Wednesday, April 16, 2008

[THO] Meaning Making

First off, my official acceptance letter finally arrived. And as an exciting extra, I think I'm going to do both my core courses in the second semester, both very cool courses with Susan Roll and Ken Melchin (both in my list a favourite profs at St. Paul).

I took an oral exam today for my course on Theological Hermeneutics. We studied through the perspective of Paul Ricoeur, I'm a big fan of Ricoeur especially after his excellent book with Andre LaCoque - Thinking Biblically. I was asked to choose a topic and basically we had a conversation. I chose to look at Ricoeur's contribution to our understanding of meaning making. I made a special appeal to his threefold mimesis.

What was interesting was to begin with a connection to my own moment of crisis - the bursting of the high-tech bubble. It was a moment when I began to reflect on the meaning of my efforts as an IT consultant, especially the failed promises (paperless office is the primary one) that I had worked hard towards. My confidence in IT collapsed. I know others who have come to the same conclusions, but I am also confident that many have discovered meaning within IT that sustains them. I did not. So I began a quest for meaning.

That was eight years ago when I entered St. Paul University. What happened is a series of ever unfolding horizon shifts that have affects not just the meaning I craft out of my occupation, but also how I view community, faith, God and especially myself.

Ricoeur draws our attention to narrative texts, especially those meant to challenge us. The example par excellence are the Biblical narratives. These are texts that continue to unfold possibilities in the life of the believer. Of course this pre-supposes that the believer is open to such experiences. (I've been chatting recently with a Fundamentalist friend who is definitely not open to such a relationship with the Scriptures. That has been quite frustrating.)

The encounter begins with a crisis. The world of the author and the world of the reader clash. We bring ourselves to the text and the text challenges our notions of self, they even unhinge us. This is akin to the encounter of the radical other, but in this case Ricoeur insists the author is dead. No further inquiry is possible, we are left with the text and we stand exposed before it. This is mimesis 1 aka pre-configuration.

Mimesis 2 (Configuration) is a process of action and reflection. Ricoeur uses the term mimesis to tie these moments to the examination of action. Within this moment possibilities (interpretations) open up for the reader. The text which often surprises us, like the alterity of a parable, pushes us to open possibilities.

The tension of mimesis 2 is not sustainable. We must move on to a newely configured reality, an appropriation. This is mimesis 3. At this point we have settled on meaning, that is we have made a claim on truth. What is interesting is that Ricoeur raises the question of how new this truth really is. The reality is that we rarely land far from where we started, so in a best case scenario we continue to enter into this process over and over allowing our horizons to shift, thus the notion of spiritual growth.

I know I've personally grown a lot through this educative adventure. But in an essence I am not that far from the conservative evangelical that began this journey. But I am glad to say that I have discovered, in this journey, meaning that sustains me. Will it be enough to sustain me through a PhD? We'll have to see. I'm really just looking forward to the joy of learning and actually giving something back to the academic community that has given so much to me.


Hank said...

Hmmm. The whole 'mimesis 1,2, and 3' reminds me of the model we used in seminary to discuss both salvation and the Wesleyan doctrine of Holiness. Both begin with a 'crisis' experience, which sounds very much like your 'mimesis 1.' But then we combined 2 and 3 into what we termed the 'process.'

i.e., Salvation and Holiness both begin with a crisis experience, the experience of the encounter, and then we step out into the process of internalizing, or as you say 'appropriating' the faith, or the Second Work of Grace.

Am I close?

One of Freedom said...

Sort of. You can extrapolate this threefold mimesis in a lot of ways. I used crisis because it describes my situation in IT. However, Ricoeur sees it as a challenge that comes from the text to the reader.

What you are describing sounds more like an adaptation of William James' work on religious experience, especially with Starbuck's Twice Born category. If you want an excellent and accessible read on this Charles Taylor has a recent book called Varieties of Religion Today. It isn't too long, and it is an updated look at James' classic Varieties of Religious Experience.