Mama, what do we do?” he asked, as we surveyed the double-helix mess. “I’m not sure”, I had to say, “I think you climb it.” This was not climbing to somewhere. It was just climbing–up and then back down. It was as if the playscape was designed to provide children with exercise in order to get their wiggles out, so that they could sit still during the rest of the long school day. It was not maneuvers to help strengthen core muscles or practice balancing. It was exercise like hamsters do on their nifty wheels, running just to tire them out.
Maria Montessori, who was a Catholic and deeply formed in the exitus et reditus narrative, gave to education the vision of the child who works, who even from their earliest moments is deliberate about practicing and perfecting skills in order to be an indispensable part of the family economy. Imagine what other incredible contributions well-formed Catholics could make, in medicine and law, in city planning and clothing design, if we would just apply to whatever we do the certainty that life has purpose, that we are made for love and from Love. Oh, what a lovely and orderly and truly free place would be our world!
What are other ways you see post-modern despair lived out, dear reader? And, how might we Catholics offer the Gospel in an innovative and fresh way?