Search This Blog

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Healing diabolical envy (B13O)

Philosopher, anthropologist, and theologian René Girard teaches that what the human race needed to be saved from is the inevitability of the downward spiral into self-destructive violence that is engendered by “mimetic desire,” the habit that we have of wanting what the other person has so intensely that, ultimately, we’re willing to kill for it. It doesn’t matter whether the object of desire is a person, or honor, or something, we tend to want what the other has, and that is hard-wired in us. As beings, we learn by mimesis, or the imitation of what we see as good in others, or beneficial to them or us. I guess you could say, we ape. That’s how hard-wired this habit is.

And what makes this peculiarly dangerous is that it escalates as people form societies and then civilizations. As the object of desire increases in desirability and value from a bauble to a wife to a herd to a field to the riches of a nation or an oil field, the potential for violence escalates as well. Girard postulates that in order to preserve itself, society relies on religion for an escape mechanism, and that that mechanism is, par excellence, the scapegoat. Religion substitutes a symbol for the real object of violence, the hatred and disaffection of the community is vented upon the scapegoat, which is driven out or sacrificed in order to keep the peace. The scapegoat might be a real goat in primitive societies, or in more developed ones, say, Jews. Or immigrants, blacks, Christians, Muslims. Doesn't matter.

Ultimately, though, since the real problem never gets addressed, the cycle perpetuates itself. Desire builds into frustration and anger until the cycle of sacrifice is required again. The guardians of civilization, generals and priests, never have to worry about job security.

In the Judaeo-Christian version of this myth, present to us from the very appearance of the man and the woman in book of Genesis, God, who is the embodiment of life and the opposite of desire, personally intervenes to unmask the pretense of substitution sacrifice and the scapegoat mechanism. Jesus becomes the scapegoat; the sins of gluttonous powerlust of Rome and the frustrated dreams of Israel combine to murder the itinerant rabbi who challenged the purity codes and the ultimate authority and divinity of the emperor. But God exposed the lie. God raised Jesus from the dead, sabotaging the scapegoat mechanism, and revealing the victim to be the innocent one, while the murderous violence that took his life was revealed for what is is. Thus, to find the object of mimesis, human beings need to begin to look to the victim rather than to the strong man.
 As James Alison puts it, the dead man finally gets to tell the tale, and the tale is something like, "You've got God all wrong. Let me show you what you've been missing."

“Through the envy of the devil (diabolical envy) sin entered the world.” It was envy itself, envy that is the opposite of God, the opposite of agape, that caused the rule of death. Agape seeks to give itself away, while envy seeks to acquire. Agape seeks the ultimate good of the other for the benefit of the other; envy seeks the good from the other for the benefit of self. So what is the cure for diabolical envy?

St. Paul alludes to it in the second reading from today: “Though he was rich, he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” In other words, through the generosity of God, through the kenosis of divine love, envy is overturned. By giving away rather than desiring, we begin to take part in the love that created the universe. We begin to live the life of God. It is a matter of simply turning around. The Holy Spirit makes this possible; there is only one God. Paul goes on to encourage the charitable giving of the Corinthians as a way of preserving the kind of equality that is the reign of God, God’s vision for the universe. Not that there will ever be a kind of economic stasis, but that everyone is aware of the imbalances, and that those with much give some to those with little so that there can be a kind of equality. Interestingly, Paul quotes from the section of the book of Exodus that describes how God distributed the manna in the desert. People who went out and collected too much found that they only had what they needed; those who didn’t collect enough discovered that they had more than they thought. In the divine economy, all the children are treated as equals; the divine Father-Mother expects the same behavior from the children.

I wrote yesterday about the two healings in the gospel. I'm sure that at many celebrations this weekend the priest or deacon will use the short version, giving only half of the story. I think that the healing of an older woman with a 12-year-old hemorrhage and the resuscitation of a 12-year-old girl must have something to with the healing of women in general of the prejudice and subjugation they had and have experienced in many societies where they have been perceived as the “weaker” gender. This is not to say that we followers of Jesus haven’t done much harm, and ignored some gospel movement toward gender equality. But this kind of healing seems to be the point of this story, which is an inclusio, that is, a story within a story, so that they shine light on each other. 

What strikes me as I read the gospel again this year is that Jesus "felt power go out" from him. What does that mean? The hemorraghic woman touched his tunic, the gospel says, and power went out from him. To me, it meant that the direction life travels is outward. Diabolical envy wants everything for itself. “The open palm of Desire,” Paul Simon wrote, “wants everything.” But life, and God is life (by analogy) in perfection, is outward bound. The flow of life is outward, and it did not even depend on Jesus’s conscious bestowal of it: the woman sought life, sought healing, and believed she knew the source. She touched the spring of life, and power went out from him. 

“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, who makes the sun shine and the rain fall on good and bad alike.” If we turn the mimetic power of human behavior inside out, and begin to imitate the behavior of one who gives, rather than indulging our baser urge to possess, grasp, and hoard, we would begin to see the healing promised by the gospel and the visionaries of the reign of God. Power will go out from us, healing young and old alike, restoring the paradise that once existed before men and women envied the knowledge of good and evil, and wanted to be like gods.

GATHERING:   A Place at the Table (Lori True) The choice of this song probably makes sense if you follow the logic of the inclusio of the story of the hemorraghic woman within the story of Jairus's daughter. In stories of healing, the essential thing is dispelling the illusion of isolation in the afflicted one, or if it's not an illusion, healing that. The loving work of making a place at the table for people with all kinds of disconnections is the ministry of all of us. Lori's song lifts us joyfully to a place where we can all see our need for healing, and offer it with compassion to each other.
RESP. PSALM 30 I Will Praise You, Lord (Gary Daigle)
PREP RITE:   We Cannot Measure How You Heal (John Bell) Gary Daigle did a lovely 3-part vocal arrangement of this song when he was with us for a few years at St. Anne. Bell's sensitive and prayerful text is a favorite of mine, particularly that heart-rending last couplet which prays that the Holy Spirit will heal "body, mind, and soul / To disentangle peace from pain, / And make your broken people whole."
COMMUNION:   You Are Mine (David Haas)
SENDING FORTH:   Blest Be the Lord (Dan Schutte)
ALTERNATE: Healer of Our Every Ill (Marty Haugen)

…By the envy of the devil, death entered the world… (Wis. 2:24)

(T)hough he was rich, for your sake he became poor, 
so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2 Cor 8:9)