The social and historic shifts impacting our societies test something essential for the future of our humanity: transmission. Due to the extreme diversification of individual profiles and their great mobility, the usual means of transmission are helpless and the institutions that have traditionally ensured that transmission have become extremely fragile. According to Michel Foucault’s famous saying, we can say that we are going through “the shift from a society of prescription to a society of inscription.”
In the past, transmission was carried out as a form of prescription, i.e. “instructions” to be followed. Institutions as family, school, communities would prescribe individuals their rights and duties, that is to say the rules of living together. They would also give them the codes and practices, the meanings and rites concerning their growth in humanity that would help them forge a strong identity. This is no longer the case.
Transmission is still as indispensable as in the past to become a man, but it will no longer be carried out as a “prescription”. We are probably entering a new era: the era of inscription. Individuals will only access the possibility of living together through a far costlier personal engagement. They will have to determine freely their own set of values and the way they insert into the world. They will have to find their own place in a collective history, in the history of a people that started before them and which they are called upon to belong to. But how will this happen?
We could take the image of a sea-faring adventure. Our generations were extremely lucky, in their human experience of heading out on the open water, to have been born in the harbor. There, we came to life, we grew up, we learnt to live and to live with others… We had even inherited from our elders a set of tools and measuring instruments. With that legacy, we could set sail. It was not riskless of course, but we were equipped for our adventure. Today’s generations are born in the open sea …And if they don’t want to sink, they need to go find a harbor. Let’s hope it will be a good one! For you cannot live or even survive without adopting a “tradition” and therefore without acknowledging a few affiliations.
But ourselves, whenever we are reborn to some new dimension of our existence, aren’t we reborn “in the open sea”? So, we too have to position ourselves in a wake that will bring us to a safe harbor.
Indeed, how can we insert our existence freely into the history of a people and thus find our humanity? How can we insert our existence into that of a people of believers and reach the believer’s experience? What is required is initiation. And the best tool for a Christian initiation, for becoming a Christian, is rereading (review of life).
Rereading, a founding process
Of course, rereading is not the only process to become a believer. But in the Christian life, it is a founding device, since rereading is an “act of interpretation”. To reread is to interpret our own and collective experience in the light of an event: the death and resurrection of Jesus-Christ. So rereading is an act of faith or more precisely the decision to let ourselves be “transformed” by the Jesus-Christ event at the core of our existence.
Such a process is in line with the dynamism of the early communities that wrote the New Testament. They were “narrative communities”. The stories they have left us are stamped with the “work” of faith. What the writers of the First Testament wanted was also to receive God’s fidelity in the experience of the most disturbing events in their history. Particularly in their exile. The experience of exile, which is told in innumerable different stories, is at the core of Israel’s faith. There is no living faith that is not reread and thus reinterpreted. We are not a “religion of the Book” (as our Muslim brothers commonly call us) but a religion of the event, and therefore of the “tale” … that is to say of interpretation.
So rereading is not a prerequisite before entering a more serious Christian life. It is not an appetizer before we can reach a more structured spiritual maturity. It is the Christian’s condition throughout his life, and the communities’ throughout the events that affect them. It is a permanent founding process. We always need to become Christians. In this sense, we can say that “rereading” is the matrix of any Christian life. All the Christians are therefore called upon to start rereading … each one according to their situations, their conditions, their roles in the Church, for they are all “the sons and daughters of the event”, as Mgr. Riobé put it.
Profiles of present days believers
When you look at the origins and profiles of today’s catechumens, they are obviously very diverse: diversity of origins, life stories, motivations. Their demands are also diverse. Such diversity is not without repercussions on what can be expected from “rereading”. But one thing is for sure, all their demands focus on the same quest, the same desire: the quest for identity, the need for recognition. Indeed, just as adult catechumenate is the template for any catechism, what is true for catechumens is true for all of us. Thus, rereading has to become a “pedagogy of initiation” for everyone.
Those who set off reviewing their lives or “rereading” today – including in our apostolic movements – are embryonic humans, Christians in the making, candidates for the social and ecclesial life. All of them are going through “the revolution of individuals”. Their identity is not behind them like a legacy obtained by birth or first affiliations (social, ecclesial, apostolic). Their identity is rather in front of them, as a task to achieve. It is an often difficult and costly quest! They don’t combine relations as we learnt to do in the past.
In the combination of living together, they are more often uncertain individuals, “I” s searching for an often problematic “us”, than “adults” aware that they belong to a community that calls them and with which they share a common mission. This analysis could be developed by studying, for instance, how this “new combination” affects all the relationships that constitute our human existence: relation with time and space, relation with others and common values, relation with ourselves and with institutions.
For our contemporaries, what is paramount is not “where they belong” but “their individual life stories”. So be it. So now instructors and counsellors will have to help the individual really become the main actor of his own history, the author of his own itinerary. The contribution of human sciences, as well as practical theology, suggest that rereading could be the ideal instrument for this really autonomous subject to come to life. It would bring forth “responsible” men and women,” accountable” for their acts and their choices, in a context where affiliations are severely weakened and where transmission is more and more complex. As a philosopher, Paul Ricoeur calls it a narrative identity. This will be a useful concept to root the rereading process.
Rereading, a matrix of humanity and the Gospel
To reread is to live a passage. It is “to pass” from what has been lived to an experience. What has been lived is facts, raw facts. These facts produce feelings (joy or sadness, fear or anger). These feelings represent energy, but uncontrolled energy, not yet finalized, not yet humanized, not yet converted into a human experience. It is human matter in the making … raw material. Rereading will be the melting pot to transform what has been felt into an experience.
To reread is to take some distance from what has been lived. When I review my life, I learn how to objectify what happens to me. By telling – especially in writing – I get into the intelligence of my life and of the faith that is played there. I inhabit my existence and set on becoming a subject.
To reread is to link. When I reread I put together the scattered elements of my existence (my life shards). I sort them out, I order them when I tell their story. And by linking them together I give them meaning, coherence.
To reread is to connect, to establish all kinds of relations between events, persons, groups; between past, present and future. In a word, it is to make a memory.
In order to become a worthwhile human experience, what has been lived and what has been felt has to be interpreted. It has togo through rereading and thus through some story telling. The question is then to know how rereading can become a “matrix of humanity” for today’s men and women, marked as they are by the revolution of individuals.
For rereading to become that melting pot of humanity for today’s men and women, it has to unfold in three combined and simultaneous directions: relation with oneself, relation with the other, relation with the history of a people. This is how our contemporaries pass from “I” to “we” nowadays. Each of the three directions is called for by the other two and leads to the other two. In no way should they be considered as three successive steps. They are simultaneous. And yet the order in which I shall present them tries to take current mentalities into account. This I call the pedagogy of desire.
The pedagogy of desire
▪ “Go to yourself”
We can say that the very first word addressed to Abraham by God is a powerful invitation to start reviewing his life: “Go for yourself (to yourself) from the country of your birth (your native country) … to the country I will show you” (Genesis 12, 1). Go “to yourself” or “for yourself”, for your good, for your happiness, as we would say today. So, if Abraham sets off, it is for himself first! Which means that when Abraham leaves the cocoon of his origin to set off for a totally unknown country, at the same time, he walks to himself, to that part of himself which is totally unknown to him. His true identity is in front of him. On hearing a call from elsewhere inviting him to leave, he eventually takes a road to himself. He goes where both his desire and someone else’s call take him. He heads towards what could become his real native land…which he doesn’t know yet, but where he will be reborn. His true identity is at the horizon of his existence.
The initial call invites any person (before anything else) to turn to their “future to come” both as human subjects and as believing subjects. So they have to set off on a trip (an itinerary) to the best of themselves, to their deepest desire which is – finally and despite all the hazards of life – a desire for alterity. This is how they have been created in the image and likeness of God. When I review my life, I am called on to “tell” my own path of life and faith. As we have seen, to reread is to tell a story and therefore to interpret, to give sense, to search for coherence. What happens then?
In a story, there are always breaches. The story is not a demonstration, nor is it an explanation, it includes unplanned, unexpected, surprising events. To tell a story is to leave room for those unexpected events. To tell a story is also to find words for the strongest emotions, to channel the feelings, the fire, the energy.
If the fire within me is not put into words, it will engulf everything! To tell a story is therefore to exorcise my fears. And so, as time goes by, with the events, the doubts, the questions, the canvas of my existence is woven, perhaps also the canvas of my existence with Christ if circumstances have led me to meet him and leave room for him. The “warp” of his memory comes to cross with the “weft” of my existence, to weave that canvas. It is a meeting with someone.
A person who thus rereads his existence and tells it, will get used to inhabiting his own life and assuming the rifts, the injuries, even the failures and the conversions when they occur. To tell a story is to take care of oneself, to put one’s illusions behind and to say “yes” to reality. It’s to learn to inhabit one’s life as it is, to receive it as a gift. To inhabit one’s life is to withdraw it from the alienations (the idols) that always threaten to invade it. This first dimension of rereading is paramount in our time. To accept it is to allow the person to exist as a first person. In other words, as St Paul put it, “to build the inner man”. For Michel Tcherestchenko it is presence to oneself as opposed to absence to oneself.
▪ “Go to the country I will show you”
That is to say: “Go to the “you” of otherness. Go to the country of the “I-you”. On reviewing my life, I will inevitably come to meet the other. The other who reaches out to me and affects me! In the relationship with the other, under the eyes and ears of the other, I receive my identity as a man or a woman. In the relationship with other believers who are different, I receive my identity as a believer or a seeker of meaning.
Rereading, especially if it is carried out in a group, is made up of two inseparable things:
– the absolute recognition of the other as other and the difference maintained toward him
– and the attention to a speech which is radically other coming from an outsider – it may be the Gospel – and which is always offered to my interpretation depending on the historic situation in which I live.
What is at stake here and must be put into relief is our “critical sense”. Adult responsibility just as the response of faith is one that lets itself be affected, corroded by what comes from events and the word of the other. But that responsibility and that response will have to be “critical” themselves of forms of social and religious life that are not respectful of women, men and therefore of God himself as he was revealed in Jesus-Christ. Critical of anything that kills and alienates, such as the single world view and a globalization disregarding differences.
Such an experience of otherness motivates commitment. To reread is to enter a new relationship with others and to forgo a twofold temptation: temptation to fuse and temptationto exclude …in order to prefer the system of otherness and reciprocity. Jean-Marie Labelle calls it “mutual transhumance” i.e. a crossing we cannot live through without the others since it sprouts precisely from meeting the other. To combine this second dimension with the first one, we can say in Jean-Marie Labelle’s words that “we run to ourselves, arm in arm with the others”.
Now let’s see the third dimension.
▪ “In you, all the families of the earth will bless each other”
Go to the “us” of your people. That third dimension of the pedagogy of desire concerns the relation to history and the different traditions. Combined with the other two dimensions, it implies: Running to myself, hand in hand with the others, I can freely inscribe my existence in the history of a whole people!
When I get in touch with the others and we bring together our little tales, some “common sense” will emerge. A phenomenon occurs which can be deemed “symbolic”. We can, all together and with each other, knit our little tales into the great net, the great tale of the history of the community of believers.
An initiation to the Christian faith or to social commitment is always a road to “being together” with the diversity of our itineraries and our flexible ways of belonging. It spawns from “mutual recognition”, each person being driven by their desire and by their questioning of others and the Other. From now on, this is how we will understand the common reference to a “we” that helps us live: we will have to inscribe ourselves freely into a history, with a common origin, an elected “living together” and common hope.
Rereading will help us live our affiliation to the Church no longer as “cohesion” – already obtained … or dreamed of for the needs of a protective religiosity – but as “mutual recognition” and common commitment for a common goal. The Church is not seen here so much as a place of belonging but as a life experience.
Thus reviewing our life means entering a new relationship with time. Putting a halt to zapping to revisit the past in order not to get engulfed in it, living the present as a “present”, not dreaming of the future on our own, but rather getting involved in it together, as a group, with mutual recognition. Rereading teaches us to remember in the Christian meaning of the word.
As a conclusion, rereading is truly an act of initiation. Thanks to it, each individual comes out as a free person, accountable for his future; each one can become not only an actor of his life and in life, but the author of that life. Any story has an author. Rereading “allows” those involved to become the authors of their own story, and accountable for the meaning they give it.