For a few years now the family has known that Grandma has cancer. When it was discovered the doctors gave her a few months. Although she’s still almost as spirited as ever it’s become obvious this last year that she won’t be with us much longer. It seems as though the extended farewell has given the family a chance to reflect more intentionally on our inheritance. In fact, we’ve decided to gather next summer to do just this. I thought that before we consider our specific inheritance, it would be helpful to try and define this word and understand the experience. What follows is my effort to do just that.
Naked we enter the world, and completely exposed we desperately need a dwelling place. The sheer fact that some of us have survived the labour of childbirth indicates that a dwelling place is available, that it sits in wait of children to swaddle. At birth, we receive a dual gift from God: a beginning and the means to make new beginnings. This dual gift is the condition of life. As St. Augustine writes, “that there be a beginning, man was created before whom there was nobody.”
This dual gift consists of one’s family, tradition, and heritage, the (inherited) components of a newborn’s dwelling place. Inheritance is something which we are given, something which we did not create nor control. Faith is necessary because of this inherited vulnerability. Such faith does not comfort or appease vulnerability but simply makes it more acute. Insofar as life is a gift, faith is unavoidable.
Originally published at Groundmotive.net.
The other month I discussed the decentred nature of identity, attributing the decenteredness to the fact that decision-making-selves are different from, yet dependant on determinate actions. In a similar spirit, this post focuses on the liminal moment of decision and the tension that provides its (non)foundation.
Since reading St. Augustine’s Confessions in undergrad, I’ve struggled to understand conversion. What happens in the moment of repentance, for example? How is any decision made at all, for that matter?
Although most activities involve little decision making—my fingers flow quite unintentionally across the keyboard—decisions do at the very least seem to occur. We observe them most clearly when our routine is rudely interrupted, when for example, a slow moving elderly women impedes one’s commute. Moments of confrontation call us to account for our otherwise habitual actions, requiring a decision—do we stop to help carry her luggage or jump to the other side of the stairs?
Jacques Derrida argues that every decision must pass through a crucible of the undecidable. By this he means that although a responsible decision should be a well-considered one, action never waits for reflection. At the moment of confrontation, when the elderly woman queues ahead of us, the question “what should I do?” is already a response and an action taken. The immediacy of action leaves no time to reflect. One is responsible even before she wants to be. As a result, decisions always occur in a moment of ignorance, in non-decision. No amount of time or reflective resources would solve this dilemma—the problem is inherent in the phenomenon itself. As Derrida citing Kierkegaard writes, “The instant of decision is a madness.”