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6. The spiritual experience
At this point it would be easy to suspect that the final problem is referred to the question, at least for believers, “God, what do you want from me? In what do you want me to specialize?”, which is that of vocation. It is actually an extremely useful hermeneutics, but now I would rather let see the possibility of a type of work capable of constructing the best mediations between concentration and openness. This work is based on the awareness that, as we are successful in defining our path better and better, a spiritual experience becomes present in our person. It is a sensation that is difficult to define in words, but all the same worthy of consideration, of trying to become aware of it and think about it; we could call it “feeling good with our spirit”. This feeling can be compared to certain moments of meditation, in which we begin to feel good and we don’t want to do anything else in life, we would never leave that moment. We can try to compare this experience with what we read in the Gospel in Mark 9:5: “Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” However, this is not exactly what I want to make clear, because the feeling I have described here also tends to make us suffer from nostalgia and to make people seek standstill, as if a given situation were the absolute ideal. What I call spiritual experience, instead, is indeed feeling good about one’s spirit at a given moment, but in the perspective open to following a thread, a path; a feeling lived therefore, rather than with the desire to remain forever in that pleasant situation, with the purpose, of not losing sight of this thread of spiritual approach, making use of the project about the pathway. It could therefore be better to call it a course of spiritual experience. Actually, we will also have to realize that the spiritual experience can never be identified with any aspect of the journey: all the components of the journey, even if followed with commitment, compared to pure spiritual experience are only crude tools, to be used without losing sight of the inner experience itself. At this point it no longer matters whether it is better to specialize in something or engage in many activities: what matters is that any choice is practiced and carried out in the awareness of its limited instrumentality, in service of the course of the inner experience. This experience could be recreated, with practice, as often as we want, simply by thinking about it. Even the reading or rereading of these pages could serve to recall and recover this possibility for ourselves. The fact that it cannot last uninterruptedly could be a cause of discouragement, for several reasons: because it is itself destined to evolve and not become stagnant, and because our being, as well as the context in which we live, inevitably affect us to distract ourselves from this sort of meditation. It is a situation that seems to me present in the film La dolce vita by Fellini, in which one of the characters at a certain point kills two children first and then himself; the reason for these killings seems to me to be precisely the regret experienced by this man, carried to its extreme consequences, of not being able to live in a stable manner the spiritual experience that he had the opportunity to taste and appreciate. About this difficulty, solutions must be found. One may be to get used to periodically reconstructing this experience; certainly the awareness that it is not even correct to wish, to expect, to convince ourselves that this experience must necessarily be uninterrupted will help our serenity: precisely the distractions are, in a certain sense, precious; they will lead us to perfect it, make it grow, look at it critically and make it progress. Furthermore, it will also be useful working on forecasting, preparing ourselves, as far as possible, to the situations that will gradually come as next to be lived.
Once we set out on this path, we will be able to see how a true physiognomy is gradually forming in us. It seems to me that this corresponds to what we often look for when we instinctively tend to build an image of ourselves. An example may be when a child tends to identify himself with some features of his father’s physiognomy, which allow him to feel an individual with a certain confidence, or when we tend to imitate a film actor, a singer or a teacher known at school, in short, when we tend to have a model of personality to be imitated or anyway referred to. A destructive way, which often gives us the illusion of having a physiognomy, is instead making choices according to the fashions that circulate or the topics that are fashionable to discuss. A path, organized according to what I have indicated, should help to form a physiognomy capable of creating its own characteristics, without therefore being a hundred percent dependent on a single infantile idealized model, become an object of worship.
In a perspective of faith we could imagine that perhaps this is also why God does not want to be too visible.
Actually, behavioral models are always conditioned by the cultural environment in which they exist or were born, so that certain behaviors that are considered essential, indispensable, certain ways of reacting, talking, even modulating the tone of the voice, are actually only aspects of a local culture, both historically and geographically; in several cases, they are even counterproductive or destructive. In this sense it will be easy to understand that no model of behavior is essential or indispensable. A path about physiognomy will try to explore, moment by moment, different behavioral models, in an endless constructive work, taking advantage of the most essential comparisons we can make, for example the comparison with the physiognomies with which we come into contact and with what our memory is able to call us back. This walking could also become the motivation itself of doing and living; we can think that it is the very purpose of nature, of the universe: an innate push, present in all that exists, even in every single atom of matter, a push of nature to experiment paths of physiognomies, which in mutual comparison create harmonies and always new beauties; the criterion of harmony and beauty will be provided, from time to time, by the comparison itself between physiognomies.
An interesting thing is that this drive towards existence and exploration of possibilities is not anarchic, gratuitous, precisely because it does not arise from an abstractness, but from a universe that begins its existence in an already sectoral, determined way, already providing a memory with which to confront each other: our universe was not born symmetrical, otherwise it would still be symmetrical today. This network of universal relationships leads us to experiments that are not experimentation for experimentation, but experimentation for physiognomies that cannot but start from what was previously determined as a physiognomy (as Massimo Troisi nicely claimed in his film Ricomincio da tre).
It is a critical journey to build our physiognomy, which also allows us to become aware of, and in case try to avoid, the conditioning of thematization by words. In other words, many behavioral ways and even many ways of thinking are extremely conditioned by the languages in which we were born. It is impossible to live outside of a language, but gaining awareness can also make us able to take some measure of distance. In this context, globalization and the increasing dependence on thematic languages makes increasingly difficult experiences free of this: we are continually bombarded with increasingly standardized languages, which tend to make us forget that there are other languages, that we may not even be able to imagine (without going in this way into falling into superstitious fanaticisms, which in the end are nothing more than low-level metaphysics), and that it is possible and even beneficial, for a while, to suspend communication and information, to leave room for our spontaneity; here too, however, it is easy to delude ourselves and to consider spontaneity what was induced by other standardized methods; in this sense spontaneity, genuineness is not an idea, but a path of research as well.
All this, in a perspective of faith, could be seen as a way of receiving history from God. History is first received. We can’t create history if we don’t receive history. But we cannot receive without making, with creative gratitude, our possible part of creation of history. Therefore, between the primacy of God and our answering, actually it is not possible to identify real precedences, to understand what really comes humanly before; therefore it is wrong to wait, as if it were a theorem, for identifying being loved before putting love into action.