Saturday, October 24, 2015

Now And at the Hour of Our Death

No prayer comes as close as the Ave Maria does in embracing facticity and our being toward death. The one who prays this prayer petitions the mother of God to pray for the petitioner "now and at the hour of [our] death." Interestingly, the Western (Latin) and Eastern (Greek, Slavonic) versions of the prayer are similar, though the Western version adds the final sentence, based presumably on the Tridentine catechism and ultimately on Chalcedon and Ephesus (the Eastern tradition already includes the theotokos in its prayer of pure praise). The Eastern Marian devotion shows little interest in the yesterdays, todays and tomorrows of death; but the Western version insists on an awareness of the now and then.

The gospel of Luke and the conciliar church interest me less here than the prayer's incorporation of quotidian life and the hour that unites human experience. The presence of finality in every moment of living points to the very thrownness and facticity of the human predicament. There is an admirable acceptance of finitude in the prayer, even as it embraces the manner of the Incarnation, whose prayerful celebration entangles every life and every death. In this sense, the prayer does not merely petition, it calls for authenticity: it calls for a life whose being toward death authorizes a 'good life' ordered to its constitutive finitude and the preciousness of time.

The human life chiasmically united to the divine life in the instance of the Incarnation binds the infinite with finitude in the moment of the Christ event. The divine witness to the body and the flesh in Christ sees these human elements in their distinctions of contiguity: the body and the flesh are related not paradigmatically but syntagmatically. Dying belongs to the body; death to the flesh. The dying of the body and the death of the flesh do not therefore establish some kind of absolute dualism, a structural 'either/or' but an relation of contiguity that resists attributing a presence to one but not the other, in a mutually exclusive manner. The affectivity of the self plays out at the juncture of the horizons of the body and the flesh, in the chiasm where they interdigitate but do not mingle.

The body and the flesh unite at the level of the person, at every now and every then, at every instantiation of the self. The very image and likeness of the divine in the human, even in the divine witness of that image and likeness that sees it as 'good' and authentic, sees goodness from its essentiality of love. The hypostatic union par excellence, the Incarnation, mirrors the hypostatic union of the body and the flesh, which, in turn, reflects in distance the Christ event.

The event of death is the potential of the sacralization of space and time. The event of death is always 'my death'; it is a counter-experience of death, of the death of the other, whose death is always imbued with illeity, the death that is the death of the third person. There is not greater love than this: to lay one's life down for a friend---to die for the other; to die in the place of the other's self. But can one be in the hour of death of the other? Levinas's notion of substitution would say no; for the face of the other already saturates the intuition with deontological imperatives toward the face, and the closest one can get to die for the other is 'thou shall not kill.' We may stand for the other against the killing of the body, but we are unable to enter the flesh--- substitution might lean toward a sacrifice of self, but that my-self merely serves my-self when it desires to experience the flesh of the other: I am helpless to make satisfaction for the other, which I may approach asymptotically only, because I can do nothing but satisfy my-self, my own need to embrace the ethic created by relation to the other.

But what if the relation to the other at the hour of the other's death is not a 'hostage situation,' as Levinas (Otherwise Than Being, "Substitution") suggests, but the opposite---kenotic? Does the sacralization of time and space at the hour of death of the other open into empathy, against holding the self's place as a hostage? Perhaps better to pose the matter this way: does the erotic reduction at the hour of death break from the other gripping me as a hostage, and turn me toward a kenotic self-emptying that makes a space for the other in me to experience his self's exposure within his flesh as a saturated phenomenon? And is this not the moment of authenticity brought about in being toward death? The erotic reduction, then, might make a claim upon the givenness of the (face of) other, who, in being seen with a gaze of love, does not hold itself, its illeity as something to be grasped, or hold the gaze/gazer hostage, but also empties itself to receive the gaze. The human other has at least the potential to transform the gaze of the lover, and this might be an instance where the asymmetry in the phenomenal laterality is mitigated by love and the formation of empathy.

The call from the Cross, the centerpiece of the Christ-event, gives voice to its pure call from the very givenness of the divine love that witnesses to the event from the chiasm within the hypostatic union. The Incarnation, celebrated in the prayer to the theotokos that also petitions for the authenticity to embrace the facticity of quotidian life, cuts a space in the fabric of being toward death. This space is the treasury of merit from which the kenotic space opens in the face of the other. That space of empathy has a name: love.


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  2. It is perhaps best if you level your critique at me alone. The Christ-event and the hypostatic union are the possibilities that ground this post. The divine-side of these events are matters of faith and of possibility, though we have looked at the problem of just what a 'God-sided' view would present. In this post I am bringing phenomenological notions (I hesitate to call them commitments) to bear on the essentials of Christian faith, not the converse. Why did you not have a similar objection to the Crux of the Crucifixion pieces?