Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Question of Experience

As I read TS's comments below and my original posts, I see that the word experience needs clarification. In the common usage, experience has a couple of meanings:
  1. to try something for the sake of experimentation (not in the scientific sense of systematic experimentation, but in the health sciences class sense of doing something for the sake of a different sensation;
  2. an unassailably personal intuition, feeling or mood — this fundamentally Protestant notion reaches its apogee in the Mormon "burning in the heart," or the notion that interior sensations trump all other sensations. Descartes lying in bed for a year trying to fathom the universe is not far from this approach either... in either case, the assumption is that the totality of "what happens" is unreliable, deceptive, and the one must follow a truth that is absent from everyday events, absent from everyday human desire.
So let's look a bit at what Fr. Giussani says in contrast to these common usages.

Concretely, Experience Means to Live
What Causes Me to Grow

A person grows as a result of experience; that is, the valorization of an objective relationship.
  1. A person is first of all a consciousness, a being that is aware. It follows that experience is not the doing or setting up of relationships with reality in a mechanical way. This is the mistake implied in the phrase "to have an experience," where "experience" becomes synonymous with "trying something out."A person is first of all a consciousness, a being that is aware. It follows that experience is not the doing or setting up of relationships with reality in a mechanical way.
    _What characterizes experience is our understanding something, discovering its meaning. To have an experience means to comprehend the meaning of something. This is done by discovering its link to everything else; thus experience means also to discover the purpose of a given thing and its function in the world.
  2. It is also true, however, that we are not the creators of meaning. The connection that binds something to everything else is an objective one. Therefore, true experience involves saying yes to a situation that attracts us; it means appropriating what is being said to us. It is composed of making things our own, but in such a way that we proceed within their objective meaning, which is the Word of an Other.
    _True experience mobilizes and increases our capacity to accept and to love. True experience throws us into the rhythms of the real, drawing us irresistibly toward our union with the ultimate aspect of things and their true, definitive meaning.

Giussani, Risk of Education, 98-99
The question that arises when reading Crazy for God is this: was the love of dance of Frank's mother, Edith, a false attraction, a distraction from the pure following of God's will? Where would Francis Schaeffer's attraction to Brunelleschi's dome have led if he had tried to understand it in the totality of his human experience? And what if Frank Schaeffer had not sacrificed his painting for the seduction of power? Frank Schaeffer points the way toward the resolution of these questions with the desires he has followed in his own life: the love for writing and the attraction he felt during an Orthodox funeral. Not random desires unconnected and therefore forever unfulfilled, but the hundered fold here below. The self not as center but not annuled either: the self drawn toward heaven through a deeper love of time, things, and people.
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