The Grace of Negative Prehensions
A Reflection while Listening to Music
from the Worldwide NON Collective
Three cheers for negative prehensions. Maybe even four. If you are curious about what they are, scroll down to the Whitehead section on negative prehensions. But for now let me note that they are what they sound like: ways of apprending the past actual world that "render inoperative" certain data from the past, including destructive and traumatic data. In so doing these forms of prehension can make space for privacy and creativity, personal transformation and social transformation. They can negate the negative, creating a context for new birth.
Admittedly, in much process theology negative prehensions are under-emphasized. They can seem too, well, negative. Often negative prehensions carry within themselves scars from the past even as they carry hope for the future. But in the grace of negative prehensions the past is allowed to be "past" so that people can move on to more constructive futures. Negative prehensions are, or can be, acts of creative exorcism.
I began to think about the power and grace of negative prehensions while listening to the music of worldwide NON network. Members of the network represent the power of negative prehensions through the prefix "non" as in non-conformist or non-obsequious or non-accepting of contemporary white-dominated canons.
"NON is a collective of African artists, and of the diaspora, using sound as their primary media, to articulate the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power. The exploration of 'non, prior to the adjective, gives intel into the focus of the label, creating sound opposing contemporary canons." Their motto is non-today, non-tomorrow, non-forever.
As I listened to the music I began to think about how, for colonized people, negative prehensions are indeed salvific, and how people who dismiss negative prehensions as too negative are sometimes the very colonizers whom the African and diasporate artists rightly resist. I realized that I myself need to walk in solidarity with the NON network and partake of some NON myself.
As a theologian I also wondered if even the very Soul of the universe might be a NON of sorts. If the Soul of the universe is on the side of justice and love and freedom, then the Soul must partake of negative prehensions, too, as the recycles the world's experiences in her body, which is the world itself. There's so much that she may need to render inoperative if she is to enjoy any semblance of peace of mind. She must know the arts of Non-making.
And here's hoping she provides us with our own possibilities for Non-making. After all, say the process theologians, she is a friend to each of us and all of us. In her friendship we can imagine her providing fresh possibilities or "initial aims" for negative prehending the very stereotypes and binaries that oppress us and others.
But of course we must be open to the aims and toward the end of such openness we need forms of prayer. We can well imagine a prayer that goes like this:
Wise and Holy Mother, help us to become Non conformal to the stereotypes and binaries that block capacities for love and thwart capacities for freedom. May we be especially heedful of the stereotypes that serve the interests of colonial powers, even if we are among those powers. May we join the choir of angels and archangels who proclaim, from the depths of their hearts, ‘NON-today, NON-tomorrow, and NON-forever.’
And as we grow into NON wisdom, may our NON-making make possible a colorful world of no-things, where all are recognized acts of becoming, each with subjective agency and none reducible to “this” or “that.” Give us the freedom to say ‘no’ to the stereotypes a freedom to say ‘yes’ to life. In your mysterious name, unutterable because so spacious, we pray, Amen.
This is the prayer I pray, while listening to the music of the worldwide NON network. And I wonder if their own music isn't, in its own way, a kind of sacred music, NON-style. An ongoing chant with NON as its sacred syllable, and YES to life as its ongoing promise.
-- Jay McDaniel