Yesterday, after a single meal shared between the two of us at Tani’s in Englewood, Karen and I went for a late afternoon hike from the Englewood Boat Basin on the Hudson River, up the Dyckman Hill Trail, and then on the Long Path for a short distance (to almost parallel to where Unilever is in Englewood Cliffs) along the top of the cliffs.
In the past we had hiked the Long Path from its beginning in the Fort Lee Historic Park, south of the George Washington Bridge, to the Englewood Basin.
Autumn is in the air. It was nippy with a temperature in the fifties, but we were well layered. Along the way we saw a little herd of five deer and had views of the Henry Hudson Bridge crossing Spuyten Duyvil Creek (Harlem River) and of Riverdale north of it. We got back to the boat basin just as the sun was setting, observing the awe-inspiring colors and shades of the clouds. Then we went for a bite to eat at Jackson Hole in Englewood before returning home. I ate some sweet potato fries that did not agree with me. Karen pointed out that they were no doubt fried in the same oil as the things coated in wheat-flour were. Okay, when I eat out, no more deep-fried anything.
In the morning, I had just finished reading the first chapter of Sandra M. Schneiders’ Buying the Field (volume III of Religious Life in a New Millennium, published by Paulist Press in 2013). She was talking about three different ways that the word “world” is used in the New Testament. One way is as a “reality construct,” which she says “is the image of reality that determines the attitudes, postures, and actions of human agents functioning within social, cultural, economic, political, religious, and other systems and institutions” (page 70).
How I conceive of this, and Sister Schneiders may or may not agree with me, is that the world (in this sense) is something we form in our minds, the categories we impose on our perceptions and that shape our perceptions, and the beliefs that we have (e.g., the values we form) about reality, that is, what we think is real. It is a mental sphere that we more or less share with others, in which we live, and by which we interact with others.
So the “world” is a construction that we enter as soon as we begin to learn language and interact with others. It comes to us already constructed, and then we contribute to its construction, wittingly or unwittingly, by our participation in culture and society.
Does our “world” correspond to reality or is it contrary to reality? For example, if reality is a non-duality of consciousness and matter/energy, and our reality construct separates them and sets them in opposition to each other, then my reality construct is “evil.” If the reality of consciousness is inseparable from compassionate awareness, then that which obscures this is a renunciation of reality and therefore also evil.
In one way, we all live in our own little world. We would not be able, however, to interact with others if there were no overlap, if we did not share major constructs with others through language, culture, science, religion, and so forth. We can also construct our world intentionally by deepening the insulation of our world from reality (by, for example, ignoring science, reifying ideologies, etc.) or by waking up more and more to reality.
So, Sister Schneiders asks, “How [do] Religious, from within an alternative world which they create, position themselves in relation to the evil reality construction of the ‘world'” (page 67)? By “Religious” she means people who are bound by religious vows, like Franciscans and Clarissans.
She says, if “all the baptized are called to renounce the power that opposes God in this world and live in such a way that the Reign of God not only structures their own personal lives but is fostered in this world by the way they live and what they do … what specifies the way Religious live this common baptismal calling? What difference does the specification of baptismal commitment by Religious Profession make?” (Pages 67-68.)
If you stumble on the word “God” because it conjures up a masculine anthropomorphized image, feel free to substitute ineffable Reality, the Great Mother, or the Divine, in its place (as I do). I also stumble on the phrase “Reign of God” since it implies dominance when what is intended is the kind of mutual cohesive community that manifests the dynamic interpersonal love that is at the heart of Divinity, or rather, that is the essence of the Divine One.
Her question, then, is simply this: if all Christians are supposed to renounce the evil world construct and to live in such a way that manifesting the dynamic interpersonal love which is the Divine One structures their lives and is fostered in others, what distinguishes those Christians who in addition to baptism take religious vows?
She proposes “that Religious Profession is a paschal act by which Religious ‘die to the world’ (the evil reality construction) and undertake to live the Resurrection in a radical way within history, prior to physical death, by creating and living within an ‘alternative world’ which derives its coordinates exclusively from the Gospel. Living and acting from this alternative world constitutes a prophetic lifeform in the Church that subverts the evil world in favor of the Reign of God. The means by which Religious create this alternative world are the vows that both witness to and ministerially effect the Reign of God as well as affecting the personal and communal spirituality of Religious” (page 68).
I look forward to what she has to say in the remainder of this volume because this is the project that I want to be engaged in as a Franciscan (of a Clarissan hue). I would like to be in such a community with Karen (by virtue of our marriage vows) and to extend this idea of community to others: to die to the false reality construct that is patriarchal society in all its restless greediness and twists and distortions and ugliness and to live in Resurrection—in this life, by the Holy Spirit.
I wish to co-create and live within this “alternative world”—a community brought to life and created by the Gospel—by means of a “form of life” (structured by my Franciscan profession, vows and rule) which witnesses to and effects the love that is the essence of divine Being. Such a life lived out would rebound inwardly to the spirituality of those participating in such community.
I imagine this being a core community around which a borderless non-exclusive community is born and nourished, whose spirituality, as my own is, is pluralistic, open to the faith-expressions of others without judgment, though increasingly committed. The two are not exclusive, but they do require what Ken Wilber calls a “mandalic” state of mind, one that can accommodate different perspectives simultaneously.