“Wonder, marvel, reverence all reveal something of what is good and worthy of affirmation in the patience of being”

I would say that there is a patience of being before there is an endeavor to be, a receiving of being before an acting of being, in accord with our singular characters as humans. The patience and receiving make the endeavor and the acting possible; and when acknowledged with finesse, they are understood differently than they are within a philosophy that seeks the self-absolutizing of our activist character or our endeavor to be.

There is a passio essendi more primal than the conatus essendi. This last is the phrase Spinoza uses to describe the essence of a being: the essence of a being is its conatus—and this is defined by its power to affirm itself and its range. This range for Spinoza is potentially unlimited, in the absence of external countervailing beings who express their power of being in opposition to us, or in limitation. Note that for Spinoza conatus is the being of a being: it is the being of the human being. Without an external limitation, the endeavor to be is potentially infinite, like a motion that will continue indefinitely without a check from the outside. One might infer from this, in the sphere of human relations, that an external other always presents itself as potentially hostile to my self-affirming. The other, so seen, while needful for my flourishing, is potentially alien or opposed to my self- affirmation, and hence one strategy of continuing the conatus will be for one to disarm that other in advance. Big fish, eating little fish, grow bigger. …

What of the passio essendi? We are first given to be, before anything else. At a theological level this bears on our being creations: creatures of an absolute source that gives us to be and gives us to be as good. This is the good of the “to be” in which we participate but that we do not construct but rather that allows us to construct. This view goes at a different angle to the modern constructivist view, but it is dependent on the recognition of an otherness more original than our own self-definition. We are only self-defining because we have originally given to be as selves, and as selving; only creative because created; only courageous because encouraged; only loving because already loved and shown to be worthy of love; only become good to the degree that we are grateful for a good we do not ourselves produce; only become truthful because there is a truth more original than ourselves that endows us with the power to seek truth and the confidence that should we search truly we will find that truth (insofar as this can be understood by the finite human being).

Being patient, or being in the patience of being, is not here a defect. It is only a defect from the point of view of a conatus given over to the temptation to affirm itself alone, and hence closed off from the acknowledgment that it is at all because it is first affirmed to be: created. The patience of being might be theologically connected with the givenness of creation. Very frequently we take this givenness for granted. Creation as a being given is as a being granted, but this being granted we take for granted. This is the primal passio essendi. It is an ontological patience in that here is named the original receiving of being at all. That beings are at all, something and not nothing, signals a deeper ontological givenness than, say, the indigent being of immediacy in Hegel’s conception. There is an idiocy of being, a given happening of the intimate strangeness of being, that is more primordial than any spontaneous happening of this event or that, or our determinate participations in this or that form of life. Without this ultimate and ontologically intimate givenness, nothing finite is constructed or can construct itself. The self-affirmation of the finite follows on the received affirmation of the finite that is its being given to be and received in being as thus and thus. In an ontological patience before this surplus happening there is for us the offer of an agapeic astonishment, or wonder, before there is determinate or self-determining cognition. Wonder, marvel, reverence all reveal something of what is good and worthy of affirmation in the patience of being, even apart from any construction or further mediations by our own endeavor to be. …

One might say that perhaps the most ultimate and elusive form of finesse deals with how the patience of being brings us to the boundary of the religious. It places us in a space of porosity between the human and the divine. There we are sometimes involuntarily placed, when in sickness our helplessness is brought home to us. We might ask “Why me?,” but to whom is our defiance or appeal addressed, if there is nothing, no divine other porous to our outcry? The outcry is not just addressed to ourselves, or to human others. Either to nothing, or to God.

Those who are healthy and who wish to heal are themselves often placed in this porous space of helplessness—when they can do nothing further for the person slipping away. They too can be visited by a despair that may be a portal to religious consent—or defiance that closes down the porosity to the divine. Nevertheless, one must say that we can come to know intimately that there is a patience that is graced.

There is the harder consent of those who must say “yes” to their finitude. None of us is exempt, and we will all come to the fearsome challenge of this harder consent. In a certain regard, we are always coming to this consent, or fleeing it, in every moment of our life. There is also a graced patience in that attendance on others which is a service of their good, even if it does little or nothing to serve the advancement of some agenda of the servant. We become witnesses to the compassio essendi in the care we take of the other for the sake of the other. In this care, we may be released beyond ourselves in a minding of the other potentially agapeic. One sees a certain confluence here between truthfulness and the patience of being, in love of the pluralism of creation, most known in our love of singular human beings who have been our companions on a way of mystery. Being truthful is a patient service—service of the truthful self that is service of the truth of the other, service of the good that solicits our attention to the good of the others. This patience is graced, since it receives in readiness, at a boundary at the limits of our self- determination. Patience lays us open to secret sources of strengthening that make us porous to the religious intermediation with the divine.

Willam Desmond

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1 Response to “Wonder, marvel, reverence all reveal something of what is good and worthy of affirmation in the patience of being”

  1. brian says:

    Spinoza’s view of being as conatus, guilty of a “forgetfulness of passio essendi” might be usefully linked to John Milbank’s discussion of Aristotelian magnanimity and the place of the other in pagan metaphysics. With insufficient appreciation of a positive notion of receptivity, virtue is limited to masculine, warrior images. There is an aggression in Spinoza, covertly recapitulated in Hegel’s penchant for a “higher univocity” whereby the other is domesticated into a possession of Spirit not unlike Heidegger’s “standing reserve.” Desmond’s existential point regarding porosity and the anguish of helplessness is well-taken, but bitter and hard. It is surely the Cross and Gethsemane, though whether one feels grace or not may appear inscrutibly beyond will and choice.


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