Friday, September 23, 2011

Wound 3: The Wounding of “Spatial” Desire

This is the third part of a series of posts in which I've been developing a "practical theology of desire" as a mashup of a cluster of books on my shelf - asking for input along the way from readers. I've received a few revisionary thoughts, and suggestions of songs and images to post. Thanks! If you want to go to the beginning of this project click here. Now, on to the next post.

The third deep desire that we all have is desire for a dwelling space with God and one another. This side of heaven, this desire is deeply organic, a desire for fullness of dwelling as a creature of the planet and cosmos – in a dwelling space that cannot be possessed, but is simply given to every living thing. This desire is eucharistic and doxological, laced with thanksgiving and praise for the freely given and all encompassing space in which the organism flourishes.

This desire is wounded, however, by another form of spatial desire, the cultural desire for a dwelling space fitted to human creatures. According to Paul Tillich “the power of space is great….It is the basis of the desire of any group of human beings to have a place of their own….” (Theology of Culture, 32) This desire for cultural space often runs at odds with organic spatial desire. Cultural desire can insulate itself from cosmos, lose touch with the environment, become a totality referring only to itself, a world in which human beings are estranged from each other and from the planet…objects, consuming and manipulating other objects.

Legendary Shackshakers, "Somethin in the Water."

Listen to full Mp3 here.  

Joe's got the Union Carbide Blues.
Diggin' ditches since '62.
West Paducah, "City on the Glow."
Baby fingers growin' out of his elbows.

Down in Building C-4 double nought,
Sonsabitches thought they'd never get caught
Guzzlin' Golden Pond whiskey at work,
Beatin' them drums down into the dirt.

And puttin' somethin' in the water.
Somethin' weird in the water.
Killin' your sisters and your brothers.
Somethin' in the cold well water.

(So while you're) sneakin' gold out of hydrogen bombs,
Platin' pistol grips and carryin' on,
Your boss is doin' the exact same thing...
Suckin' atoms out of your sewage drain.

(And that) dense fog of uranium dust
Can't hide them leaky buckets of rust.
The ugly truth'll put you in the ground,
So rise up and burn the pumphouse down.

(They said) "Joe's a hero of the Cold War, man.
Died with a broken witchin' wand in his hand.
Got to keep this wet county dry as a bone.
Y'know some stories are best left untold."

But Michael Carneal, born to kill at will,
Mollycoddled on curdled mother's milk,
Smuggles his muzzle into Heath High School
And shot his friends holding hands 'round the flagpole.

Must be somethin' in the water,
Somethin' weird in your mothers.
Blame your greedy grandfathers,
For puttin' somethin' in the cold well water.

According to Tillich, his own existentialism expressed a protest against this cultural wounding of spatial desire, a protest “against the position of man (sic) in the system of production and consumption…become a part of the reality he has created, an object among objects, a thing among things.” (Theology of Culture, 46) Tillich's existentialist theology was a protest against life lived in a self-imposed illusion. Wendy Farley elaborates on the way in which this illusion functions: “A theory of reality (in this case the reduction of reality to things) is permitted to mediate the experience of beings to such a degree that not only is the reality of beings concealed but the very question about their reality is precluded….To struggle with questions of environmental responsibility in a way that accepts this reified ontology already cedes most of the questions in advance to powers bent on the most efficient exploitation of the environment possible. It is as if one agreed to accept, ‘for the sake of argument,’ the Nazis’ characterization of some persons as subhuman and then, on that basis, decided what range of treatment was appropriate….”(Eros for the Other, 198)

John Prine: Paradise

When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there's a backwards old town that's often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.

And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away

Well, sometimes we'd travel right down the Green River
To the abandoned old prison down by Adrie Hill
Where the air smelled like snakes and we'd shoot with our pistols
But empty pop bottles was all we would kill.

Then the coal company came with the world's largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.

When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
I'll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin'
Just five miles away from wherever I am. 

Cultural desire for space can potentially work together hand in hand with organic desire for space. Cultural space is potentially a much needed good, a way to create hospitable spaces in which more forms of life can flourish than could otherwise survive or fully flourish in a strictly evolutionary organic context –the weak, vulnerable, and those easily trampled.

Steve Earle: City of Immigrants

Livin’ in a city of immigrants
I don’t need to go travelin’
Open my door and the world walks in
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

Livin’ in a city that never sleeps
My heart keepin’ time to a thousand beats
Singin’ in languages I don’t speak
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of black, city of white, city of light, city of innocents
City of sweat, city of tears, city of prayers, city of immigrants

Livin’ in a city where the dreams of men
Reach up to touch the sky and then
Tumble back down to earth again
Livin’ in a city that never quits

Livin’ in a city where the streets are paved
With good intentions and a people’s faith
In the sacred promise a statue made
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of stone, city of steel, city of wheels constantly spinnin’
City of bone, city of skin, city of pain, city of immigrants 

[All of us are immigrants
Every daughter, every son
Everyone is everyone
All of us are immigrants

Livin’ in a city of immigrants
River flows out and the sea rolls in
Washin’ away nearly all of my sins
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of black, city of white, city of light, I'm livin' city of immigrants
[All of us are immigrants, every daughter, every son]
City of sweat, city of tears, city of prayers, livin' in a city of immigrants
[Everyone is everyone, all of us are immigrants]
City of stone, city of steel, city of wheels, livin’ in a city of immigrants
[All of us are immigrants, every daughter, every son]
City of bone, city of skin, city of pain, city of immigrants
[Everyone is everyone, all of us are immigrants]
[All of us are immigrants]

What is it that can keep organic and cultural desire on the same pathway? What can keep them linked together in such a way as to express both a eucharistic and hospitable desire for dwelling space, in the deepest sense of these terms? Gibson Winter, in his book Liberating Creation, argues that only the emergence of a genuinely organic-aesthetic paradigm of thought can bridge these two deep and often conflicting spatial desires. Winter argued for a broad theological ethic of the organism’s dwelling in the world, organized by an overarching symbol and aesthetic of divine justice.

Similarly, Wendy Farley argues for a unity of the aesthetic and ethical dimensions of desire. As Farley puts it, “The throb of beauty running through life carries with it a judgment against wanton destruction or exploitation.” (EO, 80) “Beauty refers to that about a thing which makes its existence not a matter of neutrality or indifference….a kind of pure gratuity.” (EO, 80) Beauty refers to ”the value ladenness of reality.” (EO, 81)

Spatial desire, like our other wounded desires, always, in Farley’s words, “runs in a direction opposite to that of totality: outward, toward others, toward the world.” It is desire that is “enchanted by this reality, in its concreteness, variety, and beauty….” (Eros for the Other, 67) Spatial desire, therefore, has the potential to draw us ever more deeply into the world in which we dwell, experiencing the wounding of that world as, in Sally McFague’s words, the wounding of “God’s Body.” (“Intimate Creation,” 36).

Bruce Cockburn: Lord of the Starfields

Lord of the starfields
Ancient of Days
Universe Maker
Here's a song in your praise

Wings of the storm cloud
Beginning and end
You make my heart leap
Like a banner in the wind

O love that fires the sun
Keep me burning.
Lord of the starfields
Sower of life,
Heaven and earth are
Full of your light

Voice of the nova
Smile of the dew
All of our yearning
Only comes home to you

O love that fires the sun
keep me burning 

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