Sunday, 9 July 2017

Lonergan and Space

Any reader of this blog should know that I love the word "development," which I loosely define as "continuity with change." Implicit in that definition of development is the qualifier "over time": development is continuity with change over time. The focus upon temporality has a deep pedigree in the western tradition. The Abrahamic traditions all declare that revelation--whether delivered to Moses or Isaiah or Jesus or Muhammad--occurs at definite moments in time. Things before the revelation differ from things after. While there are similar patterns in other traditions (the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree comes to mind immediately), it seems particularly prominent in the Abrahamic traditions. Yet, as Ben Meyer argued forcefully, the ancients struggled precisely to reckon with the dual reality that in these moments of differentiation there was yet continuity, and that such work of differentiation occurred not necessarily at select moments but rather throughout an ongoing temporal succession (even if particular moments might have been particularly significant in that succession). The intellectual techniques did not exist to adequately apprehend how something could continue to be itself yet be irreversibly and even radically transformed. The great breakthroughs of a Newman or a Lonergan consist not in small part of helping to bring us to terms with that continuity with change.

In this connection, it is interesting to note the extent to which the ancients associated the great moments of revelation with particular spaces. Sinai, Jerusalem, Mecca: all become metonyms for the particular moments of revelation associated with them (Jerusalem in particular becomes overburdened with such metonymy). No doubt this is related to the ancient inability to fully conceptualize continuity with change, or perhaps more precisely continuity with change was conceptualized in large part through concrete, material, spatial expressions. Sinai is always Sinai, even when its actual location is forgotten and it lives only in the imagination. Jerusalem is always Jerusalem, even when inaccessible due to exile or diaspora. Mecca is always Mecca, and the centrality of this space in the Muslim imagination helps accounts for the tradition's capacity to conceptualize itself as the grounds of an international ummah. These spaces become concrete expressions, even if only in the imagination, of continuity. They provide the site in which what Lonergan calls integrators can function, i.e. that pole of any dialectic that provides the necessary limiting factor that maintains the integrity of that which is undergoing change. At the same time, they become sites of change, as buildings and other structures are renovated and constructed to meet exigent needs, as new rituals and practices are introduced and old ones abandoned for a variety of reasons, as pilgrims undergo the transformation of their horizons that results from what they experience and discover in those spaces.

Of course, this happens not just in the great holy sites. It happens in synagogues, in churches, in mosques. These are more than just gathering spaces. We can see this reality vividly when the uniquely spatial dynamics of worship sites are denied or trivialized. The radically low church habit of thinking rented spaces to be sufficient for ecclesial purposes shows a profound dialectical distortion that denies the significance of space in the work of maintaining communal integration. It ignores the way that buildings take on a life of their own, and that this life provides remarkable anchorage for a community. (This of course differs from the communities that must rely upon rented spaces due entirely to exigency. They still cannot avail themselves of what a concrete, permanent space might provide, but in not denying the value of such they do not suffer the dialectical distortion that results from an inadequate understanding of community). There is something quite profound about going to Europe and visiting synagogues or churches or even the occasional mosque that has been in service to the community for centuries (sadly, the number of European synagogues for which that is the case has decreased significantly over the last hundred years). A community without a permanent space is always by definition a community without permanence.

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