COINHERENCE

COINHERENCE

The Lord
will make of us all
overbearers,
never let us miss
the right exit.

This mysterious thing
forcing plans for the inevitable
abortion of all plans.

This ruinous thing
a total illusion
when taken in light of
the gift bestowed.

Relation scurries ahead of
relata, out-comparing them.
Corpses rise glorious,
fulfilling the times.

The one’s distinction
carries into other’s openness
where the unseen
cranes
an eye over
so that Lord is
in tread of our burial.

What else could we do?

We learned our lesson,
learned it on the other side
where mirrors echo,
our wretched gestures
rectified in the soft divine
radiant message
channeled in particulars
now duly magnified.

A grace inescapable
abides: that we glide
across that threshold
every day.

*

Exegesis:
In thinking through what it means to be a ‘person’, theology does not begin from what we commonly understand to be personhood, but from the persons of the Trinity, working backward to understand what human personality truly is. Unlike the individual, the person is not a division or a part divided off from a species. Rather, the person contains within it the fullness of the nature, without any loss or fragmentation. As one instance, it is absolute, and this does not contradict the existence of other absolute instances. From there it is a manner of conceiving the human person, not as an individual member of a species or a cultural group, but in its radical distinctiveness, uncategorizability, incomparability, etc. (From there, it is easy to see why the essence of the commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself: one absolute instance as another.) The ‘person’ is not equal to the body made of flesh, but signifies something more like a phenomenon of ‘between’, a between-being. This is not its ‘identity’ per se, but the uniqueness of its dance in and between all others, affecting all others in the web of humanity and, more broadly, of creation. As Sloterdijk summarizes, “Perichoresis means that the milieu of the persons is entirely the relationship itself.”

So, the person is not equal to the biological individual but, according to this dogma at least, a participant in the Spirit from and for eternity. Hard as it is to grasp, theology locates our ‘person’ not in the world but in the coinherent structure of the entire body of humanity, as a structure which is only made consistent through love and loving memory. By grace (and analogously, by the gift of memory and language), we are in the Spirit of love more than we appear to be as earthly, mortal, consigned to decay. We live on in each other, primarily by the bonds of love; we can be eternal presences for each other. This is the Lord who makes us ‘overbearers’ (or ‘translators’) of ourselves; the Lord who stands in for us, instead of our burial, and gives the body to rise “glorious” in and for the other; and whereby our errors and wretchedness are transformed, by forgiveness and time, into one soft divine message which, amazingly, magnifies us for just who we were/are — or rather, for who our “particular” person is in the common, transtemporal Spirit.

The claim is then that the person both includes and exceeds what it ‘is’, for it is always expanded or enlarged by crossing to the other’s side. And there is no end to such crossing, this bearing-over, which we do not accomplish ourselves (since the root metaphor is our living on in the other after our death, which is obviously not a biological capacity or tied to our powers of intention). Death may reach the physical body of the individual, but we qua personhood, we as participating ‘in the Spirit’ or we as made in the likeness of God — as self-giving love — are something ‘more’, something ‘uncreated’, endowed with an imperishable or eternal life — although, in a certain sense, we have no direct access to it and can only take it on faith.

Perhaps this makes the ‘exit’ – the ruinous thing death, an illusion in light of the gift of existence, restored in every instant – more legible, legible as ‘right’. The poem acknowledges the difficulty of believing this, confessing that it is only learned on the other side, in the other for whom we still ‘live’ and are still persons, still thinking and acting, sharing and loving, against all odds and against the evidence of transience. The grace of going across the threshold of death/the exit – into the heart of the other where we will never not be persons – that is what, it seems to me, human coinherence or perichoresis might teach us everyday, amidst all our numberless departures.

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One Response to COINHERENCE

  1. Rex Styzens says:

    So far, I have only had the opportunity to study this briefly. I know I will want to come back to it. The combination of poem and text is very appealing. The topic is worth pondering.

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