Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sober Inebriation

Sober inebriation... comes not from drinking a new type of wine but from enjoying God (paraphrased). --St. Bernard

Sober inebriation: to “enjoy God”; the phrase in quotes may have an odd ring to modern ears. What, exactly, does it mean to “enjoy God”? Are we to see God with our eyes? Are we to embrace Him with our arms? Are we to drink Him in, like some new knowledge from an unknown book which excites and interests us? Or is He more like a cosmic bar tender, mystically releasing sensations within us, which normally only half a bottle of wine begins to do?

Christian mystics and philosophers of the orthodox past would immediately understand such a phrase as St. Bernard’s in a spiritual sense. In other words, they would say – and St. Bernard means – that sober inebriation comes from spiritually enjoying God. We will not perceive Him through our senses or through images, because our senses and imaginations can only perceive things with limitations; nor will we merely know about Him abstractly, like we know a science or like we know mathematics. We will, instead, know Him by an intellectual intuition, that is, by perceiving Him directly with our spirits. This, they say (by both reason and experience), is the ultimate Joy. Everything that brings us delight here in time -- all of our favorite things, the things we love most – have yet a lingering hint of something more within them, a something more which is the same in them all, illuminating them all in their variety, like the same sun illuminates the various planets of our solar system. But to face the source itself, to rise above all the partial delights we’re capable of experiencing and to touch God with our spirits, would be not only to bathe in all partial delights at once and forever, but to be immersed in a joy for which those partial delights are mere longings: a Joy of an entirely different and higher order altogether. Theologians call this experience the Beatific Vision, taken from among the list of beatitudes which Jesus left us: namely, “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”

It is difficult to imagine this experience – it’s impossible, really. But, we do know that even describing normal vision to a person born blind is just as problematic. Unless someone has experienced vision himself, you can only excite longings within him by describing the world as green, a waterfall as crystal clear, or a women as beautiful. And so it is with mankind; we who are born spiritually blind, but who, according to the Unitive promise of Christ, can begin to see even here and now -- can begin to taste and see, walking by faith in Christ through the Purgative, Illuminative and Unitive Ways, the glory of God around, among and within us.


Saint Brian the Godless said...

Sober inebriation... comes not from drinking a new type of wine but from enjoying God (paraphrased). --St. Bernard
A perfect description, because 'sober inebriation' can only happen by believing one's self to be inebriated when one is not. Such as giving a child a glass of grape juice and telling them that it is strong wine. Just watch them cavort, enjoying their 'drunkenness...'
So I approve of your phrase 'sober inebriation,' as it is an accurate description of the psychosomatic effect of believing one's self to be in communion with God that causes it. The more you believe you're inebriated, the more inebriated you get, and the more inebriated you get, the better you become at believing that you're inebriated. From there it's a downhill slide to a 'born-again' experience.
It is the Placebo Effect in action. And it is fascinating to me.

Saint Brian the Godless said...

But surely you don't believe anything said by a large, furry dog with a keg on it's neck? Alcoholic canines rarely provide any useful information, despite their utility at freeing one from snowbanks.