Thursday, January 28, 2016

An Early Lenten Reflection: Hiding and Seeking

When they heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you? He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.” Then God asked: Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat? The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.” The LORD God then asked the woman: What is this you have done? The woman answered, “The snake tricked me, so I ate it.” [Gen. 3:8-13, NAB]

The simplicity of the action in the story of the Fall of the Human Creature provides a relationality of seeking, hiding, being seen, being accused,  and even accusing, despite all the finger-pointing every which way. Whatever Michaelangelo intended in his painting of the creation of man, the fingers of the man and God are pointed in accusation toward each other.

'Where are you?' The man does not respond with the hineni of the Patriarchs, the 'here I am' that formulates the responsible response to the call. Instead, the man, in fear, shame and even guilt, conceals himself. When put to the test of an honest response, the man points at the women in a vain attempt to defray his guilt, and at God, for 'put[ting] her here with me.' Not to be outdone in buck-passing, the woman points to the snake. As that great philosopher-theologian, Flip Wilson, has concluded, the devil made them do it. No one in Genesis 3 seems to own anything they do. Well, perhaps things are not as bad as all that.

In his The Moral Emotions: Reclaiming the Evidence of the Heart (Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Pr., 2014), Anthony Steinbock has identified this hiding from God as the 'paradigm of shame,' and he rightly states that 'hiding' signifies the injury in the relationship between the human and the divine. However, it is the very discovery of nakedness (punning on the Hebrew 'arum/'eyrom cunning/nakedness), and shame that also confirms that the general orientation to God has not been abrogated; for that orientation is the source of the moral emotions experience by the man and the woman. God, in his orientation toward the man, seeks the human; the human, in their orientation toward God, seek God, despite the change in the relationship.

At the heart of shame before God is the change in heart, called by some 'repentance,' the metanoia that holds out the possibility of healing the injured relationship with God. Indeed, once the emotion of shame experienced by the man and the woman becomes attached to an 'act,' an accomplishment that comprises a transgression against the 'other' (in this case, God), the emotional structure becomes more complex to includes guilt, which, in its consideration and fundamental orientation to and of the 'other,' opens upon the possibility of change, both in the meaning of the past action/transgression, and its future status.

"Make straight the path of the Lord" [John 1.23; Isaiah 40:3].

God takes no path to the human; his unconditional call is already there. Only the human needs to tend her garden, keep its paths open and direct, letting nothing hide or impede any progress upon them. No thicket, no forest, shall cast a shadow upon the path. The changing heart is a most wonderful and creative gardener. And while every day is a day for metanoia, Lent provides a place in the liturgical life of the Church that magnifies the seeking of the human and the divine. This movement of liturgy invites the human person into a personhood constituted by responsibility toward the other, and the interpersonal space of the self given to the Myself (which is the good to myself for me). This movement is oriented 'up', into the verticality not only of religious experience but of moral experience as well.

Making 'straight the path' is a kind of phenomenological reduction, where the self sets all things aside so that it may appear before the "Other." The textures of pride collapse, leaving only an authentic self giving itself to the Myself, effacing all counterfeit claims that feed such pride, which Steinbock identifies as the "poverty" of the recipient of givenness. Such a self, standing free and clear, has a richness about it, a plasticity that can open upon idolatry (suppressing givenness, squeezing it into a place where it cannot be contained) or upon a lack that receives what has given itself. This "lack" is not the flat 'lack 'of Lacanian psychoanalysis that seeks any fulfillment, any occlusion by any signifier that happens to be floating by. This lack seeks not occlusion but a different kind of fulfillment where the self gives itself to Myself as oriented to the other, to 'revelation' and the metanoia the ensues when  the human self positions itself before holiness.

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