It was only recently that I realised I apparently get easier and richer insights while in the shower than when sitting at a desk or even praying. This ought not to be surprising. It makes perfect sense if one accepts that while there are different parts to the human person, they are all animated by one spiritual soul and are connected and pertain to it.
It is not Catholic to imagine that mind, body and spirit are three distinct parts of me which make up the person. This, I discovered from an old manual, is an error called trichotomism. I haven’t been able to check the etymology of the word, but I am guessing it derives from the onomatopoeic French verb trichoter, to knit. It certainly isn’t Thomism. The Angelic Doctor would insist that the human soul is the form of the body or substantially united to it; in other words, through itself it communicates being and forms one essential nature with the body, so that the soul not only elicits intellectual activities but also sensitive and vegetative ones.
Inspiration in the shower is essentially from the same immaterial source as the thinking I do elsewhere. The level of insight may be to do with the fact that the sensitive and vegetative aspects of my person are consciously engaged when showering, so that paradoxically my soul is firing on more cylinders than when I sit at a desk and somehow disengage the rest of me in favour of what I imagine is the thinking part from the neck upwards.
Any kind of compartmentalisation in the spiritual life is dangerous. It is a mistake to think or act as though any part of myself were beyond the purview of God’s action or interest, outside the ambit either of divine law or grace; and yet one catches oneself doing it all the time. It’s how the psyche tends to work, seeking to exert control by creating no-go areas for new, challenging or painful realities. St Gregory of Nyssa says that because the soul is the form of the body, any kind of disturbance in any area – mind, body or spirit – is like a stone thrown into a pool; the ripples will spread to the furthest edge.
It is easy to acknowledge this unity when it excuses me. What affects my body can depress my mind or spirit; a damaged psyche can have somatic repercussions.
But the corollary of this truth is less readily acknowledged, namely, that the sin which damages my spirit – even sins of omission – could drag down the mind and even the body because of that same unity. We increasingly speak of sin as a poor or inappropriate “choice”, as though it were simply some calculus of the mind, rather than a movement of the whole being nearer or further from the light and source of wholeness.
Repeated poor choices gradually warp the freedom and knowledge to choose aright. The sensitive appetite overindulged begins to dictate the “inappropriate choice” to the point where it is no longer a decision, in the sense of a thing of the mind, but one part working to the detriment of the whole.
In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More tries to explain to the Duke of Norfolk the power of a conviction which flows from an integrated soul: “I will not give in because I oppose it – I do – not my pride, my spleen or any other one of my appetites, but I do – I.’’ And he challenges Norfolk: “Is there no single sinew which serves no appetite of Norfolk’s but is just Norfolk?” The same question urges us all to seek integrity of life.
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