Sermon Ideas For Luke 1:39-45 (46-55) Part 5
Scholars who have studied twentieth- century Western culture often arrive at the judgment that Sigmund Freud was among the most influential thinkers of our time. One of Freud's most influential contributions is captured in what he called the "topographical model": the idea that the mind is a composite of two distinguishable places—consciousness and the unconscious—which operate according to different mental processes. He encouraged listening—to others and to oneself—through this model, in order to hear messages that are conveyed consciously and directly as well as messages that are conveyed outside of awareness and indirectly. To say it another way, all communication involves something "on" the lines and "between" the lines. There is always something "on the surface" and something expressing what is "deeper."
As Freud's theorizing became increasingly complex and sophisticated, two related ideas were formulated. The first idea is captured in the statement, "everything is `overdetermined.'" That is, everything that we do expresses a motive or motives of which we are conscious as well as expresses a motive or motives of which we are not conscious. To put it plainly, we do things for multiple reasons, only some of which we are aware. The second idea is expressed in the statement, "everything serves `multiple functions.'" That is, "What we do accomplishes several objectives simultaneously" (some of which we are aware, others of which we are not).
When one listens and hears, looks and sees, indeed lives in mind of these ideas, everything—words, events, ideas, feelings, memories—are regarded as a symbol. That is, all mundane activities acquire a disclosive function: oneness becomes twoness. Such activities and practices are, to use a simile, like glass: to be seen in and of themselves and, paradoxically, to be seen through (however dimly or darkly).
Of course, one may understand what is "deeper," what lies beyond immediate awareness, in various ways. Freud was intent on uncovering what he called "instinctual" roots. The bedrock (to use a Wittgensteinian notion) was for Freud natural: what is disclosed to us is something of our hidden nature. The philosopher Paul Ricoeur appreciated how Freud's project could be read in other ways, as a hermeneutic not only of "demystifying" but also of "remythologizing." The depth that could be disclosed might be not an underlying "problem" but a "mystery," to use Marcel's wellknown distinction. That is, what is disclosed may be something "beyond" our nature.
In the episode we read in today's Gospel, it is clear that Mary and Elizabeth live in a world of twoness—of symbols that disclose something deeper. That something deeper is a world of mystery, of God's ongoing participation.
Elizabeth hears Mary's greeting and her fetus moves. She regards these events as being over determined, as serving multiple functions. That is, she regards them symbolically. First, she links the two events, as if her infant moves in her womb "in response to" Mary's greeting. Second, this linkage is itself disclosive of something more: not only did something (her infant) move within her. She was moved. And what moved her fetus and her was now linked with an experience she understands as being "filled with the Holy Spirit."
What does this mean for us? Well, several things. Like Mary, we are called to live in a world of twoness—of what is apparent at the surface of events, and what is only indirectly, ambiguously, transiently, and perhaps confoundingly present at the horizon of our awareness, "at the limits," "from the depths." Second, we are called to practice a habit of attentiveness, of listening for what is communicated directly in conjunction with what is communicated less directly. Third, we are called to consider how what is communicated arises from that which transcends us, what is mysterious, holy, indeed divine. To put it plainly, every moment in time is an occasion for such divine disclosure. The burning bush is ubiquitous: if we practice looking for it, we will see it.
Were Elizabeth and Mary to have been twentieth century positivists, they would have taken these mundane events "at face value." As such, these events would properly be articulated in their entirety as "greeting," "feeling movement," and "being moved." The events were certainly significant but in a plainly circumscribed way. However, Elizabeth and Mary were prepared to see, grasp and understand the "something more," and be attuned to "the reality of the Unseen" (to use William James's wonderful phrases). But of course neither Elizabeth or Mary regard these events only as revealing the Holy Spirit. No, they interpret these events as another moment of God's acting in history, in the context of an unfolding divine plan. Such is their "interpretive frame of reference," their "hermeneutic."
And this is perhaps the most important point: when we live in the world of twoness, practicing the habit of attentiveness to depth, to divine disclosure, we are prepared to experience God's acting with us and for us as part of God's plan for us. In this sense, we emulate Mary—"blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."
Chris R. Schlauch