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  • Rev. Dr. Steven Yagerman

Seeing Anew "without memory or desire"

Sometimes we need a new pair of glasses or at least it is helpful to lose the ones we have. Not because the old glasses aren’t working, but because we need to see the world and our lives in a new way. As creatures of habit, the more things become rote and assumed, the less time needed to think about them. If I know my keys are always in the bowl on the table near the door, I save a lot of time looking all over the house for my keys.  


But the truth is, I find the most interesting things when what I thought I knew turns out to be different. Things I had long forgotten are found. There are few things sweeter than finding that watch your father gave you inside that forgotten bag hanging in the closet. Of course finding a $20 bill in a coat pocket is always a happy surprise.  


When I read the scriptures, sometimes I see a blond haired, blue eyed Jesus who could have been at home in the Woodstock movie or roaming the grounds at the Monterrey Rock Festival. He is the hero who wins every argument and even rises from the grave at the end of the film. This is a cheeky way of saying that my pre-understandings insure that when I read the text that I will come out with the same understanding with which I started. After a while all the texts become foreknown and lose their force.


It takes something like what the French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, calls reading the biblical texts with a second naïveté. In a sense it calls for us to look at the texts in a new way, without our routine, pre-set understandings that insure we end up the same way we began our reading. When we look at the scriptures with our old eyes, we soon become bored and move on to other things.


Is there a way we can place ourselves in the shoe (sandals?) of Simon and Andrew, James and John and sense what it was like to be called? Can we find within ourselves that combination of awe and hope that might cause us to leave our nets behind and embark on a new adventure of what it means to be human and how this experience might impact our world?  


Wilfred Bion an English Psychoanalyst wrote about coming into each session with patients “without memory or desire.”  This act of not knowing, not assuming, was intended to allow the capacity to see whatever faint rays of light that might emerge in the session, against this dark background of unknowing.  


Can we lose our glasses for awhile? Can we enter the sacred stories with a second naïveté?  Can we approach our faith without memory or desire, so that we might create the conditions for hearing the sacred in a new and fresh way? The mystics of the faith spoke about “the dark night of the soul” and entering “The cloud of unknowing.” Sometimes this is called the via negativa. Letting go of our proudly earned knowledge, opens us up to the mysterium tremendum.


All of this is to suggest, that there are mountains of transformative experience available to us if we can simply put down our presuppositions and acquired knowledge, with the hope that we too can receive the life changing call of God in this life, in a way that corresponds with what the prophets and apostles found in our ancient scriptures.

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