Die Vergangenheit führt einen heimlichen Index mit, durch den sie auf die Erlösung verwiesen wird. (The past carries with it a homing index by which it is referred to redemption.)(Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte/Theses on the Philosophy of History)
It’s hard to live in the market, it’s hard to live in this world. Sometimes, thoughts of home are all that get us through it. I haven’t talked a lot about home, though. There are reasons for this, first among them that we don’t all share the same home. The elsewhere, the heaven, to which one of us returns may not be identical to the heaven to which another returns. I share the market with you, I might not share home.
In this marketworld, we don’t always have a clear idea of which home is ours and who among our fellow-travelers are kin. Sometimes, we have a hard time just believing in home. Discovering and deepening a sense of home has a profound effect on us, though, and provides us with a sense of orientation through this world. I can’t exactly leave it out of the discussion, either.
Which is where our friend Walter Benjamin comes in. What Benjamin is talking about above is the experience that occurs when we have some sense of home. The disparate moments of our lives and the more encompassing history in which they are enmeshed are transformed. We experience them in a manner that divorces them from their strict temporal ordering and places them in relationship to our eternal home.
Let that sink in. Oftentimes, we don’t get the sense of home first. Instead, we find fragments of our lives and history come together as if by magic. These moments come to belong to each other, inform each other, even though they have little if any direct temporal connection to each other. If we don’t rush past this little miracle, we can glimpse in it the glimmers of home, because it is by virtue of our connection to our home that these events come together.
This is a personal experience, yes, but this home isn’t just ours. We share it with some others living in, departed from, and yet to be in, the order of time. In the discovery of home, we feel a calling toward others, even when we do not necessarily know who they are. The ambiguity of this experience should be emphasized: we sense there are others without exactly knowing who or when they are.
This ambiguity and discomfort leads us to rush sometimes, to project an involvement in our home with others where there might only be a market tie. In the previous posts, I’ve quoted Yoruba proverbs because these express well the uneasiness of this situation. You can fool yourself and be fooled into mistaking where and with whom home is. You can get entangled with people and spirits who, however well-meaning, may not be able to help you work toward your destiny.
Especially when the market has been corrupted.
At their best, spiritual traditions are bulwarks of home, consecrated atop a sense of home and infused with some elements of it. They may be eroded in time and disappear, but because they draw their vitality from outside of time, they may reappear again and again. At the heart of such traditions are mysteries: rites, stories, and relics through which past encounters with home are recalled.
This recollection prepares each person for their own encounters with the eternal and are themselves vehicles through which the eternal operates on the temporal. The mysteries are like magnets that can be drawn through the filings of the market and pull the sympathetic bits to themselves. They rejuvenate themselves with these elements and use them to assist their members through their own journey of transformation.
But the market is corrosive and it is all-too-easy to substitute the bonds of the market for the bonds of eternity. Spiritual tradition then ceases to be about a quality of the eternal but about temporal, historical, bonds. This leads to all manner of problems, the most basic of which are a kind of idolatry, the veneration of the temporal as the eternal. This manifests most commonly as a confusion of the stable for the eternal, whether that stability be a matter of prosperity or longevity.
This stuff is hard to talk about. When I say things like this, I am aware that some will hear me to say that prosperity and longevity simply don’t matter. They do and spiritual traditions that can access both should be admired. However, they should be admired as clear signs of how well its members have been able to navigate the market. Idolizing them as a sign of the eternal puts us at risk for conflating the vital eternal core of a religion with some specific cultural or material occasion in the market.
That kind of conflation interferes with our capacity to experience the world from the perspective of eternal. The historical occasions that give birth to institutions replace the experiences that make an appreciation of home possible. Within the temporal world, the experience of the eternal jars us by uniting disparate moments of the past, present, and future, not by locking us into a repetition of the deeds of the dead.