Friday, November 27, 2015

Emmanuel Falque and John Caputo: Martha and Mary Appear in Meister Ekhart

The resurgence of interest in mysticism in 20th century phenomenology, and its continuation into the 21st century worries and fascinates me. Both John Caputo and Emmanuel Falque (along with many other thinkers in the philosophy of religion) recognize an indebtedness to Heidegger's indebtedness to Meister Ekhart, while further incurring debt to the mediaeval mystic. I worry because phenomenology has a plasticity about it that enables its becoming all things to all people in cataphatic splendor and idealism, and I remain fascinated by its methodological edge that cuts to an apophatic and fecund space where an authentic realism takes root. Ekhart's sermon on Luke 10:38-42, the story of Jesus' visit to Martha and Mary's home, has entered the thinking of Caputo and Falque powerfully, and perhaps in complementary ways.

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;  there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, NRSV)

Caputo begins with Ekhart's privileging of Martha over Mary, despite Jesus' remark that Mary, sitting at his feet, "has chosen the better part," an inversion of the traditional mediaeval embrace of the vita comtemplativa  over against the vita activa. Martha responds to the Jesus event in her midst with an urgent agency that makes a space for bringing into existence something that insists (The Insistence of God, 43-49).  She makes a space ready for a very physical and fleshly Jesus, whose bodily needs are as important as his spiritual gifts. She is, in a sense Jesus' partner. Mary, on the other hand, remains enthralled by the call, and unable to respond as a partner, but as one lost in the music of the calling voice, paralyzed by insistence.

Falque reads Ekhart to be embracing Martha as one who already understands the flesh as transformed in the Resurrection. Falque follows Ekhart closely as the latter reads Martha, in effect, as already having been at the feet of Jesus and as one already enacting the life of the spirit by engaging the necessities of the life of the body. 

Meister Ekhart...described, in the visit of Jesus to Martha and Mary..., a kind of prefiguration of our mode of being resurrected. Martha...has in fact a kind of superiority over her sister Mary. She doesn't stay there sitting (objectively) at the feet of the Savior and listening to him but lets herself be inhabited (subjectively) by him. She remains detached from him...because he is in her. (The Metamorphosis of Finitude, trans. G. Hughes, NY: Fordham Univ. Pr., 2012)

Falque's definition of resurrection as 'transformation' of the 'manner of living' in this world and this world itself as embodied in Martha,  seems to complement Caputo's move from insistence to existence, from a call of an event, to an agency responding to that call. The response to the call in Caputo's schema is analogous to the transformations of in Falque's, which in turn, are analogous to Caputo's advent of the Kingdom. It seems then that Falque would agree with Caputo's assessment of Martha:

We take as a model the agency of Martha, the wife who was a virgin. Martha acts, but she acts from the ground of the soul, which is one with the ground of God. that means she is an agent mobilized in response to a provocation, to an event, who gives existence to an insistence, and that existence takes the form of the most material and quotidian reality(Insistence, p.48).

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