I want to preface this blog by noting that I had a chance this past weekend to visit the Mission of San Buenaventura in Ventura, CA. My wife’s cousin lives there and we went to see her and her mom for the day. The mission is really interesting: it has a museum, beautiful courtyard, and large chapel. My trip thus provided me with the person of focus for this blog: St. Bonaventure (1217-1274).
He was a Franciscan, having been dedicated by his mother to Saint Francis when he was sick as a child (Robson, “Saint Bonaventure” in The Medieval Theologians, Oxford: Blackwell, 2001, 187). Some of his major works were Breviloquium and De praeparatione ad missam (“Preparation for mass”). He wrote other treatises and commentaries as well, but one of the more intriguing works of his is the Journey of the Mind into God (Itinerarium mentis in deum), which blends classical philosophy and Christian theology.
In this work, Bonaventure writes, “In the initial space of creation, [humanity] was made fit for the quiet of contemplation, and therefore God placed [them] in a paradise of delights. But turning from the true light to changeable good, [humanity] was bent over by its own fault, and the entire human race by original sin, which infected human nature in two ways: the mind with ignorance and the flesh with concupiscence.” (1.7; in Bonaventure, Ewart Cousins, ed. and trans. New York: Paulist Press, 1978).
I love how Bonaventure sees the pre-Fallen state of humanity as “fit for the quiet of contemplation.” Such a characterization really speaks volumes about how we are today. One of the most frequent things spoken of in churches concerns how we all need to shut our minds off in order to pray, read the Bible, worship, etc. Bonaventure’s words show that our descent into a fallen state has essentially brought our minds to a place of “ignorance,” but I would also add that our minds are perpetually in a state of cacophony.
I am reminded of the courtyard at the mission in Ventura, CA that I recently visited. The beauty of the courtyard also contained an element of tranquil quiet. There was a mass being held in the chapel, so most people were using hushed voices. I think that all to often the busyness and noisiness of our lives get in the way of our contemplation of God. I know that I am definitely at fault in this as well. I hope this week that like me, you can find time to shut out the noise and really focus on God’s goodness and mercy.
I want to close with a question for discussion: What is your favorite way to shut out the world and enjoy God? Or, more generally, how do you get away from the noise in your life?