Avoiding False Resurrections

Narrative Capitals/2 - Rising again should be learned and is only possible without a contract

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 19/11/2017

171119 Capitali narrativi 2 ridThe great writers project their shadow in two directions simultaneously. In one they offer their shadow to their predecessors, in the other to those who follow them".

Wislawa Szymborska, How to live more comfortably

The most tenacious and constant search that humans conduct on earth is the search for consolation. It is impossible to give it up, especially in difficult times of existence, when the pain of the present and the uncertainty of the future generate the invincible temptation to construct illusions in order not to die. Many people, even the great, interrupt their ethical and spiritual journey and regress when and because they give in to these terrible temptations.

Organizations, especially ideal-driven organizations (IDO), are also deeply tempted by the cultivation of consolations. Often, faced with the urgency of having to change their course with courage and strength, they linger in the status quo full and satisfied and consoled by some fruit that continues to arrive. It is a serious and common mistake, which arises from confusing the "interests" of the narrative capital of yesterday with the wage of today's work - and so they live of the (decreasing) gains of the past believing, falsely, to live off of the new gains.

The destiny of every human community lies at the crossroads between the memory of the past, the management of the present and faith in the future. Roots, for example, are not the past of the plant. They are, at the same time, its memory, its life today and its blooming tomorrow. If, however, the roots are interpreted only as past, the typical illnesses of nostalgia inevitably arise, the first visible effect of which is the separation and distancing from the youth and from the reality of the present - young people flee away when they meet nostalgic communities with their eyes turned towards their origin. The only nostalgia generating a good present is that of the future. When the roots are read as the past, the narrative capital of the origin is transformed into a mummy, almost unavoidably. When the community (in rare cases) becomes aware of the ageing of the first stories and their imminent death, first the evolution of the mummified "corpse" is prepared, originated by the desire to save all that can be saved of the old body (the forms, the gaze, the features). What is left to the children is a corpse. The mummy does nothing but eternalise the death of the historical body. So it is the opposite of resurrection.

But resurrections are very rare events. Real death should be embraced; collective awareness should be matured as regards that first body which - notwithstanding its beauty and infinite charm - will never be there again. It should be accepted that the new life stories will be those of the future, which will also make people understand and "remember" the past. These authentic spiritual operations are proportionately as difficult as the first narrative capital was great and extraordinary, as the first historical body was "beautiful" – and so everybody wants to preserve it and not let it die.

But every "gospel" can only be written starting from a resurrection. Without the resurrection of Christ, his disciples would not have written anything, or would have written some Gnostic text that would have been added to the many generated in those early centuries of the late Roman Empire (and in all times of deep crisis, like ours). And so the narrative capital of parables, passion and death would not be remembered in spirit. And we would not have the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, we would not know of that crazy cry, nor of the other words resurrected on the first day after Saturday.

The first narrative capitals of the communities that are still alive and able to generate are the stories of the resurrection, because it is from these that the second stories of the more ancient historical facts are born. Stories that generate a lot of life for a long time are not those written by reporters while the events take place. Those chronicles die together with their characters. Unlike those accounts that are written by the “remnant” of the faithful who knew how to remain under the crosses, under the rubble of the temple, in the exiles, and who then recounted those facts of yesterday illuminated by life that had continued thanks to their tenacious fidelity. Even when the stories written after the events coincide with the stories written before, they are never the same, because the risen body is not the historical body. And instead, the most common error (because it is almost necessary) of the charismatic and ideal-driven communities is to think that narrative capital is an accomplished historical fact, the ipsissima verba of the founders. They don't really let them die, and therefore they don't allow them to be able, sometimes, to really rise again. Mummies cannot rise again. They are death and that’s all - like Manzoni's Donna Prassede, "when she says she was dead, everything is said".

Narrative capitals are capable of a future if they are interpreted as a seed, and therefore as something alive and that, because it’s a living thing, must die, and will only bring much fruit by dying, because that first seed will generate another hundred, a thousand. A seed lives, grows and dies precisely because it is alive – living things are alive because they are mortal. If instead the narrative capital of a charisma is read as a casket containing family jewellery, so shimmering and precious but dead, it is prevented from growing up, dying and bearing fruit. But how can we learn to rise again? No one can teach us. We can, however, at least avoid false resurrections. Just like in the Bible where the most bitter enemies of prophets are false prophets, in ideal-driven communities the mortal enemies of resurrections are false resurrections. The biblical prophets allowed for authentic resurrections of the people because they had, by their vocation, the infinite power to say that a first story was over. They made a second life possible after the deportation and destruction, because they did not deny the end - as the false prophets systematically did. Accepting real death did not prevent real resurrection. The inventors of fake resurrections (which are always forms of false prophecy) prevent the true resurrections because they continue to repeat that the "corpse" has not really died, that it is only an illusory death, sooner or later it will awaken. And so they propose and invent resuscitation techniques, build new defibrillators and convince the confused community to invest its last resources in attempting this "resurrection". Which does not happen: it will not happen because it cannot happen - but the ideological force of this false prophecy manages to justify even failure, to the very end.

Another false resurrection is to hide the corpse. The disciples in Jerusalem, Emmaus and Galilee made it possible for the "miracle" of the resurrection to be fulfilled also because they did not conceal the corpse, which is the most common way of false resurrection. But the corpses only tell stories of death, and living things need living things in order to continue to live. Sometimes, paradoxically, "the concealment of the body" is unknowingly favoured by the founders and by those who had been most enchanted by the first narrative capital. It happens when founders and the first generation try to reassure themselves and make sure that their charisma and community will have a future. They write very detailed and closed rules, so that the first narrative capital does not die. Instead of believing and trusting their "children" and "grandchildren" who will have their own charismatic chromosomes, an insurance contract is stipulated with the future, and they are told: "You should not change the past.” And so the healthy concern to save one's ideals produces the inevitable ageing of narrative capital, and the end of the experience. By preventing it from dying, they prevent it from rising again. In these cases, which are very deep traps, to save oneself there is a need for "children" and "grandchildren" - and sometimes "brothers and sisters" - capable of loving the fathers while also going against the letter of their fatherly recommendations, although knowing that they had been dictated by love and in good faith. Every "contract with the future" is a new concealment of the corpse, because such a pact is, in fact, the order to "start work" for the realization of one's own mummy.

Perhaps the early Church experienced something similar. We can imagine the historical phrases of Jesus that Peter and other disciples would have reminded Paul of to show him that the Gospel was only for the children of Israel, for the circumcised, not for the gentiles. But Paul did not fear conflicts with his brothers, he listened fully to the voice that spoke to him in his soul, he believed more in the present than in the past, and so he "saved" that first community, helping it to rise again, using his "charisma” to add new narrative capital to the first immense story, making it even more immense. Paul's stories and tales are not only, and not above all the stories and tales of Christ's historical life: they are the stories and words of Paul, which have also served the stories of Christ's life that came after him, and which perhaps would not have reached us, or would not have had the infinite strength that they had and still have without Paul's tenacious fidelity to his own different narrative capital. If the communities had only the "Peters", they would not save themselves from the obsolescence of their own narrative capital. The arrival of new "Pauls" is perhaps the only true salvation for the IDO’s. But when we are in labour we cannot know it, we can only hope and pray for it, and we can stay with the "lamps lit" to try to recognize when and if it arrives. And even if it does not arrive, we can live well and for a long time even if we wait for a true hope, renouncing to console ourselves with false hopes.

Real expectations are a precious nourishment of real life. There are IDO’s that end their race because they do not let Paul arrive. Others cannot recognise it because they have turned off their lamps. Others again because they call "Paul" the first false prophet passing by, a seller of cheap and easy salvations. Resurrections are not contracts. Nobody can assure us that they will come. On the contrary, what makes the miracle of their arrival is precisely the very real possibility that it will never happen. Non-false resurrections are always a gift, and therefore unforeseen. Only then do they surprise us and leave us breathless when they happen. When we recognize that wonderful voice in the person we thought was just a gardener.

Download pdf article in pdf

Print   Email