Monday, January 05, 2009

Tears and Fire: Recovering a Neglected Tradition XI

Eventually we may become aware that there is simultaneous inward and outward movement. This dual movement is as impossible to describe as Heisenberg has shown it impossible to calculate the simultaneous speed and position of a subatomic particle. And we have to remember that while we speak in terms of phases and processes, theosis is one process occurring on many levels at once. Perhaps the closest we can come to imagining this process is a widening spiral. But geometry, and terms like 'perfection' and 'achievement' are not only inappropriate; they are contradictory to God's transforming of us.

In the depths of tears we find that our tears are God's. God weeps: and the will of God emerges from divine tears mingled with ours. God's willing powerlessness and involvement in co-creation extends to every moment and every eventuality, and the divine mercy pervades every suffering. God willingly suffers. That this semitic understanding has been retained through centuries of Chalcedonian and post-Chalcedonian conflict is astonishing. But it is implicit in both Ephrem and Isaac.

As we approach the depth of tears we come to a kind of crisis of rebirth, particularly in the first experience of tears, but also in each subsequent weeping. Every person experiences this sense of being pulled through density into newness in a different way. Isaac sums up this experience in a famous passage:

"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. I am talking about the flow of tears belonging to the stage which I have described, not that partial one which takes place from time to time. This consolation which takes place intermittently occurs for everyone who serves God in solitude; sometimes it happens when the mind is in contemplation, sometimes while reading the words of the scriptures; sometimes when the mind is occupied with supplication.

"But I propose to speak of that total kind, which continues night and day without a break, and by the sincerity of his behaviour, when the eyes become fountains of water for a period of nearly two years. This happens during a transitional period; I mean mystical transition. At the end of the period of tears you will enter into peace of thought; and by this peace of thought you will enter into that divine rest of which Paul spoke, rest in part, according to [our] nature.

"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." [8]

[8] Tr. Sebastian Brock; Miller, Asceitcal Homilies, p. 82-3; Wensick, p. 86.]


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