Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Alan Jones on Learning to Tell Stories That Include Everyone: Advent Meditation

Another excerpt from one of my journals of the past—a passage I copied in November 1995 from Alan Jones's book The Soul’s Journey: Exploring the Spiritual Life with Dante as Guide (San Francisco: Harper, 1995).  This strikes me as a valuable meditation piece for Advent, with its uncomfortable questions about whom we're willing to make room for in the inns of our lives and hearts.  

I have the strong impression, as I read what Catholic military chaplain Archbishop Broglio has said about gay men and our place in the world (and in the military) (on this, see my posting yesterday), that this archbishop and many of his brother bishops have no room in their Catholic inns for me.  Or for my kind.  

And I wonder what that says about the meaning of Catholicism for such men today—and what it says about the meaning of Catholicism for many of us today, when a Catholic pastoral official can make the kind of statements Archbishop Broglio has made, and Catholics who must know better and want better for their church continue to keep silence.

Here's what Jones says:

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).

And, of course, the preceding passage was made all the more poignant for me as I read and laboriously copied it in 1995, as Steve and I struggled constnatly to contend with the effects of my definitive expulsion from Catholic academic life at Belmont Abbey College in 1993, and as my mother's health took a nose-dive at the same time and we assumed the responsibility of providing care for her in the middle of our own uprooted lives.

What will God say to us when we go to him without the others?  That strikes me as a very important question to ask myself in this Advent season.

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