domingo, marzo 26, 2017

Living faith as a game and creative party

"La luz en la Navidad, Catedral de Murcia",
de Emilio A. Cano. Fuente: photocritiq.com.
Juan Pablo Espinosa

The Christian faith grants an important status to the symbolic dimension and to mystagogy, understood as the pedagogy that allows us to comprehend the Mystery. The rites, the party, the ludic and gratuitous celebration, occupy essential spaces in family life as well as in ecclesiastical experience. In this brief article, we wish to assume the necessity of re-thinking creatively the faith and its experience from the concepts of game and creative party.

The game as spirituality

Mankind possesses as constituent element the homo ludens being, the man who plays, the ludic being. In every culture, there is the presence of games as ritualistic aspects. They are convened codes that allow opening the spectrum to a more transcendental dimension. What will we understand by game? Battista Modin argues that “the game is the carrying out of activities for achieving a distraction or amusement, a feeling of joy and of self-realization”1. Self-realization tells us about the humanization that mankind seek in view of what is beyond the ordinary. The game serves, then, as a window towards divinity. Let’s think, for example, on the Pok-ta-pok game, a sport from the Mayan culture that consisted in making a ball cross some holes located in the walls of courts by using thighs and hips only. This game started and ended with a rite of praying and offering to the gods. Let’s illustrate this, as well, through the case of the Mapuche’s We Tripantu, the New Year, which was accompanied by the game of the palín or chueca2, horse racings, nekulo, racings of people accompanied by chants and requests. In these two cases we can see a direct relation between the ludic and spirituality or the specific liturgy of each culture.

From the Christian point of view, Battista Modin affirms that the game possesses three main characteristics3. The first of these tell us about a lubricating function, that is, the game is a means by which we can exit the frame of our job demands in search of having fun with those who are close to us. The weekend is longed for to renew our energy. There, liturgy has its place. We arrive there after a demanding week of work, and in many cases, alienating work, to participate of the communal and liberating liturgic celebration, which allows us to go back to the sources, to the free origin of the human condition.

Now, what is the relationship between liturgy, Christian spirituality, the game and the party? Maybe one of the most remarkable elements could be the place of the bodily inside the celebration. The body arrives worn down, the soul, restless. In liturgy, body and soul calm down and seek the resting that comes from the divine source. Pouilly, Paludo and Trudel tell us that “liturgy as action requires a body that moves and a spirit that expresses itself in and for the gesture (…) The gesture is the bodily expression of an interior attitude, and at the same time, such attitude is expressed through the rite”4. Through our bodies and spirit, we praise the God that saves us for thus fulfilling the precept: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Dt 6,5).

A second characteristic is to see the game as a possibility for re-creating intelligence and freedom, with the subsequent self-realization. In the gratuitous experience of the liberating game, we experience also resurrection, the absolute self-realization. It is by an action of grace that God Father resurrected Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Resurrection is a gratuitous eschatological event, by means of which the step from utopia to the human “topia” of liberation from all bonds to sin is taken, that is, in Jesus we find the place in which God is acting in a radical way. In Le Boff’s words:

“Resurrection of Jesus means (…) the absolute realization of all the abilities that God placed inside human existence. By it, all the alienating elements that lacerated life, such as death, pain, hate and sin were annihilated (…) Human hope is realized in resurrected Jesus, and it is already being realized in each man”5

What is the relationship between resurrection as a gratuitous and liberating eschatological event and the liturgic celebration of Christian communities? Let’s see, in the first place, what do we understand by party. Aquilino de Pedro affirms: “In the party, the positive meaning of life is celebrated, received as a gift. The person in a party feels happy about living. He celebrates existing, which is the foundation of all his being”6. Now, if we take this to the meta-historic event7 of resurrection, we understand that in liturgy we celebrate, precisely, the gift of this new life by which God Father has vindicated Jesus Christ, as a cause of his gratuitous self-delivery for the entirety of the human race. Because it is precisely there, where pain and death lies, that we, believers in the God of Jesus of Nazareth, long for and prophesize in favor of justice and life. We know that suffering, Sartre’s nothingness is not the last word. It is thanks to Jesus’ resurrection that we understand that “the party is a condemnation to injustice. It means to spread brotherhood and charity”8

Now, what is its relationship with the liberating game, with the moment of relaxation? As little children that by playing their games constantly create and re-create their own worlds when entering those worlds that are constituted in their neighbors, God is entering into our own lives with Him who is Life itself. Children have this ability of tasting what is free. Let’s think in a concrete example, a simple soccer match between the boys in the neighborhood one Sunday evening. Most likely, many of them are the same old players, but then one or two new ones arrive, some strangers. But, what does it happen? “Ours” accept and allow “others” or “them” to enter our world. Children have this possibility of living what Boff affirms theologically: to eliminate that which lacerates human life, throw away barriers and everyone being the same. Children are, thus, the freest beings. This is what happens also in liturgy. We arrive from many places, but we share a common code, and in that language through which we say the world, we experience what is gratuitous, resurrection and the ludic party.

The third characteristic is to understand that the game has an eschatological dimension, because it tells us about the final stage of man, of the sweet lack of worry, of joy and of happiness that cannot be taken from him. About this, it is interesting also to understand that inside the eschatological imaginary of our Latin-American people, the completeness of heaven or of God’s presence is seen as a moment of joy and gratuitous ludic enjoyment.

About this, I would like to bring forward a beautiful testimony presented by J.B. Libanio, a Brazilian theologist. His words make reference, precisely, to the understanding that the simple people have of the eschatological, of the heavens. It is the image that the poor have of the communion with God, which is presented precisely as a party, as a moment of “sweet lack of worry”. He tells us: “The heavens are conceived by the simple people as a place. A place of gatherings and of parties, of coexistence, abundance and communion (…) There is abundant space for all, as it happens with the heart of a mother, inside which “there is always room for another”, and with the home of the poor. Besides that, there are moments in the life of the people, normally so hard and painful, in which those heavens are already anticipated and experienced, as in party occasions”9

The party and the symbolic in Christian life

Leonardo Boff affirms, “the ecclesiastic community (…) celebrates, in the light of faith, life itself, the conquests of the entire group and their gatherings. They know how to dramatize their problems and solutions: they liturgize the popular and popularize the liturgic; they learn to discover God in life, in the events, in their struggles”10. This experience, so personal and incarnated in Christian faith, of remembering that which comes from its foundation, allows the symbolic to be updated in the entirety of the life of the church.

The subject is an animal of symbols, of signs by means of which he “decides his world”. The experience of the symbol in Christian life has the characteristic of being something dynamic and, therefore, ludic, that allows men to participate in it fully. The symbol has the peculiarity of being polysemic. It does not imprison the Mystery under just one definition. It can be understood and it must be re-created constantly from “a pedagogy that takes people, step by step, towards the complete assimilation of the Mystery”11. The latter has as core the same explanation of the mystery through a renewed mystagogy (pedagogy of the mystery), that is, and following the proposal of Pope Francis, it must consider the “necessary progression of formative experience where the entire community intervenes and a renewed valuation of liturgic signs of christian initiation”12.

Just as with the ludic rite, the party and the symbolic possess an eschatological dimension that Juan José Tamayo has related with utopia and the anticipatory. He argues:

“the symbol is located on the horizon of utopia. It helps to recover loss identity, but not by looking at the past with nostalgia, but by placing our sight in the future with anticipatory intention. It exercises a utopian-anticipatory function, because it aims at the ideal of a humanity liberated from all oppression (…) what is anticipated in the christian sacramental symbols, for example, are the values of the Kingdom, the new heaven and the new Earth where salvation takes place”13.

A paradigmatic text: The prodigal son (Luke 15,13-32)

To conclude our article, we wish to re-read a text familiar to all: The prodigal son. In it is our reading according to the aspects that we have reflected above. The return to the Father’s house is a great liturgy in which the game, the ludic and its joyous and symbolic manifestations take place. We wish to make focus on the last moment of the account of Luke (vv. 20-31).

The son, who had spent all his goods in whores and in parties (v. 13), experiences a process of conversion, of re-education of sight. He reconsiders and discerns and decides to go back to his Father’s house (vv. 17-19). And when he returns, the Father sees him from afar and runs to receive him, touchingly kissing him and hugging him. (v.20). The Father contains him and, without saying a word, he forgives him, and that forgiveness is translated into gratuitous celebration.

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15,22-24).

The subject of meals and feasts is not a new subject for the New Testament. Its presence is stressed, be it in metaphorical images or real ones in which we see that believers are gathering around a table, or it is used to signify God’s presence. There is an aspect that interests us for understanding the relationship between times of the eschaton, the Eucharist and the liberation processes, this is to warn that in the final days, the renewal of creation would be presented as a great feast, to which the ones excluded from the system would be invited as principal guests. Messianic time would start with a great feast (Cf. Is 25,6-8) in which the table would be filled with substantial delicacies, which in the text are represented by the cooked “fat calf”, we suppose, for a special celebration at the Father’s house. In our own homes, domestic ecclesiastical communities, we have also experienced this “killing the fatten calf”, that is to say, to place at our tables the best of us, no matter how simple it might be. When our guests arrive, we desire to make them feel comfortable in our own environments and contexts.

The party involves “music and dancing” (v. 25), sensuality and games. The imaginary of the festive is updated in the cultural manifestations of each people. And that same people knows how to sing for their God and to dance for him. Thanks to these cultural interventions, the origin and sources of the celebrated are re-created. Through the game, the ludic, the symbolic and joyous, we experience in addition the step from a state of alienation to one of freedom. We think in the case of Miriam, sister to Moses, who leads the Hebrew dances in honor to the liberator God once that the crossing through the sea occurs. (Cf. Ex 15,20).

The party is the symbol of life, of resurrection. In our communities on celebration days we sing songs, we dance dances and we share the food in view of the “dangerous memory of the Messianic God, of the God of the resurrection of the dead and of judgement”14, who resurrected from the dead and imparts justice to the poor.

In the very same account of the prodigal son, we are presented to this eschatological dimension of the game and of celebration. We read on the text that at the moment of the confrontation between the eldest son and the Father, the latter tells the former “‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15, 31-32). To make parties and to live the gratuitous games is, therefore, to celebrate the ordinary Resurrection. Each day must be a resurrection!

Conclusion

Celebration and the game as moments of distraction and gratuitousness should not be imprisoned in the material temple, but that should be prolonged to the streets, populations, schools, neighborhood councils, universities, etc. In these times in which we must re-create our evangelical practices, we must transform constantly into a church that goes out, a church that is a wanderer of the faith, and that, in its Eastern by the new seas, it creatively updates the music, dances, celebrations, hugs, games and symbols through which it could mediate for the internalization of the Mystery, especially of the poorest, the first who are invited to the feast of the Kingdom.

This article was translated by Nicolás Manfredi and reviewed by Alfredo Francis, under the grant “God's Evolution” awarded to the Science and Faith Centre (Spain) by the BioLogos Foundation (USA).

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  1. Battista Modin, Teologías de la praxis, BAC Popular, Spain, 1981, p.51
  2. A game similar to modern hockey
  3. Cf. Battista Modin, Teologías de la praxis, p.59
  4. Alfredo Pouilly, Faustino Paludo & Jacques Trudel. Expresión de la corporeidad. En AA.VV. Manual de Liturgia. La celebración del Misterio Pascual. CELAM, Colombia, 2000, p.441.
  5. Leonardo Boff. Jesucristo el liberador. Indo-American Press Service, Colombia, 19774, p. 147.
  6. Aquilino de Pedro. Liturgia. Curso básico para fieles y comunidades. Chile, 1996, p. 25.
  7. The meta-historical expresses that resurrection occurred in a particular moment and place of history, but that, at the same time, it transcends it, it goes beyond (meta) history.
  8. Aquilino de Pedro. Liturgia. Curso básico para fieles y comunidades., p.29.
  9. Juan Batista Libanio & María Clara Bingemer. Escatología cristiana. Paulinas, Madrid, 1985, pp. 270-271.
  10. Leonardo Boff, Eclesiogénesis, las comunidades de base reinventan la Iglesia. Sal Terrae, Santander, 1986, p.67.
  11. Papa Francisco, Evangelii Gaudium n°171.
  12. Evangelii Gaudium n°166.
  13. José Tamayo, Otra teología es posible. Pluralismo religioso, interculturalidad y feminismo. Herder, Madrid, 2012, p. 144.
  14. Johann Baptist Metz, La teología en la lucha por la historia y la sociedad. En Teología y liberación: perspectivas y desafíos. Ensayos en torno a la obra de Gustavo Gutiérrez. CEP, Lima, 1989, p. 290.

 
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