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Conspiratio

In deep middle age, a close friend of mine finds himself immersed in a love affair. I find myself a bit (just a bit) envious as I observe the white heat of his intimacy (which I don't use here in a sexual sense). How can I characterize this intimacy? The question of intimacy as such is important to me, and it seems to me that what he is going through is no more and no less than a conspiracy.Love as conspiracy; in a society obsessed with political conspiracies we forget that that the original sense of the word was not negative. It meant "co-breathing" in the sense of a radical demanding intimacy. It is only rather recently that it picked up the sense of a group of intimates united for an illicit purpose. But my friend's intimacy with his beloved seems to be both directed and excludes others not by design but because of its particular closeness.I am interested in intimacy and its cultivation not only to maintain strong relationships, but because I feel that there is something conspiratorial in the Christian sense of intimacy. There was a time when our Mass was nothing more or less than a conspiracy both in the old and (to the Romans) the current sense. Early Christians were certainly intimate to the degree of sharing the same breath. And in the sense that conspirators promote the aims of the conspiracy together, the aim of the conspiracy can be to promote the radical intimacy that is the living of a Christian life in a community.I look at my friend's love affair and I know from experience that the white heat will eventually cool down. But will the conspiracy, the sense of conspiracy, survive? Is a truly healthy intimate relationship a conspiracy? And if it is, can we have a conspiratorial relationship with God?

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An early literal meaning of conspiratio was the blowing in unison of wind instruments, from which it easily came to mean agreement by a group of people on a course of action, no secrecy or nefariousness implied. But Caesar wrote of certain Gallic tribes conspiring to resist him, which from his point of view would have been a bad thing, and from theirs something to do in secrecy. Once secrecy is involved, the fewer people the better, and when the number is pared down to two, it may become intimacy.Yet intimacy is more than secrecy, isn't it? It is the sense that we twain are a world sufficient, that any third would be intrusive and discordant. It is this:LEARNo, no, no, no! Come, lets away to prison.We two alone will sing like birds i' th' cage.When thou dost ask me blessing, Ill kneel downAnd ask of thee forgiveness. So well live,And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laughAt gilded butterflies, and hear poor roguesTalk of court news, and well talk with them tooWho loses and who wins, whos in, whos outAnd take upon s the mystery of thingsAs if we were Gods spies. And well wear outIn a walled prison packs and sects of great onesThat ebb and flow by the moon.King Lear, Act V, scene 3

I'm not sure that intimacy is something that involves two. Can a family share intimacy? Can a close knit group of people? In my Franciscan order, we constantly talk about what makes us "different" in the sense of being an order at all. These conversations over time seem to have led to a sort of intimacy between us; maybe intimacy is in part having these sorts of conversations.Intimacy can be pursued, but is it also a gift? Is it a sort of grace?

An excellent point. I would not disagree. But the intensity of the experience may be proportional in some sense to the fewness of those sharing it. To overdo Shakespeare (if that is possible), when Henry V says, "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers," he proclaims a common bond that marks a small group, everyone known to everyone. The Allies at D-Day also shared a common purpose and a great achievement, but beyond the squad level, it would be hard to call it intimacy.Gift? Grace? Since I cannot find it all on my own, it must be something of that sort, unless when billions of people are seeking the same thing, some number are likely to find it. A mystery, in any case.

Intimacy for me -is a meeting of the mind.A meeting of the mind is also a meeting of the heart.If I understand another person[what they are saying,what they believe,what they like or don't like,their experiences] then I feel an identifying connection with them.Intimacy can ebb and flow-I can feel intimate with a person in one regard then when faced with a conflict with them, separated.Intimacy can also be a one way street. I can watch or hear an interview with a famous person and identify[agree] with that person and feel that intimate connection[i know what you mean and I'm like you in this regard].Even as i'm aware that the person does not know me.Empathy with people you don't even know is also intimacy.["God's spy"].I can feel empathy for people I see whether I know them or not and identify with them-they mirror me though looks have nothing to do with it.Some people we just like right away and some people we don't.The ones we do we feel intimately connected[I know you already and you're like me].Sharing the same physical space is a form of intimacy.When you're with other people and they see what you see, they hear what you hear, they are dealing with the same surroundings as you-that shared experience of time and space can in retrospect be recognized as intimate.Though at the time it might not have been perceived as such.[you hated the person you were working with but now you see your memories include them too]Intimacy -that recognition that you are like them and they are like you in any particular way-is not surprising as we're all here unique yet made in God's image.

Intimacy/conspiracy is rewarding but I'm not sure it's intrinsically good It''s about them and us. In-group bonding and loyalty is the kind of thing that runs the clerical system that covers up sex abuse, for instance.

Still with that sex abuse scandal?it's 2013-put that baby to bed!

OK, let me put it another way. The desire to form intimate groups can have positive results, like creating families in which to raise children, but it can also have negative results, like jingoism. In-group bonding and loyalty is sort of a neutral thing that can have positive and/or negative results, so I just meant let's not turn it into a virtue.

Crystal --Is it the intimacy of the groups that is bad or the results of the groups' actions that are bad? I see intimacy as an experience that can be used for good or ill, although I think of the mystical experiences such as Theresa of Avila's as the ultimate intimacy and the greatest of goods.

Hi Ann,Still thinking about this. Maybe there's a difference between intimacy and love? I think love *is* a virtue, and I think that's what was between Jesus and Theresa. But love doesn't shut out people that are not in the relationship, love doesn't make you love other people less but more, love doesn't pit people against each other. Intimacy may keep a crime family loyal to each other at the expense of outsiders, but I wouldn't call that a virtue.

PS - I'm probably far off the trail now and maybe delete-able ;) but this reminds me of a difference between christianity and gnosticism, gnosticism being about exclusivity, secret knowledge, in-group loyalty, while christianity was (once anyway) about inclusion and openness.

I'm not sure that intimacy demands the active shutting out of other people. But are we not closer to some people than others? And in being closer to some people than others does that mean our love for others is defective?

Intimacy-from a spiritual christian perspective has to be able to include anyone and everyone.Otherwise I agree with you Crystal that it becomes a us vs.them, we're united by our goodness and they're bad, identification.When I worked the night shift the night shift workers blamed all the problems of the workplace -on the day shift workers. When I worked the day shift -the problems were put on the night shift workers. The individuals could shift from night to day and vice virsa-but the mindset was to identify as a group with whichever shift you were on and blame the other shift.Each group of shift workers claimed they had a clearer more accurate picture of how the work should be done[their way] then the other shift did.Each shift cast aspersions on the other group[the others were the lazy ones,the stupid ones, the favored by management ones, etc.]

Gnosticism has been portrayed as a type of conspiracy that started out in the good sense and became one in the bad sense. But it seems to me that Christianity in its revolutionary sense is a sort of conspiracy against the world in that it does not accept the values of the world, but encourages its members to form communities that live Christian values. This does in fact separate them from the world in a way (in their intimacy, perhaps). The communities can, however, while separated live in the world; in it but not of it as the Secular Franciscans might say.

I suppose I am in danger of defining intimacy away, but can we truly love without intimacy?

Can there be love without intimacy? Both seem necessary for personal relationships, but I hope love is more than intimacy because we're called (I think?) to love everyone. Didn't V2 say that the church can learn from the world? I don't think it has to be Christians vs the world.

Intimacy / intemus / innermost, from the proto-Indo-European root "en".I think we can truly love without revealing everything about our innermost selves. A little mystery doesn't hurt, even/especially in very long-term relationships. Nice to save a few surprises.

Put my thomistic hat and state that there is good and false intimacy. True intimacy does not do evil. Love is always intimate. That love that grows over many years is the truest intimacy.Intimacy is most difficult because it makes us vulnerable. When one is willing to risk love one is the most powerful because the person who can love and be intimate is the most free person. The love of Unagidon's friend is at an early stage and till has to be tested in the furnace as the saying goes. Thomas rightly says that it is not possible to love many people intimately. Tho it excludes others from that intensity it does not exclude others from being loved but with less involvement. A person who is in an intimate relationship rejoices to see others in such states. Chapter 13 of Corinthians 1 is a great barometer however difficult.

If you are using the phrase love affair in the conventional sense, then, no, I dont think the conspiracy can last. I do think, however, that healthy marriages maintain a sense of conspiracy right up to the point of, but not quite including, a vaguely envious annoyance from friends and relatives. Im thinking of an old Alan Alda movie that I cant remember the name of.A conspiratorial relationship with God? Good question and interesting thought. Isnt there a description in Genesis of God breathing life into man?

Speaking of Gnosticism with it's" exclusivity,secret knowledge and in group loyalty";the neo catechumenate movement meets that criteria .I see it as a present day Gnostic infiltration in the Church-a church within the Church.I think this may be deleted.I believe love is intimacy. God is intimately connected with all he loves[trinity and his creation].We can only love what we know. Are we defective in love if we are closer to some people and not others? of course we are. We're human .God is love. We're not God so yes our love is defective.We are closer to people we feel connected to.There are people we do not feel a natural liking for-a natural connection to. We night feel an antipathy toward them even. We're blocked by our own flawed and limited selves to love them.Yes that is a defect.We're blocked from loving them by what we perceive what we dislike in them or are repelled in them.We can't help our feelings . When we consciously shut out people however-when we deny them the possibility to grow in love for them and with them-then we're violating God's commandmant to love our neighbor.When we become like the Gnostics with circles of solidarity,loyalty ,us vs. them mindset then that is unchristian.That is different then a natural not liking of someone.To feel an intimate closeness with a group, or other person is fine as long as that intimate love the members have for each other is experienced as a grace that humbles them[as oppossed to making them smug and or arrogant]and that enables them to love others-to have empathy for others outside the group.To be able to perceive all people who they are not intimately connected with -who they don't know -as really the same as them.The intimate bond of the group becomes a fortification, an asset,a in growing in love for everyone-not a detriment. Just like a mother loves her child[ren] like no other child[ren]because she knows them like knows no other child[ren] still all mothers love all child[ren]as we all respond the same when we hear news stories about children we don't even know.

"But it seems to me that Christianity in its revolutionary sense is a sort of conspiracy against the world in that it does not accept the values of the world, but encourages its members to form communities that live Christian values."unagidon --Christianity against the world? Hmm. What do you mean by "the world"? "And God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . . "I suspect your question boils down to questions of priorities and of seeing that not all goods of this world are meant to be enjoyed by everyone, but that doesn't stop them from being good in themselves. We can't all have the last piece of the pie nor the first. We can't have everything we can have, and we can't be everything we can be. "Everything choice involves a sacrifice", said Sartre, and, sadly, he was right.

Doesn't intimacy have its roots in empathy -- feeling with someone else?

Aren't dogs and cats good at empathy? Isn't that one of the main reasons we get to love our pets so much -- they grasp our feelings very well, sometimes better than other people do.

Gerelyn said:

I think we can truly love without revealing everything about our innermost selves. A little mystery doesnt hurt, even/especially in very long-term relationships. Nice to save a few surprises.

I don't know. In some ways I'm still finding out about my own innermost self. But I wonder if the surprises shouldn't come from growth and development - especially spiritual growth and development. I see so many couples break up after, say, 25 years of marriage. Could it be that they have exhausted all of their surprises and have put no new water in the well?

Ann said:

I suspect your question boils down to questions of priorities and of seeing that not all goods of this world are meant to be enjoyed by everyone, but that doesnt stop them from being good in themselves. We cant all have the last piece of the pie nor the first. We cant have everything we can have, and we cant be everything we can be. Everything choice involves a sacrifice, said Sartre, and, sadly, he was right.

Being a Christian would seem to involve a series of choices, of course. But is leading a Christian life, trying to live a gospel life, a radical choice in this secular world? Some religious actually leave the world for the cloister. But for those of us who don't, is attempting to live a gospel oriented life still a sort of conspiracy? Again, not a conspiracy to do evil, but even so a conspiracy that does oppose the morality of a purely secular life?

Mark said:

If you are using the phrase love affair in the conventional sense, then, no, I dont think the conspiracy can last. I do think, however, that healthy marriages maintain a sense of conspiracy right up to the point of, but not quite including, a vaguely envious annoyance from friends and relatives. Im thinking of an old Alan Alda movie that I cant remember the name of.

Well, I hope for my friends sake that this all turns out to be the latter sense rather than the former sense of what you say. But you have sort of gotten to the heart of what I mean by "conspiracy" when I am talking about couples.

For Bill, thank you for your thoughts. We can only be intimate with a few people, this is true. But yet I have met some people who seem to have some sort of gift of intimacy and when one is in their presence one feels as though one is getting their undivided attention. Maybe it's a place where intimacy shades into compassion and empathy.Once I had a sort of conversion experience and as I stumbled down the street from the church, I met a beggar, an old, dirty, ugly man, and I was driven by the desire to give him something. So I took out all the money I was carrying (which wasn't very much) and handed it to him, but when I did so, I took his hand with my left hand and pressed the money into his palm with my right. And I looked him in the eye and I could swear that an intimate moment passed between us. I have no idea why I did this, but I felt that it was more than just giving him a few dollars. Was that really a moment of intimacy?

Ann said:

Doesnt intimacy have its roots in empathy feeling with someone else?

Does it perhaps go from empathy to compassion to intimacy?

Crystal said:

Can there be love without intimacy? Both seem necessary for personal relationships, but I hope love is more than intimacy because were called (I think?) to love everyone. Didnt V2 say that the church can learn from the world? I dont think it has to be Christians vs the world.

Maybe love sort of leaves the field clear for intimacy. Truly loving is certainly personal, but the truly personal would seem to require intimacy.Are we against the world? In a way, I think we are. Are we enemies of the world? Again, in a way I think we are. Do we want to do evil to the world? No. But I think that the way that a Christian lives and the choices that one makes is at least partially a rejection of the world.

Rose-Ellen said:

Speaking of Gnosticism with its exclusivity,secret knowledge and in group loyalty; the neo catechumenate movement meets that criteria. I see it as a present day Gnostic infiltration in the Church-a church within the Church.

This is an interesting point. Early Christians frequently seemed to lead two lives (when they had to keep their membership in the Church a secret). This was necessary, but one can see the temptation to make one's secret life in the Church a membership in a secret Order.I like the rest of what you have to say. Don't worry that I will delete anything.

Might memory, a topic I've always been interested in, be another facet of intimacy? Am thinking about my brother, with whom I share a lot of memories that can be triggered by an image, word, or gesture, the significance of which would be difficult to share with an outsider. Many of these memories were certainly part of conspiracies, an attempt to find relief in a difficult family situation. Is this intimacy?It might be interesting to think about how memories of church-going, ritual, etc. build a sense of intimacy with God. Might that explain why changes in liturgical practices sometimes provoke a good deal of anger in people?

unagidon -- ISTM that not all intimacy involves compassion. Some intimacy is just pure pleasure, e.g., remembering with an old neighbor the sound of the ice cream man's silvery bell. Jean -- I think you're on to something big. We seem to need solid images of what God is and how He acts. Any alteration of our image risks turning Him into that Wildly Unpredictable Thing Infinitely Greater Than We Are. That we cannot abide.

Im not sure that intimacy demands the active shutting out of other people.I'm also not sure. But when you listen to music carefully, you do your best to shut out all other sounds. Similarly, if you give your undivided attention to someone, do you not, at least temporarily, shut out other people?Can we have a conspiratorial relationship with God?A better question would be: "How can we have a conspiratorial relationship with God?" when he often seems to recede into the distance. How can we stay intimate when we do not perceive his presence? In the same way that, in the absence of a loved one, we mull over their words, we might be able to do it by mulling over scripture at all times. In theory. From today's reading: "If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father."

I think that the way that a Christian lives and the choices that one makes is at least partially a rejection of the world. The cultural world that the institutional church criticizes is actually pretty Christian ... our government has a Christian president, a mostly Christian Congress, most of the Supreme Court is Catholic, and even in our pluralistic society the values we think of as Christian -- forgiveness, peace, helping those less fortunate, sanctity of life, love - are shared ideally by most other religions and by most atheists too, even though people usually fail to meet those ideals. The pope used his Christmas message to criticize marriage equality - that's the level of railing against "the world" that the church has fallen to - and an argument could be made that support of marriage equality is really a Christian stance (see the Episcopal Church, the Quakers, etc.). The church itself shares the same negatives that it says must be fought against in the world - the pride, corruption, wealth-hording, sexual morality issues. There really is no stark difference between the church and the world - it's more that both the church and the world are somewhere on a continuum between ideals and a failure of those.But there is a way in which the world seems "wrong" to me -- not in culture but in nature, the way the world works, the existence of what seems like a built-in suffering and the way we're pitted against each other to survive. I think God has to answer for that, not the world.

"Similarly, if you give your undivided attention to someone, do you not, at least temporarily, shut out other people?"Agree. Isn't that why newlyweds went on honeymoons? To shut out others and develop intimacy through experience and memory? (Nowadays, the intimacy that develops through cohabitation and sex happen before the wedding.)Isn't that why we go on religious retreats? To shut out distractions to develop intimacy and experience/memory of God?When we have a conversion, we may not shun others, exactly, but we decline to continue some intimacies that God calls us away from. "We seem to need solid images of what God is and how He acts. Any alteration of our image risks turning Him into that Wildly Unpredictable Thing Infinitely Greater Than We Are. That we cannot abide."This isn't exactly where my train of thought was headed, but your comment turns my thoughts toward a different question: Do we reach intimacy with God through liturgical forms? This is an interesting question for Catholics (and Anglicans) who see themselves in terms of the Body of Christ. Liturgy is important in fostering intimacy within the community/parish. And it is through the community/parish that we are members of the body of Christ. In low church denominations, liturgy is relatively unimportant because intimacy with God is through Christ as one's personal savior. The Sunday meeting is, essentially, a pep talk for the individual, not the celebration of the sacrament for the community.These are really just preliminary thoughts.

I feel that there is something conspiratorial in the Christian sense of intimacy. As when the Holy Spirit says: "Hey, why don't you do [x]?", and we answer "Sure, why not. Sounds good!", but no one else heard the exchange, so no one knows that we conspired something together, except for the suspicious ones who are always on the lookout for signs of a conspiracy of grace everywhere.

Do we reach intimacy with God through liturgical forms?Isn't that what liturgy is for? At least according to the hymn "Devenez ce que vous recevez" (become what you receive) - what could be more intimate?

I wonder whether the Liturgy Wars have been about the Mass and intimacy -- on the one hand, the intimacy which individuals experience with God at Mass, and, on the other hand, a kind of group intimacy or unity which is similar to the unity an audience listening to a great musical performance feels. The psychologists tell us there is such a thing as "mob psychology" -- is that founded on some sort of dangerous, conspiratorial intimacy?Maybe we have a semantic problem here. "Intimacy" might mean somewhat different things in different contexts. Is the object of "intimacy" always another person? Or can "intimacy" also refer to shared experiences of things? I dunno.

But there is a way in which the world seems wrong to me not in culture but in nature, the way the world works, the existence of what seems like a built-in suffering and the way were pitted against each other to survive.CrystalYou dont think man has the power to change the worldliterally change the way the world works? For better and worse? What about Marys fiat, just to take an extreme case?I think God has to answer for that, not the world. Hasnt He?

Well, I looked up that favorite hymn of mine, Devenez ce que vous recevez, to see where it came from, and - surprise, surprise! - apparently it's inspired from St Augustine. There is a link to some text by him: the bread is us b/c we are the individual grains, mashed by the exorcism at the beginning of baptism, leavened by the baptism with water, and baked (!) by the fire of the Holy Spirit, so that it is through God's action that, starting from a collection of individuals, we become intimately united into one bread. So much for contrasting (vertical) individual intimacy with God with (horizontal) group intimacy: in that narrative such an opposition does not make sense. What that has to do with the "liturgy wars", I could not say.

Mark,Yes, in some ways I do think we can and have changed the world for the better - women's emancipation, better treatment of animals, an end (mostly) to human slavery, war crimes tribunals, etc.But we can't change some things, at least not yet. The natural world runs on a brutal system where the highest good is survival at any cost and the consequences of that are suffering and death. I guess I do hold God responsible for either coming up with or signing off on such a cruel plan, and Jesus' incarnation doesn't really solve that problem for me, unless that answer is that someday (after death) all the suffering will be made up for.. David Bentley Hart wrote a bit on this in his book about the 2004/5 tsunami. I have an excerpt posted if anyone's interested .... http://povcrystal.blogspot.com/2007/10/david-hart-and-nature.html

Crystal, am reading Camus's "The Plague," in which the main horror (so far) seems to be that "humanist" Westerners have sunk their faith in manmade solutions to "problems." One of the chief horrors of the plague in its beginning stages (I'm only a few chapters in), is the terror that this disaster probably cannot be stopped by rational thought and human institutions. What looms in Dr. Rieux's nightmares as he tries to think out what to do, are Bosch-like scenes of utter chaos and depravity he recalls from ancient accounts of the plague. I don't know where Camus is going with this (my acquaintance with French literature is confined to a smattering of Flaubert and "Candide"). But it certainly seems headed toward confronting what the modern world views as the greatest obscenity: That which we cannot control.This conversation about intimacy with God is nibbling around the edges of my conscious as I read the novel. (I'll be off this thread until I finish the novel, so if anybody has read this novel and feels there is some relevance to the conversation, feel free to include spoilers.)

"The cultural world that the institutional church criticizes is actually pretty Christian our government has a Christian president, a mostly Christian Congress, most of the Supreme Court is Catholic, and even in our pluralistic society the values we think of as Christian forgiveness, peace, helping those less fortunate, sanctity of life, love are shared ideally by most other religions and by most atheists too, even though people usually fail to meet those ideals. ... The church itself shares the same negatives that it says must be fought against in the world the pride, corruption, wealth-hording, sexual morality issues. There really is no stark difference between the church and the world its more that both the church and the world are somewhere on a continuum between ideals and a failure of those."Hi, Crystal, I suppose a Christian response to these observations, which certainly seem true enough as far as they go, is that the heart of Christian faith is not reducible to a set of values. It was not a set of values to which Mary gave birth in the stable in Bethlehem, it was a person. It is with that person, Jesus of Nazareth and God's Son, to whom we're invited to have this intimate, loving relationship. All of the wonderful values and virtues and fruits you name - love, forgiveness, peace and so on - come about by getting to know the person Jesus.You're certainly right that the church (i.e. all of us who constitute the church) often fails to live up to the ideals it espouses. It is necessary for the church constantly to reflect on and rededicate itself to its mission, which is to preach Jesus to the world, to present this person Jesus to everyone so that everyone can get to know him, can enter into this intimate and loving relationship with him.You're right, too, to observe that the world is not wholly "other" - not completely separated from and opposed to Christian ideals. How could it be, given that God created it all, and it all continues to exist because God so wills it? What God has created was good, and even though we've managed to mar it and muck it up, that goodness is not wholly wiped away. And God is at work in the world still, not least through Christians who are out here sowing seeds, often enough in tears, but we live in hope that we will sing at harvest time.

Jean,I read that in college - I guess it would be called an example of existentialism, and so the meaninglessness of all the suffering and the inability of people to control their life situations are big issues in the book. In a way it's sort of the opposite of a Christian viewpoint (unless you like Kierkegaard :)

Jim,Yes, I try to have faith that Jesus somehow makes everything right, but sometimes it's hard.

Yes, in some ways I do think we can and have changed the world for the better womens emancipation, better treatment of animals, an end (mostly) to human slavery, war crimes tribunals, etc.CrystalYes, but I meant more radical change, a change in the way things are, ontologically speaking. Such that, if we really got it right, the lion would lie down with the lamb.

Mark,Do you believe that there was a time when things were like that, where everything was at peace, and then there was a "fall"? I don't - science/evolution seems to show that there was never a time when life here wasn't dog eat dog. So I guess the only way I can imagine that happening on the earth (instead of in heaven) would be if Jesus had that second coming and set things right. But of course if we keep destroying the ecosystem and all the animals and plants that go with it, that might result in a kind of peace (eek!).How do you think the lion laying down with the lamb could be accomplished?

The lion will lie down with the lamb, but the lamb wont get much sleep.--Woody Allen

CrystalI dont have a view on what it was like before the Fall exactly but, yes, I do believe that mans actions have created the dog eat dog world we live in now. I believe what we do and what we think can change who we are, and if we are changed, the world is changed. I know how a father is changed when he has a child, changed from within. I can only imagine that for a mother its an order of magnitude more profound. I believe we are changed when we eat His body and drink His blood. These changes ripple across the universewe simply need more of them.GerelynThanks for the laugh, from back when Woody Allen was funny.

Hope, faith, and love - it might work :)