Monday, October 26, 2015

Prayer is hope

Since I wrote about hope at the end of last week, I thought it would be nice to write about it again in the early part of this new week. This was made easy by my reading of the following this evening from Michel Houellebecq's novel Submission:
The idea behind the offices of Terce, Sext, and None was "to return us to the presence of God over the course of the day." Every day there were seven offices, plus Mass. None of that had changed since Huysmans's time. The one concession to comfort was that Vigils, which had been observed at two in the morning, was now at ten p.m. During my first visit [twenty years before], I had loved Vigils, with the long meditative psalms chanted in the middle of the night-as distant from Compline, and its farewell to the day, as it was from Lauds, which greeted the new dawn. Vigils was an office of pure waiting, of ultimate hope without any reason for hope (176)
The voice is that of the main character, François, who is beginning a short visit the French Benedictine monastery, the Abbey of Ligugé.

François has just been given a very early retirement from the Sorbonne, where he was a professor of literature (the writing of Joris-Karl Huysmans being his area of interest), for political reasons. He's re-visiting the monastery where Huysmans became a Benedictine oblate and where Huysmans himself had hoped to retire, even going so far as building a house. He did not remain at Ligugé, but returned to Paris. Houellebecq's anti-hero has no plans to remain and, in fact, can only manage a very short stay.

Ligugé Abbey cloisters

It seems to me that François would surely be numbered among those who, according to Václav Havel's taxonomy of hope (see "Some restless thoughts on hope"), wait for Godot, which waiting is not really waiting, but resignation brought about by hopelessness. Do not fear, François remains mostly unmoved by all of this, despite finding Liturgy of the Hours and Mass lovely.
The voices of the monks rose up in the freezing air, pure, humble, well meaning. They were full of sweetness, hope, and expectation. The Lord Jesus would return, was about to return, and already the warmth of his presence filled their souls with joy. This was the one real theme of their chants, chants of sweet and organic expectation. The old queer Nietzsche had it right: Christianity was, at the end of the day, a feminine religion (179)
When one thinks of the Church as Christ's Bride, mystically referring to the soul as feminine, etc., Nietzsche was not totally out-to-lunch. However, much more needs to be said both about ecclesiology and theological anthropology in response to Nietzsche's conclusion, or Houellebecq's conclusion that, in the end, Islam will "win" because of the feminine inheritance that bled from Christianity into late-modern European secularism. So much for all the patriarchy, which is a not-so leitmotif running through Houellebeq's novel.

I like defining hope as "sweet and organic expectation." There is waiting for Godot and then there is waiting joyfully with expectation.

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