Monday, June 18, 2012

Self, Finitude, and Change

"Because for us personality is synthetic, composite, successive, and finite, we are related [to others] always in some sense 'over against,' in a fragmentary way, and to be with others always involves for us a kind of death, the limit of our being."

David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth. In Part 2: The Beauty of the Infinite, ii. Divine Fellowship.

Hart points to our finitude, to the limit of our being, in describing our personality especially as "successive." This obviously correlates with the issue of continuity and discontinuity in personality, in self, over time. I do not pretend a profound or even adequate understanding of or rumination on this matter. Nevertheless, one way to entertain the issue is to think of the dynamic of liturgy (word and sacrament), particularly as liturgy involves death and resurrection. Clearly, liturgy involves Jesus' incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Put another way, liturgy engages us in creation, fall, and redemption. These mean life, death, and new life for us, in Jesus' life, death, and new life. Liturgy then "always involves for us a kind of death, the limit of our being." Yet as Hart goes on to state in his own context, God transforms our death into life, our limits into the charity of self-giving. Transpose that to the dynamic of liturgy. Liturgy acts and enacts God's transformation. This means in liturgy we die and rise. Liturgy is thus both superset and subset of God's transformation of our life. In Jesus we must die and rise, not once only in conversion, but daily in transformation. One of the chief purposes of liturgy then, through word and sacrament, is to deconstruct and reconstruct us week in and week out, to the very end of life. We miss, even thwart, God's transformation when we reinforce a static self by merely attending liturgy, by merely persisting and insisting, unchanged, in life. That kind of continuity of the self over time is finally death. Rather, we must be a different person leaving the liturgy than we were entering the liturgy. We must be a different person ending the day than we were beginning the day. In sum, we must submit to God's transformation, to death and life, to death and life in Jesus, for only thus will we come to that end which is true continuity of personality, of self, given us by God in love.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Light on the Tulip Leaf

It is mid June and a cool, early morning. The sun, on the far side of a cluster of trees, has been above the horizon for less than an hour. On the near side of the cluster, my side, branches and leaves remain largely in shadow, but for one leaf on a tulip poplar. This leaf fans out broadly, unobstructed to the sun. Light lights it through, wholly, to a translucent green. The moment shifts, as does the sun, and the tulip leaf returns to shadow.