Archive for November, 2013

Intentional Presence

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

You ask for my opinion concerning the following passage from the Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan:

“There is material presence, in which no knowing is involved, and such is the presence of the statue in the courtyard. There is intentional presence, in which knowing is involved, and it is of two quite distinct kinds. There is the presence of the object to the subject, of the spectacle to the spectator; there is also the presence of the subject to himself, and this is not the presence of another object dividing his attention, of another spectacle distracting the spectator; it is presence in another dimension, as it were, presence concomitant and correlative and opposite to the presence of the object.

“Objects are present by being attended to; but subjects are present as subjects, not by being attended to, but by attending. As the parade of objects marches by, spectators do not have to slip into the parade to become present to themselves; they have to be present to themselves for anything to be present to them; and they are present to themselves by the same watching which, at its other pole, makes the parade present to them.

“I have been trying to describe the subject’s presence to himself. But the reader, if he tries to find himself as subject, to reach back, and, as it were, uncover his subjectivity, cannot succeed. Any such effort is introspecting, attending to the subject; and what is found is, not the subject as subject, but only the subject as object; it is the subject as subject that does the finding. To heighten one’s presence to oneself, one does not introspect; one raises the level of one’s activity.”

Commenting on that last phrase, you say, “Our actions are indeed excellent indicators of who or what we are.” I’m not sure, though, what sort of actions or activities you have in mind. We can agree—can we not?—that Longergan’s “activity” is not merely, or primarily, one of the numerous overt movements of our lives someone might videotape. When he speaks of “raising the level of one’s activity”, he surely does not mean just a more intense work-out at the gym, or staying up an hour later than usual grading papers or balancing the household budget.

On the contrary, it’s the activity of “attention” itself which needs to be heightened. This second kind of “intentional presence” can be raised or intensified, however, only when I make a special effort to be fully aware, fully awake, as I engage in the otherwise normal activities of my daily life. As Lonergan says, this isn’t a question of looking into myself (introspection); it’s an act or activity that takes place, or should take place, in “another dimension”, one perpendicular (or so I would say) to the plane of my life.

Staying in the Moment

Friday, November 15th, 2013

You write regarding your use of the Jesus Prayer:

“Sometimes I think I feel warmth, and sometimes my mind is attentive and my feelings fixed on one good thing. And in the next moment, everything vaporizes.”

Very few of us can expect much more than a rare moment or two in which there is a coming together of the three elements you single out: sensation (warmth), thought (an attentive mind), and emotion (feelings fixed on one good thing).

The key is to try to stay in that moment as long as possible—to convert the nunc fluens into a nunc stans, insofar as we can—and then not to be frustrated, disappointed, or impatient when we fail and the moment passes, but to do what we can, persistently, to bring those three elements together again. The saints themselves attest to the fact that it’s a lifelong process.

There are of course aids and supports for our efforts, saintly or otherwise: icons, bodily movements (prostrations, signing the cross, etc.), chant. These can serve as alarm clocks if we let them—reminders of what we are seeking when we’re lazy, distracted, and bored.