Monday, January 12, 2009

Tears and Fire: Recovering a Neglected Tradition XII

Through the Glass Darkly

Tears, like Laughter, their near-twin, spring from polarity, the holding of two opposite ends of the continuum in the heart: knowledge of the sin and pain of life unredeemed on the one hand, and the vision of God on the other. The polarity is acute even (and perhaps especially) when the glory of creation and the achievements of humankind are at their best. Yet these wonders are beheld contrasted to the vision that is unfolding and the coming of the person into sacred time which is interpenetrated with and becoming the 'ordinary'.

The ever-narrowing prison of the attitudes of control, and our willing powerlessness, our poverty, our need of God, funnels to the point of despair, the 'strait place' through which we must pass into the density of the glory of God, where all laws break down, and everything is reordered. This strait place is critical, and the despair is not only the despair of coming to the dead-end of mere human reason and worldly endeavour to control, but rather the despair in which there is only God. Olivier Clément writes of it thus:

"What we must say to all those who are wounded by the 'terrorist' God is that basically what is asked of man is not virtue or merit, but a cry of trust and love from the depths of his hell; or who knows, a moment of anguish and startlement in the enclosed immanence of his happiness, and never to fall into despair, but into God. [9]

"For as Christ said to the Starets Silouan: 'Keep your mind in hell and despair not'. In the depths of hell the soul aspires to Mercy, and it is there that it finds itself to be loved. This is a permanent metanoia: the world ceases to be that of the 'me', which idolizes itself (and at the same time hates itself) to become the world of God, the apparently upside-down world of the Beatitudes and of Communion. Then we understand that suffering, hell and death are spread abroad by means of the 'powers of darkness' in our hearts; but also that Christ is the Conqueror of hell and death, and that this risen life, light and freshness of Spirit, can increase in us from ever greater depths, according to the measure of our faith and our humility, to make of us beings of wonder, and sometimes of blessing." [10]

Our passing through this suffering is thus not 'punishment' or 'penance' inflicted by a wrathful God for our sins, but rather an awareness that God is with us in the passage through this straight place, that God is suffering with us.

For, as Isaac of Nineveh insists,

The whole purpose of our Lord's death was not to deliver (or redeem) us from sins, or for any other reason, but solely in order that the world might become aware of the love which God has for creation. Had all this astounding affair taken lace solely for the purpose of forgiveness of sin, it would have been sufficient to redeem us by some other means [ . . . ] . What wisdom is God's! And how filled with life! [11]

In this singularity at the bottom of tears we find silence, we find hesychia.

In the silence of God—or as John the Solitary would say, the God who is Silence—we come to the timeless moment where creation and parousia intersect. Here is the wedding of heaven and earth. We come to know that each of us is a solitary, and that the true meaning of solitude is the mirroring of God's action, which involves gathering into Love the community of creation by our tears. And as we are emptied and filled with God's poured-out life, we become kenotic co-creators, artists engaged in God's sacrificial act:

"This is my way of helping to complete in my poor human flesh, the full tale of Christ's afflictions still to be endured, for the sake of his body which is the Church. (Col. 1:24 NEB).

[9] Olivier Clément, 'Purification by Atheism', Orthodoxy and the Death of God, ed. A.M. Allchin (Supplements to Sobornost 1 (1971), p. 243.
[10] Olivier Clément, "The Holy Spirit and Monasticism Today", Cistercian Studies xiv 4, p. 323.
[11] Tr. Sebastian Brock in "Isaac of Nineveh: some newly discovered works', Sobornost/ECR 8:1, (1986), p. 2.


Anonymous said...

Thank you.

8:06 am, January 16, 2009  

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