We frequently think of nourishing our body with what we intake, and often think about nourishing our minds by what we contemplate. A deeper thought is how we nourish our whole beings through the intake of the Holy Mysteries. Our senses apply both to the realm of concepts and thinking and the realm of the physical. By this I mean that the senses are obviously “means by which we understand and interact with the physical world” and simultaneously “part of us; not dissociated with the rational and conceptual activities that belong to us”. It is this unity of the “raw” sensual nature of these faculties and the ability to have concepts, thoughts, and reasoning about conceptual and imaginative things that allow us to perform everyday functions like: thinking about the world, interacting with the world, imagining, and remembering.
So the senses does not exclusively belong to the realm of “the mind” or the realm of “the physical world”. We have a good idea how to nourish ourselves physically. Most educated people have an idea of what it means to maintain the life of the mind. But how are we to nourish our senses?
Certainly physical maintenance helps to nourish the senses, just as eating carrots can help with eyesight. Can nourishment happen “top down” from cognitive ability? Sure, if someone knows what to look for in a happenstance (or a piece of art) than our senses can be directed and habituated to work more precisely and helpfully. These helpful actions, physical and mental nourishment, are more educational and formative to the senses than they are nourishing.
I have been attending to Fr. John Oliver’s great serieson “Society and the Soul” which is based on the works of St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite, which is much more interesting and helpful than what I do here. He, as a channel of St. Nicodemus, reminds us that what we take into the body through the senses we take into us as doors let things into a castle. Inasmuch as we “couple” with the things that are let into us, we sin and obscure our senses.
True nourishment of the senses occurs when we vigilantly guard the doors to “our house”, the way we guard our mouth from rancid food. Bringing peace to our senses – say by guarding our eyes from much visceral and passionate images – can be an act of nourishment. When our eyes have been nourished more and more, when they have been flushed of what sticks in the doorway, then we may behold things appropriately. We may finally see that “the heavens declare the glory of God.”
This is why holy and ascetic men can truly have eyes to see. This is why the Sons of Thunder and St. Peter were capable of beholding the Transfiguration, and why St. John of Kronstadt was able to see angels and demons in everyday life. This is why the artist, whether Christian or not, is necessarily an ascetic. Homer and Tiresius’ were blind because their ability to “not see” nourished their visual sense, and they were able to see more reality than most will ever be able. And I won’t even talk about Xander in Season 7, (I’ll leave that for Tim).
That deaf dumb and blind kid might have more gifts than pinball wizardry.