Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day: "We Live Past Hope"

"[W]hat you hear in my voice is fury, not suffering. Anger, not moral authority" 
-- Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (p. 132)

 "[W]e shall love each other here if ever at all."
- Audre Lorde, "Martha" from Cables to Rage (1970)

On this December 1st, I wanted to draw attention to an annual observance.  Across the globe it was World Aids Day.  It is an opportunity for all of us each year to unite and recommit ourselves to ending this global pandemic.  It has been thirty years since the first reported cases of this death dealing disease afflicted members of the GLBT community.  It was even first called GRID (gay-related immune deficiency), a term as misleading as it was stigmatizing.  Although a diagnosis of HIV+ no longer means the death sentence it once did in the 1980s (or, at least, it doesn't in much of the developed world and often only if one can afford the drug cocktail necessary to prolong life), it still remains a highly stigmatizing disease, especially in the developing world.  But it knows nothing of boundaries: it affects all races, all socio-economic levels, all countries, all sexual orientations ... all people.

Where HIV/AIDS has divided and killed, it has also enabled the formation of new coalitions (like the justly famous ACT-UP) and fostered new tactics of survival (tactics both physiological and spiritual).  It has spurned not only some of my generation's great examples of agit prop but also exceptional works of literature, poetry, theater, and other cultural artifacts both mournful and empowering -- perhaps empowering precisely because mournful.   Indeed, much of the very possibility of queer studies scholarship came about as both academics and activists (and the multiple combinations that those titles perform) lent their voices as well as created spaces for listening to the forgotten, ignored, bereft, and dead.  The affective register became for this scholarship its very condition of possibility. 

A Key theme in the observance is "Getting to Zero" -- getting to zero new diagnoses of HIV-infections.  But just as this is a time to recommit ourselves to this important, generations-long fight, it is equally a time to remember all those who have died.  It is also a time to make penance for the many ways our societies and religious communities have used their ill-formed rhetorics of fear and hatred.  What should have been words of healing balm became rather missives of hurtful speech.  
But I wish to close on a more hopeful note, by sharing one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite (and justly celebrated) contemporary plays -- Angels in America.  (I'd also recommend listening to an earlier NPR interview with Tony Kushner on the 20th anniversary of the play.)  But the scene I share from the 2003 HBO film version occurs as the title character, Prior Walter, stands before the heavenly principalities and pleads his case for "more life."  It is also probably the finest statement of Kushner's own philosophy/theology: we live in spite of the tragedies that befall us, "we live past hope."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

CFP: College Theology Society 2012

I'm so very long behind in blogging.  I have several posts I'm trying to finish and others I'm beginning to sketch.  It's, of course, terribly difficult to get such things done when you work full-time in Baltimore and go to school in DC (with mid-terms right around the corner), plus other obligations. Hopefully, I'll be able to get some of these and other things done.  In any event, I wanted to pass along this announcement from one of my long time favorite academic societies, although I'm yet to attend one of its conventions.  The theme is both timely and provocative. 

Religious traditions live by translation, as religions are expressed not only in different languages but also in various social and cultural contexts. Artists, missionaries, public theologians, scholars, and teachers have always sought ways to communicate religious convictions and questions to new audiences. Those efforts at translation often bring controversy, as the recent history of Christianity, from Wyclif and Tyndale to the Roman Catholic Church’s new English translation of the Roman Missal, abundantly shows. Still, translation remains essential to religion, particularly in a globalized world that gives access to, and responsibilities toward, people whose voices would not have easily been encountered generations ago. This new access—through the proliferation media, greater ease of travel, and perhaps especially the extent of current migration—is changing daily lives throughout the world, challenging people to negotiate the differences that emerge. As people interact in new ways, dominant cultures find themselves not only translating, but translated into, new social realities. In these interactions, translation has served too often as a tool of colonization, including the destruction of languages and cultures. But it has served as well in the service of enculturation that enriches religious traditions, as in the artwork and vital community of San Antonio’s San Fernando Cathedral, and the transformative dialogues that can arise between religions. What new possibilities for our lives and our religious traditions are emerging through such translations? What valued wisdom of the past are we in danger of losing? Where might we need to acknowledge that different languages and worldviews are incommensurable, impossible to translate fully enough? And how, as teachers and scholars of religion, can we assist our students, our faith communities, and our world in the translations necessary to meet the challenges of our time?
See here for the listing of individual sections and conveners.  The CTS, which was established in 1953, will meet this year at Saint Mary's University of Texas in San Antonio from May 31 through June 3, 2012 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Examining Assumptions: "Ever Intent upon Heavenly Things"

Photo: Window, St Aloysius in Somers Town, London.

"To be a human being is to be open to infinitely more than simply being a human being."
Jean-Luc Nancy, 

Monday, August 15th, was the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or what in the Eastern Christian churches is called the "Dormition of the Theotokos" (for some history see here).  Although theological and liturgical traditions dealing with this aspect of mariology date back to the earliest Christian centuries, for Roman Catholics is was on Noveber 1, 1950, that Pope Pius XII solemnly declared the Assumption a dogma.   Within the hierarchy of church teaching, a dogma is defined as a revealed truth pertaining to faith or morals, and therefore requiring belief for salvation.  While ostensibly about the Virgin, the dogma of the Assumption actually teaches an eschatological truth.

Okay.  I can see the eyes rolling.  But wait, don't click away just yet.  Please.

Yes, there's something about Mary when it comes to Catholics.  Indeed, even the great twentieth-century Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth recognized the centrality of the Marian doctrines to Catholicism, although it is for that very reason that Barth cannot regard Catholicism's mariological obsession as true Christianity: he accepted the common dogmatic tradition of the early church, but denied her cultic veneration by Catholics, which he saw as "overloading" the doctrinal content.  In volume 1.2 of his celebrated Church Dogmatics, Barth doesn't mince any words, explicitly calling Mary's veneration a "heresy" and "cancer" that needs rooting out.  For Barth, veneration of the Virgin was nothing short of a mistake, "an excrescence, i.e., a diseased construct of theological thought": "Wherever Mary is venerated, and devotion to her takes place, there the Church of Christ does not exist."  

Much of my own life has been spent being formed in/by institutions dedicated to her patronage: my childhood parish and its parochial school that attended from K-12 grades, Our Lady of Pompei (I share this link somewhat ambivalently); my undergraduate college, Mount St. Mary's University; and the Baltimore church choir with which I sang for a time, the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.   I even recall the pastor of my childhood parish asking me, upon a visit home from college, whether in my theological studies I would be taking coursework in mariology.  I bristled at the thought, chalking up his question to his pre-Vatican II seminary training, and usually treating further examples of courses offered in mariology as conservative throwbacks.  But Mary is central to several prominent Catholic theologians and church leaders of the late 19th and 20th centuries: Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balathasar, Wojtyla/John Paul II, Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, and even so-called progressive thinkers like Edward Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner, and Leonardo Boff.  But it's safe to say that I have never had a particularly personal devotion to the Virgin Mary.  I do, however, understand and appreciate her role in popular religiosity, and works by Rachel Fulton, Margot Fassler, Miri Rubin, Stephen J. Shoemaker, Donna Spivey Ellington, Jaroslav Pelikan, George Tavard, and Robert Orsi help clarify the histories and ethnographic practices of these Marian beliefs.  Still, my Catholicism (whatever it may be) has always been heavily influenced by what Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich called the Protestant Principle, which might also explain my affinity toward/for certain brands of postmodern theology (e.g., Caputo) the general retrieval of apophatic and mystical traditions.

Many feminist theologians have rightly pointed to how oppressive and patriarchal appeals to Mary can be.  Writers like Brazilian Sr.Ivone Gebara in Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Poor; Sri Lankan Fr. Tissa Balasuriya in Mary and Human Liberation; and Fordham University professor Sr. Elizabeth Johnson in Truly Our Sister have pointed toward new ways to reactive this ancient symbolic language.  Gebera, a leading figure in ecofeminist Latin American theology, was silenced by then Prefect Ratzinger (forced to study traditional theology for 2 years), and I haven't been able to locate much else about her, though she has since continued to publish.  In Balasurya's case, such work lead to doctrinal investigation and ultimately to an excommunication that was later rescinded when he was reconciled with the Church.  Johnson offers a mariology "from below" that aims to be "theologically sound, spiritually empowering, ethically challenging, socially liberating, and ecumenically fruitful."  For Johnson, Balasuriya, and others, Mary, when properly understood within her scriptural matrix, becomes not a blight but a blessing for liberative theological projects. 

But where does this leave me and the Assumption?  It's not my intention to deny or defend the dogma, but I do want to share a few brief, but I think significant thoughts, from a theologian who remains a decisive if sometimes problematic influence on me, the great German Jesuit Karl RahnerWIT has also posted on Rahner and the Assumption, giving especial attention to Rahner's justly praised "hermeneutics of eschatological statements" insofar as these relate to the Assumption.  They don't, however, concern themselves with the particular essay that is my focus.

In the first volume of his Theological Investigations series, Rahner published his paper "The Interpretation of the Dogma of the Assumption" (pp. 215-27).  Indeed, Rahner had prepared an entire manuscript on the Assumption that went unpublished for fifty years, after a Jesuit censor nixed it in 1951.  So, an under-appreciated and often ignored aspect in Rahner is how central both Mary and the saints are for his theological project.  Dr. Peter Fritz has been attempting to rectify this (along with showing Rahner's versatility for the future): see here for his still available paper from the 2011 Karl Rahner Society annual meeting (they don't leave them up indefinitely!).  Fritz's paper makes a number of very important observations.  Noting the apparent non-centrality of Mary to Rahner's theological project, Fritz nonetheless observes:
Many of Rahner’s Marian writings seem to concern the development of dogma only; thus Mary appears to be a peripheral figure for him, whereas she appears central for Hans Urs von Balthasar. But a closer reading of Rahner’s Marian writings, when they are placed in the context of mid-twentieth century theological debates, particularly the controversy over the “fundamental principle” for Mariology, reveals that Mary, if she does not reside at the center of Rahner’s theology, allows us access to this center, from somewhere other than the periphery. 
One intriguing thing Fritz extrapolates from Rahner's mariology is not simply that it is important, but how Rahner goes about his mariological tasks.  In other words, and this goes to the heart of censorship of Rahner's book on the Assumption by his confrere, what matters is Rahner's performance of a Catholic theological ethos.  The Jesuit censor, as Fritz points out, objected to Rahner's work, because Rahner didn't hue closely enough to the argumentative strategy of the papal teachings.  Whereas Rahner's interpretation and argument for the Assumpotion's dogmatic importance might end up at the same place as Pius XII, for the Jesuit censor it was necessary for Rahner to engage in a formal repetition of the papal language.  This, of course, would be slightly impossible, because, as Fritz rightly points out, Rahner and Pius have significantly different starting points.  Fritz comments:  
When Rahner thinks about Mary's Assumption, he asks first how her final end relates to the whole of salvation history.  Pius, on the other hand, emphasizes the private significance of the Assumption for Mary. These varying approaches to the Assumption do not lead to a complete divergence between Rahner's and Pius's conclusion...but they do raise the question of how a Catholic theologian might best arrive at such conclusions.
But what I think is so important here, and which Fritz spends a brief time elaborating at the conclusion of his essay, is this very question of ethos:
Is Catholicism's ethos properly deployed as a strict enforcement of "the sacred," a determinate sector occupied by the rosary, the Eucharist, and those who partake in them, or as the radical openness of human life toward future fulfillment, an openness that uses multiple paths -- some manifestly sacred and others not -- to advance toward enjoyment of God? In fact, it may be both, so long as the former does not cancel out the latter tout court. This last clause, of course, is the key.  

As a rhetorical term, ethos names the character or guiding beliefs of a community or determinate social group.  Its literal Greek meaning is "accustomed place," and its Latin equivalent is mores. We might think of ethos as something akin to Pierre Bourdieu's notion of habitus.  To speak of ethos in relation to theology and Christian practice is therefore to ask not only what the operatively fundamental dispositions are but also to raise the question of what constitutes proper persuasion.  That is, within any given ethos there operate certain rules and grammars by which certain speeches can and others not be heard.  Ethos names the anterior field our of which the power of our theological language emerges and from which it derives its solicitation. 

Let me turn now to Rahner's essay, "The Interpretation of the Dogma of the Assumption."  To read Rahner is, I believe, to experience the pleasures of theological indirection.  We must immediately note that Rahern's concern is with interpretation, or with "an exposition of the content of the new dogma" in order "to understand what is really meant by saying that someone is corporeally glorified in heaven" (pp. 215-16).    Rahner outlines his approach:
Thus is we wish to know what is really involved in the substance of this defined proposition, our best plan is to ask first of all in what wider context of Christian truths it really belongs.  The true meaning of any individual proposition of revealed truth does indeed contain an 'item' of new knowledge, which is added on to the other truths, enlarges and completes them; yet a proposition of this kind is itself only really intelligble in the totality of the one saving Truth.  We may regard this totality as plainly set out for the first time in the Apostle's Creed.  Our question then runs as follows: To which article of faith does the new dogma belong as its consequence and organic unfolding?
In answer to his question, Rahner posits three creedal phrases to which the "new dogma" relates: (a) "born of the Virgin Mary"; (b) "descended into the Kingdom of the dead"; and (c) "the resurrection of the flesh."  In relation to the first phrase, Rahner does discuss the (now still) controversial claim that, as theotokos, Mary is "co-redemptrix."  For Rahner, Mary is co-redemtrix, not because she shares ontologically in Christ's redemption of the world but because she "co-operates" in Christ's saving act, "insofar as she does, for the salvation of the whole world and not only for her own, what a human being can and must do in the power of grace and for grace: receive it" (pp. 217-18).  

But it is with respect to the third creedal phrase that Rahner locates the most decisive meaning of the this "new dogma."  He writes:

She who by her faith received salvation in her body for herself for us all, has received it entire.  And this entire salvation is a salvation of the entire human being, a salvation which has already begun even in its fullness.  Mary in her entire being is already where perfect redemption exists, entirely in that region of being which came to be through Christ's Resurrection (p. 225).
Rahner's position, in short, is that in the Virgin all creation finds an anticipation of a transfigured state.  She already participates in that "perfect redemption" of which the gospel preaches.  For him, Mary symbolizes in "the most perfect way possible" what a fully "redeemed person is and can be."  Mary's fiat symbolizes the human person's truest act freedom.  Her assumption (or dormition) is a prolepsis of all of creation's eschatological hope. 

He continues:
The salvation of the flesh too has already begun in its final form.  The world is already in transition to God's eternity, not only in the 'spirit' of those who have gone to their everlasting home and not only in the body of the Son who came 'from above,' but also in the bodies of those who are simply 'from below.'  Even now there belongs to the reality of the entire creation that new dimension which we call heaven and which we shall also be able to call new eather once it has subjected all earthly reality to itself and not just an initial part of it (p. 226).
If mariology was for Barth a metastasized cancer, it is for Rahner a healing balm: the problem with protestantism, says Rahner, is that they only have a theology of the cross and not a theology of glory "as a formula for reality here and now" (p. 226).   Certainly in her maternity, Mary symbolizes the generativity of creation.  But where others would and still do posit maternity as a fundamental mariological principle, Rahner proposes what is always his basso continuo -- graced nature (cf. Johnson, p. 145; Fritz, p. 5).  What makes Rahner's position so fruitful is how he ensures that a fundamental mariological principle, should such a principle exist, is actually fundamental: whatever else it might do, for a mariological principal to be truly fundamental it must touch on the very core of theological thought.  Rahner concludes his essay with these words:
But for anyone who believes that counter to all appearances the forces of thee world to come have already seized hold of this world, and that these forces do no consist merely in a promise, remaining beyond every sort of creaturely existence, for a future still unreal; for such a one the 'new' dogma is really nothing more than a clarification, throwing light on a state of salvation already in existence....The 'new' dogma has significance not only for mariology but also for ecclesiology and general eschatology" (pp. 226-27).
Rahner's mariology is part and parcel with his continual concern for the proper telos of human fulfillment. His work on the Marian doctrines (but especially the Assumption) mediates, as Fritz suggests, between theology and its ethos, thereby suggesting that if theology is to possess "vigor, cogency, and cognitive power" (to repurpose a phrase of R. R. Reno's) it must remain somehow connected to an ecclesially mediated pneumatic existence.  Indeed, as Brian Daley, S.J. argues in a recent article, much of what constitutes the differences in approaches and understandings of Mary's role are related not solely to "the form in which that doctrine is expressed as part of the central faith and practice of the church" but "are really differences in ecclesiology: what one expects of the church, how the church communicates the gospel, where one looks for the church in its fullness" (pp. 860 and 862). But suggesting a connection between vision and virtue, Rahner is not in any way prescribing veneration of the Virgin as a litmus test for orthodoxy, not least because Rahner recognizes in such veneration the historicity of all Catholic devotional life.

To conclude this rather long post -- a length that I still find odd, given my lack of personal devotion to the Virgin -- I wonder if we might not think of doctrinal language as cognitive maps of available affects (with bows here to Sianne Ngai's wonderful text, Ugly Feelings).  Doctrines, like texts, register (communicate?) certain modalities of experience and existence; in them affects are condensed (but hopefully not calcified).  The now not-so-new dogmatic language of the Assumption places the experience of hoping at its core, and it is hope that moves us into a future.  As a traditional Collect for the Assumption reads:
Almighty and everlasting God,
You have taken up body and soul
into the heavenly glory the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of Your Son: Grant, we beseech You, that, ever intent upon heavenly things,
we may be worthy to be partakers of her glory.
This prayer to be "ever intent upon heavenly things" asks of its supplicants an affective posture: to rest in the hope that this historical existence will be transformed and enlivened.  Mary's Assumption is creation's prolepsis: in her "most perfect redemption" believers witness what it means to partake, as she does, in Divine glory.  In Mary, the human person's constitutive openness to infinity is made manifest.


Brian Daley, "Woman of Many Names: Mary in Orthodox and Catholic Theology," Theological Studies 71 (2010), 846-869.

Friday, August 26, 2011

New Open-Access Journal: Lumen et Vita

In the course of googling for something random, I came across this interesting and newly minted open-access online journal, Lumen et Vita, which is the "graduate academic journal of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry."  It looks to, at least presently, an annual publication, with volume 1 having just appeared sometime this year.  It also appears to be presently restrict submissions to members of the student body of BC's STM.  I hope that both it increases it's frequency and opens the submissions process up to graduate students at other institutions.  I think this latter point is especially important, because, unlike other fields in the Humanities (e.g., English), there are no graduate student journals of theology (or at least none to my knowledge).  I also hope they increase the number of books reviewed.

Still, the initiate ought to be congratulated, since it importantly moves theology further into the new world e-scholarship.   Here's the table of contents for the inaugural volume:

Redefining Spirit Through the Body for the Healing and Flourishing of Trauma Survivors
   Paige Cargioli

Suffering Our Way to Salvation: Ivone Gebara, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, and the Adequacy of the Cross as a Symbol for Women
  Amy Chapman

The Human as Encounter: Karl Barth's Theological Anthropology and a Barthian Vision of the Common Good
  Benjamin Durheim

From Theoretical to Practical: Developing Tillich's Aologetics
  Wendy Morrison

Millennium Development Goals and Catholic Social Teaching: Ongoing Responsibility and Response
  James O'Sullivan

The Consciousness and Human Knowledge of Christ according to Lonergan and Balthasar
  Aaron Pidel, S.J.

Book Review
God's Many-Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Formation
  Luis Joshua Sáles

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Food and Bodies Transformed

On this Holy Thursday, I wanted to share two passages that I find particularly striking.  The evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, celebrated on Holy Thursday, opens the Holy Triduum (which closes with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday).  This period of solemnity and celebration is considered the "culmination of the liturgical year."  Holy Thursday in particular celebrates the giving of the Eucharist to the Church.

The first quotation comes from the great American liturgical theologian Aidan Kavanagh's The Shape of Baptism (1978):
To know Christ sacramentally only in terms of bread and wine is to know him only partially, in the dining room as host and guest.  It is a valid enough knowledge, but its ultimate weakness when isolated is that it is perhaps too civil....However elegant the knowledge of the dining room may be, it begins in the soil, in the barnyard, in the slaughterhouse; amid the quiet violence of the garden, strangled cries, and fat spitting in the pan.  Table manners depend on something's having been grabbed by the throat.  A knowledge that ignores these dark and murderous human gestes is losing its grip on the human condition.

  Aside from the jarring juxtaposition of imagery so characteristic of Kavanagh's prose, there is an obvious inference he means for his readers to draw: to celebrate the Eucharist in the comfort and security of our often sanitized liturgies apart from an active remembrance of the suffering and sacrificial death of Christ is to ignore the abiding heart of the Eucharist: "Table manners depend on something's having been grabbed by the throat."  In the decades following the Second Vatican Council, this concern to re/connect liturgy to life, worship to the witness for social justice,  finds some of its profoundest articulations in theologians influential to, associated with and/or inspired by developments in Liberation Theology.  Thinkers like Karl Rahner, Gustavo Gutierrez, Juan Segundo, Tissa Balasuriya, J. B. Metz, Edward Schillebeeckx, Piet Schoonenberg, and others have exceptional meditations on this aspect of the Eucharist, often tied to equally penetrating analyses of the sacramental presence of Christ.

For appreciating these points within an American context, I can't recommend anything more highly than the late Monika Hellwig's (1929-2005) still moving essay, The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World.  Hellwig begins with a phenomenological description of the human experience of hunger (for food, freedom, meaning, truth, authenticity, etc) along with a description of the basic Eucharistic action as the sharing of a meal, and then employs these to underscore and reinforce a belief in the radical interdependency of all people.  Through a series of compassionate sketches of how global poverty stalks and brutalizes its victims, leaving them bereft of not only sustenance but even human dignity itself, Hellwig concretizes the meaning of the Eucharist for a needy world. 

This leads me to my second, and significantly longer, quotation from Sara Miles's memoir Take This Bread.  It's a curious book, as its author confesses, since it charts the most unlikely of conversions.  But for that very reason, an eminently appropriate religious book.  The following passage comes from the prologue, pp. xiii-xv:
     Beyond any single moment of epiphany, my conversion was a long, complicated, and often unconscious journey.  When I left the home of my atheist parents, I had no reason to think I was looking for God: I just knew I wanted to experience meaning and connection.  The material world was my ground: bodily experiences the context in which I searched for knowledge and love, political and moral purpose.  I looked in all kinds of places, often extreme: in the heat and exertion of restaurant kitchens, in poor people's revolutions and in war zones, in engaged journalism and passionate politics, in love affairs with men and women, in the birth of my child.  Something was tugging at me.  It drew me form individual experience to collective experience, crossing lines each time -- lines of family, of nation, of people, unlike me -- to find intimate human connection.  I saw people betray their friends sacrifice for strangers; I saw people suffer and starve; I saw people transcend their own limitations to nurture others and become part of communities.  Everywhere I saw bodies and food.
     Food and bodies had always been wrapped in meaning for me: They were my way of understanding the world.  But it would take decades to have these accumulated experiences make sense in a narrative, much less one I'd call Christian.  It took actually eating a piece of bread -- a simple chunk of wheat and yeast and water -- to pull those layers of meaning together: to make food both absolutely itself and a sign pointing to something bigger.  It turned out that the prerequisite for conversion wasn't knowing how to behave in a church or having a religious vocabulary or even a priori "belief" in an abstract set of propositions: It was hunger, the same hunger I'd always carried.
     Holy communion knocked me upside down and forced me to deal with the impossible reality of God.  Then, as conversion continued, relentlessly challenging my assumptions about religion and politics and meaning, God forced me to deal with all kinds of other people.  In large ways and small, I wrestled with Christianity: its grand promises and its petty demands, its temptations and hypocrisies, its ugly history and often insufferable adherents.  Faith for me didn't provide a set of easy answers or certainties: It raised more questions than I was ever comfortable with.  The bits of my past -- family, work, war, love -- came apart as I stumbled into church, then reassembled, through the works communion inspired me to do, into a new life centered on feeding strangers: food and bodies, transformed.  I wound up not in what church people like to call 'a community of believers' -- which tends to be code for 'a like-minded club -- but in something huger and wilder than I had ever expected: the suffering, fractious, and unbounded body of Christ.

What Miles articulates connects nicely to what I was only intimating at above: the relation that obtains between the form of one's prayer and the comportment of one's worldly actions.  To speak of a transubstantiation of the gifts of altar is not enough; we must also discover and sustain those actions that transubstantiate the world around us so as to become more fully aligned with the good and liberating intentions of God's reign.  As the great English Dominican Herbert McCabe once wrote, "In all sacraments God shows us what he does and does what he shows us."  Sara Miles discovers this ancient sacramental principal -- expressed in a wonderful chiasmus by McCabe rather than the traditional cumbersome Latin terminology -- when she understands how knowledge of the world comes through "food and bodies."

The Eucharist becomes, to slightly re-purpose the phrasing of the medievalist and theologian Oliver Davies, "the thematic key not only to the way the world is, but also to what and how we are, and to what God has given us of himself to hold and to understand" (The Creativity of God: World, Eucharist, Reason, p. 7).   This is all a case of what Davies would further term "eucharistic semiotics."  It was and remains a goal of the Second Vatican Council that our liturgical signs should, rather than be kept safe in highly ritualized observes, really signify.  To appreciate the Eucharist has the summit from and toward which everything flows is to risk disturbing our worship habits.   Truly there is no more "perverse core" to Christianity (to borrow Zizek's phrase) than what Sara Miles's conversion taught her to understand: the material world is our ground, but it is a world of "food and bodies, transformed."

On Making a Return

Silkrock formation, Paria Canyon (Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area, AZ)
"No human life, not even the life of the hermit in nature's wilderness, is possible without a world which directly or indirectly testifies
to the presence
of other human beings.
-- Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition
"Joys impregnate. 
Sorrows bring forth."
-- William Blake

Well, it has been just over a year since my last blog post.  While I've been lurking on many blogs, I've been relunctant to resume my own, choosing reclusivity rather than re-engagement.  Because I've been dealing with a number of serious professional setbacks that correlate with and directly impact a series of equally serious and, admittedly, devastating personal experiences (with all their attendant affects of fear, failure, grief, and the like), I've held my tongue here for fear of what I might actually say.  Perhaps fittingly, I'll (only somewhat less cryptically) say more about some of this indirectly through a post  I'm currently writing on the swerve (away) from happiness (this might develop into several posts or a series).  That periphrastic enough for you?!

My general hope is to resurrect and relaunch this blog by posting more regularly, including reflections, striking quotations, commentary on items I may be reading at any given moment, various announcements, and even some of my own work as/if it materializes.  Most importantly, I want this blog to serve as a companion to my thoughts during a continued period of bereavement for and because of dreams deferred, hopes made despondent, bureaucratic evils, and the possibility of a future self that will have been made extinct.  If, as this blog's thesis avers, we are only ever indirectly ourselves, then we are equally always grieving over a future self left unrealized.  But, curiously, what can sometimes find actualization is a path left fallow years ago, thereby becoming reacquainted with a self we thought to have long ago rejected or forsaken.  So, perhaps an element in the realization of our indirect subjectivities is a rendering present of our widowed selves.

For now, I'll be posting during the Triduum.