Being Someplace Else

In the anime film Children who Chase Lost Voices, we are introduced to a girl named Asuna, who meets a boy named Shun. Shun is from Agartha, a world under the ground beneath which Asuna walks to and from school. Through this relationship, both Shun and Asuna are get to know more of each other’s worlds. What later emerges is a longing for each to be in the other’s world and, for Asuna, this leads to a change in the way she organises her life above the ground. She starts curating a space in the mountains, filled with supplies that later feed that longing to be in Agartha. the centrepiece being a radio which allows her to listen to voices from Agartha.
A previous post mentioned our longing to be back in places in the past, a longing that is frustrated as soon as the thought to be in that place enters one’s mind. While this may lead many to conclude that we should have no further horizons than the here and now, characters like Asuna (and those in a number of other films by Makoto Shinkai like The Place Promised in Our Early Days) remind us that we project to the future as well as the past. Furthermore, it is our encounters with persons which spark this longing to be in places that lie in the chapters of our biography that we have not even seen in our mind’s eye. There are more mundane examples, such as planning for holidays, whereby the projection forward to places leads to a reorganising of our present life.
What is interesting also is that the cinematic trope of longing for another world is not alien to the world of theology. In his treatise on the theological virtues, Faith, Hope, Love, Josef Pieper began his chapter on hope by arguing that we are not just persons, but persons “on the way”. We are, as a result of sin and our bodiliness, hindered from completing on this side of the eschaton that encounter with God, which plants the seed of faith. Faith is a promised made by God, which in turn instills that desire to be with God, since it is communion with God for which we are made. Hope thereby constitutes the projection towards that God who awaits for us in the Beatific Vision.
This hopeful projection is not something eternally located in a future moment. Pieper describes hope as a future projection that is at the same time occurring in the now. The longing for that union with God in a moment outside of history actually reconfigures history, right here, right now. In speaking of the theological virture of hope in Spe Salvi, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of a coming together, not only at the end of time, but in the present moment. In paragraph 14, Benedict says we are not only in the process of coming together, but are in the present moment “coming together once more in a union that begins to take shape in the community of believers”.
That place of the reconfigured present that projects to this place of future union is the Body of Christ. The Church here and now is thus a sign of hope insofar as it constitutes this other place of eschatological union. It might be a faint echo, but that echo is what brings to our purview the prospect of reaching that place of ecstatic union.
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