Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (1 Peter 1:17-25) transports me to the Nevada desert, November 1985, when Kim and I participated in the Nevada Desert Experience peacemaking protest of underground nuclear bomb testing. The Franciscans who organized the movement gave us training on how to engage in the protest, which was to begin with some meditation time in the desert before the actual protest. Kim had to do more protesting there in the desert among the rocks and sand and Joshua trees than she bargained for, as I thought the meditation time was a perfect opportunity to make a move and ignite a romance. Kim took her peacemaking seriously, though; she gave me a quick, stern brush off and sent me off sulking, but it wasn’t a permanent rejection. By nightfall we had our first kiss. It didn’t take me long to fall head over heels in love; she was a month or so behind in reciprocating the feeling, but eventually came around and eight months after the desert protest we were headed off on our honeymoon. The Italian sociologist Francesco Alberoni calls the process of falling in love a nascent state, a state of pure creative energy, a process of intense re-orientation in which the individual loses his or her previous identity, becoming highly fluid and capable of merging with another person to create a new “us.” He goes on to say that the nascent state transforms the whole world. Yep, I know what professor Alberoni is saying. I think I’d pass his course. I’ve experienced the nascent state.
I thought about this phrase when reading today’s Passage in my Spanish Bible. When Peter encourages the people of faith to love one another deeply, from the heart, for you have been born again, this last phrase, born again, is translated in Spanish as nacido de nuevo. The word nacido, Spanish for born, has the same root as our English word nascent. Being born again equals being in the nascent state. It is a process of intense re-orientation in which we lose our previous identities. Peter tells his readers that they are to live out the rest of their lives as foreigners, as aliens, as immigrants. The old allegiances are no longer binding. The old ambitions of material gain no longer matter. The old markers of identity are no longer relevant. The people of faith can hardly sing to their loves, I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places, because the old places are no longer familiar. Everything is new, transformed by the new world view.
Francesco Alberoni didn’t stake his claim to fame just from writing about what it feels like to fall in love, to be in a nascent state. His work is lauded because he connects the nascent state of two lovers to a similar process that occurs in the development of social movements. The same restructuring and reorientation, coupled with the same kind of intense energy and merging of identities and destinies happens when collective movements emerge. Alberoni says that falling in love is the same process as a religious or political conversion, and happens when people are ready for change, or to start a new life. Falling in love is simply the most basic form of a collective movement, as the new couple develops a shared life project and common view of the world. It is the same process, though, as larger movements, and helps understand the mystery of how nascent movements grew into phenomena like the French Revolution, or the abolition and civil rights movements, or the Great Awakening, or the Tea Party, or growth of radical Islam, or the Occupy movement. People experience the nascent state, being nacido de nuevo, born again, in all sorts of ways. For followers of Jesus, the nascent state is always available to those who are ready for change, tired of the familiar ambition and materialism and hatred and violence and judgment the world offers, and are open to a radical reorientation toward a life of contentment, sharing, love, peacemaking, and grace. Given how much these new values contradict the old, Peter is right in saying that followers of Jesus will have to live out their lives as foreigners, as immigrants. I’m just grateful to have a fellow foreigner at my side for the journey, as this faith movement has been a shared life project for me and Kim ever since our nascent state started back in the Nevada desert.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.