Fran Horner | October 21, 2013
âI need a community. And you can tell this by the fact that I am here in Santa MartaâŠI chose to live hereâŠ because when I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a âno.â The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxuriousâŠBut in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.â â Pope Francis (http://www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview)
This is among the most compelling and profound of the many laudable reflections in Pope Francisâ recent interview. His image of an âinverted funnelâ captured my imagination and made me reflect upon the many ways in which religion can construct for itself an inverted funnel of safety, security and exclusion. It made me see the ways in which I have done this very thing, in my personal life, in my religious life, in my head. I even began to think about the inverted funnel of American politics, where each side never hears the other but exists in its own bubble of reality, insulated from the very possibility that other viewpoints are legitimate.
In religious life and religious circles, the inverted funnel is an attractive temptation. We find what we are looking for and then circle the wagons to protect it. In some ways this is the philosophy of cloister â to protect the environment for prayer. Prayer itself â especially contemplative prayer â can draw one into an inverted funnel. When I am at prayer, the space is wide and open and light. But if this space has a narrow opening that does not connect with how I act and live among Godâs people, then it is also sterile. When my prayer starts to exclude and limit my boundaries, it needs correction. It needs the benefit of other viewpoints, tolerance for them, coupled with understanding and compassion. It needs what Edith Stein would call empathy.
Stein wrote her dissertation on this philosophical concept, and her insights have truly religious overtones. For her, empathy is an act not of agreeing with another but simply of understanding the other, without judgment or rancor. Stein says: âWere I imprisoned within the boundaries of my individuality, I could not go beyond âthe world as it appears to me.ââ And, she tells us that âwe lock ourselves into the prison of our individualityâ when âwe take the self as the standard.â That is the price of living in an inverted funnel â I or my community become my standard of reality. Empathy can take us out of the inverted funnel and give us a ânew zero point of orientation.â A truly empathic encounter not only allows me to receive a point of view from the other person, but also to keep my own. âThe same world is [presented] in both ways at the same time.â I âno longer consider my own zero point as the zero point, but as a spatial point among many.â
It is vitally important to provide ourselves with an atmosphere that allows us to admit into our consciousness the possibility of a world view different from our own. Pope Francis understands this. It is why he does not reside in the Papal apartments, if I understand him correctly. To adjust my physical space is easy enough, but to adjust my internal attitude, even my attitude at prayer â thatâs a different kettle of fish. But you dear readers can help me â keep writing in from your own viewpoints and I will listen. Letâs help each other break open the inverted funnels in our lives.
Fran Horner Fran Horner is a Carmelite from Baltimore and Executive Director of the Carmelite Institute. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she practiced law in Washington, DC, Paris and London before coming to Carmel. Â» See all posts by Fran