Force Dynamics

For religious believers, the experience of the divine in everyday life is often described and understood as a physical force (see Chapter 5). However, agency in religious discourse is often not just a simple case of X doing something to person Y. For example, the common framing of refinement encompasses situations where the divine being acts on believers in a way that is initially evaluated as difficult or painful. This results from the resistance in formative stages of spiritual development that is perceived as being resolved to some extent in later stages. Any thorough analysis of this type of resistance to resolution sequences would need to move beyond agency and include an investigation of the underlying force dynamics of the situation.

In Thomas Merton’s discussion of the Mass he observed in a Trappist monastery, he describes his experience and how individuals and objects are perceived to be acted on by divine entities.

[Ajnd now, suddenly, all around the church, Christ was on the Cross, lifted up, drawing all things to Himself, that tremendous Sacrifice tearing hearts from bodies, and drawing them out to Him.

(Merton, 1990,pp. 323-324)

In Merton’s description, Christ is figuratively moving objects closer to himself, but doing so with a certain level of violence. “Tearing” suggests some inherent resistance and indicates that the human heart therefore needs to be forcibly relocated to Christ’s location. The choice of this strikingly violent expression evokes the frame of the Christian doctrine of original sin and the assumption that rebellion against God is embedded within human nature. This would mean that it is possible to analyze this sentence not just in terms of who does what to whom (i.e., agency), but also in terms of an underlying relationship between two competing forces. One force is attempting to relocate a specific entity, while that entity’s own internal force resists that relocation. The addition of “drawing them out to Him” also suggests that the relocating force is in the process of overcoming the resisting force.

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