Monday, May 12, 2008

The Sign Pointing Towards "Being"

Today's 'Meditation of the Day' in the Magnificat and Doctors of the Catholic Church talks of 'being' and it set my thoughts swirling with a Girard quote or two that I would like to share. The meditation is from Sister Jean-Marie Howe, O.C.S.O., the retired abbess of the Cistercian Abbey of the Assumption de l’Acadie in New Brunswick, Canada. (I would have you start by looking at the word "sign," in the title of this meditation, and thinking of its meaning to be a pointing towards "being.")

The Sign (or "Being") Our Heart Is Attuned To

In monastic life, we speak of the “return to the heart” (reditus ad cor), the “life of the heart,” and “finding the place of the heart.” In essence, to find one’s heart is to find one’s “being,” for the heart “senses” or “picks up being.” Monastic life is full of “being,” filled as it is with spiritual realities, because it is filled with the Mystery of Christ. The awakened “heart” is attuned to “being,” attuned to the intimate reality contained therein, for the “heart” is a spiritual organ, a sort of radar that senses the spiritual wherever it is. Thus, the deep “heart” roots itself in “being,” whence comes its substance and a real attachment to God. It is by virtue of this contact with God that we are transformed, “really.”

I cannot let this opportunity pass without alluding to the colorful metaphor employed by Simone Weil to explain this type of transformation and also to unmask any illusions in this area. Allow me to quote just a bit of her text:

“There is no fire in a cooked dish, but one knows it has been on the fire.

“On the other hand, even though one may think to have seen the flames under them, if the potatoes are raw it is certain they have not been on the fire.

“It is not by the way a man talks about God, but by the way he talks about things of the world that best shows whether his soul has passed through the fire of the love of God. In this manner no deception is possible. There are false imitations of the love of God, but not of the transformation its effects in the soul, because one has no idea of this transformation except by passing through it oneself…

“But, like a woman’s pregnancy, this transformation is not effected by direct efforts, but a union of love with God.”

This loving union is…called “contact with” and indicates a union at the level of the “heart,” a substantial union that gives “being” and transforms the person. Persons transformed in this manner carry God, the Beloved, within their “hearts.” The words, actions, and even the mere presence of such persons has, as a direct result of coming into contact with “the” Other, a weight or a density that is “other.”

…One could say that our… attachment to God, at the level of the “heart” will transform the image of God that we are into the likeness of God that we were born to be. This is the growth of “spiritual being.”

She writes that "to find one's 'heart' is to find one's 'being'" and that at this deep level of the "heart" there has been "a substantial union that gives 'being' and transforms the person." And by way of using quotes from Simone Weil, Sr Jean-Marie inserts the deception that is caused by false imitations of "being." She differentiates the density of "heart" which is due to a union (or contact) with God verses a "heart" tossed about due to a lack substantiality in God. In other words, a "heart" with true substance has been opened and converted by a union with the Other, with God, the True Transcendence, in a fashion of imitatio Christi. A "heart" remaining within itself, refusing to be even exposed to the Other, has no alternative but to be caught up in the unending quest for substance in a wasteland of false imitations.

"Being" is a fact or a particular state of existence and the term used to describe the field of study of "being" is ontology. In Deceit, Desire and the Novel Girard writes

Imitative (mimetic) desire is always a desire to be Another. (83)
He goes on to write of an "ontological sickness" where your source of being (or mimetic desire) comes from a coveting of what the other desires - in other words, to covet the other's essence. Girard slightly reworks this idea in Violence and the Sacred, and comes up with an essential form of human desire, which might best be described as desire-as-ontology.

Once his basic needs are satisfied (indeed sometimes even before), man is subject to intense desires, though he may not know precisely for what. The reason is that he desires being, something he himself lacks and which some other person seems to possess. The subject thus looks to that other person to inform him of what he should desire in order to acquire that being. If the model, who is apparently already endowed with superior being, desires some object, that object must surely be capable of conferring an even greater plenitude of being. (146)

It is when we attempt to grab for our "being" (and we must seek "being" as we are "made" or called into existence with and by this desire for meaing) we "fall" into sin and violence. Only through a loving obedience with God are we forged into a "being."

So it is that the Trinitarian Experience provides for the only infinite source of "being" where fullness of "being" may be experienced - all other attempts to come to "being" will inevitably lead to rivlry, scandal and violence.

Maybe the best way to describe the Trinitarian Experience (TE) is the Greek word, perichoresis which is the eternal infinite loving flow of person, idea and virtue that exists between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each fully receiving and giving of the other. Within this TE is a co-inherence that all three members of the Trinity inhere or exist within each other. Before everything, there is God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit - eternally existing in loving union so true that Three are One.

Again, perichoresis beautifully describes this intimate mutual indwelling, the mutual dance of indwelling/co-inherence of the three Persons of the Trinity. When God created humanity, He said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). He created us in the image of His Likeness ("in our image"), meaning that His Trinitarian nature, the perichoresis, is somehow reflected in us. God's eternal intention for His children was that we would live with Him, with each other and with all Creation, in a dance of communion that would reflect the greater Perichoresis.

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