Monday, July 30, 2007

IX The Human Experience of God at Turning Points: A Theological Expose of Spiritual Counterfeits

Solitude: even more, stillness within that solitude: everything in our culture mitigates against it, from the first prerequisite of the ability to stay in one room, to overcoming the culture’s horror vacui, the terror of space or time that is not filled up and overflowing, whether it is our plate at the restaurant, our clothes cupboard, our shelf of spiritual books or, most terrifying of all, the landscape of interior solitude. For the reality of solitude is the reality of the human condition; solitude is the mother of community; solitude is the womb from which we are born. And when we return to solitude to find our true being-in-God, we go through many deaths whether we are monk or mother, so that we might truly live.

In solitude we become theologians, for theology is as rooted in our biology as is mythology. And unless we encourage each person to become a theologian, we will not survive the ecological crisis. The sort of theology I have been describing goes far beyond the confines of Christianity to the deepest human constants and the appropriate place of humanity in creation, life that neither dominates nor fears, but lives out the humility of interdependence.

In solitude we discover our self-delusion, and this discovery alone already benefits the community of creation, and not our selves only. In Christian terms, we are as bound to one another in the Body by our sins as by resurrection. Morphic resonance in creation is more than rats learning a maze more easily after one has learnt it, or monkeys washing fruit without seeing the individual who first washed hers. We may speak of the resonances of our being-in-conversion helping or hindering, depending on our choice, Christ’s transfiguration of all that is.

"Better the person who has perceived his sins," [says Isaac the Syrian, the 7th century saint] "than the person who profits the world by his appearance. Better the person who has once sighed over himself, than he who raises the dead by his prayer, while dwelling among many. Better the person who has been deemed worthy to behold himself, than the person who has been deemed worthy to behold angels; the latter partakes of the eyes of the body, the former the eye of the soul. Better is the person who has clung to Christ in mourning all by himself, than the person who celebrates Him in a congregation.

"You have...been ask for mercy for the world, to keep vigil for the salvation of all, and to partake in every [one's] suffering, both the just and the sinners."

The choice for the conversion that can occur only in solitude brings us to tears, for it is only in stillness that we become aware of what is unacknowledged and unconverted in us, and it is only when we weep—with or without physical tears—that we have any sure indication of changes occuring on a level beyond the merely conscious beyond an escape into yet more hyperreality. Tears are a sign that we are struggling with power of one sort or another: the loss of ours, the entering of God’s. By tears the unseen wildness in us is tamed for God, the wayward found, the compromised made inviolably vulnerable.

"Tears are to the mind the border, as it were, between the bodily and the spiritual state, between the state of being subject to the passions and that of purity....

"Some tears cause burning, others provide a kind of unction. All tears which flow out of compunction and anguish of heart as a result of sins dry up the body and burn it. And often when these tears are shed, a person will even feel that some harm has been done to his brain. A person will necessarily encounter this order of tears first of all. Then by them the door leading to the second order will be opened for him, an order which is by far superior, because it constitutes the sign of the receiving of mercy. What is this? Those tears which pour forth as a result of some insight provide the body with a kind of unction; they flow spontaneously and there is no compulsion in them. They also anoint the body and the appearance of the face is changed. For a joyful heart renders the body beautiful."

Most of all, tears arise from stillness and led us to deeper stillness:

"From stillness [we] can gain possession of the three [causes of tears]: love of God, awestruck wonder at His mysteries, and humility of heart. Without these it is unthinkable that a man should be accounted worthy to taste of the wellspring of flaming compunction arising from the love of God. There is no passion so fervent as the love of God. O Lord, deem me worthy to taste of this wellspring! Therefore, if a man does not have stillness, he will not be acquainted with even one of these, though he perform many virtuous deeds. He cannot know what the love of God is, nor spiritual knowledge, nor possess true humility of heart. He will not know these three virtues, or rather these three glorious gifts.

It is from this womb of solitude and stillness that we are born.

"Once you have reached the place of tears, then know that the mind has left the prison of this world and set its foot on the road towards the new world. Then it begins to breathe the wonderful air which is there; it begins to shed tears. For now the birth pangs of the spiritual infant grow strong, since grace, the common mother of all, makes haste to give birth mystically to the soul, the image of God, into the light of the world to come. And when the time of birth is come, then the mind will perceive something of what belongs to that world, like a faint perfume which an infant receives inside the body in which it has grown. Then, unable to endure what is unwonted, it (the spiritual infant) will set the body to weeping mingled with joy which surpasses the sweetness of honey. Together with the growing of this interior infant there will be an increase of tears.] The stream of tears occurs when the mind has begun to become serene....

"From this place of peace the intellect will begin to see hidden things. Then the Holy Spirit will begin to reveal before it heavenly things, while God dwells in you and promotes spiritual fruits in you. Then you will start to become aware of the transformation which the whole nature will receive in the renewal of all things, dimly and as though by hints."

Isaac considers this new birth by tears to be our true baptism, of which the rite was but a sign and type:

"Repentance is given to a man a grace after grace, for repentance is a second regeneration by God. That of which we have received an earnest by baptism, we [now] receive as a gift by means of repentance."


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