catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 10 :: 2009.05.08 — 2009.05.22


Hunger for abundance

All men seek happiness. There are no exceptions.
Blaise Pascal

Abundance is a bit like happiness. If you go straight for it, it disappears.

Few things are at once so cliche and so difficult to remember in practice as this: the more you have, the more you want. This psychological truism explains a good many of my own drives and derelictions. Sometimes I write articles for my blog or for my campus newspaper just so more eyes will glimpse the words I’ve strung together. That appetite can lead to good practice for me, good reading for others; but sometimes my appetites ruin the things I do have.

During my freshman year at college, I acquired an appetite to write more pages per assigned paper than any other student in one of my classes. My papers (usually assigned at a minimum of ten pages) crept up from 15 pages to 18 pages, from 18 to 20, from 20 to 25. My clarity suffered as I tried to squeeze as many words from every idea as I could. My authority became self-parody as I quoted multiple authors to prove the same point. Eventually I ceased to be a student of the subject of my papers, and became a slave to word count. Re-reading those papers, I feel like a newly thin man looking at pre-diet pictures of himself.

What a ridiculous obsession. But it’s only a particularly ludicrous example of a pervasive behavioral pattern most of us indulge. Time after time we reset the compass of our internal pilgrimage toward some temporary shrine.  

Blaise Pacal, in his unfinished classic Pensees, offers the following bit of relevant cynicism:

A test which has gone on so long, without pause or change, really ought to convince us that we are incapable of attaining the good by our own efforts. But example teaches us very little. No two examples are so exactly alike that there is not some subtle difference, and that is what makes us expect that our expectations will not be diappointed this time as they were last time. So, while the present never satisfies us, experience deceives us, and leads us on from one misfortune to another until death comes as the ultimate and eternal climax.

Miserable as this round of self-deception is, I take it as one of the most potent justifications for the Christian hope. Pascal goes on to say this:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tried in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

I love the sweet absurdity of this truth. Nothing defies my understanding as much as the idea of attaining God himself. “A mystery,” as John Cassian or St. John of the Cross or Pascal himself might say, contributing to the fruitful orphic chorus of Christian mysticism. But the very incomprehensibility of the mystery draws us into abundant life. Creatures seeking to attain their Creator, we rummage through the treasure chest of all the rest of creation, seeking through it what is always just beyond it.

The abundant life-and I think Pascal would agree-is a pilgrimage, always in the world, to a destination always beyond the world.

I like to think this conception of the abundant life avoids the controversy of world-flight versus worldliness. It’s just as worldly to treat a particularly “spiritual” slice of life as the inexhaustible source of abundance as it is to treat a particularly “secular” slice of life that way. Thumbing a rosary to nothing or owning every WOW Worship CD ever recorded satisfies as little as does writing more words on each assignment than anyone else in your class. Instead, a vigorous but non-exclusive and un-hierarchical engagement with all aspects of life can bring to light the traces of God in all of them. 

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