Sunday, June 23, 2013

II By Contrast ....

[Continuing the article by Michael Downey. CSQ, 45.1, 2010]

The theologian has come away from Southern California, the land of eternal traffic. I have withdrawn from voicemails, emails, faxes, committees, boards, consultations, evaluations, assessments, confrontations, allegations, litigations, liturgical skirmishes, exchanges, meetings, struggles, relationships, worries and—in the hyper-psychological parlance of our day—"issues." In this house of prayer laced 'round by the Santa Rita Mountains there is room enough for a silence in which the question can emerge as if for the first time: Who art Thou? Who are You? Who is God? There is a nudge, a hunch from somewhere back in the long ago, a stirring of the first intuition that theology as a way of life is worthy of the one an only life I have to live, a whole way of perceiving and being that is in service of the search for an answer.
To profess faith in Jesus Christ is to live day by day with the question "Who is God?" admitting that we do not yet know fully who Christ is. The Gospels give us sketches of Christ, not beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt scientific evidence or historical facts. Efforts to present in film and other media realistic depictions of the passion, crucifixion, and death of Jesus may satisfy what is often an inordinate desire for certainty ans assurance of personal salvation, but they bring us no closer to a definitive answer to the question "Who is God?" For the Christian, the beginning of an answer lies in the admission that we do not know. When we are convinced, when we are altogether and absolutely certain, there is no room in us for learning what we do not know. Indeed, the first step in knowing is admitting that we do not know. The secret discipline lies in knowing how not to know. [emphasis mine MR]
We do have the sketches: clues, hints, and traces. When I follow the clues with humility and in fidelity I discover that they are luminous, leading me to insight, to some sense of who God might be.  Perhaps the greatest act of humility of all is accepting the fact that these traces must suffice, that I no longer have a big picture, that systems and institutions and normative claims to truth have so often failed to satisfy the deepest desire of the human heart for truth, for goodness, for beauty.
The theologian, like the contemplative, is all eyes. We want to see, to behold, to gaze. Likewise, we want to be looked upon, to be seen, to be gazed upon. This is to speak of vision, a way of seeing: Seeing by loving, and loving by seeing, and by being seen. We are always learning how to look. Again and again. The more we see, the more we love. And the more we love the more we can see. And the more we see the more we realize that there is more to what we see than can ever be seen.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Good stuff! Good thread. More, please.

For your book you might consider a few lines about the pitfalls on the journey and where we find hope and how do we make sense of a relationship with Christ Jesus in beholding as a stance in life.

All good wishes


2:43 pm, June 23, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...


"The secret discipline lies in knowing now not to know."

Saying this another way might be

Maintaining attentiveness to and being at peace with no certainty?


2:15 am, June 24, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Yes, or being attentive, open and at peace with no certainty

7:52 am, June 24, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

When asked about what poets do Kathleen Norris replied,

"We wait, attentively."

6:37 pm, June 24, 2013  
Blogger rpage said...

I came across a passage in I John 3 that says, "God is greater than our hearts." Seems to agree with your blog for Sunday that knowing God is really only to know in part, as Paul says, and later we know God face to face. Thanks for sharing your journey.


12:36 am, June 25, 2013  
Anonymous sgl said...

re: attentiveness
from Peggy Senger Parsons, author and quaker minister, comparing quaker "waiting worship" to waiting for someone at an airport. cleverly worded, and worth a read i think:

4:57 am, June 25, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...


Yes. Comments are good as well.

Interesting how Michael Downey and Peggy Senger Parsons run toward a similar conclusion re seeing and being seen.

3:39 pm, June 25, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Not really that interesting: this notion of seeing and being seen is in the psalms!!!

4:43 pm, June 25, 2013  
Anonymous Bhagavannath said...

Just wondered, was it meant to be: "in knowing how not to know"?

7:43 pm, June 25, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...


This notion?

A notion is a belief, a view, an opinion, a whim, a quirk, caprice, a humor, ... etc.

Or a notion is an idea, a concept, an intimation, a suspicion ...

Negation, a subject examined here, is concerned with "something that is the absence of something actual."

So, "this notion of ... " You are intimating/suggesting, what is any notion worth? As in, the more one says, the less is said?

Could you say more about notion, be it found in psalms or elsewhere?


11:40 pm, June 25, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Someone asked about psalms: off the top of my head, 8, 17, 62, 139, for starters...

8:11 am, June 26, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Yes, knowing how not to know. Thanks for catching the typo.

Notion: as its used in the theological circles I'm familiar with, a somewhat fuzzier and more inclusive word than 'concept'—the seed of a way of thinking

8:13 am, June 26, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

Notion must have come from "nous" or mind, usually an output of the deep mind, some form of archetypal thinking. A good word also is Ricouer's "perspective" which has cognitive, affective and practical aspects pertaining both to the "fallibility" and "beauty" of any human logos, to something closed or open-ended.

9:04 am, June 26, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

So notions may have enormous potential or not much at all but their nature is understood in the sense that sketching is understood.

A notion is an "opening" gesture.

3:38 pm, June 26, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

Notions are gathered thoughts from the deep mind - notion of quantum theory the way Bohm used it, self, knowledge, belief, perception, God, beholding. They could be contained thoughts and in this case has an aspect of closedness or staticity, or pointers to deeper realities and thus an "opening gesture". But it seems recently, "notion" has become synonymous with "thinking" or cognition due to the dominance of philosophy, a field thought as ancillary only to theology during the medieval period when "vision" of the Holy was paramount. "Notion" has become more a "sign" than symbol. But as Maggie writes: "Every true sign is self-effacing." "Beholding" is one powerful notion because it is both an act (containment of the body in space-time - yes the body can think, too) and and an eliding into the deep mind. "Beholding" goes within and beyond the Platonic Ouroboros, the self-eating snake of philosophy.

10:21 pm, June 26, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

"Every true sign is self effacing."

If it's otherwise it's not beholding.

If there is truly nothing left or carried along ... there was no self presence in ... then it must be something other than being-here-now.

Thus, rises the notion of Presence?

And this notion is an action of body thinking rather than mind thinking because the nature of mind thinking is the making of distinctions?

So, beholding cannot be an action taken because it cannot involve distinctions being made.

We can give our lives over to what might be called the pursuit of a/ones "faith journey" and a/one journey must rest on discernments because when there is self-being attached there is nothing but discernment present.

When/where there is no thing-ness anywhere discernible, one-ness also is not anywhere discernible because one can't have it both ways simultaneously in this space-time.

Thus, rises the notion beholding?

8:57 pm, June 28, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

There is a deep mind that thinks in many ways, not just the logic of self-conscious mind. It certainly includes the body but is not confined to it

9:22 pm, June 28, 2013  
Anonymous Matthew Carlisle said...

I came across an article by Rowan Williams called 'Between the Cherubim' (On Christian Theology Chapter 12) The article is 'a meditation on images, their connections and their failures'. He looks at the image of the empty tomb in the gospel narratives and suggests that 'the empty tomb tradition is...part of the Church's resource in resisting the temptation to 'absorb' Jesus into itself...Jesus is not the possession of the community...he 'lives to God'.
He goes on to write 'the tomb tradition, then, should be the ground of certain kinds of questions put by the Church to itself, especially as regards its attitudes to institutional authority. Just as the focus of Israel's religious integrity in the canonical period was the empty throne, a deliberate repudiation of a graspable image, an absence reflected in the strange formulation of the divine name in Exodus 3, so for the community of the Christian covenant there is a fundamental ungraspability about the source of whatever power or liberty is at work in the community, a quality most easily comparable to that of a contemporary other.'
He concludes: 'The central image of the gospel narratives is...the image of an absence, an image of the failure of images, which is also an absence that confirms the reality of a creative liberty, an agency not sealed and closed, but still obstinately engaged with a material environment and historical process.'
This article, alongside your chapter 'The space of prayer', helped me to see more clearly that silence is an undoing of the desire to grasp God, to 'absorb' Jesus through words and images. The work of silence opens a space in the world where the 'creative liberty' of the risen Lord can 'look at us in love and judgement' so that something completely unpredictable, like forgiveness, can come to birth in the world.

11:16 pm, June 28, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...


I can "follow" this but not when I think so much about it. The brain grows fuzzy.

There is a "recollected" or "accumulated" sense which is perhaps suggestive of one way in which this "deep mind thinks in many ways."

A good teacher might say,

"Too much thinking. Just sit."

1:17 am, June 29, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Seeing and being seen: there is a reference somewhere in Samuel in the Bible; also, a book called 'God After Metaphysics' is all about seeing and being seen. Difficult read, but worth the trouble.

12:53 pm, June 30, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

I think "beholding" is still classifiable as an act as concrete as sitting still in so far as it involves consciousness and the body except that it is not a self-conscious act. Regarding distinction-making, McGilchrist assigns this to the function of the left brain. His observation may be supported by the evidence of dominance and positivism of philosophy, phenomenology, sociology and the hard sciences (unless scientists are as wise as Einstein or at least heedful to his intuitions) of our time. So the more one beholds which means getting into the habit because there is no hierarchy in beholding, the more habitual the leaving of the world of distinctions. Indeed, a very dangerous, threatening proposal for the powerful including the academic megalomania of our time who love to have everything this world can offer in the name of philosophy or theology. Or God.

5:55 am, July 01, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

I believe what occurs while sitting still, non-thinking, is no less real as act than the sitting down with intention is real. This inner landscape deepening is no less real than walking with my dog is real. I think this inner landscape can happen when walking the dog as well.

In any act there is a "point" at which I am participating in this dissolves into .... and there comes a "point" when the sense I am participating in this reappears as well.

The .... part is not describable nor is it recallable as regards the specificity of detail which an I am participating in this event can provide.

What this has to do with beholding is yet a mystery to me.

5:45 pm, July 01, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is it that knows sweetie? Towels are folding towels, ironing is ironing, the activity of the incarnation simply arising, no one to be found...

6:14 pm, July 01, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Sweetie. Hhmmmm ....

The "...." is referred to as samadhi in Buddhism. We all experience this. It is everyday common, it comes and goes without any self directed effort.

St. Theresa speaks of the prayer of peace as other than the prayer of union. I wonder if the former is a way of saying samadhi. Is her prayer of union a way of saying kensho? How does beholding sit within this landscape?

Don't know ... So, there is the urge to wander asking questions.
Perhaps a virtual pilgrimage of sorts, listening to non answers and answers and to nothing at all sometimes. It's all interesting (to me) and it's all the same.

Maybe ...

It's "activity of the incarnation rising", and all of it is OK. :)

10:03 pm, July 01, 2013  

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