9. Prayer and the Chora

If God is infused throughout a pulsing five-dimensional valosphere, so to speak imbuing the whole universe, how can we pray to this God as a person, as Christians always have? Love this God? Hear and claim promises. Make promises. Be angry at this God.

I think of prayer not as addressing a kind of Superperson somewhere out in the thick of space-time, micro-managing everything by infinite computer networks (contacted maybe by cellphone). I think instead of looking and speaking to the very source of ‘personing’ within oneself–“Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Attending inward in prayer takes our consciousness straight through the center of the processes that are always maintaining selfhood in each person–what Julia Kristeva calls the chora, using a term from Plato. It’s a ‘clearing house’ of drives and energies in each individual body and psyche, that constantly organizes, resets them, and keeps them running, enabling each of us to make unique speech, and to live as patterned, social and emotive creatures–with the incredibly intricate skills for knowing and communicating that even the ‘simplest’ of us has.

Trying to speak just to the chora might be fearsome, unsettling, dangerous. It might appear as the goddess Kali, a terrifying mother of storms, who eats her children as well as nurturing them. That is, if you see the chora as a particular staging of the biological world of recycling death and life–a convergence of the body’s surging energies with the surging and billowing energies of the whole biological world–you have Kali of the many hands and thick braids. But if you take the chora as not an end but a medium of address–if you call and speak not to but through it, in a wild guess at a reception in ‘person’ behind it–you have prayer to a personal deity. Sometimes the chora is clouded, disturbed, churning; it lacks the semi-transparency we need for prayer. One must watch and attend the times.

After the inward turn of prayer, its further motion is extromissive. As a trout jumps clear of lake water, the self gets out of its auto-reflexivity, to soar through an air both languid and brisk. A not-me is touched into: bracing, unresisting, bright, astonishing–a shining and a wind. The self gets out, materially, centrifugally, out into the social and ecological networks of all that the prayer has touch with, through its language, images, and other connections. And the self gets out of individual awareness–into the material bases of those networks’ coding. These are just two things that happen–who would claim to explain more than small intimations here? In the process, the self is aufgehoben, in the philosopher Hegel’s term, ‘put up for later,’ thereby moving from being, into becoming, into existence again–then back into private being. This is one way it becomes the self for the last day–the day that is last by ultimatum not by temporal lateness–the ultimatum of materiality, into which the self comes back down. Because value, the love energy driving the process, has always been encoded in the innards of that wild stuff, matter-energy. A clump of matter-energy comes to hand where some love of fashioning is at work, and gets patted into shape by a willed intensity–as a friend’s little boy sat all a winter afternoon, kneading and kneading playdough into shapes. Resistant, yet it succumbs. Mythically, the stuff is Job’s monster Leviathan, every way tougher to work than playdough, rocky, dragonish–blocking infusions of meaning as selfhood. But they happen, and all the more intensely in prayer.

In the second discourse of Job’s whirlwind, Yahweh the whirling warrior-defender reveals himself, fighting Leviathan, as Anu battled Tiamat, the world serpent of chaos–battled for control enough to make meaning out of churning, deadening, mute, crushing, piling matter and dust, its molecules at first too simplistic for any new coding. Often Leviathan wins. Who can put a leash on it? “It sprawls on the mud like a threshing-sledge. Its heart is firm as a rock. Untiring energy dances ahead of it. It looks down on all creatures.” But always again the defender wrestles love into it. And riding that ripple of motion, the selves come down again. And they’re incrementally more than before, having recouped something achieved and known through the intensity of love–then being enfleshed again. Only out of and into time can this happen. Speaking from within a discourse of the inside, Job in anger at the nagging friends accusing him of guilt for his misfortunes, foresaw the end of the whirling god’s reply: “But I know that I have a living Defender, and that he will rise up last, on the dust of the earth. After my awakening, he will set me close to him, and from my flesh I shall look on God. He whom I shall see will take my part: my eyes will be gazing on no stranger.”