Sunday, April 17, 2011

Four Elements of Deep Silence: Fire

We must remember that these are not tears of sorrow only, but both sorrow and joy. As Isaac says, 'here is sweet and flaming compunction'; or, to use the image of John Climacus, mixed like honey and the comb. Mixed because in this singularity we somehow come to know more and more (in the most intimate biblical sense) that we gaze upon the face of God (Matthew 18). The promises made for us in baptism are fulfilled in us by this new and unceasing pouring out of fiery tears through our life within the blessed Trinity, whose love has become the polarity in this unending exchange of kenosis. This is the baptism of tears. The dark glass through which we see is washed by tears that magnify the face of God as we behold. And the only sin of which we need repent is turning away from this beholding.

We come to know that in this singularity we are brought to the freedom and possibility of the primordial moment of creation. We know that water and fire are one, that our tears ignite God's fire upon the earth. Syriac literature and liturgies are full of this knowledge:

Behold, Fire and Spirit in the womb that bore you!
Behold, Fire and Spirit in the river where you were baptised!
Fire and Spirit in our Baptism;
In the Bread and in the Cup, Fire and Holy Spirit!

Tears break open our stony hearts; they become alabaster boxes from which the oil of the Spirit's anointing is poured upon the earth. We begin to understand that our tears, like the water Elijah poured on the fire, ignite the baptism of fire which Christ has promised, salting creation with fire; his apophatic fire breaks out from all things.

As we pass through the strait place, we not only are drawn, we become impelled by the gaze of Love into infinite possibility of transfiguration. We become so found in God that self-reflection becomes less necessary and less possible. Our only security is the insecurity of listening unknowing, and then acting in faith on what is heard and given. Our prayer is being prayed. Our only perception is nonexperience. Our longing no longer seeks fulfillment, indeed, it is no longer noticed as longing.

In the end the way of tears and fire is a commitment not to have any way; not to have any way, that is, except God's way, that remains unknown until it is unfolded in the silence of mingled divine and human kenosis. In the words of Isaac of Nineveh:
From stillness a man 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 of this wellspring!

[from Writing the Icon of the Heart: In Silence Beholding by Maggie Ross, publication 20 May, 2011]


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