Pudding or Cathedral?

By Will Montei

Beacon Beneath a Bushel, 2013, Bill Haveron

In the TV adaptation of Dan Simmons’ novel “The Terror,” there’s a scene of two doctors examining a dead body. Looking at the brain matter exposed on the table, one doctor remarks, “It’s a pudding, basically.” The other doctor responds, “I would have said ‘cathedral.’” Despite both doctors viewing the same dead man, they appear to be witnessing two different deaths. One sees this man’s end as a revelation of humanity’s descent into meaningless material; the other sees a testament to something glorious. These metaphors speak to a profound difference between the content of their thoughts, describing certain essences of their worldviews. Metaphor and worldview are often synonymous—by which I mean to say that we play a powerful game in the metaphors we choose to let inhabit our minds.

When I was a student teacher, I asked my class of ninth grade students what love is. Several students told me that love is a release of dopamine in the brain, which creates the feeling that we call love. They were surprised when I challenged them on this, because it seemed to them unscientific to think of love otherwise.

“Who do you love?” I asked.

One student responded, “Well, I love my mom.”

“What do you love about your mom?”

His answer had little to do with dopamine, but it still remained difficult for him to see how the content of his love—his mom’s attentiveness, humor, and interests—challenged the simplicity of his explanation that love is reducible to a chemical reaction. Thinking of his mom sparked in his mind a beautiful collage of memories, images, and words; he stands to lose a lot by reducing the great meaning these things carry to “dopamine.”

The modern sense of self seems constructed exclusively from material. Sometimes I feel tempted by this worldview to see myself as a lump of matter that takes itself too seriously, like pudding that accidentally became animate. Yet biblical literature challenges this metaphor with a preponderance of its own, as I was reminded on my first day of work at CIVA. To begin the week, my new coworkers and I gathered together to pray. Our prayer centered around one of Jesus’ darker passages:

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation. (Matthew 12:43-45)

Jesus often equates the human soul with images of homes in his parables, as we also see in Matthew 7:24 and 1 Corinthians 3:16. These physical structures—places where we store our belongings and seek refuge—rather than strip meaning from us, provide a sense of consequence to our existence. How we live and what we think about matters because these things decorate the interior of our souls. If we leave them empty, like the person in Jesus’s parable, we risk allowing evil spirits to enter. The grave outcome of this parable, including the presence of evil forces, actually elevates humanity. We are splendid creatures worthy of attention, invited to decorate our souls with God, the mysterious founder and caretaker of the cosmos. This is no small task, but I find it preferable to the hollowness of being animate, accidental matter.

As we explore the topic of “House and Home,” there are no limitations to our discoveries, especially in the realm of art. Where is our home? What lies within it? All that remains certain in our exploration is the great meaning contained in our discoveries. As we investigate the architecture of our homes, so too are we investigating the nature of God.

Will Montei received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing from Calvin University and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Seattle Pacific University. In addition to working as a Content Curator and Proofreader for CIVA, he also substitute teaches around the greater Madison area. Aside from writing and teaching, he also enjoys music, holding forth with friends, and spending time outdoors.

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