Saturday, April 30, 2011

Magic Eye = Kenotic Eye

A sermon broadcast from St George's Chapel, Windsor, on Easter Day, was revelatory about the state of religious mis-understanding, the state of some clergy and the institutional church at large.

It began in hope: the analogy the preacher used was a good one. He described the 'magic eye' 3D images hidden in 2D patterns that were very popular several decades ago and have never entirely disappeared. The preacher said that he had never been able to see one of the 3D images. Whether this was true or just a trope is impossible to know, but if it is true, it says that this person doesn't know how or when to let go. I found this need continually to control enormously sad.

He went on to say that the disciples had trouble recognising the risen Christ. He said that seeing the risen Christ is not through a magic eye; the only way to see is with through the eyes of belief. I almost cried. Propositional belief, while sometimes necessary, closes the eyes.

For the magic eye is a kenotic eye, an eye of faith. In order to see the 3D image one has to stop searching for it and allow it to emerge from the pattern. It's an excellent example of the paradox of intention essential to communication between the superficial, self-conscious mind and the deep brain. The kenotic eye is essential for restoring this communication, which we allow the noise and frenetic activity of our culture to shut off.

Restoring the circulation between deep silence and our everyday awareness is the purpose of the spiritual life. It is by 'putting on the mind'—or in this case, the eyes—of Christ (Phil. 2:5-11) that we see the risen Christ. As Julian says, 'And then our lord opened my gostly eye and shewid me my soule in midds of my herte'. To see the risen Christ at work in the world means that we must stop trying to control the world: it is rather through kenotic receptivity, beholding, that we create a welcoming space of opportunity in which this mystery can reveal itself.

Resurrection is possible only because of Jesus' utter kenosis, his beholding; his self-emptying is the en-Christing process, an act of faith for which there is no guarantee of resurrection (the verb for 'therefore' in Phil. 2:5-11 has the sense of a held breath, not of QED). And it is only by becoming like him that we can see him.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

May You Have a Blessed Triduum and Eastertide

Gentle Readers,

The next post will be at the end of April, as for the next ten days or so I will not have access to the internet.

May you have a most blessed Triduum and Eastertide


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]

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Four Elements of Deep Silence: Water

"Be praised my Lord for Sister Water who is very useful to us, and humble and precious and pure. . . "—but like most translations, this one (and all the English ones I've read) doesn't quite convey what St Francis had in mind. The Italian word that is translated with the word 'pure' is in fact nubile, from which we get our word 'nubile'. The Italians are much less shy about the fecundity of purity than the British and the Americans, for the word carries not only a sense of purity but someone in full blush of ripe womanhood, beautiful in youth, as yet innocent, a potential giver of life—all these nuances and more wrapped in this single musical word that in itself sounds like clear water running over pebbles.

Water: I'm a shameless over-user of the word 'wellspring' for the water of life welling up in deep silence, in the hidden heart, but I beg my readers' indulgence, for it has a particular meaning for me. In the early 80s (see Seasons of Death and Life) I lived in a cabin in a wild ravine. The neighbours ran to lions, bears, bobcats, wild boar, deer, coyotes, raccoons, rattlesnakes and innumerable birds. My only source of water was a spring across the creek and halfway up the side of the next mountain. Someone had developed this spring with great and loving care. The basin was hewn from the rock. At one end it narrowed. A filter had been inserted to protect it from debris and contamination; a pipe ran from the filter into a 10,000 gallon redwood tank. During the parched summers its overflow valve was one of the only hidden water sources for wildlife for miles around.

The basin was covered by a redwood lid, concealed by tarps, the whole weighed down by several large rocks to keep it from being dislodged by wind and large animals. The first time I lifted everything off and gazed into the pool it was if I became rooted to the spot [yes, Bo, like Daphne]. Sunlight seeped through Douglas fir and madrone. It gilded the water which seemed utterly still but was welling strongly from the rock. Yet the sun was feeble compared to the eldritch light coming from within the spring itself, holding me in thrall. The spring became the centre of my forest universe; it seemed that my whole purpose for being there, my entire reason for living was to guard that spring and its secret. It was metaphor come alive, a wellspring in deed.

Water is nubile, life-giving, in all its forms: to the bacteria that live around steam vents in ocean trenches; to the redwoods for whom fog is more essential than rain; to the beetles in the Namibian desert who manage to thrive among the dunes on the single drops of water that form in morning condensation along the Skeleton Coast. Water is music and melody. The Alhambra haunts my dreams; perhaps one day I will wander there before I die.

I began to understand some of the desert images when I lived for a short while in the Middle East. Beyond the compound, wasteland shimmered with heat. The chief joy of the day was to wander as evening fell among the roses as they emerged from their daytime stasis, beginning to breathe their moist coolness into the atmosphere.

One day we hiked to a remote monastery, miles through red rock, following an artificial watercourse clinging to a sheer escarpment, a humble aqueduct maintained for millennia. Precious and pure . . . . Days later we washed the sandy grit off in a shower, not the Jordan . . . but that journey taught us the blessing of thirsty and parched, so that we might know the joy, the nubile of Sister Water.

Baptism is but a token, as the early Syriac writers knew. The real baptism is of tears, which still our interior noise and erase what we have smeared on our soul's mirror. Weeping leaves us emptied out, vulnerabile, nubile, plunged into the deep that has called to our deep, and salted us with fire.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Four Elements of Deep Silence: Air

Deep silence as air: two apparently differing metaphorical universes come immediately to mind, neither of which is, strictly speaking, biblical or liturgical. One is found in the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins. Spirit breathes through his words, always airy: windhover; breath and bread; wild aire . . .nestling . . . everywhere; wound with mercy . . .as if with air; freshness deep down things. . ./ah! bright wings. The other metaphorical universe exalts in Ralph Vaughan Williams' 'Lark Ascending', golden shimmer of ecstasy under azure skies. Paradoxical, perhaps, to think of silence-as-air in words on the one hand and music on the other, yet both Hopkins and Williams draw deep silence through their art into our everyday world so that we may behold it.

A discussion of the reality of nothing (no, really!) on TV—this was a programme that demonstrated that while generally speaking there is nothing on TV, there is occasionally a programme worth watching if its subject is nothing, which proves much more interesting than the programmes pretending to say something . . . . oh well, you get the drift! This programme suggested a quantum analogy for air as deep silence . . .though there is always the danger with physics that someone will think the physical can prove the metaphysical.

It turns out that absolute emptiness, a vacuum, is alive with energy, and that something, matter, arises from this energy that is alive in nothing. The theory seems to be that this energy manifests as electrons and anti-electrons, always on the move; when they chance to collide they annihilate each other and the cycle begins again. Somehow, very rarely, a positive electron survives, and it is these survivors that make up all the matter in the universe. [I have a problem with this theory: how do the positive ones survive? but perhaps there isn't an answer.] May 22: the answer is asymmetry.

The question arises: is there a me and an anti-me that meet in the silence and annihilate each other? do enough particles of me survive in the silence to make an unfolding truth that becomes manifest in the world? is this unfolding self determined by intention meeting grace, as the Cloud-author hints? or to look at it another way, is the construct that issues from self-consciousness anti-me, which, when it is given over to the silence meets me and is annihilated? does enough of me survive to make it into the real world? I am being absurd.

The breath of God blows where it will; its passing goes unremarked, its effects are life-changing. The primordial Spirit breathes over the deep, breathes ever-renewing creation deep in the silence in our souls; gusts silent laughter in divine play. It dances with earth, fire and water; exhales the still, small voice.