My mother’s mind is nearly gone. That is the phrase people use to talk about her condition. What does it mean? Her mind must be somewhere. She is alive; her soul hasn’t left her body. But her brain is so damaged by Alzheimer’s that it can no longer serve as an interface between mind and body.
The author of Meditations on the Tarot says that a miracle, or an act of magic–he uses the terms almost interchangeably–is “the visible effect of an invisible cause, or the effect on a lower plane due to a cause on a higher plane” (Letter III, “The Empress”). So when I move my hand, this is a kind of miracle. The impulse originates in my will, which is spiritual, but it is transmitted to my hand, which is physical. The sacraments are miracles of another kind: the divine acting on the human, the higher on the lower.
In miracles and in magic there is an intermediary. Jesus heals the blind man with saliva and mud. The priest gives us God’s body and blood, but he needs bread and wine to do it. My mother’s mind needs matter of the correct kind in order to perform the magic of speech. Neurons are the matter of my mother’s speech, just as bread is the matter of the Eucharist. Those neurons are broken, and the spell can’t be cast anymore.
If she were in a position to do so, my mother would find her own condition fascinating. It’s a case in point of one of her fundamental philosophical obsessions: incarnation, sacramentality. Why should the Eucharist be unavailable if we happen to lack wheat and grapes? Why should my mother’s personality be crippled because her brain is configured this way instead of that way? This is the same question in two different forms.
I don’t have answers to either one. This is the way God made the world. The spirit is ferried to us by the material, souls are expressed via bodies, love is carried to us by individual persons. I think it must be because God himself is a person, not an amorphous force, not a mere principle.
Only a person can love, only a person can be crucified, only a person can die.