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Perfect Moments, Holy Moments

David Cowles

Nov 2, 2023

“Every moment, every event originates and culminates in God’s values.”

Jean-Paul Sartre introduced the concept of a Perfect Moment in his debut novel, Nausea. Annie, a former girlfriend of Sartre’s hero (Roquentin), seeks salvation in the creation of "perfect moments"—choreographed events where action, speech, and context all work together to produce an experiential gem.

The ‘salvation’ I’m talking about here is not the version preached by Christians (Christ, Heaven, etc.). Annie’s ‘salvation’ is an existentialist version. It has nothing to do with an ‘afterlife’; it is an immediate rescue from the absurdity of the world and the angst of being in it. If I can create a Perfect Moment (which I can’t), I can reassure myself that the world is not utterly absurd (which it seems to be). 

Annie pursues ‘salvation’ by creating and arranging scenes. For her, life is scripted but never rehearsed. Her ‘actors’ are given directions (sometimes explicit, sometimes implied): how to act, what to communicate, and when to emote. But the film is one-take only, with no reshoots, no edits, and the dialogue is improv.

Annie’s life is one of perpetual frustration, disappointment, and despair. Annie’s world is a world of ideals, images, and forms. But that’s not the real world—a world stubbornly resistant to direction (alienation) and perpetually overflowing every ‘form’ we attempt to impose on it. That resistance, that overflow, is what ‘nauseated’ Sartre. 

Annie seeks salvation in the world. She arranges her moments to reflect back to her iher mage of herself. If she ever could actually create such a Perfect Moment, a physical expression of her spiritual essence, then she could be sure of her own salvation. The moment occurs, and it is perfect, so it (and by extension, I) is saved…in the mind of God.

“Yeah, prove it!” Ok, the perfection of any event, any moment, is measured in relationship to God—his essence, his values. If a moment incorporates God’s values perfectly, it reproduces, on the temporal plane, the eternal order of things (“on earth as it is in heaven”). Therefore, the essence (order) of any ‘moment’ or event pre-exists the event itself…on the eternal plane, qua God. So it is necessarily saved, waiting to happen in history. 

The Perfect Moment is created by Annie for Annie; it reflects her. In that reflection, Annie can be assured of her own salvation. Very neat, very wrong! Annie is the ultimate narcissist. She is the God that came before YHWH, you know, when “the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters.”  Annie is trying to make a world that will reflect her image of herself to herself for herself. Claustrophobic? 

According to Judeo-Christian theology, YHWH also made a world ‘in his image,' but with two big differences: (1) YHWH’s world is free, i.e., unscripted. Its only limitations are the limitations imposed by the stage itself (Sartre’s ‘facticity’); (2) YHWH’s world reflects back to him…but it also projects out onto every other event in Universe. It is a projected image shared for the benefit of others, rather than an image reflected solely for the benefit of self.

Of course, YHWH sprinkles his stage with various props, signs, arrows, etc. But what the actors choose to do with these props is entirely up to them. Like Annie, God is looking for himself in the world. Annie is building a mechanical apparatus in the hope that it will reflect her spirit. God says, “Here I am; copy me.” In the first case, Annie is the agent; in the second case, you are. 

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According to Sartre, Freedom is the only Value. According to Pope Leo XIII, Value is Freedom. Therefore, God’s primal gift to the world is one gift with two faces. True freedom empowers (but does not compel) one to ‘do good’. In fact, according to Leo, one is only truly free - free from attachments, idols, etc.—when one is actively engaged in doing good. 

We are born free! But we voluntarily exchange our freedom for power and pleasure. We ‘sell our souls’ to honor our attachments and to feed our addictions.

So just as Beauty, Truth, and Justice are each The Good as it expresses itself in various contexts, so Freedom…as it expresses itself in every context. Thus, Freedom is the uber-value, and Beauty, Truth and Justice are its subsets. Where is Keats when we need him most: “Value is Freedom, Freedom, Value.”

Annie is motivated by the selfish desire to find her own personal salvation, or at least to confirm it, in one perfect moment. YHWH is motivated by his love for others; Annie is motivated by her love of self. 

Matthew Kelly’s book, Holy Moments, offers a bridge. Like Annie, Kelly is hyper-focused on the moment, and he finds salvation in that moment. But Annie’s salvation comes from an ‘artificially arranged material world’; Kelly’s comes through an ‘organically evolved spiritual world’. 

Now if I were you, the phrase ‘organically evolved spiritual world’ would have set off my ‘BS’ alarm: “metaphysical mumbo jumbo.” (For those of you religiously inclined, yes, the BS alarm is the voice of the Holy Spirit.) But in this instance, you can safely ignore the warning. Don’t turn off the alarm, though; just press the reset button!

Every moment, every event, originates and culminates in God’s values. The event itself is the response of our created world to its creator’s values as they are projected into the material world (grace). My ‘organically evolved spiritual world’ is simply God’s nexus of values as they express themselves in the historical context of a specific moment. To the extent that you act out of those values only, you create a Holy Moment, not a Perfect Moment, a Holy Moment.  

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