From time to time, I will add guest posts here as a way of extending the conversation and allowing new voices to speak into the discussion. In that vein, I have asked one of my followers, Alaina Urbantke, a sophomore in college attending a local liberal arts university in Texas in an accelerated learning program with an emphasis on classical education, to extend an idea she has proffered through frequent comments on my posts. As an active commenter with deep insights, I believe she has something to add to The Wisdom Initiative. Enjoy!
Modern culture flagrantly advocates relentless consumption. The sheer number of televised commercials is only one example. I understand that human beings must consume in order to live, but why are we pushed beyond basic need towards materialistic slavery? I have a personal theory: an acute fear of our mortality. It does not take religion for people to understand that they have an imposed biological limit. There are diseases, freak accidents, and many other occurrences that can suddenly snuff out our existence. Thus, it would seem that once a person is gone, that is it. Period. In desperation, people frantically consume all they can in order to achieve a semblance of impact. If one is going to die, one might as well acquire many things to testify to former existence, right? This is sadly erroneous.
The sixth century philosopher Boethius found himself in a similar mental predicament. In his Consolation of Philosophy, he awaits death while under house arrest. He has been wrongly imprisoned, and his prestigious political position has been stripped away. He mourns greatly, not knowing what to do with himself. Lady Philosophy comes to his aid, conversing with him about the true nature of happiness. When she examines positions of power and wealth as possible factors she scoffs, immediately dismissing them. This is the crux of her argument: material goods are not self-sustaining. For example, wealth is easily lost. Therefore, how can such goods be expected to sustain a person when they cannot sustain themselves?
Now, it would seem we have a rather pathetic situation on our hands. Human beings seek sustenance, an intangible something to satisfy their hungry spirit. Culture states that if we consume enough, we will eventually be satisfied. Yet, how is a life of glutting oneself different from mere animals? That certainly does not sound like an ideal existence. There must be more. In fact, there is more because we are Imago Dei, the Image of God. St. Bernard of Clairvaux states that our ultimate end (telos) lies in consummation, not in consumption. These two terms seem rather odd in juxtaposition. Consummation is usually found in an intimate context, like a marriage. Consumption refers to an intake of some kind, like eating. How are these two compatible? The following explanation is derived from Bernard’s On Loving God, particularly his section entitled “Whence the Pomegranates”. We are the Bride of Christ and He is the Bridegroom. To encourage the Bridegroom to enter the bridal chamber, she constantly strews her bed with flowers. Those flowers are what Bernard calls “steadfastness of faith”. Enticed by their scent, the Bridegroom enters the bridal chamber to be with His Bride. The intimacy they share dissolves barriers, and two become one.
Bernard based “Whence the Pomegranates” on Song of Songs, drawing an analogy between a bride and groom and the aspect of desire in our relationship with God. The relation of consumption and consummation is best understood in this context. Consumption in of itself is not evil. In fact, God designed consumption so that we may consume Him. God is the ultimate source of nourishment, food that forever satisfies. In consuming Him, we create intimacy. Consistent intimacy results in consummation. Finally, in consummation, Man becomes at one with God, losing himself entirely, yet finding his greatest existence. What existence can surpass one aligned with the Creator?