The previous blog led me to introduce several themes: that the “I” or oneself is never completely alone; that I experience within myself a real emptiness, a void caused by lack of enduring friendship; that Aristotle claims that true friendship is grounded on proper love of oneself, which means loving one’s highest or noetic self, the intellect, or the soul’s participation in the divine mind. I am seeking to understand my own soul before assuming that I am truly ready to “seek God” in the monastic sense. As things stand, I consider myself neither capable nor worthy of truly seeking God. But I can also add: That is true, but one must be careful. For the divine that a human being seeks is that which is sought as a response to being sought by God. The ever-present one who is experienced as “shining in” to consciousness is understood to be the divine Mind; and this divine Mind or Intellect shines into our minds whether one is worthy or ready or not. God is God and the light of our minds, whether we acknowledge his Presence or not.
In short: A man’s search for God is fundamentally a response to the experience of being sought by God. And the God who seeks is experienced as an undefinable Presence to the soul or consciousness. This claim is not meant to be “theological” or “doctrinal,” but experiential: it is grounded on concrete experiences presumably available to every human being precisely as human beings. What is required could be called “faith and love,” but for the present, I see it as obeying the Delphic inscription so beloved by Socrates: “Know thyself.” The self that is known is not a separate “I,” but consciousness participating in the Whole of reality, from the divine First Cause or Creator down to physical matter that lies all around us. We are partners in the mystery of being, not separate “egos;” this insight informed philosophy and all spiritual writers of whom I am aware from the most texts available into the 17th century, to the French philosopher Descartes, who begins with a radically separated self or ego, and then proceeds to “prove” the existence of the world outside of consciousness, and to “prove” the “existence of God.” In a more grounded, proper sense, not only does God not “exist,” but human being does not just “exist” (stand out in space-time), but participates through consciousness, through psyche or his soul, in the whole range of being, in all of reality in which we share by “body” and “soul.” This participatory experience will be explored subsequently. For the present, I return to the experience of the void within the soul.
I concretely experience in myself a deep vast void, an interior emptiness that is largely unknown and hence unloved by anyone—including myself, and such friends as I have. We shall explore this stressful or distressful reality, but also suspend from it at times. For the emptiness within is not the entire picture, nor the most important part, although at times it surfaces in personal trials and storms, and presents itself as all-important. Even in times of tension, one should do well to recall that the human soul is not only a wasteland, a void, as taught by so much of modern thinking since at least the seventeenth century (Descartes, Hobbes, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Sartre, and many others). In exploring the psyche or consciousness, one should not begin with oblivion: with forgetting the whole of which one is conscious (again, Descartes’ and modern thinking’s fundamental spiritual-philosophical mistake). Rather, the explorer must not forget, but remember what s/he has experienced throughout life. Hesiod (c 8th century BC) and Greek thinkers after him wrote of the importance of Mnemosyne, remembering, as a primary duty of the human soul. (Here I simply point out that in Greek myth, as in Hesiod, the Muses—modes of divine Presence that inspire human beings—are the offspring of Father Zeus and Mnemosyne, divine Remembering. I shall explore this fascinating insight at a later time. And I hope and trust that the Muses will inspire me to remember to do so, singing to me of the wonders of the gods in reality, if I be permitted to write mythically. (But then again, in our age of scientism and factualism, myth is often taken too literally. For examples, listen to how Christian and Muslim fundamentalists approach their myths.)
It should be helpful to bear in mind fundamental reality as experienced by everyone who refuses to forget what has been experienced. Regardless of whoever one is, however wounded or deformed by sufferings (whether inflicted by others or from one’s bad choices is not the issue) the truth of reality remains indestructibly: that which is usually called “God” is radically Present. And this “God” is radically present and available whether one likes or not, attends or not. God is present whether one lovingly responds, defiantly rebels, or blindly forgets. Divine Presence, the I AM, is the substrate, the ground, of all of reality, including human consciousness. In other words, what we call “God” is ever-present, always available, loving the unlovable, healing the wounded, lighting up the darkness of the human heart and mind. Whether you and I are present with and to God or not, the divine is present to and with us. To forget this truth is, as noted, the foremost spiritual-intellectual disease of modernity: the refusal to remember, and to apperceive, fundamental reality. It is as if a man placed his hands firmly over his eyes, and said to you, standing right in front of him: What do you mean you are there? I see nothing at all. And such is the fundamental spiritual response that is so characteristic of what is called “modernity,” from about the 1600’s to the present. The game has gotten old, and in its wake is death: death of the spirit; death in concentration camps; death in abortion clinics. We refuse to admit what everyone knows well enough: human being is by nature a partner in God.
Hence, I experience two realities simultaneously, or back-and-forth, and I understand this to be the human condition, to one extent or another: On the one hand, I am consciousness of a void within me, of being a spiritual wasteland, empty and unlovable in myself; but on the other hand, the living and all-good God is freely present in me and with me. The unlovable is loved by divine Love. It would be untrue and ungrateful to refuse to acknowledge and to accept the divine Lover. Rejecting God’s loving Presence leaves one empty in the void of emptiness—in other words, living in the hell of one’s own making, or at least of one’s own being. That is a road not worth taking.
The abyss of emptiness that I am (the “ego”); and the divine that is present in me and with me. Both and. Not either or.
A practical example of how the balance in consciousness may be forgotten: This past week we studied chapters 5-6 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, beginning with the antitheses: “It was said of old….but I say to you,” and continuing through the Our Father, the warnings about “not laying up treasures for yourselves on earth,” and to the injunction “not to worry about what you will eat…Do not be anxious about tomorrow,” and so on. These are majestic, magisterial teachings, in which Matthew’s Christ takes the place not only of Moses, but of Yahweh-God who spoke through Moses. After the class, I felt disturbed, thinking that I had not done a fair job. Carol and Steve said that it was “fine,” a nebulous word that usually means, “Just okay,” or “Not so good, really.” Well, it was not so good. The interpretations of Christ’s teachings were reasonably accurate, but there was a major problem: taken out of context, with all of that heavy-duty divine law, God’s mercy and love easily get overlooked. I should have reminded them of the beatitudes again, or assured them of God’s love. Why? Because it is not balanced to present Christ as the Law-Giver, without also presenting him as the one who bore the cross for us, and who says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “Behold, I AM with you always, even to the end of the age.” Unintentionally, I fell into the trap of the law-giving Christ, without balancing it with Christ the Suffering Servant, the bridge between us sinners and the all-good God. I spoke as a scriptural exegete (one of Matthew’s “scholars,” perhaps), and not as one in union with Christ. At least I sensed that something was wrong with my presentation. For how long have the Catholic faithful been presented with the Law-Christ, and not at the same time encouraged to take confidence in the Merciful One? If one hears only the Law, one becomes—or should become—painfully aware of one’s failures; that is a beneficial effect of “preaching the Law,” as Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt chapters 5-7). But to be true to reality, balance is ever necessary. I will correct the imbalance this coming week, lest I continue the injustice to those present.
So Christ’s law makes us aware—painfully aware—of our shortcomings, our failures; but Christ’s love makes us aware—gratefully aware—that even in our unlovability, Christ died for us, and loves us, and is present with us and for us. As the Apostle Paul writes, “Christ shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5). The Apostle is saying in his words the same thing I sketched out above: God loves the human being even in our radical unlovability, even in our sins, failures, blindnesses. God loves the unlovable; and agape-love means that one in Christ seeks to do the same: love the other even when s/he is far less than noble and good and lovable. Finally, I think that it is much less difficult to misrepresent Christ using the letters of the Apostle Paul than using St. Matthew’s Gospel, unless the whole Gospel is kept in mind as the parts are studied, and that is difficult to do. There is nothing wrong with Matthew’s Gospel as such; on the contrary, it masterfully presents Christ as Master, Teacher, God-with-us, and the Suffering Servant who died to return us to awareness that I AM with you.
In short, even in our unlovability, Christ loves us. Christ is, remember, a magnificent symbol of the Presence of God in and with human beings. Hence, even in our unlovability, God utterly loves us and is present to us, with us. That is his nature, and his joy. As Julian of Norwich reports Jesus on the cross telling her in his agony, “if I could suffer more, I would suffer more.” Infinite and undefeatable is the abyss of divine Love.
Gladly will I descend into the void that is myself if it induces me to trust more fully in the unwavering, undefeatable Presence of God as love, mercy, peace, truth—all good, all at once. I will not descend into the abyss that is my soul without exercising faith as conscious awareness and trust, because then I find myself imprisoned in the hell of my own unlovable self. In a word: Not for me. I much prefer to live in the light of God’s loving goodness than in the darkness of my own unlovability. The Apostle Paul wrote, “When I am weak [in myself], then I am strong [in Christ].” I say: When I am unlovable in myself, then I am utterly loved in and by Christ. That formulation is truer to reality than the one-sided preoccupation with human sin, or just with divine love (“God loves everybody…”) without realizing how unlovable in ourselves we are, yet utterly loved. Once again, the balance of truth must be kept in consciousness, less than fall into despair in oneself or presumption that “I’m really a just and good person, as I am.” The miracle and power of God’s love shows up more fully in light of our genuine need for God. The awareness of our need for God requires that we are aware of the emptiness and unlovability within our own souls. If we admit our spiritual emptiness in ourselves, what happens? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God” (Mt 5). Blessed—supremely happy—are the ones who know how much, how deeply, they need divine mercy and love. Woe to those who are rich in themselves. As one man once proclaimed to me after refusing the sacrament of reconciliation before marriage, “I am a just man.” His poor wife, living with such a blind and self-satisfied man, which is another way of describing a fool.
And so into the abyss of my own soul I descend, not to remain there or to wallow in myself, but to become more aware of the awesome wonder of God’s loving, self-giving Presence. One must realize just how great is his need for God. If you want to become more aware of your need for God, consider how empty you are in yourself, how unlovable even you are apart from the divine Presence, which is sheer “grace.”
A prayer: Christ, light of my soul, illuminate me. You who are ever near, make me strongly aware of my need for you, and at the same time, give me firm trust in your eternal goodness and love even to me—that I am not only “a sinner,” but a badly wounded man from the battles and trials of life. I thank you, LORD, for my wounds, for my brokenness, because through interior suffering you teach me to draw on You, the divine healer, and to surrender myself ever more fully into your merciful, peaceful, indwelling Light. Amen.
—Wm. Paul McKane, OSB
17 January 2020
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