Here in San Ignacio I tutor school kids who struggle in their “language arts” learning.
Recently I was instructing a couple of boys on abstract nouns. You’ll recall from your own early education that a concrete noun is something you can generally see, feel, hear, taste or smell.
Dog. Cat. House. Street. Taco. Apple. Teacher. Mom. Dad.
Those are common concrete nouns.
An abstract noun is different. It’s an idea or concept–something you can’t see, feel, hear, taste or smell. Yet it’s real.
These are examples of abstract nouns, kids:
Love, joy, peace.
Patience, kindness, goodness.
Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.*
You can’t see love or joy or peace, not in the way you can see a dog or cat, taste an apple or a taco, touch your mom or dad . . . and well, you get the idea.
I wouldn’t want to confuse the kids I tutor by talking about abstract nouns as a spiritual matter, not when I’m teaching them language skills.
But as a spiritual matter, children and adults alike can see, feel, hear, taste and even smell abstract things like love, joy and peace.
As I do every morning, this morning I read the daily online devotional from Richard Rohr,* the great Franciscan monk and spiritual guide. He notes that you can’t learn how to love through concepts, ideas, and commandments.
You need to see and feel a living, loving incarnation. “She is doing it. He exemplifies it. It is therefore possible for me, too.” It is almost more a taste, a smell, or a touch than an idea.
Recent Christianity has relied far too much on ideas instead of living models. Sincere believers can smell holiness, even when the words might seem unorthodox. They can also smell unholiness from people who seem to do religion perfectly.
Turns out you can see an abstract thing like love or holiness. We’ve all seen love and joy and peace and such in people overflowing with the love of God.
We all can have that kind of love and joy, by the way. As Rohr points out, “Love is caught more than taught.”
May all who read this catch the true spirit* of Christmas in the days and years ahead.
*If you’re not familiar with His Greatness Richard Rohr go here.
*See Galatians 5 here.
*Spirit: an example of an abstract noun.