Friday Meditation: Amanda Shore

Recently I’ve been reading this spectacular and rather difficult book by Maggie Nelson.

It’s called The Argonauts, and it’s a long feminist essay mixed in with metaphor and citation, and you stop being able to distinguish the writer’s voice from the narrator’s voice and I haven’t read anything like it before. The writer describes the first time she learned about Anne Carson, and it was at a lecture that Carson was giving, where she was sharing her teaching strategies for students. One of the things she encourages young writers to do, is to leave a space empty so that God could rush in.

And perhaps this is just a nice mental image for a writer, and has nothing to do with God at all. I became increasingly suspicious because in the next sentence the writer offers a similar image, explaining that bonsais are often planted off-centre to make space for the divine.

But this got me thinking about how I approach communion with God, how I find closeness and how I make a clearing for God to rush in.

And this is in fact a crucial thing for us to consider, since it was this at-one-ness which was brought about by the resurrection and the new covenant—the purpose of Christ’s death was to atone for separation, reconcile alienation, and close the distance between us and God that was created by sin.

And I like this idea of making a clearing because so often we’re told to “put God at the centre” of our lives, as though I could ever have the capacity or responsibility to conjure up an idea of a God which I could fit into the centre of my life.

Rather, I try to find meaningful communion through prayer and solitude, which is indulgently my favourite type of devotion. I aspire to Hannah Arendt’s solitude. I am Arendt says ‘by myself,’ together with myself, and therefore two-in-one, whereas in loneliness I am actually one, deserted by all others.

I like this active withdrawal, this intimate communion, this making space for God to rush in. That said, I wonder whether this type of devotion is selfish, and whether it’s a product of growing up in churches that focus so heavily on individual sin and individual salvation. I was always taught that an intimate relationship with Christ is more important than ritual and good theology, and that’s the core of a good Christian life. But I wonder if it’s a product of the capitalist society we live in, where the individual is the only unit of measurement we know. 

But what do we do about sin that isn’t ours, that isn’t anyone’s, but that we’re implicated in?

What do we do about large systemic issues that we’re supposed to pray about or pray over but not to confess to. This comes up against my neat model of communion through solitude, which is comfortable, reliable, and allows me to reconcile the sins I know I committed.

But it’s so much more difficult to reconcile privilege, histories of oppression, and natural disaster.

I’d like to think that there can be many ways to make a space for God to rush in that don’t rely on the individual’s comfort and meditative quietude. What if we could make a space for God through work, through service, through listening in community, through asking the right questions, through calling people in not calling people out, and through patience with others.

I hope that you all have time to celebrate the harvest, and to be with the people you love, and to celebrate God’s blessings.

Samuel LandryAmanda Shore