Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Alan Jones on Holiness in Our Time: "Finding a Story That Sees the Planet as a Holy Place and Includes Everybody"

As a complement to the (admittedly dreary) postings about the canonization of John Paul II with which I'm peppering you these days, I thought I'd reach into another of my grab bags and pull out some insightful statements that have caught my attention over the years, about the theme of holiness. What constitutes holiness? What do people look for when they look for role models in the life of holiness?

For many years now, I've kept an ongoing journal of passages that have struck me in what I've been reading at any particular moment. Today and for several days to come, I'm going to share some of these passages that have to do with sanctity, with holiness. The following is from Alan Jones, The Soul’s Journey: Exploring the Spiritual Life with Dante as Guide (San Francisco: Harper, 1995):

We need storytellers and mythmakers who can show us the way by finding a story that sees the planet as a holy place and includes everybody. The crucial question for the storyteller today is, What about the stranger, the alien, the poor, the weak—the other? What about the rage and pain of those who say No! to every attempt to tell a common story? 
Our own reality depends on our being able and willing to include others. Thomas Merton wrote, "The more I am able to affirm others, to say yes to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my heart says yes to everyone." This, in fact, is precisely Dante’s vision of heaven—the celebration of mutuality in a place where everyone is his unique self. I am reminded of James Joyce’s famous definition of the Catholic Church as "Here comes everybody!" . . .  Denying the stories and presence of others is to be on the road to hell. 
. . . Meanwhile, the others are crowding in and talking our space and demanding attention. The hitherto voiceless are demanding to be heard. Stories of heaven and hell revolve around our attitudes towards others. Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous phrase from No Exit is "L’enfer, c’est les autres" (Hell is other people). But what will God say to us when we go to him without the others? What about the others with whom we share the world? Hell is other people! Heaven is other people! It all depends on the tales we tell—the stories that shape our experience (pp. 18-19).

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