January 7, 2012 / The Church & Postmodern Culture
This Christmas season I had the privilege of attending a memorial service, a vigil in …
December 22, 2009
God, Death, and Time, Emmanuel Levinas
claims that the immanent experience of a transcendent God amounts to a reversal
and referral of the desirable (God) to the nondesirable (the Other). This
correlation results in a mission to approach and engage the Other, especially
as the Other is figured in the needy, the oppressed, and the forgotten.
In this sense, God’s presence is experienced in those persons in whom God is
least expected to be found (absence).
visualize this concept in the following way. God’s inbreaking into existence is
a stone, thrown against wet sand. The moment of impact is unobserved
(unoberservable?) and the stone is absent, bounded off somewhere unknown. What
remains is a small dent, an impression left in the soft shore line. The impression
is the shape of the stone, the size of the stone, retains the fine features of
the stone. However, as an impression, these features are preserved in reverse.
In this way, God’s presence, if it is to be found at all, is found in those
places where God is most absent. The Old Testament is full of reminders that
worship of God is only as good as the care extended to widows, orphans, and the
poor. The epistle of James makes this same claim.
is important to point out that it is not simply the existence of these Others
that is God’s presence in the world, but our caring engagement with them. To
return to my metaphor, when the impression is all that remains, the only way to
experience the stone is to press into the shape it has left behind. This absence
is filled with engagement in the same way one takes a plaster cast. In
approaching, meeting, ministering to those in need, the community conforms to,
fills out the shape of God in the world. The mold is as much the shape as what
is poured into it. Holiness therefore is not a characteristic retained by
either party alone, but a quality that emerges from the touch-point of the two.
recently had the pleasure of helping our community fill its annual Christmas
baskets. These baskets (boxes really) are distributed to area residents who
apply for aid. They include clothes, basic food stuffs, and toys for the
children. Because I had the job of matching mittens with hands that might need
them, I had to read each application to determine the number and size of each
pair. The requests were simple, the situations similar and familiar: illness,
unemployment, injury. As I passed each box, read each name, I held each person
in my heart for just a moment. As I placed each pair of mittens inside each
basket, I was overwhelmed by the privilege of sharing a holy meeting in the
presence (absence) of God.
Levinas, God, Death, and Time, trans.
Bettina Bergo (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 223-224.