I learned this weekend about intertextuality, the idea that reading and studying two or more written texts can further our understanding of each of them. That is, of course, a grossly simplified definition. But, in a way, that is what I am doing here, reading two books and thinking about whether the themes of one shed light on the other. And vice versa. And how they both might help me in my search for hope.
So, this morning I read about Teilhard de Chardin’s understanding of “Christian detachment” and his efforts to reconcile renunciation with active involvement in the world. “He realises that the consummation of the world can be achieved only through a mystical death, a dark night, a renunciation of the whole being,” his friend writes, wondering if this renunciation is “a practical proposition for the whole body of mankind.” Certainly, most of us do not practice the traditional sort of detachment or renunciation -- we live and work and relate to the world every moment of our lives, even when we daydream about withdrawing from it all, even temporarily. But de Chardin seems to have believed that his service of Christ (his acts of renunciation) “had to be reconciled” to participation in the world.
“. . . What matters is that not only the self-denial of the ascetic and the renunciation of the sufferer, but also our positive efforts to achieve natural perfection and to meet human obligations, should lead us to a consciousness of our spiritual growth,” de Chardin’s friend writes.
That’s sort of where I find myself. I don’t believe I have been called to a life of renunciation in the traditional sense -- through asceticism or even suffering. And I cannot, in good conscience, ignore the political divides in my country now. But I am looking for “positive efforts,” opportunities to “meet human obligations.” I do believe that “a consciousness of our spiritual growth” is an element of hope.
Turning to Meacham’s book, I read about “the twin tragedies,” referring to our treatment of slaves and Native Americans, which “shaped us then and ever after.” The truth is that this country, described as the “new Jerusalem” mentioned in the Bible, the “City upon a hill,” never really was “shining.” It turns out Ronald Reagan adlibbed the adjective in modern times, Meacham says. So, from the beginning, we have been a country founded on contradictions, some of them deadly, and I am not sure how we move beyond them.
There was also a fair amount of disagreement about our form of government, whether or not we needed a leader and what sort of power that individual should wield. When I read even the briefest summaries of our national beginnings, I am astounded by the efforts of people to smooth them out and carefully place God or Jesus as the center stone in an elaborate setting. But from the beginning, there was a sense among the founders that the president of the United States should speak for the whole population. And to the extent that he (or she ) does that, then the greater his (or her) presidential power will be.
Thomas Jefferson observed, “This alone, in any case where the energy of the nation is required, can produce an union of the powers of the whole, and point them in a single direction, as if all constituted but one body & one mind: and this alone can render a weaker nation unconquerable by a stronger one.”
But now, we seem to have a president who talks about representing the whole, but speaks only to his base and chooses his words for their divisive power. What has happened to our wholeness?
OK, now, relax. This is only day two.