Saturday, August 7, 2010

From the Ground up. Part II: Coffee is an experience.

It is nothing new to suggest that a Christian understanding of self hinges on the person being a synthesis of things physical (cognitive, chemical, corporeal) and spiritual (ethereal, conceptual). Jean Luc Marion, (with thanks to translator Shane Mackinlay) puts forward a form of examining this union in light of a person being comprised of two distinctly different forms of information: signification and intuition.

Every thing which has phyical presence may be said to contain information in the form of signification - i.e. it has significance as an event in space and time. We can weight it, measure its dimensions, send it to a lab and have it cut up and tested etc. Every person, therefore, bears information which outlines their measurable significance as an event in space and time (signification).

Apart from information existing in the form of signification, there is information which exists in the form of intuition. This is likely what the theologian Bruce Lee meant when he referred to 'emotional content' (Enter the Dragon). Into this category we might place such things as memory, intuition, imagination, want and will. Marion uses these categories to differentiate between an inanimate object as a limited phenomenon ( - it has limited intuitive information), and a person / person-event as a saturated phenomenon (- it has a saturated amount of intuitive information). It is therefore primarily on the basis of what one person chooses (and is able) to give of themselves in intuitive way that an interpersonal interaction can take place, because only through the person’s givenness can the saturated intuitive information be navigated at a healthy rate.

Simply put, if i want to know you, i cannot simply send you to a lab where they record as much of your signification as possible. To actually know another person in the real sense of the word is to have an interaction with that person on the basis of intuitive information.

More importantly, is the understanding that no person has complete or perfect access to their intuitive information, and of the access that each person does have, interaction takes place through what they themselves choose to 'give' of that information - interaction takes place through 'givenness'.

This is also a basis on which art carries meaning. I come to the art (static or interactive) bringing my signification and intuition, and when I interact with the art it speaks on the basis of what I avail of myself to be spoken to. It connects with what I give of myself as connect-able. It requests and reflects upon my givenness, both in what I have access to at the time (i.e. what I know and remember of my self) and what I choose / am able to admit and release about myself.

Therefore, to some extent, the meaning of the art is found through my givenness upon the basis of my intention – an intention residing within a cultural / historical / social / economic context. That is to say that I intend, from within my context, to perceive things in the art and to allow the art to inform my intuitive information in particular areas but not others. Some areas of my intuitive content are off limits to be commented on. The meaning of the art is, therefore, limited to my understanding by my intention. Also, as I give of my self (my intuition) to interact with the art on certain levels, it reveals something about myself in what I choose to give. That is to say, the playing out of my intention is self revelatory.

If i view a sculpture, or painting or installation and it means 'nothing' to me, that says something about the relationship between myself and the art - and a little depper than that, about the relationship between my intuitive information and the intent of the artist.

It is here that coffee become peculiarly interesting as an experience, because it is a form of self-revelation of the artisan - a corporealisation of the intuitive content of the artist themselves. Like any artwork it serves as a means by which to know the way in which the artist desires to communicate – perhaps hinting at the values of the artist. Its meaning is, therefore, inherent in both the intention of the artist in their self-revelation, and in the participant’s intuitive interaction. It’s inherent meaning is therefore not static, but subjective depending on what a person brings to it and in what context.


Here the Christian understanding of the nature of God as self revealing and of being a person (a ‘thou’ and not an ‘it’) is of central importance. when I remove the flimsy plastic lid, inhale the aroma and begin to sip - I am interacting with an artwork that has a purpose. This expression from the mind of God is something which has been designed, ordered, structured, assembled, orchestrated – specifically crafted to be 'that which it is' and nothing else.

It is an impartation of the givenness of God.

It is a container for latent information which points to the whom at its genesis. It is for this reason that the created realm is referred to as 'natural revelation'. Those things which have significance in time, matter or energy began as the artwork of the one from whom time, matter and energy have come forth.


It is of some importance at this point to ascertain whether or not the art is being interacted with as the artist intended, or whether some moronic spoiled brat kids are running amok in the gallery, screwing things up.

Scripture is very clear that the world in which we live is not the world which was created perfect. This universe decays and is in need of redemption. The curses of God upon humanity and the rest of creation are not yet to be dismissed. Toiling the ground is not yet turned to tending the garden, and childbearing pain, thorns, thistles and the human proclivity to rule over each other are still the norm. In Christ, redemption is initiated but not yet consummated. Therefore, to suggest that coffee somehow remains intrinsically perfect and untainted is - though optimistic, encouraging and very positive - false.

(sorry) - and yet this is cause for much rejoicing.

Coffee, like all created things, has God’s fingerprints on it. Coffee, like all created things, is broken and in need of redemption (as is my motorcycle). However, it is because of Christ that there has been the initiation of redemption for all humanity and all creation – so too the possibility remains for humanity to partake in Christ’s redemption of coffee. Coffee is not presently perfect because both the form and the content are in need of redemption, but – as the Spirit of God conforms my will to His own, as I am increasingly transformed into the likeness of Christ, as God is working through for my salvation and His glory – precisely because God has made a way through Christ to indwell humanity with His Spirit, my intention towards coffee can be an increasingly sanctified and transformed intention.

By the Spirit through Christ I am freed from approaching coffee in a purely hedonistic way and therefore, coffee touches redemtion when I touch it because the Spirit is redeeming me and my intention. I am not bound to use a substance simply for my own pleasure but to seek to use it in the way that God intended. Coffee is not, therefore, inherently good or evil in a moralistic sense (though subject to decay and therefore not 'perfect') but is subject to my intention.

How, then, I interact with coffee on the basis of my intention in light of my relationship with God becomes the measure of my experience with coffee.

By the Spirit, then, I can interact with the givenness of God that He has put there to be enjoyed. The Spirit who will 'guide us into all truth' is able to increasingly reveal the facets of God’s goodness and beauty which remain in coffee – given that the form of coffee itself is awaiting the day when all things are made new.

Redemption for creation was initiated in my redemption, and continues as the redemption of humanity continues. My experience of the substance in my hand is subject to my intention – which is hopefully an increasingly sanctified one. One day the redemption of creation will be complete, coffee will be redeemed fully in both content and form.

And on that day, (Lord, please) i will order the finest latte the universe has ever known.

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