Sunday, July 02, 2006

Whose Were They? Whose Are They?

Philip Slater, the author of The Pursuit of Lonliness spoke in the early 70's about the fact that we all share a common set of what he referred to as "secondary needs" -- those needs just below the basic needs -- hunger, thirst, shelter and sex - and he described these secondary needs as
1. the desire for engagement
2. the desire for community
3. the desire for dependence

He posits that the frustration of these needs is so great, that they threaten to become primary. He describes a culture that deliberately builds exactly what will deny us access to what we need. He says "One assumption underlying this book is that every morning all 200 million of us get out of bed and put a lot of energy into creating and recreating social calamities that oppress, infuriate and exhaust us."

I have been thinking in a different way lately about people I have started to call "The Disconnected" -- people with no attachment to nurturing communities or families. Some of those people are obvious -- the street people, often the elderly, the victims of war, victims of disaster. I see them as cut loose in some way -- like the astronaut in 2001 A Space Odyssey floating at the outside of the spaceship saying to the computer --"Oh HAL...HAL...Let me in!!!" And old HAL has no intention of inviting him back in. Eventually the spaceman will just float off. Into the void. Bye Bye. No trace. No reminder. Very tidy.

In NYC, a man is standing on the corner, eyes vacant, coat threadbare. On a sunny Sunday like this one, many years ago, his parents held him proudly at baptism. The congregation agreed to uphold his life. He belonged to someone, to many. They claimed him. Would they now?

The 19 year old crack addict hooker was someone's darling girl, blessed event. She had a First Communion dress as white as snow.

The old woman, muttering to herself, used to be the beloved of a soldier, long ago dead on foreign shores. She was his sweetheart, and she knew for a while that she was loved and treasured.

The man who hits his child -- the woman who steals from the store -- the wounded refugees of war -- the ex-con who cannot get a job -- the battered women at the shelter. Each with a history. Each probably with some moment of being connected somewhere - belonging somewhere. Each with a bris, or a bar mitzvah or a baptism or a naming ceremony or a birthday party. Each with a warm holiday, a teacher who liked them, a friend on the block.

Everyone has a list attached to their souls, however fragile, of people they used to belong to -- places they used to belong to -- communities they used to belong to. Our souls are like old-time-luggage, with glued on labels of where we have been, whose we have been. Some of us get to keep belonging, and we may even have our histories roll forward into someone else's future. Others of us are not so lucky.

Or, maybe a better image is that of a ribbon from our souls to the persons or places or communities where we "belonged". These soul ribbons can snap in the air - sometimes without us even seeing it coming. WHAM -- we are disconnected - snip, snip, snip and the little ribbons flutter away, becoming less than they were yesterday. Surprise, someone died - Snip. Surprise, Snip. My life knows some of this snipping, as do all of ours. But my snips are ordinary -- divorce, cancer, loss of family members to death. Ordinary things, and I still have so very many ribbons left.

But what of those that do not? How many baptisms have we attended, for example? Do we know where all those people are now? Yet, at those ceremonies we pledged to support their walk in faith, to be part of their community, to carry a ribbon with us that was attached to their soul.

Philip Slater speaks of these secondary needs for dependence, engagement and community in secular terms -- but they also read out as a need for "grace".

And is he right?? - Is he right to say that our institutions, those mostly cherished institutions that we have built around ourselves, these institutions created to honor that which is best in us - those very institutions may well make it harder for the Lost to become the Found, for the Disconnected to become the Connected? How do we lose so very many of these children of God?

May Almighty God have mercy on our souls.


Blogger samtzmom said...

We are so much more disconnected these days. We all live in our own insular bubbles to a degree with multi-media at our fingertips. We cease to engage one another in community. Some wonderful thoughts to ponder here Mata. Hugs to you...

7:18 AM  
Blogger The Harbour of Ourselves said...

very good blog....wonderful insight

My take? Tell the truth. Be real. Encourage everyone to tell their story. Stop telling us there is only one story. Yes there is only one story about Jesus, but there are millions of stories that we have to tell about finding him. Give up power and control. Stop editing out mistakes, flaws and imperfections from the Sunday service. Let others see that the Church is not full of dazzling people, but rather ordinary people with dazzling stories about Jesus.

As stated, many have lost faith whilst living in the shadow of the Enlightenment, and so what has developed is a pseudo-spirituality of the individual, where the West, it seems, is seeking to transcend itself. Mike would suggest that this becomes problematic because it creates isolation and fragments any kind of vestigial hope for an essential communal pattern of living. Yet this embracing of fragmented, fiscally marginalized, flawed people, who are suspicious of Institution, might just be part of the mystery which helps reconnect them with all that has been lost. Most of my own friends, particularly those who don’t profess any kind of faith seem to want to explore uncharted territory, not to escape, but to find some way back home.

10:35 AM  
Blogger The Carpathian Peasant said...

Hi, Mata!

You write good, thoughtful pieces. If you are like me, you hope others can see just a little farther as a result.

It's nice that you want to give credit for ideas picked up elsewhere (that's the honest way and, besides that, then people don't expect more in that line of thinking).

Would you like to know what I do? I just simply say something like, "I got this idea from...." Or, maybe, "Hey, this morning's paper had this article, and the person who wrote it really had a good thought with...."

aka Carpathian Peasant

12:32 PM  
Blogger Mata H said...

Thanks all for your gracious comments. I have been thinking about this for some time, and when I read what Carolyn (aka Carpathian Peasant) has to say on her blog about baptism, it egged me on to get my own thoughts in order. I posted on her site asking if and how she would like to be acknowledged, as I wanted her consent first. You will see (above) that I do have it (Thank you, Carolyn). I love the idea of ideas rolling around the internet, gathering new thoughts as they go. Thanks again to Carpathian Peasant for sparking this blog entry.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Mata H said...

harbour -

"find a way back home"...that really grabs my heart. I think that is right -- there is a palpable hunger in the air -- a universal longing. It is as though there is a faith-shaped hole in the universe.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Rainbow dreams said...

I might just come back to this post a few times - It's making me think - in my mind though, the ribbons are fine yet strong threads, like a spiders web, that mean it's always possible for new threads, new connections to be made.

4:23 PM  
Blogger The Harbour of Ourselves said...


was 'on one' when penning the comment and didn't explain who mike was!

Mike Yaconelli was my mentor and dear friend until his untimely death a couple of years ago - a wonderful broken paradox on life - his life taught me much, and i miss him, and i recognise that the things i write that connect and touch people (help them turn towards home if you like) come from his example.

i think all creation yearns for the point where maybe soon the rocks themselves will cry out...

3:14 AM  

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