by Mary Lynne Gasaway Hill
"In the wake of these two revolutions, the French Revolution (1789-99) and our contemporary 'technological revolution,' Catholics have gathered in small groups to try and figure things out. Whereas we tend to view the two revolutions as series of linear events, taking place chronologically, we view the responses, of gathering in small communities in the circular sense.”
Mary Lynne Gasaway Hill, a lay Marianist and professor of English at St. Mary’s University, in Stories from the Wake: The Revolutionary Responses of the Sodality of Bordeaux and Small Christian Communities, examines the development of Small Christian Communities (SCCs) related to these two revolutionary moments.
She describes shifts in the “grand narrative” of the day—defined as the foundational sources of meaning that organize and direct people and behavior in a meaningful way—caused by these events.
In light of such dramatic changes, where society has become unglued, how does one create a new cohesive bond that draws people into the Christian story?
Hill examines the rise of the Small Christian Community movement, both during the time of Father Chaminade and the original Sodality and in terms of today’s postmodernism, for possible answers.
Revolution, L. noun1
1. The action or the fact, on the part of celestial bodies, of moving around in an orbit or circular course; the apparent movement of the suns, the stars, etc., around the earth
2. The return or recurrence of a point or period of time, a lapse of a certain time
3. A turn or twist; a bend or winding
4. The action, on the part of a thing or person, of turning or whirling around, or of moving around some point
5. The action of turning over in discourse or talk; discussion
6. Alteration, change, mutation
7. A complete overthrow of an established government in any country or state by those who were previously subject to it
Revolutions, as we now know them, are both linear and circular phenomena. The original use of the word, from the Middle Ages until the late eighteenth century, predominantly meant a circular type of action . . . like those indicated in the first four definitions. For example, an entity started in one point, moved away from it, and returned ultimately to the starting point, i.e., a type of orbit. However, during the last two hundred years, revolution has experienced a semantic shift. As well as a circular meaning, it also developed a linear one (definitions five through seven) that focused on change, particularly in a radical social change that impacts phenomena occurring after it in a chronological time. Semantically, revolution then experienced a revolution!
In this text, I probe both of these aspects by exploring a circular response in the wake of linear events. In the wakes of two revolutions, the French Revolution (1789-99) and our contemporary "technological revolution," Catholics have gathered in small groups to try and figure things out. Whereas we tend to view the two revolutions as series of linear events, taking place chronologically, we view the responses, of gathering in small communities to reflect and effect change in the world, as revolutions in the circular sense.
This text grew out of a number of conversations with members of the Marianist Family during the past decade. In these conversations, we consistently found ourselves connecting the anomie of our time with the time of the Marianist foundation in the aftermath of the French Revolution. A resemblance between these two horizons became apparent to us in these conversations as we recognized the Chaminadian moment as kindred to our own. This is an exploration of that recognition, of how the revolutionary horizon of Chaminade's France resonates within, through, and beneath the information horizon of contemporary American life.
In this text, I examine these two moments in the history of the small-faith-community story in an attempt to gain insight into our contemporary moment through the lens of the Marianist foundational moment. I attempt to read these moments as a "text" from which we may render an interpretation of the webs of significance of these two distinct historical horizons. As Bernard Lee, SM, has reminded us, it is important to remember the distinctive character of each text as generated from its own horizon.
1 Revolutionary Variety: Linear and Circular
2 Grand Narratives, Deep Symbols, and Imagined Community
3 Fragmentation of the God-King Master Narrative in France
4 Postmodern Moment: Challenges to Reason-Citizen as Source of Meaning
5 Closing Thoughts
Works Cited and Consulted