God bless the woman from our parish who comes to my house weekly to help out with the children. Not only does she give me a half day out of the house, but she, who also happens to be incredibly well-read and steeped in the Catholic faith, enriches my home with a wisdom culled from years of mothering and reading Catholic philosophy.
So when my six year old son asked her if he could stack a doll stroller on top of a mini folding chair on top of a dining room chair and so on to see if he could eventually get his Tower of Babel to touch the ceiling, she was armed with a much better answer than I would have given when he asked, “Why not?”
“Because,” said the sage. “That is not what those things are ordered toward.”
When I came home, she told me the anecdote, laughing that she had given my budding six-year-old philosopher something to chew on.
But she gave me something to chew on as well. While I outwardly nodded and smiled, my inward self was as happy as a child treated to a new flavor of candy. I quickly saw how brilliant this tack is, calculating how very often I can use this line of reasoning to forestall disaster and reasonably answer questions.
Why can’t I swing this metal pole around like a baseball bat? Because that’s not what it is ordered toward.
Why can’t I climb the door frame like an American ninja warrior? Because, my dear, that’s not what the door frame is ordered toward.
Why can’t I step on the baby’s sippy cup? Because. That. Is. Not. What. It. Is. Ordered. Toward.
I’ve been reading the book The Benedict Option, in which the author traces the historical shift in the metaphysical understanding of matter from something that possesses inherent meaning and structure to something that has no meaning at all until a person assigns meaning to it. We see this shift dramatically demonstrated in our current culture’s (dis)regard of the sex of a human body.
Before recent times, a person’s body informed the person’s identity. The body itself had inherent meaning and structure. My body has female parts; therefore, I am a woman. Compare this with the present-day “understanding” of the body as something that has no inherent meaning whatsoever. The fact that I have female sexual organs, runs this way of thinking, in no way determines my sex. Instead, I assign meaning to my body based upon whatever I want for that day.
How extraordinarily confusing is this way of thinking! To live in a world in which everything has no inherent structure, no inherent meaning, no inherent order is to be lost at sea in a cosmological ocean–and lost at sea alone. For if nothing has inherent meaning, then what common ground is there for two people to stand on?
So as a way to bulwark against the prevailing cultural view, we play the Ordered Toward game at my house. It is a simple game, born of that day when my wise friend introduced the concept to us.
Everyone from the 8 year old to the 2 year old loves this game. We simply name things around us and talk about what they are ordered toward. Sometimes I name the object (what is a car ordered toward? To get us from one place to another), sometimes I play the game silly (is spaghetti ordered toward decorating your head? Noooo!), and sometimes I name the purpose and the children name the object (This is ordered toward giving us shade and oxygen. A tree!).
It’s a fun game to play in the car or in a waiting room to pass the time. The children giggle because children instinctively know that objects do have inherent meaning.
Start this little exercise at your house and you will be amazed by how useful it is. When someone throws a toy: “that toy was made to spin; it’s not ordered toward throwing.” When someone sticks his feet in another child’s face: “is that what your feet are ordered toward?” When a child tries to put his sister’s underwear on his head: “that’s not what it is ordered toward!” [Are you getting a picture of life at our house?]
At the same time, I’m laying groundwork for Theology of the Body before I get anywhere close to teaching about the mechanics of sex. The point is that our bodies are ordered toward something. We already talk about what our stomachs are ordered toward (to digest food) and what our eyes are ordered toward (to see), so when we get to the point of talking about our reproductive organs, for example, we will have a solid foundation upon which to lay the Catholic theology of the body, which is to say, that the reproductive organs are ordered toward creating and nourishing life.
Of course, as the children grow older and enter into the rhetoric stage of life, I’m sure we will have conversations about secondary uses and innovative uses of existing things, at which point we will discuss ethics and morality. The first place to start when one encounters something, though, is in discovering what its primary purpose is–and this is a fun way to begin.
(This post was first published at www.inaplaceofgrace.com by Amanda Woodiel. All rights reserved. Photo by Chris Crowder (2016) via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain.)