Subjective eperience

Subjective experience again. I look out the window rapt at the wonderful cloudscapes we have here, especially at sunrise and sunset, or I sit pondering on questions like this, or I sit trying to focus on the Jesus Prayer drifting from concentration to distraction to concentration again, or I offer a prayer for someone, or I think about the moment of death when subjectivity will cease and I wonder how these various experiences differ, and more importantly, what gives some greater significance than others. From somewhere, I do not know where, comes the idea that relationship is the key. Walking along the street bodies pass, physically close, sometimes touching, but no eye contact. There are no human relationships there. Close proximity but impersonal. Then eye-contact and immediately everything changes. I am no longer alone. There is another person and we relate. The relationship is perhaps just the minimal acknowledgement of another’s presence, or recognition of a friend, or an enemy, or merely an acquaintance. In each case the quality of the relationship will be different. The point of relationship is that the other changes my inner world, as I do his. How my inner world, my subjective experience, is changed depends on the kind of relationship, its quality and intensity. The point is that in a relationship the subjective experience of each is transcended and extends into that of the other. In the ordinary casual relationships of everyday this amounts to perhaps not more than feelings of pleasure or displeasure, affirmation or denigration. An intimate relationship, however, can be life-giving or life-denying with the power to change us radically.

What is this mysterious thing relationship? It is a connection, a link. This is not something material in the sense that it can be measured, or detected by any instrument, although it is obviously rooted in our physical bodies and can have dramatic physiological effects. 

Subjective experience, subjectivity – is complex. It denotes more than a subject’s inner awareness. It ranges from the awareness of a baby, where everything is experienced as an extension of its own body, to  the awareness of other-than-me, to empathy with others, to inter-subjectivity, to mystical experience. Concerning the latter, which Lonergan says is love without limits, he goes on to say, “This complete being-in-love, the gift of God’s grace, is the reason of the heart that reason does not know. It is a religious experience by which we enter into a subject-to-subject relationship with God.”*

 In person-with-person love there is a barrier, an interiority in the other that is always out of bounds. Likewise there is an interiority in the self, which even if one wills it, cannot be opened to the other. The inter-subjectivity of loving and being loved is always less than whole. In the experience of love of and by God there are no limits, at least on God’s part. He enters completely into the subjectivity of the other and, on very rare occasions, the individual finds himself within God, as it were. He is the presence within and perhaps once or twice in a lifetime one finds oneself within that presence within.

God never presents himself as object in any sense, and so he comes to us not as experience but in experience: not as that which we can appropriate, render proper to consciousness, but rather as a mystery that passes through our lives, a disturbance that opens our ways of being, doing and thinking to quite other perspectives and that cannot be positively identified by introspection.

*Bernard Lonergan, A Second Collection, Darton Longaman & Todd, London 1974 p. 129 

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