For me, the hardest experience of all is that of waiting. Increasingly, waiting forms my understanding of Advent. In as much as Advent is a time for preparation, the preparation consists in learning to tolerate the waiting. So, it is important how we wait. In what state – fearfully, with complacency, or hopefully, do we wait?
I am fascinated by the passage of time. More correctly I am fascinated by the way we understand the passage of time as if it really does flow along a continuum from the past, through the present, into the future. While time flows on a continuum, we are not free to flow with it, for between the past, present, and future our conscious minds encounter barriers that prevent us flowing back and forth along time’s continuum line.
Human consciousness divides our sense of time into past, future, and spanning between them, present time. Yet, the unconscious mind knows no such division. Each night when we dream our conscious mind, with its boundaries and distinctions, retires. The unconscious mind now takes over and the spatial distinctions of the conscious mind with its focus on identity- me, not me; on location – here, not there; and of time – now, not then, all dissolve. In the unconscious mind, a memory of an event or an expectation of an event become inseparable from an actual event in the present. The conscious separation of time makes sense of the passage of time, but perhaps does not represent the variability of the flow of time itself.
I love how science fiction plays with the flow of past, present, and future. The most interesting example is in the recent film Interstellar. The film portrays the possibility of communicating between past, present, and future. Instead of past, present, and future arranged along a continuum line, they present as simultaneous dimensions sitting side by side, separated from each other as adjoining rooms are separated by walls within the same house. I am excited by the way science fiction seeks to articulate the very edge of the hard science of Quantum reality, because in the Newtonian universe, I feel trapped in the present, haunted by memories of a past and plagued by anxieties for a future, neither which I have any control over. The past influences me. The future makes me anxious. I can do nothing about either except to distract myself from resulting feelings of futility.
Carl Jung, alongside Sigmund Freud is one of the towering pioneers of 20th century psychology. One of his greatest contributions remains the concept of the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious refers to that kaleidoscopic world of transgenerational memories that transcend our own individual memory and experience. Because the collective memory is neither yours nor mine, but ours, it shapes and controls all of us in ways that elude our conscious control. The worrying thing about the collective unconscious is that it subverts our society’s conscious systems of control.
A current example of the collective unconscious in operation can be seen in our policing of racial minorities. Many of us are feeling more and more uncomfortable as we are forced to recognise the extent to which the spectre of institutional racism, is not, as many white people like to imagine, a painful memory now safely contained in the past. We are coming to recognise that the racial violence of our past, despite our best conscious societal intentions, continues to stalk the streets of our present.
Marcel Proust in his novel Swann’s Way (published 1913), describes the village church of his childhood’s Combray as: a building which occupied, so to speak, four dimensions of space—the name of the fourth being Time. When Proust recollects his experience of being in Combray church he has an experience of the normal divisions of waking consciousness being suspended within a dream-like state of free-flowing association. Some of these associations will undoubtedly belong within his own personal past experience – his personal biography. Yet, more significantly in Combray church, Proust becomes aware of recollections and associations that are not greater and more extensive than his own biographical experience. These belong within a transgenerational biography of the village, of the region, of France and a wider European spirituality.
In Combray church, Proust’s personal experience merges with a transgenerational experience that remains alive and accessible through Combray church acting as a portal, not to the unconscious, but to a supra-conscious awareness. Supra-consciousness is an attribute of the life of the Spirit in us. The faculty of Supra-consciousness relies extensively on imagination and intuition. The supra-conscious frees us from the imprisonment of the present by opening us to future hopes and dreams without opening the floodgates of our disavowed past.
Getting to the point
My initial musings on the difference between conscious, unconscious, and supra-conscious awareness is a long-winded way of engaging with the Gospel for Advent II, taken from the opening chapter of Mark. What I like about Mark is that he get’s straight to the point.
Each Evangelist identifies Jesus by locating him within a particular supra-conscious vision. To make it seem less technical, I like the term trans-generational vision instead of supra-consciouness. Matthew and Luke identify Jesus and locate him within similar, yet different birth narratives. John offers a cosmological understanding of Jesus as the second person of the Trinity. Mark’s way of identifying and locating Jesus is to connect the adult Jesus with the figure of John the Baptizer.
John the Baptizer emerges as a crucial figure within the unfolding of a particular trans-generational vision that identifies Jesus with Isaiah’s suffering servant. In conscious time and space, John is most popularly identified as the cousin of Jesus. In the trans-generational vision of supra-conscious time, John emerges as Isaiah’s: voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the lord, make his paths straight!
The trans-generation vision anchored
Our Christian vision has a past stretching a long way back through the prophecies of Isaiah and the other great prophets of Israel, into the primal Genesis narratives of creation. This long, trans-generational vision becomes our Christian vision for a future hope when it finds its anchor point in the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
The trans-generational vision is this: that in Christ, God came to dwell within the conditions of the creation. John the Baptizer announces Christ. Christ announces the Kingdom of God. Yet, the Kingdom is clearly not realized all in one-fell-swoop, hence our experience of still waiting. The meaning of one-fell-swoop is to accomplish everything that needs to be done at the same time and in the same moment. The Kingdom is here, and yet, its full meaning only unfolds over time. Here is the confusing thing about time again. For we still are waiting for the coming of the Kingdom, which due to the paradox of our understanding of time, is already present. Alice Miller, another great psychologist of the 20th century said: we are who we have been waiting for. I want to paraphrase them into: we are already what we are still waiting for.
Our expectations, if they are Kingdom shaped, will seem to us to be improbable, even impossible because only a Kingdom vision provides the courage and motivation to move beyond the limitations of conscious imagination and the continued hidden power that our collective past has over us.
There is a 21st century chapter in the story of the unfolding of the Kingdom within which we have our crucial role to play. We dream our way forward guided by the expectations of the Kingdom unfolding through the degree to which we will allow ourselves to welcome it. To welcome the Kingdom means intuiting its presence. We do so when our actions confront the unconscious continuance of the violence and injustice of our collective past; when like Isaiah and John the baptizer through proclamation we plant the seeds of the future through our present time actions. Thus we find: new pathways to God’s peaceable Kingdom, one step and one breath at a time (Epperly).
Paul Tillich reminds us that: if we wait in hope and patience, the power of that for which we wait is already effective within us. Those who wait in an ultimate sense are not that far from that for which they wait. His words find an echo in those of Alice Miller: we are who we have been waiting for. Taking Miller’s words to heart let’s work to lay the foundations in our present time for the hopes and dreams which may only be realized in our future.
Taking Miller’s words to heart, we must work to lay the foundations in our present time for the hopes and dreams which may not be realized in our time, but through the onward march of the Christian trans-generational dream of the Kingdom of God.