Friday, November 14, 2014

The Communion of Saints, Pez Dispensers, and the Conscious Circle of Humanity

Near our parish church there is a luncheonette that also sells breakfast. The owner is or was a collector of Pez dispensers.

She doesn’t own a handful, like the Sesame Street collection shown here. She owns hundreds of Pez dispensers, which are displayed on a shelf running around the ceiling of the luncheonette. While you’re eating, a balcony full of colorful plastic spectators is glued to the the drama of your eggs & hash or your BLT.

It’s less creepy than charming, less intimidating than quaint in the best New England tradition.

I was eating breakfast at the luncheonette one day with a guy who is one of those spiritual-not-religious types. In fact, my friend is a follower of the “esoteric” spiritual way that I mentioned in a previous post. I was telling him about the Catholic Church and what drew me to it. I spoke of the communion of saints and the belief, which I hold dear, that holy men and women from all times and places are present to us today in the Church, as a sort of chorus of friends to listen and be called upon.

Then I noticed the Pez dispensers. “Seriously,” I said to my friend, “kind of like those Pez dispensers. As real as them: above our heads but here in the room with us.” I could see from the change in my friend’s expression that he thought momentarily and unfairly of questioning my sanity. But then he recovered his composure and replied.

“Yeah,” he said, “I get what you mean. It’s like I’ve always wondered about the meaning of the conscious circle of humanity.” I nodded but only to mark a brief time-out in what had become a weird conversation.

You may not have a clue what my friend was saying about the conscious circle of humanity, but I knew. In the spiritual system he follows, which I followed once too, it is said that today on earth—maybe somewhere in the Himalayas or the Hindu Kush—there is a group of evolved, highly conscious people, the wisest men and women on earth. God knows, maybe they’re together in a brownstone on the Upper East Side. Maybe they’re not all in one place, but they’re definitely in contact with one another. They could be Facebook friends.

This conscious circle, the teaching says, receives and transmits and somehow mediates for the rest of us less conscious types the “higher influences” flowing from somewhere or other. (The precise location of somewhere or other was never explained to my satisfaction.) I suspect that this belief system comes down to us from people like Annie Besant and the Theosophical Society, who started the whole Wisdom-from-the-East industry in the late nineteenth century.

The corollary of the conscious circle of humanity is, We’re not it. The rest of us live in the outer circle, an outer ring of darkness, like something in Dante. Our only hope is to evolve sufficiently to merit the attention or influence of the conscious circle. Otherwise, we’re all ants and bees.

This is so different from the communion of saints as to be laughable. I did not tell my friend this. If spiritual-not-religious works for him, so be it. I can’t convince him. All I can do is witness to the truth I’ve found.

If I had it to say over again, I might say this—

The communion of saints is something of which every believing Christian is a part, whether you believe in saints or not.

The conscious circle of humanity is an unattainably remote group of lamas hidden in a place like Shangri-La, whose only real effect is to make us ordinary searchers feel like numbskulls.

The communion of saints is accessible to me anytime I get down on my knees, as I did this morning before St. Joseph, asking my friend to pray with me for the health of another friend.

The conscious circle of humanity is by definition inaccessible.

The communion of saints is democratic. Chesterton called it the “democracy of the dead.”

The conscious circle of humanity is a lofty aristocracy of the spirit that excludes almost everyone.

The communion of saints gives me hope.

The conscious circle of humanity—for all the many years that I gave credence to esoteric spirituality—made me feel hopeless. And certainly clueless, just like my friend who said, “I’ve always wondered . . .”

The communion of saints is one of the most precious and irreplaceable beliefs I hold.

The conscious circle of humanity is less useful to me than a collection of Pez dispensers.

That’s why I wrote the title of this post the way I did. The three phrases are in order of relative value.

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