Friday, June 10, 2011

Reverencing What Is Revealed in the Resurrection Narratives

As I mentioned in the previous essay, in an essay entitled “Ignatian Spirituality” (found in both An Ignatian Spirituality Reader and As Leaven in the World: Catholic Perspectives on Faith, Vocation, and the Intellectual Life), Howard Gray has explained that, in the Jesuit Constitutions, Ignatius provides a path for helping others pray and find God in all things. The method is explained as attentiveness leading to reverence which leads to devotion. Fr. Gray’s analysis sheds light on another revolutionary Ignatian method of prayer—Ignatian Contemplation which utilizes the imagination to enter into a scene from Scripture. Attentiveness within Ignatian Scriptural Contemplation allows the passage of scripture to be most radically itself as it engages your consciousness. Internalizing the scriptural event, I am “gently alert to what has been revealed” (An Ignatian Spirituality Reader, 64). In attentiveness, you let the scriptural passage in. In the next step, reverence, you embrace what you let in. “Reverence means what one has been attentive to must now be accepted as it is, in its own terms” (65). However, there are psychic and cultural obstacles to reverence. To understand and overcome the obstacles to reverence, it is helpful to study the mimetic theory of cultural anthropologist and theologian Rene Girard.

What do we find when we embrace what is revealed in the resurrection narratives? We may be overwhelmed with gratitude as we find that the risen Jesus is the fullness of love: Jesus, the loving son of the Father/Mother, returns to humanity after humanity has unjustly condemned him, tortured him, abandoned him, and killed him. We may recall moments in our lives when we pushed unconditional love away. We may get brief psychic glimpses of the risen Christ. We may be drawn to a particular character in a particular resurrection narrative and then gain insight into our own need for the glorified Lord. In short, the resurrection points to the truth that we can push unconditional (agapic) love away, but unconditional love will always return to us, drawing our hearts to him. This is the source of the joy that the disciples feel when they finally see the risen Lord. They have been completely accepted.

The problem is that the disciples do not see the risen Jesus right away. Why is that? Let’s consider John 20:11-18. Magdalene does not recognize Jesus at first. The whole possibility that the friend that she lost could return to her does not even occur to her. It lies beyond what Bernard Lonergan would call the horizon of her understanding. She recognizes Jesus when he calls her name. This same mind-blowing quality is found in Luke’s account of the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). The disciples do not recognize Jesus until the breaking of the bread and when they do recognize him, he disappears from their sight. Much of the time, unconditional love is far beyond our ability to imagine. Much of our consciousness is structured by fear of failure and what Robert Hamerton Kelly, a student of Rene Girard, has named the generative mimetic scapegoating mechanism (GMSM) of culture. What is the GMSM? It is the dynamic that gave birth to culture in the first place. For more details about the birth of culture please see the essay preceding this one.

Peter denied Jesus because he was aware of this scapegoat mechanism. He denied the Lord because he did not want to be the next one scapegoated. The gift to Peter was that the one who was scapegoated came back to rehabilitate him. This is symbolized in John 21:15-19. Peter had denied Jesus three times and in the Gospel of John he is rehabilitated three times. If we identify with Peter in this passage, we may feel genuine joy at the Lord’s forgiveness of us and his willingness to call us to feed his sheep, to be of service. We may feel gratitude for the fact that the Lord recognizes our apostolic value even though we make mistakes and sin.

In the same “Ignatian Spirituality” essay, Fr. Gray mentions that Ignatius also valued human experience. Reflecting on our experience gives us more insight into the resurrection. Reflecting on our experience, we find that we are so used to being involved in rivalry that we cannot see the risen Christ. We are so used to thinking that we are either winners or losers that the reality of the salvific, transforming loser who overcomes victimization explodes our reality as it exploded the reality of the entire early Church. We are then led to a choice: either give up the mimetic, rivalristic system of thinking and relish the risen Christ or continue the mimetic, rivalristic system and completely miss him. The mimetic, rivalristic system is the old wine skin that cannot hold the new wine of the resurrection. Time and time again, the disciples do not recognize the risen Christ. They keep sinking back into the old way, the old wine skins. We need to reflect upon our own experience and ask “what are the specific feelings that prevent my heart from seeing the risen Lord?”

In many ways, the resistance to Ignatian reverence flows from the internalized scapegoat mechanism. Fr. Gray comments that reverence is the “exclusion of exclusion” (65). The scapegoat mechanism is the internalization of exclusion. We are in rivalry with the other so we will not let the other (revelation) in. We refuse to give up the thinking that there are necessarily winners and losers so it is beyond our horizon to see the winning loser, the transforming excluded, the stone rejected which has become the cornerstone.

We literally need to ask the Lord, why am I caught up in rivalry, scapegoating and fear? When the answer is revealed through grace, we are led to embrace what we have let in as we attentively and reverently pray with scripture. We then say yes to the risen Lord in a most personal way. We become apostles—servants who spread the kingdom of agapic love. We become servants who have found the energy to serve from the overflowing grace of our forgiving Lord who leads us out of the thicket of mimetic rivalry, scapegoating, fear and delusion into the new humanity of unconditional love.