Monday, February 25, 2013

Beyond Our Control....

Gentle Readers, yours truly is being assaulted by the mould alternaria, which is in full bore (and it is boring) due to the absolutely horrid weather we've been having: weeks of it. Damp, gloom, freezing temps, bitter wind have left me a sniveling, coughing wreck. I hope to be better in a few days but right now I can barely put fingers on keyboard, much less write something coherent! Bear with me, please . . . .

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sorrow and Frustration

       It still comes as a shock—though I should know better—when someone who purports to be a scholar insists on personal bias or adopts a scholarly bias from the past, in the face of a reality, even when demonstrated by science, incomplete and limited as that demonstration may be. In spite of all the neuropsychological work from a cellular to a theoretical level that shows the very different 'cultures' of the two hemispheres, or, in terms of mind, between the superficial and the deep mind, there are still people who insist 'Whatever you say, there is only one way of knowing.' And they equally insist that paradoxes are failures of logic to be destroyed (even when it has been demonstrated that they are descriptors), analysed and taken apart, and that phenomenology can cover all the bases.

       Such people wave aside all the research (Louth's Origins of Christian Mysticism, for example) that shows that until around the twelfth century it was inconceivable that  philosophy might be separated from praxis. They equally ignore the sayings in First Corinthians about the Christian message being foolishness to philosophers, and never seem to question why that might be. In the end it always seems to come down to the need to control—the word 'grasp' was very much in evidence on the particular occasion I am thinking of, a word that was insisted on even when the process under discussion was un-grasping.
       I find myself wondering if this intransigence is due to fear, to arrogance, or perhaps (since theology is such a refuge for misogynists) the fact that this news is coming from a woman in a seminar usually attended by three women and twenty men (the rest of the women keep their mouths shut for the most part); what is more, a woman who does not have a degree from Oxbridge. As a friend of mine pointed out, you either 'get it' (the two epistemologies and implications thereof) or you don't. You either find it liberating or find it threatening to the idolatry of stasis.     
       Sometimes I even get the feeling, though I hope this is not true, that the particular student in question does not want to be challenged out of his—and it's most often a male who has these problems—topic that has set in stone in his mind even before he has begun his research, because it would be too much trouble to change in the face of facts and to develop a new argument—in other words, he might actually have to do some work. Once again, power seems to be at work to override the concerns of truth.
       Fortunately there are several people in this group who do get it and who are open to the weaving of new cloth from old, but formerly misinterpreted, sources. One is a Ukrainian hieromonk whose English leaves a lot to be desired but who, of course, understands very clearly what I am trying to present.
       The recent topic was von Balthasar's book on prayer, which I first read thirty years ago. This was a time when people, dissatisfied with the manichean tendencies of institutional Christianity, were starting to go East; when the Roman Catholic Church, denying a tradition that was considered orthodox—though under increasing suspicion—until the fifteenth century, was terrified of imageless prayer. It quite rightly suspected that such prayer would be subversive. Von B is anxious to affirm the magisterium's prejudice, even saying that only Christians can really pray, which, of course, is absurd. (James Walsh said something similar about The Cloud of Unknowing). In addition, for all of von B's preoccupation with von Speyer, he was continually lumping women with the poor, the sick, and so forth, and his vision of the worth of persons was intensely hierarchical.
       On the first reading many years ago of von B's book, I was very taken by some of his passion and imagery, but all the same, I felt strangled. Now, of course, I realise what the problem is: he goes right up to the threshold of prayer and then he ties it onto a procrustean bed and imposes a structure on it that is in line with the magisterium's teaching, whether those formulae written in stone have anything to do with the praxis or not: in other words, his text is little more than an extended tautology, and is confined to the self-conscious mind, even though he occasionally hints that he is struggling to get beyond it. Once again, there is the refusal to acknowledge that what is out of sight and control is a thinking mind, and the most important part of the thinking mind at that. He goes right up to the border and then panics. For example, 'Mystical prayer is only an awareness, at the level of experience, of the same mysteries of faith which the ordinary person lives out under the veil of faith.' The elitism of this sentence is just as offensive as the comment about 'mystical prayer' is absurd. Then there is this sentence, which needs no comment, but might have come out of the Council of Constance: ' is quite wrong to subordinate oratio to contemplation.'
       During the particular meeting I have in mind, the refusal to understand that contemplation is about relinquishing all claims to experience was too much for most people: so addicted is our culture, even our scholarly culture, to having experiences and giving experience the status of objectivity, that it is inconceivable that letting it go might lead to something greater. And of course this is exactly what the magisterium fears: that people who practice silence will be given a new perspective and understand that the promise of 'more than we can ask or imagine' goes far beyond the magisterium's pinched images and narrow-minded dicta. 
       The irony and the absurdity is that in the effort to 'standardize belief and put up barriers against speculation' (MacCulloch, A History of Christianity, p. 129) the people defining the creeds, teaching, and authority are themselves engaging in speculation, insisting that their speculations are better than everyone else's and need to be set in stone. The objections to such formalism, and to Chalcedon in particular, stem in part from the fact that making creeds is antithetical to the life of beholding; that the 'how' question is the wrong question, in part because it shifts attention to navel-gazing in those doing the questioning; creeds become, as Cassian and others put it, occasions for fornication, a word they understood as distraction from beholding.
       Von B reminds me a little of the author of the Ancrene Wisse who creates a textual space for the anchorite but then so fills it up with devotional kitsch that she hardly has room to breathe, much less pray. Or, he reminds me of those giant soap bubbles that you sometime see at parties, bubbles so big that a person can stand inside them. These bubbles are limited to artificial reflected light, and the only reason they hold together at all is due to their own surface tension. They are so fragile that they collapse at the touch of a fingertip.
       In all this, there also seems to be a kind of tunnel vision: very few of the students in the seminar seem aware of how critical are the choices between interpretive strategies in the present time; in fact, what theologians need to be about in this day and age is not theological game-playing of the past, but rather the survival of the species—never mind Christianity. If we do not break out of the prison of self-consciousness, from the left-brain dominance which excels at denial even when the truth (such as climate change and the exhaustion of resources) is blatant, then we are doomed.
Another friend sent me the rather frightening image from the web which I have attached below: he sees it as an image of a person being trapped inside their own self-consciousness.
       In the end, I realise that I can only do what I can do: people will either 'get it' or they won't, and they have to have the freedom to choose. But I am comforted that there are other scholars working in the same area—even if all of them—at least the ones I know about—are men. It's the old, old story that people seem to be able to pay attention only when a male with status says what people with lesser status have been saying for a long, long time; they are deaf to the truth that has been calling to them on every side until some self-certifying demi-god prounounces. It's bad enough to find these attitudes in the world at large, but at a place like Oxford, it is tragic, if, sadly, unsurprising.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

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Saturday, February 09, 2013

What to Do about Lent?

In recent weeks I've been corresponding with an American friend about so-called spiritual practices. This has become a vexed area for a number of reasons. The first has to do with Matt. 6:1-7, which is the passage about praying and fasting in secret, and not letting your right hand know what your left does when giving alms. Add to this Eckhart's saying that 'if you are doing something special you are not seeking God' and matters become very complex.
Another area of difficulty is the fact that traditional practices such as fasting in themselves have become problematic. It is almost impossible to escape the media assault on our relationship with food, and the corporate assault through advertising that encourages self-hatred so that we will buy yet another useless 'remedy'. Obesity, anorexia, contamination of supermarket food, genetically altered grain that compels us to eat more, gourmet cooking programmes, visual and olifactory temptations of endless combinations of salt, sugar and fat—food has become an obsession to match those of sex and money, and deliberately so, because when people begin to realise that there is far more to life and to the human person than food, sex, and money, the corporations shudder and increase the onslaught on our senses. Their intent is to limit our sense of what it means to be human to that of pornography: they want us to be eating, consuming, rutting robots, the men slightly menacing perfect hulks; the women size zero tarts with inflatable chests.
Let's look at the second set of problems first. Some people automatically give up booze during Lent, whether they are religious or not. It follows on their often failed attempts to have a dry January—which, the medical world tells us, is hardly enough time to let a damaged liver recover. The sad fact is that if giving up booze for a month or six weeks is that much of a problem, then the person needs to check into rehab. Alcoholism is not signalled by being falling-down drunk: as anyone in AA can tell you, some of the most insidious cases of alcoholism are those known as dry drunks, and making it through January or Lent with gritted teeth is no guarantee that one is not an alcoholic.
Lent is a time to take a hard, clear look at our selves. Rather than token 'give up' -isms, better, perhaps, to identify areas in our lives where we are addicted. Forget any sort of fasting to do with food: it's just too dangerous an area these days, no matter how much one might think he or she is free from hangups. In any event many of us will probably find that we are far more addicted to phone and internet use.
Nothing dehumanises us faster than technology. Much more salutary a practice then, perhaps, to confine oneself to checking email and news twice a day, and to read a book during the time that otherwise would have been wasted online or playing video games—not a book on an e-reader, but a tangible book with pages and print. There is more to this exercise than slowing down, although that is certainly an important element.
Another area that may bear looking at, and one that is a direct consequence of backing off from the media, is empathy, appropriate feeling. It may be painful to do, but it is possible to regard relationships and encounters with others with a vigilant, but non-judgemental eye, in order to see if feelings have become numbed, if one is regarding and treating people as if they were machines, or puppets, or functionaries. Contrarywise, if a person is over-sensitive and has permeable boundaries—whether or not that is something they can change, which often they can't—another kind of vigilance may be useful, one that takes refuge in a still centre so that what often feels like buffeting and assault can be absorbed and neutralised, without in any way shutting down.
There is so much in our society that is abusive to the body that Lent seems like an especially good time to get acquainted with it again. We stress it, we feed it junk food, we overwhelm it with violent films; perhaps we push it beyond its capacity in forms of extreme competitive exercise, or by doing no exercise at all. This is not so much having a body as treating it like a machine; and like machines, though it is not a machine, it will break down if you don't maintain it—and more, cherish it.
So perhaps take an afternoon a week to get to know your body. Treat yourself to a massage; walk in a botanical garden or a wild place; make bread; garden; eat organic, simple, well-prepared food, perhaps sharing a quietly festive meal with a friend now and then. We can practice mindfulness of the body by learning by stages to sit in whatever posture is most comfortable, but preferably in a straight chair, perfectly motionless and utterly relaxed for thirty minutes. This is much more difficult than it sounds. It may take months to reach the 15 minute or 20 minute level. But if a person manages to do thirty minutes only once in his or her life, it is a resource he or she will always be able to draw on.
None of these practices are about competition with oneself or others, nor does the success-fail mentality apply. When the desert hermits said 'The purpose of our ascesis is to fail' they meant that we need to learn our limits and stop obsessing and judging our selves if we don't fulfil the stereotypes we force on our selves. They know that it is only by opening to grace that any exercise can reach fruition—of which more in a moment.
 Practices such as these are about giving alms to our poor bodies, and thereby to others through the well-being that care engenders. They are about self-knowledge in various guises, not with an eye to judgement, but rather knowing in the deepest sense, beyond language. And this, I think, is what the passage from Matthew is about, which I cited at the beginning of this post. 
Not only can these exercises all be done without anyone else knowing about them, they also can be done only if the right hand does not know what the left is doing, otherwise known as the paradox of intention, which I have discussed at length elsewhere in this blog; as Marvin Shaw puts it, giving up the goal so that one may have an opportunity, create a space of opportunity—i.e. for grace to enter—of reaching it (no guarantees!). In other words, every time we use the paradox of intention, we are exercising faith and we are helping to re-centre our selves in deep mind.
So, for example, if you are doing the exercise to sit still, you might intend it before you go to bed and/or when you first wake up, and then forget about it until the actual time comes to sit down—at which time it may seem more natural, part of a hidden flow. If you are going to eat simply and well, you might intend your purchases before you go to the market—again, perhaps the night before—and then forget about it, trusting that you will be moved to walk by the junk food to the organic section. If you are going to make bread, or garden, it is the same: the night before intend the activity and the space of time you are going to give to it, perhaps even imagine yourself preparing the yeast or putting on your boots and gardening gloves, and then forget about it; and when the time arrives, it may seem the only appropriate engagement for that particular moment.
It sounds like a game: it is a game, a form of divine play. Lent is a time of preparation for Easter joy, for the new and transfigured creation. We do not come to that new life by abusing the body that is the temple of the Holy Spirit who effects this transfiguration. Sometime during Lent, stand naked before a mirror, and wonder with joy at your body in all its uniqueness: size, shape, smell, touch, its hidden places and those we present to the world: it is made of star-stuff and imbued with the divine.
Happy Lent!

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Coming Soon From Cascade Press

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Friday, February 01, 2013

XIV Why Religious Life Died rediscover the reasoning, psychology and theology behind certain practices that made up religious life at its best and give them contemporary expression. [From the previous post in this series]

This, of course, is precisely was what was not done in effecting changes in religious life after Vatican II. For the most part, these changes have been merely cosmetic. They have not addressed the deeper problems of the pathological psychodynamic that is rife within most communities, due in part to the confusion of obedience with dependence, coupled with the equally pathological structures of both Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. Someone once asked me what I thought the qualitative difference was between the two churches, to which I could only reply that they mirror the difference between the whited sepulchre and the scarlet whore.
Merton played a large part in communities' failure to address the fundamental questions, in part because he refused to address his own problems or, it would seem, even acknowledge that he might have any. I won't reiterate what I said earlier about Merton (October 2010); some of the more salient points and comments are quoted below. Before I continue, however, I want to quote from a book that seems to have swallowed whole much of the Merton problematic. The author starts by quoting Merton himself, a sentence which could have been written by Luther, trapped in his self-conscious mind:
I have been summoned to explore a desert area of man's heart in which explanations no longer suffice, and in which one learns that only experience counts [italics mine].
If Merton's statement weren't bad enough, here is the author's comment; evidently he did not realize how damning it is: "...he [Merton] risked his mind in the wilderness that is beyond language yet found only in language [italics mine]."
One of the major diseases of Christianity today is that Merton's pathologies and his attitude of license, entitlement and solipsistic encapsulation are now entailed in the resonances of the word experience, affecting the vast majority of people who use the word. Scholars have compounded the problem and reinforced its effects because they have inserted it anachronistically in its modern sense into texts about prayer where not only does it not occur, but in fact carries the opposite sense to what the author intended.
People now seem to think that seeking God is what has become an idolatry of  experience, generating a context in which lots of peculiar phenomena will happen, which they should seek and try to make manifest; as Rowan Williams has put it, they think that funny [odd] things are supposed to happen in prayer. Far from seeking God, they are locking themselves in the tomb of their own self-consciousness from which there is no resurrection until they are willing to relinquish all claim to experience  to wait in the silence and unknowing of attentive receptivity, which is faith.
Experience and language form the destructive illusions on which the cosmetic changes in the religious life have been based. I have already discussed the catastrophic effects of mistaking the ephemera of experience for reality at length in this blog: but it bears saying again that experience, even acknowledging that one has had an experience, much less the content, is always interpretation at several removes; no matter how enticing or frightening, experience is always provisional, ephemeral, short-term, representational, past and dead.
Whether or not Merton had pushed for change, it was already coming. The sorts of changes he proposed, however, based on experience and language, had a lot to do with his personal irritation and impatience, and flouting of the basic norms of life he had professed to live, and not a whole lot to do with any fundamental understanding of what monastic life is about. To be sure, as I have discussed in this series, there was a lot of sado-masochism in Tridentine monastic practices and customs. But that was not the whole story, not by a long shot. Merton's writing had such power at the time that people swallowed whole what he said without any thought as to where it was coming from, or what the basis was, or the implications. Cosmetic changes can only bring short-term distraction, deepening the denial of fundamental, bitter, unaddressed, difficult, issues.
Experience and language:  that Merton based his whole life these two aspects of self-consciousness shows how little he understood at the most fundamental levels. The best of community life takes place in silence, not just the times of silence kept in an individual house, but the silent support of each other; the silences in between the psalm verses; the silences where heart speaks to heart—cor ad cor loquitur; and where the sometimes bruising experiences of living closely with others can be relinquished into the silence, and healing take place in a larger perspective.
Experience is ephemeral: with the passage of time, experiences take on a different aspect, especially if one is truly trying to grow as a human being who shares the divine nature.
The created being can always become greater. If God is infinite in action, the soul is infinite in becoming. Its divinity consists in being transfigured into God. If it is infinite in becoming, its creation necessarily takes the form of growth, without which it would be merely finite... In this perspective, this continual progress is constitutive of the soul itself, it keeps it always turned towards something beyond itself. [From the Rite for Contemplative Eucharist, in this blog under January, 2006]
Experiences which may once have seemed destructive change perspective with the passage of time, and the continual testing of them, yielding them repeatedly to the deep mind, often reveals that they are the means of salvation. [In my last post I recommended John Fenton's books on the Gospels of Mark and John: this is the entire message of the Gospel of Mark.] So that if one bases a decision that will effect change over a long term on reaction alone, it is inevitably going to be deeply flawed and will ultimately fail. Decisions about how to live need to be made as far as possible drawing on the tranquillity of deep mind where there is neither defense nor attack, and where the shibboleths, as well as the profound truths, of the past can be seen for what they are.
While it was necessary to lift the strict silence to discover how bad the damage was and try to help the damaged, it is now difficult, if not impossible, to get people to shut up again. While it was a good idea to help those who had been hurt to find themselves by exploring personal expression, the result became an excuse for rampant individualism. With individualism came even greater competition—only this time around, instead of being deplored as destructive to community life, it was encouraged, while refusing to change fundamentally the old bad structures and attitudes that confused dependence and a mistaken notion of obedience. In consequence, immaturity has continued to be endemic; it has not had any opportunity to develop into mature responsibility for the sake of the community (which also involves making sure that the monastery is there to serve the monks and not the other way around); or as one wag has expressed the unaddressed adolescent attitudes, 'OCSO means "often caught sneaking out."' Comical, but sadly revelatory. This lack of maturity has meant, too, that there is very little preparation of young religious for leadership—and religious life has suffered from centuries of pathological leadership in an even more pathological context of the wider church.
Language: language to the exclusion of everything else. Poor little talkative Christianity has a new home in religious life and the liturgies of the churches. Everything is hyperverbal (as Merton was hyperverbal) and linear, flat, without resonances [see the discussions of behold in previous posts]; and if there is no resonance that opens the way into the deep mind, then one is merely trapped more ever firmly in the squirrel-cage of one's self-consciousness.
Gender-sensitive language imposed on liturgy and texts is a disaster. People plunged into it without stopping to think what they were doing. There are differences between men and women, and one of those differences is that men have always envied women their natural aptitude for contemplation. It is much harder for men to find that simplicity and integration. Men are also prone to violence—the effects of testosterone. So that in liturgy when 'she' is thoughtlessly used instead of 'he' for God (the Holy Spirit has always been 'she' right from the beginning), the sense of astonishment and wonder at the unimaginable extent and quality of the reach of God's loving mercy, kenosis, self-outpouring is utterly lost.
And then of course there has been emergence of the utterly destructive so-called spiritual direction movement about which I have already vented my spleen enough in this blog, but which continues to contaminate, complicate and foster dependence and immaturity at every level of religious life as well as, now, in every expression of Christian life. So-called spiritual direction is not only counter-productive, it is actively destructive, driving the person deeper into solipcism, into the reifications of experience, language.
There is plenty of science to support this view, if one requires that sort of 'proof'. For example, it has been discovered that something deep within us makes a decision before our self-conscious minds have even begun to consider that there is a choice to be made. This is not a denial of free will, as some have taken it to be, but an expression of the truth of the self—good or evil—that is unfolding in the deep mind, which is influenced by our deepest intention. The ancient sayings about faithfulness in little things holds: What we choose to pay attention to determines in part how we will choose the next time, and what we will shut out. And the effect is cumulative and geometric.
How we use our minds determines the structure of the brain. Every insight creates a new structure at a cellular level. If a persons spends all of his or her time not just harbouring but nurturing hatred (or competitiveness, or misanthropy, or misogyny), then he or she is simply grooving that hatred more deeply into the structure of his or her brain and that hatred will determine the choices and decisions made down the road. One lie can lead to the inability to stop lying. Intention and perseverance in praxis can reverse such a negative course, but few liars are willing to admit there is a problem, in part because they no longer recognize the difference between truth and untruth, much less put in the time and effort over the long haul to effect it, to be able to wait on God, to reflect in attentive receptivity.
It seems that no one has thought to try to begin religious life again (the so-called New Monasticism, which is neither new nor monastic, is the opposite of what I am talking about) with like-minded people who, as far as possible, are seeking to the beholding, simply letting the life emerge and evolve; who are willing to jettison the baggage of the Tridentine past and the Reformation alike, not jumping from one bandwagon to another while spouting the latest jargon, or cultivating a brand; keeping the simplicity of what is tried and true, such as silence, space, respect, graciousness, courtesy generosity, service, and understanding the referents towards which they gesture. These qualities should obtain not only in the monastery, or in religious life of every sort, but can be brought to life in 'the world', swimming against the tide and changing it in the process, unawares, simply by being faithful to beholding.
It is not for me or anyone else to dictate new rules to be imposed on an unknown future, to build new procrustean beds after jettisoning the old ones. Kenosis and its qualities are not bound by space and time, or monastery walls. Religious life is Christian life. As the old adage goes, we must first be human, and then we can start thinking about being Christians and monks. The will of God is not a railway track but the weaving of all our choices, good or bad, into the fabric of paradise.
For all of the moribund chaos in religious life and the churches at large, there is still hope, if only we will take the first step and recognize the perilous situation in which we find ourselves, and learn to wait in hope, instead of trying to fix everything up. We must stop patching old garments with new, cosmetic patches; we need a new garment, a new creation; we need to remember that creation from nothing, ex nihilo, is a late arrival; the tohu bohu of the creation story is about creation emerging from chaos, light from a swirling darkness.
"Early we receive a call," writes Czeslaw Milosz, "yet it remains incomprehensible,/and only late do we discover how obedient we were."


Fragments of Blog Posts and Comments from October 2010
Yes, with all the carefully manipulated hype we tend to forget that Merton was diagnosed by Dr Gregory Zilboorg as a narcissist and a megalomaniac, and that he was probably an alcoholic and certainly at times a sexual predator. [Rosemary Radford Reuther took him to task for his deep-seated misogyny]. Here is one of his most infamous quotes as regards experience: By contrast to the medieval notion of experience as something to be proved against scripture and tradition, here is Merton, whose view of experience could not be more unlike Bernard's [whose 'Book of Experience' Merton has twisted to his own, opposite purposes: 'I have been summoned to explore a desert area of man's heart in which explanations no longer suffice, and in which one learns that only experience counts. . . .'

Far from wanting to dismiss Merton, I think it absolutely essential to point to the ways in which he distorted the tradition and the texts, how he changed the meaning of "experience", how his use of "true self" and "false self" are highly destructive to the spiritual process, and I think we need to alert people against citing him as an expert on contemplative life. I don't even think he was a contemplative (see his remark on experience above; contemplation is about relinquishing all claims to experience). I think we need to keep a very vigilant eye on our own drives; I think we need constantly to face and let fall away our anxieties and our greed about religion and the spiritual life. I think we need to look at the criteria by which we evaluate what we think "spiritual life" is. It's about what leads to self-forgetfulness, though some of the texts in trying to explain in their egregious modern translations may make it sound otherwise.

[AM quoting MR] 'and to imply that excessus mentis is something that can be "experienced" in the rather pathological narcissistic sense of the word that Merton is primarily responsible for, and which has spread through secular language as well as sacred, is absurd.' [S/he goes on] 'Just a bit shock over your take on Merton. Then I began thinking how in an early stage in his monastic life could he spend time immortalizing his personal life through his Seven Storey Mountain when even the Master have no self-referential writing at all except a wind-swept, never been deciphered one on the sand.'

I was in a situation where I was helping design liturgies and the like. The person I was working with wanted to stage a popular event to which I am implacably opposed. This ordained person asked me why I was opposed, and I said because it misled people, and from a spiritual point of view it was bad for them. She said she realized that it was bad for them, but that it was what people wanted.
From my point of view that sort of attitude is totally irresponsible and a complete betrayal of what the spiritual life/scholarly life is/are about. So when we tolerate shoddy scholarship or wishful thinking on popular websites we are neither giving sincere seekers the help they need, nor serving the wider goal of advancing and disseminating knowledge [and the tools for maturity]. Instead we are misleading them and giving them damaging information.
I should add that, unpopular as this remark may be (pace, Carl McColman), there is a limit to toleration in these matters. The spiritual life is about truth, the truth of God, and the unfolding truth of the incarnate person in the light of God. This unfolding takes place out of our own sight. Contemplation is not about experience; it's about relinquishing all claims to experience, as the Cloud author, Richard of St Victor, Julian and others point out. There is a price to be paid, but our age not only does not seem willing to pay it, it seems to want to justify its 'have your cake and eat it too' attitude; greed posing as spirituality. As the Cloud author remarks, if your practice is authentic, it will 'bind' you so that you must have silence, solitude, and live a life of rectitude. You will not be able—or want—to engage in any activity that distracts from it. Few people in our culture are willing to pay this price.

This is one of the most important points the Cloud author makes: The work of grace goes on in what he calls the spiritual part, which is not accessible to the self-conscious mind as noted above. I call it the 'deep mind' because the notion of the unconscious (if it is useful at all) doesn't apply, and because even the neuro-scientists say (or some of them do anyway) that it will probably never be possible to know how the deep mind gets all its information.
For the deep mind to be able to do its work we have to get out of its way. Yes, we can and should read texts and feed it information, but then we have to leave it alone and do our silent practice and let it surprise us. Behold! In this suddenly! We have made religion and the spiritual life far too exotic, rather like the orientalism of the 20th c, when instead it is about ordinary life. It is very humble, very subtle, and what we are doing, from one point of view, is restoring a balance, the balance of silence and speech.
We might think of the consequence of what happened in the Garden as a massive case of attention deficit disorder (Irenaeus' interpretation), which we can choose to correct through the spiritual life. The current greed for more and more 'experiences' just exacerbates the problem. As Walsh notes in his introduction to the Cloud (yes, he gets some of it right), 'The wonder of it is that this experience of nothingness paradoxically and gradually effects a radical change in the spiritual character; and this is the reason why it is so difficult to persevere in the exercise: the pain experienced in the gradual movement to total detachment causes many beginners to relinquish the effort' (ch. lxix) [italics mine]. It is not the experiences that effect the transfiguration; it is their absence.

'Silence and eternity slip beyond the containment of words in time. We still must use words; we still must draw out the questions that lie within philosophy. It is only that we have learned that we must use philosophy against itself, wrap our words around spaces without words, and leave them wordless, as if they could thus be kept, though we lose them together with ourselves.' Substituting the word 'spirituality' for 'philosophy' makes the point: we must use spirituality against itself. One of my criteria of discernment for this text is that it is about letting go in an uncompromising way and throws the gauntlet down to the establishment. In other words, once again, every true sacred sign effaces itself.

A wildly wonderfully humorous friend of mine who teaches at one of the UK's top universities is frustrated to the limit by his students.
...the emergence in many students of a somnambulistic passivity coupled with a sense of absolute entitlement. Don't get me wrong, 'Sammy' and 'Timmy' are nice boys and they will probably do fine, but it's like teaching a pair of paralyzed gannets. Not only do you, the zoo-keeper, have to prepare the nourishing fishy mixture, but you also have to march over to them, prise open their sodding beaks and tip the herring in, so reluctant are they to stir their stumps in the pursuit of their own intellectual nourishment.'
Much of the pursuit of so-called spirituality, it seems to me, has been infected by this same spirit of sloth and entitlement. It seems to me that if one is serious about engaging God, then one does what is necessary to the task.