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Walking together

An encounter with Lytta Basset, professor of Protestant theology and for seventeen years a pastor in Geneva

Lytta Basset is a professor of Protestant theology at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. For seventeen years she was a Protestant pastor in Geneva. She is the author of numerous works that have influenced the panorama of Christian thought over the last ten years and renewed the approach to the Gospels.

In particular, she is the author of Guerir du malheur (1999 ), Le pouvoir de pardonner (1999), Moi, je ne juge persons. The Évangile au-delà of Morality (2003), La joie unspoilable (2003), The pardon originel . De l'abîme du mal au pouvoir de pardonner (2005), Sainte colère. Jacob, Job, Jésus (2006), Ce lien here it dies jamais (2007), Aimer sans dévorer (2010).

Her numerous lectures and her seminars, which reappraise the fundamentals of Jewish-Christian culture, have also made her known to a general public looking for a contemporary interpretation of the Bible. She is the founder and current director of the magazine "La Chair et le Souffle" that tries to find new approaches, and take a more profound look when addressing the great theological and spiritual questions of today, with a continued focus on clarity and critical exigences. Her latest book (a collective), S'ouvrir à la compassion , has recently been translated into Italian. One of the latest perspectives opened up by Lytta Basset is organized around the theme of spiritual accompaniment. Is the journey of our humanity something like “making a path together” so as to meet up with the other and open oneself to passing guests?

She has recently published Aimer sans dévorer , which in 2011 won The Panorama-La Procure book on spirituality award. She will also soon publish a book dedicated to spiritual accompaniment.

In her work she gives great importance to the affective dimension: why is this? "The affective dimension is firstly an experience offered to everyone in a world in which utilitarianism is terribly dominant. It is at the centre of the encounter between people. It is also at the centre of the encounter between the human and the divine. Well, on this point, women must begin to speak. A large part of Christian tradition has been made by men. The Church has an urgent need to allow itself to be revivified by women, by the holy breath that passes through them as well”.

More precisely, are you inviting us to discover a new inspiration? "I prefer to speak of" the breath of love "rather than “Holy Spirit” because the expression is more understandable and more accessible. In the biblical narrative, the breath of love is a breath that "differentiates" that "discerns", that is "makes holy", according to the Hebrew etymology of the word "holy". “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (John 3, 8), Jesus affirms. This expression of the “breath of love” is found in the Targum instead of “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1, 2). It also evokes a human love that can find a new inspiration and not allow itself to be swallowed up. It is a force coming from the Unseen, a dynamism that mobilizes: it is up to us to agree to open up to it. "

Is it a universal inspiration? "This breath, this process of differentiation and of sanctification, is able to mobilize all human beings, not just Christians. It is also located at the extreme poles of esotericism: like the "flame of a candle" or a "fire that blazes", it is always at work to bring together what is divided within the human being. It is just this breath which Jesus willed to make known to his contemporaries and to all those who were ready to listen to him: "Everything I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (Jn 15, 15). "

Can this breath reinvigorate Christianity whose "disenchantment" (as Max Weber says) derives from a fracture of the universal faculty of sensation? "Yes, to the extent that we allow ourselves to be carried along. And what barriers might prevent the inspiration of love, which is necessarily an inspiration of truth, to run through even the most cryptic or most impervious person? It does not exclude anyone. We return here to the universality of the Gospel message. "

She insists a great deal on the creation of a new language to speak about Christianity using words of the twenty-first century. "This creation will prove to be crucial. With a different language, the meaning is understood by all. For example, how can we talk of God using new words? The community of believers has a creative potential that requires a reawakening. "

Are you fighting for a poetic theology? "I think it's very important to rediscover the symbolic language, which is ubiquitous in the Bible. Contrary to the assertive declarations and traditional catechisms, this language has the power to create a new link, "to speak to the heart" of every human being. "

Would Christianity, then, come closer to psychoanalysis? "I think the attitude of Jesus is exemplary in this respect. As a therapist, Jesus shows an unconditional benevolence, for example, in his meeting with Zacchaeus (Luke 19, 1-27). It's his way of welcoming Zacchaeus, without a judgment that would burden him with responsibility. Christ himself expresses his urgent need to get in touch with him to come to a halt "at his home". "

What can you tell us about compassion? "The Gospels make use of a very precise Greek verb:" to be moved to the core ", always used in the passive voice. Suddenly you have what seems like a "knot in the stomach." The expression is very strong: compassion is produced within the flesh. Jesus went to the very end in his total closeness with the suffering experienced by the men and women he met, because he was profoundly in contact with himself: he was fully human, filled and moved by the breath of love that made him "quiver" when faced with the desperation of others, and he said that we are all we are capable of this."

It also with regards to the term sin “that a renewal of language is so necessary! The word sin is incomprehensible today: the reality that it refers to needs to be spoken of in other words. Throughout the Bible, sin is a non-relation, the breaking of one’s relationship with God. Adam and Eve who hide themselves in the garden of Eden, no longer need God. Their refusal of otherness condemns them to a retreat. They withdraw into themselves. "

In Aimer sans dévorer , she says that the goal is a "collaboration that has something of the breath." "In symbolic language, the Book of Genesis, in fact, tells how Eve, for example, tries to fill her loneliness, her emptiness, "by consuming" her husband. With the forbidden fruit, Eve actually devours the otherness of the other, which is attached to it. Adam also devours otherness. Later he will say to God, "I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself" (Genesis 1, 10), as if his wife did not exist anymore. There is no longer respect for the other, human or divine, in its otherness. "

Is this searching for a rapport joined to spiritual accompaniment? "Spiritual accompaniment only makes sense in an unconditional benevolence that helps the person to approach the mystery of a God who is fully alive, who dwells within her heart and wants to share her life. It implies receiving from Another her part of the fire, the "breath of love" given at Pentecost. With the rediscovery and the practice of the divine benevolence that runs through us, I think we can rediscover all the freshness of Christianity. "




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 17, 2020