catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 22 :: 2008.12.05 — 2008.12.19


Incarnational Meditation Exercises 1-3

It is Christmas time again.  Time to reflect on the mystery of embodiment.  Below are three easy exercises you can perform in order to prepare during the Advent season.           

Exercise #1: Pinch Yourself

My first suggestion to get into the Christmas spirit is to pinch your self. 

Are you awake or merely dreaming?  God, the Being of beings, has pitched a tent among us.  If you don’t like camping, think of it this way:  God is in the house.  Maybe that doesn’t help either.  Ok.  Try to think of the transcendent God wrapped in human skin.  Not abstract metaphoric skin.  Real skin.  You’ll have to use your imagination.  Or perhaps you could try applying an empirical method: when you’ve finished reading this paragraph, take a moment to examine the back of your eyelids.  Now try to imagine The Word that defined the light of the sun, born as a baby, and squinting at the sight of that very same light some 2000 years ago.  Our minds cannot make sense of this.  Maybe we are dreaming.

Now open your eyes.  No, you are awake.  Your consciousness proves this fact.  If you can understand the words on this page, then you are.  You think, therefore there is no doubt.  Oh yeah, and you can stop pinching yourself now.  Pinching the flesh not only hurts you.  It hurts the little baby Jesus, too.

Exercise #2: Go to Wal-Mart

If you don’t like dealing with holiday shoppers or driving around looking for a parking spot or if you have a thing against Wal-Mart in general, you can draw on your recollection here.  Recall a Wal-Mart.  Any Wal-Mart will do-they all look alike anyway.

Now imagine this company is a person.  Seem like a strange thing to do?  Whether you know it or not, you are part of a society that already does just that.  This fact is explicitly stated in the legal definition of the corporation as “an organization formed with state governmental approval to act as an artificial person to carry on business (or other activities).”  As a corporation, Wal-Mart is recognized as an embodied person with the same legal rights as other living breathing persons.

Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan’s film The Corporation questions the common sense of this legal definition.  Playfully they suggest if we accept that the modern day corporation is a person, we must ask, “What kind of person?” 

After talking with CEOs, business executives and social critics, they found that the modern day corporation is often in conflict with the interests of other persons.  Even the leaders of these companies feel their individual concern for the environment or for their employees and their families are often trumped by the concerns of the corporation, which is driven by and often reduced to the profit-motive. The corporation is, according to the film’s web site, “self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism.”  Using the World Health Organization’s standard diagnostic tools, such symptoms indicate that the modern day corporation is a psychopathic person.

Though the film gives plenty of examples about the environmental and human hazards of giving too many rights to a powerful psychopathic personality, the filmmakers do not really examine in depth the challenges this reduced view presents for a proper understanding of corporate-ness itself.  Because our selves are always defined by other selves, we should not be surprised to find that other corporeal entities such as Wal-Mart also have an influence on our personhood, on what it means to be an embodied person.  If we as a society believe Wal-Mart to be for all intents and purposes a person, we are opening our own personhood up to a distortion. 

So here is your assignment:  Go to Wal-Mart.  Accept the “reality” of its personhood with the same amount of faith given to such mysteries as the incarnate Word of God.  Meditate on the incarnation as it applies to this mega super-store that calls itself a corporation, a body.  “What kind of a person is Wal-Mart?”  Walk up and down the aisles.  Observe the employees, the consumers, the products.  Smell it like you would the breath of another person.  Remember the time your brother vomited in the beauty supplies aisle? Or when you pocketed that candy bar?  How about the time your dad picked out that new bike and you rode it out to the parking lot?  Make a mental scrapbook or slow-motion montage of all the good and bad times with this person.  If you get goose-pimples thinking about a department store in this way, ask yourself what thinking of Wal-Mart as a corporate person has done to your body?

Finally, walk to the book section and pick a Bible off the shelf.  Turn to 1 Corinthians 12 and read about the body.  Let Paul’s explanation of our unity in Christ as one body with many parts inform your further meditation on Wal-Mart.  Is this corporation also part of the body of Christ or is it a competing body?  And what is the unity of the modern day corporation, if not Christ?  What holds everyone together within it?

Perhaps you have some time on your hands to flip to Genesis where the human person is defined as one who rules (cares for) over the earth, develops it, participates in God’s creation.  From this point of view Wal-Mart should not be considered a person, but a creature of human development.  The modern day corporation is merely a technology developed alongside other creaturely technologies to serve particular functions in social life. 

But if we agree to think of the corporation as a person with the same rights as flesh and blood persons, doesn’t this conflict with Wal-Mart’s true nature as a creature under the rule of humankind? 

As a person, the modern day corporation oversteps its bounds when it rules over the lives of human persons or the rest of creation.  And this is a sign that human beings have neglected their responsibilities as caring rulers.  It’s an old story.  Remember when the serpent speaks to Adam and Eve?  It was the responsibility of humanity to put the serpent in its place.  Animals are not supposed to tell humans who they are.  It’s the other way around.  If Adam and Eve took their responsibility as rulers seriously, they would not let this creature rule their own particular creaturehood.

In other words, we have given the modern day corporation too much of our humanity by calling it a person.  Even our use of the term corporation to define aggregate business activity seems somehow a reduction of Christ’s corporeal life.  Our own corporeality is being altered by this competing view of bodiliness in the twentieth and twenty-first century.  If you don’t believe me, walk into the average mega-church and tell me if it also doesn’t look, sound, smell and taste like a Wal-Mart.         

Exercise #3: Live the mystery

Taste, see, remember and believe.  Don’t try to grasp the mystery of the incarnation with a disembodied mind.  Don’t attempt to explain its theological import to your friends and neighbors with charts and graphs and propositional truths (disembodied words).  Use less exposition and more action.  Like a good story-show, don’t tell. 

If anything is a reminder of the limits of our disembodied knowledge it is the mystery of the incarnation.  Not just the moment of Christ’s birth, but also the growth of that body into manhood, toward death, resurrected, a(tran)scended; the conjugal unity of a body of believers guided by the Spirit.  Our knowledge is limited when we try to know as disembodied selves, as thinking things divorced from the flesh of our flesh. 

But our knowledge is limitless when we are part of the enduring life of Christ.  There is no end to this body, no end to the mysteries of the flesh revealed in the warming rays of the sun, the cool ocean breeze, the tangy surprise of the lemon, the crick in the neck, the mud between the toes.  All of these sensory experiences speak to the mystery of the body.  The Word continues to be flesh.  From person to person, age to age.  This is the hope of Christ’s resurrection, his ongoing incarnation.  It is a mystery understood only when lived.

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