Saturday, June 05, 2010

Spiritualities engaged in social movements from within the Brazilian culture

(This article was originally published in Portuguese for the digital magazine Novos Diálogos. I translated it to English.)

I'm not a theologian, even though I was raised going to churches. Not being a theologian and not having any formation in the Humanities, I regret in part not mastering languages and concepts that perhaps would allow a better understanding of the divine mysteries. However, I think there are many advantages to meditating on the divine without being a theologian. The first one is that I don't inherit certain language vices nor other pre-shaped concepts. This allows me to develop thoughts and put ideas into practice that make sense to me without many distractions or mumbojumbo. This practical field includes the daily living of someone not confined to religious spaces. The second advantage is that of escaping from the scrutiny of formal theologians. I, therefore, feel free to write in prosaic Portuguese hoping that seeds of new languages find fertile soil.

Even though I have many christian friends, I dedicate this text to those who for whatever reason see themselves outside a religious social group. I won't ask them to find the nearest church. Instead in the spirit of new dialogues, I hope to share here mini-simple-aspirations related to popular spirituality hoping to hear and see something from them.

In his last supper, Jesus used the bread and the wine to speak, in a p(r)o(ph)etic way about his body and blood. This way Jesus identifies common and universal cultural traits - the food and the drink - to designate them as his body and blood. The most common daily event is made holy. The very fact of Jesus being a man, having lived and talked with the most diverse people of the most varied backgrounds and having told stories with the language of the daily life corroborates towards the identification of the divine from popular culture.

I propose for people who commonly do not get involved with religious practice to seek to express spiritualities engaged in social movements from within the Brazilian culture. Let us imagine different social movements, mainly the excluded or minority voices, developing practical paths and simple spiritualities that express their feelings of denouncement, indignation, hope and hopelessness. The historical pilgrimage of the group could be documented and annotated with sacred stories, like the (hi)stories of the christian bible. This would introduce a new native language. Thus it would not be anymore one exterior (theological) language (and, therefore, artificially false language) that would express the longings of a determined social group, but a rich and inherent language whose semantic would be supported by the history of the group.

Let us imagine still that these spiritual expressions use elements of local cultures, specially folkloric elements. This spirituality will be expressed through repente or cordel, or transmitted to children from the mouth of story tellers. Hand gestures, tongue-twisters and simple games of the daily life will be created in this process.

I ask common people not to wait for models or plans to start these practices. Not even wait for a religious person to begin. I ask them for themselves to start it asap. Meanwhile, I invite certain professionals from the Humanities to collaborates in both active participation of these practices and theoretical formulations.

Anthropologists could help us to intertwine, on the one hand, culture and religion in the daily living and to un-intertwine, on the other, culture and religion pointing to the multiple correlations between instances of them both. In this process, we would see the creation of "non-liturgical liturgies": rites that would go beyond the false dichotomies between the "religious" and the "secular". With that in mind, they could start from these questions towards other ones: how are symbols and habits of a determined social group related with its reality? What do their symbols and habits say about the relations of power among the members of the group? What meanings do these symbols have outside the group? Would there be the possibility of creating new symbols and rituals with the capacity to subvert the illegitimate powers from the local scope to the global ones? How do symbols oscillate over time between the maintenance of the status quo and social rupture? Is it possible to maintain the symbols accessible to the whole social group avoiding "codifications of the elite" and favouring "the popular"?

Political scientists could shape in conjunction with groups of social movements language expressions that enable the analyses of political conjunctures. They could identify historical patterns. They could read holy books such as the christian bible making parallels between the narratives and realities. Political scientists could coordinate political laboratories in situ. They would provide different languages for the social movements that would allow debates related to questions like "what are the characteristics of political relations that tend to preserve life?" or "what would be the main mechanisms of subversion of destructive practices in contemporary macropolitics?"

Philosophers would have precious contributions in the expressions of spirituality of social movements. First, they could work in the (auto)awareness of groups. Also, one could ask: what would be the ethical questions that arise from the context of a certain group? After that, as good philosophers, they could enumerate the questions about virtually everything which is not listed. Also in this process philosophers would have a responsibility to cooperate with the development of new languages for the group. These languages, like in the activity of the political scientists, would allow the articulation of new questions related to political, social and economical relations of the group.

Poets and artists would be necessary in the spiritual expressions of social movements. They would be key both in the construction of new languages and in the expressions of the inexpressive.

However, I think that more important than possible collaborations of professionals in the process would be the stories of common people engaged in the various social movements, mainly that of the excluded ones and minority voices. Please, tell us your stories.

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