Thursday, 18 May 2017

Echoes of Jesus’ forsakenness in secular thought

Tracey emin man with child

1127 words, 6 min read

A central aspect of Christianity is Jesus’ suffering on the cross, to the point of calling out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) shortly before his death. This moment of utter abandonment shows God making himself one with each one of us even in our darkest, loneliest, most desperate moments - a realization that gives us a glimpse of the extent of his love. It also invites us to look for him and encounter him in the suffering of others and ourselves, in the hope of joining him in the resurrection that follows.

Since this belief is in God’s presence in suffering being universal, it raises the doubt of whether those who do not share that belief nonetheless experience what Christian’s would recognize as a relationship with the forsaken Jesus. In fact, my own experience has been very much one of a resoundingly positive answer to this question. As I read the writings of agnostic or atheist thinkers, or those who follow other religions or philosophies, I keep coming across passages in which echoes of Jesus’ cry of abandonment can be heard. By this I certainly don’t mean to ascribe beliefs to their authors that they do not hold, but simply to say that their accounts are like those I would give of my relationship with the forsaken Christ.

Instead of an annotated reading, I would just like to offer a selection of my favourite such “echoes” next.

Jorge Luis Borges, Paradise, XXXI: 108:
“We have lost those features,  just as a magic number made up of ordinary figures can be lost;  just as an image in a kaleidoscope is lost for ever. We may come across the features and not know them. The profile of a Jew on an underground train may be that of Christ; the hands that give us our  change over a counter may echo those that some soldiers once nailed to the cross. Perhaps some feature  of the crucified face lurks in every mirror; perhaps the face  died and was erased so that God could be everyone.” 
Ted Hughes, letter to his 24 year old son:
“It’s something people don’t discuss, because [they] are aware of [it] only as a general crisis of sense of inadequacy, […] or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master inner storms that come from an unexpected angle. But not many people realise that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them.

Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable […] eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it. So everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances.

And when we meet people, this is what we usually meet [and we] end up making ‘no contact.’ But when you develop a strong divining sense for the child behind that armour, and you make your dealings and negotiations only with that child, you find that everybody becomes, in a way, like your own child. It’s an intangible thing. But they too sense when that is what you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child.”
Slavoj Žižek, God in Pain:
“The crucial problem is how to think the link between the two “alienations” — the one of modern man from God (who is reduced to an unknowable In-itself, absent from the world subjected to mechanical laws), the other of God from himself (in Christ, in the incarnation) — they are the same, although not symmetrically, but as subject and object. In order for (human) subjectivity to emerge out of the substantial personality of the human animal, cutting links with it and positing itself as the I = I dispossessed of all substantial content, as the self-relating negativity of an empty singularity, God himself, the universal Substance, has to “humiliate” himself, to fall into his own creation, “objectivize” himself, to appear as a singular miserable human individual, in all its abjection, i.e., abandoned by God. The distance of man from God is thus the distance of God from himself. […]

In Christianity, the gap that separates God from man is not effectively “sublated” in the figure of Christ as god-man, but only in the most tense moment of crucifixion when Christ himself despairs (“Father, why have you forsaken me?”): in this moment, the gap is transposed into God himself, as the gap that separates Christ from God the Father; the properly dialectical trick here is that the very feature which appeared to separate me from God turns out to unite me with God.”
Marina Abramović, Tate Talk (25:47 - 27:19):
“We are always afraid of pain, of dying, of suffering. They are the main concerns of human beings. Many artists deal with these themes in different ways. I was always interested in how the different ancient people work with ceremonies and with the ritualization of inflicting very large amounts of pain on their bodies, even to the stage of clinical death. And the reason for this is not any kind of masochistic reason. The reason is very simple: to confront yourself with the pain, to confront taking this kind of risk, in order to liberate yourself from fear, to jump to another state of consciousness by doing it. I could never do this with my own private life, but if I stage the situation where it is painful, in front of the audience, the stage situation is dangerous in front of the audience, I take the energy of the audience and I can use it to give me strength to go through that experience. So, I become like your mirror. If I can do this in my life, you can do it in yours.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Love:
“In a deep relationship, there’s no longer a boundary between you and the other person. You are her and she is you. Your suffering is her suffering. Your understanding of your own suffering helps your loved one to suffer less. Suffering and happiness are no longer individual matters. What happens to your loved one happens to you. What happens to you happens to your loved one. […]

In true love, there’s no more separation or discrimination. His happiness is your happiness. Your suffering is his suffering. You can no longer say, “That’s your problem.””
Tracey Emin, Serpentine Gallery Poetry Marathon 2009:
“To sleep

To sleep
not sleeping
To wake
not wanting
Night time comes
with feelings mixed
I want to drown myself
in my pillow
Force myself
through another world
I want to wake up
feeling love”