Louie Armstrong was once asked to explain jazz. He responded, “If you got to ask the question, you’ll never know what it is.” The point he makes is that jazz is something that you feel, something you mysteriously know, something of which you are simply aware. It cannot be explained. Fortunately, one can come to know jazz by being in its presence, by being mindfully attuned and consciously aware, as it seeps into your soul.
In Pope Francis’ recent book Let Us Dream, he wrote about how people sometimes want to change awareness into ideology. For example, while in Argentina he slowly became aware of ecological deterioration by listening to Catholic leaders in Brazil who experience destructive forces in the Amazon region and later, as pope, he learned about people in the Pacific Islands who must relocate because their land is vanishing into the Ocean. Some political zealots want to turn such awareness into ideology but that is not what it is. Care of the earth ought to be something of which we are mindful, but it ought not be political doctrine. Those who are aware of nature’s environment and environmental forces that harm it act in ways that honor the earth, knowing that respect for our planet is also respect for its citizens, especially the poor. Pope Francis reminds us that this issue is at the foundation of morality, though some choose to weaponize it in governmental battles about climate change.
Similarly, those who are aware of human life in the womb will value, protect, and respect it. Awareness of killing pre-natal babies is just that: an awareness. When we’re mindful of the value of life in the womb we’re more likely to also realize its impact on other vulnerable lives that hang in the balance via war, poverty, child abuse, euthanasia, starvation, racism, etc. Those who possess an awareness of the dignity of human life at every stage act with moral integrity; others reduce it to legislative or judicial policy. Abortion and its trail of tears is about much more than changing laws—it’s about changing hearts by raising awareness. As we know, morality cannot be legislated.
It seems to me that those who possess political or religious fervor are naturally drawn to doctrine, ideology, and creed while those who are attracted to spirituality or psychology are more willing to welcome mindful and soulful consciousness. Both will act upon their instinct: the former according to ideology and the latter according to awareness. I think the Pope wants us to keep them in balance. In that way, rather than routinely taking up arms on battlefields we might more likely take up treasure maps (found in the Bible, prayer books, spiritual reading, meditation…) in search of the reward God wants us to discover.
Perhaps it is the same with Christ’s presence in our world, starting in the Holy Eucharist. It is disheartening to Catholic officials that one-fourth of our members do not believe in Eucharistic transubstantiation, i.e., that the bread and wine are changed by Christ into His own body and blood at Masses. To me, it is not a dogma but an awareness. The awareness is more than a divine grace, it is something which we can consciously, soulfully, and mindfully understand. Like jazz, we can feel it and mysteriously know it.