How do you seek God? Or, do you seek God? Are you content that you have attained a full and satisfactory understanding of who or what God might be? Has your journey come to its end? Is there nothing that you sense awaits you beyond your present understanding and degree of happiness? Again, are you seeking God? If so, how do you seek?
Here I shall give a brief summary statement of ways in which I seek God. Knowing me to the extent that I do, I will overlook some significant ways in which I seek and respond to the divine presence.
The ways I seek are many, a truth that makes me uneasy with static ways of seeking-responding, such as living in a monastery. For there, monks are engaged regularly and faithfully in chanting or reciting the divine office, celebrating the Eucharist together daily, each one having some manual or clerical work to do for the good of the community, many have positions teaching or working outside of the monastery, and so on. In short, there are good reasons why, although I am a Benedictine monk in solemn vows, I cannot live in peace within the structures of Benedictine monasticism. Each one of us has unique ways of living out our faith, of loving God and of neighbor, and of trying to respond more faithfully to what we call “God” in the search for truth, for happiness, for wholeness. I am genuinely thankful for the various ways of seeking God that have developed and evolved in my life. At the same time, I wish to be true to myself by exploring the paths that have developed, and not rejecting some ways out of hand, or limiting myself to one or two of these ways. Is it possible that I could live in a vowed community and be reasonably happy? Perhaps so, but at present, this is not a risk that either my Benedictine community nor I am willing to take. Returning to the structures of monastic life could arouse in me considerable anxiety, a problem that made living in our monastery so difficult for me, and hence for others who had to live with me. “This above all, unto thine self be true.” I felt imprisoned in such a static, structured life, and at this time I cannot entertain doing that to myself.
How do I seek God now, and what ways may have weakened over the years? I rarely now seek God through praying the divine office. After years of trying to pray the liturgy of the hours while living outside the monastery (as a Navy chaplain, then as a parish priest), I found that it did not seem to work for me. Recitation of the divine office seems well suited to communal life, and not to individual spirituality—despite being “required” of clerics in the Catholic Church living and praying on their own. On the other hand, what has developed in my practice of structured prayer often has included the psalms of the Hebrew Bible as well as Scriptural readings, but not in the form of the Liturgy of the Hours (the divine office). Rather, years ago I found in me a strong preference for reading / praying the Psalms through in order, in different translations, and occasionally with recourse to the Hebrew (which I can barely read, but can discover key language symbols), or even by studying the Greek text of the Septuagint. Rarely have I read the Psalms in Jerome’s Latin. More often I have read / prayed some psalms in German. Far more often, I have employed the Jewish translation of their own Scriptures (in the Tanakh), a translation that I have found fresh and meaningful. Otherwise, I often study either the Revised Standard translation (with the King James underlying it), or the Grail Psalter, from which we sang for years at St. Anselm’s Abbey; apparently, our community has employed at least one other translation since I departed in 1991 to serve as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. Since retiring from active ministry in 2018, I have not had as frequent recourse to the Psalms as I did for years, but it may well be time to return to reading / praying them through in the order in which they were placed in the Hebrew Bible. This study should make a good Lenten practice for me this year. The psalms are poems, and I often have preferred to read thoughtfully a wider-range of poetry than just what is found in the Hebrew bible (the “Old Testament,” as Christians style it)
For years I put considerable effort and time into learning to sit quiet and still in the Presence of God. Especially influential on me was the way taught in the Cloud of Unknowing. I supplemented this method of patient love with studying and practicing Zazen (sitting meditation) as developed in the Buddhist tradition. Presently I go through periods of daily practice, and then slough off for a while, although I still feel drawn to return to the regular practice of daily “sitting,” as I prefer to call it. Seeking to attune oneself to the unseen, unfelt divine Presence is, I believe, one of the two foundational spiritual exercises of my life. The other is seeking God through charity—self-giving love—as I sought to do while serving in active priestly ministry, and now do more through writing than in any other way. In short, two of my most important and recurring modes of praying are sitting with the LORD in silence, and in active deeds of lovingkindness, in which one seeks to help form Christ in oneself and in others to whom one is “sent.”
To these two foundational modes of seeking God I should add one more, to which I have had frequent recourse since about the age of twenty: a close study of sacred texts. These texts have most often been from the Bible of Christianity (the “Old and New Testaments”), but since my high school years, I have not been adverse, by any means, to employing other sacred writings in order to think about, to meditate on, the reality of God and His ways in and among human beings. Often I read passages from the New Testament (especially from the Letters of the Apostle Paul and from the canonical Gospels) both in the original Greek text and in a good English translation, sometimes with notes, more often just by studying the Greek. My sense of communion with the writer of the sacred text has often been strong; if it were not, I doubt that I would return to these texts again and again. Now the particular author of the text—the Apostle Paul, the evangelists John and Luke, for examples—one seeks to commune with the Resurrected Christ and with the unknown God beyond all “revelation.” For example, when the Apostle Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2), these words are intensely and personally real to me. They express past and present experiences, and point the way to live Christ more faithfully: dying to self. Other sacred texts have come from a wide range of traditions—Lao-Tse, the Buddhist movements, ancient Hindu texts (for years the Bhagavad Gita, but increasingly the Upanishads), and of course writings by Christian spiritual masters—which are not called “sacred texts” in the Catholic tradition, but which often have the same effects in one’s soul as studying Scripture closely: a sense of union with God. (Note: this sense is never perfect, never complete, but at best a movement into divine presence.)
There are two other ways of seeking God that are extremely important in my life, and have been since at least since age twenty or so: studying philosophical texts (or other intellectually solid writings), and through the exercise of writing. For me to be happy and in peace, I must study; and long have I known that writing is a part of studying, because it focuses my mind and helps me to clarify my thinking. Furthermore, I have often shared the fruits of studying through teaching. Now that I am retired, with only one adult faith class meeting weekly, I have more time to write, and hope that something written will be of value to someone else’s spiritual journey. To what philosophical (or foundational texts) am I most drawn? Again, my present continues my life over the past five decades or so, and I find myself studying the minds that have so influenced me (not necessarily in this order): the Greek pre-Socratic philosophers; Plato; Aristotle; Plotinus; St. Augustine; St. Anselm; St. Thomas Aquinas; Shakespeare; Hegel; Nietzsche; Eric Voegelin. There are numerous others who at times have had a vast impact on my thinking. I also cherish the study of Greek tragedy and of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets (the greatest poet and dramatist in our language). At times I read poetry, in part for its relative brevity compared to other forms of literature, but I am not averse to reading stories as well.
Other than the New Testament spiritualists and Plato, the German-Austrian-American scholar-philosopher Eric Voegelin has had the most influence on my mental development over the years. The Platonic dialogue that has most formed my life is the Republic (Politeia). The French thinker, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (not a noble character by any means), said that the Republic is the greatest work on education ever written. I think that studying the Republic closely is the probably the greatest text for spiritual-intellectual education. To study the Republic is to undergo with the characters in the dialogue (notably Socrates) the ascent of the soul from the cave of a cultural and personal wasteland into the bright light of the God that is beyond all understanding. Of all the individual texts I have ever read, I would place only the Gospel of John in the same category as the Republic for spiritual formation, and the Republic is more of an intellectual formation as well. Studying Plato closely teaches one to question, to think, to gain insights into reality. In my opinion, there is no single writer in documented history to compare with the achievements of Plato. I feel drawn to study the two main dialogues on love again soon: the Phaedrus and the Symposium; these are the most profound and moving texts I know written on love.
It remains to mention other ways that I seek God, but first I should clarify the expression, “seek God.” In seeking God, one is primarily responding to the divine pulling or drawing one to seek. One is not searching in a meaningless void; on the contrary, before one calls, God as it work in the soul. A human being seeks the One already prevent and active in one’s psyche and in the world of which one is a part with body, mind, spirit. Hence, one should think of the two activities together: response and seeking. The search for God is not done in a Nietzschean void (a product of his imagination after rejecting God), but in a reality that is, in the words of ancient writers, “full of gods” or God. The divine penetrates reality, and all that exists in any way does so only by participating in the underlying “ground of being,” which we traditionally call “God.” In short, the search for God is primarily a mode of responding to God. In personal language, I seek God because God moves me to seek. Christ himself says, “Seek and you shall find.” And the more one seeks, the more one finds that the LORD, ever present in and with the soul, is the one who begins the search, guides the search, and fulfills the search. “Have I been with you so long, Philip, and yet you do not know me,” Jesus asks Philip (John 14). My response: You, Christ Jesus, are indeed “the way, the truth, and the life.” And long before I ever call on you, seek you, pray to you in any way, You are here with me. In St Augustine’s moving words that we should know are all too true, “You were with me, but I was not with you.” To which I hasten to add: LORD God, let’s make the best of my remaining years on earth, that I may find You in seeking you, and love you in finding you, to paraphrase the great St. Anselm.
This account of ways I seek God is highly incomplete. I must at least mention various other activities in which I regularly engage in my response-search for God.
First, listening to music, and occasionally studying it, is enormously important in my life. For several years in the monastery, I tried to be a “good monk” and avoid listening to music (as I avoided television and entertainment). I found it depressing in my psyche, and not at all spiritually valuable, to refrain from listening to good music. As one knows who reads my writings, I regularly listen to a wide-range of composers, but return again and again to a few. Without a doubt, the one composer who is most a companion of mine in my response-search for God is Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Bach composed music in many forms, many structures, but always with consummate compositional skills, with his powerful intellect, and with a profound faith in Jesus Christ that comes through the music—“for those who have ears to hear.” If I had only one musician to hear for the rest of my life, it would most surely be J. S. Bach. He is truly a spiritual friend of mine to the highest degree. To Bach I would add—always further down the line than the Meister Bach himself, would at least include the following (in chronological order): Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672), Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1757), Josef Haydn (1732-1809), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), Franz Schubert (1797-1828). I should at least mention such composers such as Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvorak (the healthiest soul of this group), as well as more contemporary composers from various periods and countries.
How is listening attentively to good music a spiritual exercise, part of one’s response to God seeking him or her? In the case of men especially living before the effects of the Enlightenment and secularization, such as Tallis, Schütz, and J. S. Bach (there are many fine Bach composers, so we use his initials), the texts to which they set music for singing were often avowedly and unashamedly religious. With the main exception of setting the Catholic Mass to music (Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert), under the intellectual-spiritual destruction of secular processes in western culture, the great musicians generally did not spend much time setting spiritual texts. There is a place for secular music—whether Wagner among serious composers, or some musicians writing for a mass audience in our lifetimes—but one should indulge in it sparingly, I believe. If one eats only French fries and potato chips, we all know the likely result. But if one attentively listens to great composers who were grounded in the divine through faith and love, one will be nourished whether the music is composed to texts or not. Many compositions by Bach are not set to words, but in listening, one may become aware of God, or experience peace of heart, or feel energized and inspired by beauty and order (through musical structure). Good music immerses the active listener in beauty and in divine order, and such an activity is refreshing and formative
I must add to this account of ways of seeking God: taking walks in nature, usually with my dogs; viewing the night sky in wonder and gratitude for existing; being with my dogs, given their good characters and friendliness; small prayers from the heart, often of thanksgiving or praise, sometimes of petition; and friendship—spending time with friends. And for me, photography, I hobby I have had for years.
On friendship I have written previously. For the present purpose, let this suffice: Several times I was sharply criticized in my monastery for wanting to have one or several close friends. As several monks told me, “We do not have a charism for friendship in this monastery,” and more generally, one not infrequently heard warnings against having “particular friendships.” As I would say, “Friendships are only particular,” meaning one actual human being loves and cares for another human being, with mutual affection and good will. There has been in monasteries, and in Catholic religious and priestly life in general, a centuries-old attack on “particular friendships.” What was encouraged was for the monk or priest to “cast yourself solely on God,” and not rely on human friendship. In my opinion, this was a non-human (or rather, anti-human) and destructive spirituality, based in part on a fear of sex in any form—probably part of the influence of Gnosticism on early Christian experience (and even to the present, in various forms). It was an unhealthy and even perverse teaching, and although now openly criticized by many, it still has its defenders among Catholic writers. Aristotle had much more common sense than one finds among such Catholic writers. As Aristotle wrote, in effect: “No one would want to live with all of the good things in life, but not have close friends.” My heart says: “You’re right on target, as usual, Aristotle!” The attempt to live without close friends causes spiritual isolation, depression, morbidity, lack of energy, a life of self-absorption, and so on. And there was no lack of such lives in our monastery. Life without good friendships is not worth living. And as I had to insist recently, when pushed by my superiors to become a hermit: I am not in any way suited to be a hermit. I need good human companionship in this world.
In my case, not only my life in the monastery, but my demanding duties in active priestly ministry often cost me the opportunity to build good friendships. Not only was the work load demanding, but often I was moved around by bishops so frequently that friendships being built were quickly damaged or ended. That was indeed harmful to me, and I can only thank God that in my few remaining years I can “put down roots” and build some good friendships, although as Aristotle also explains, the elderly do not make friends easily. Nor do those of us who are “single,” living in locations in which nearly everyone is married, or at least has a family (as in my small-town area of Montana). Friendships for those like myself are difficult to build, but essential for happiness. I have no doubt that God wills our happiness, and that to be happy one must have true, good, and long-term friendships. A very challenging task for me.
In my present understanding, and from the perspective of one’s spiritual life: A friend is one with whom one can truly be himself, herself; and a friend is someone in whom you find the presence of God for you. A friend presents God to a friend; and when this presenting of God to one another is mutual, and done willingly, there is spiritual and true friendship. This simple statement should suffice for the present. I add only this: given my view of a friend presenting God, one should immediately understand why I found the monastic and Catholic spirituality of friendless existence as foolish and destructive of human life. In the words of Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.” If one does not have a good and suitable spouse, one must have a true friend or two so as not to be isolated and alone, forced into an abyss of isolation and loneliness.
In all of my years of serving as a parish priest (1991-2018), I never made a single close friend among Catholic clergy; I made a few superficial friends, but genuine sharing of heart and mind was not part of the casual clerical “friendships.” The exception would be Fr. Steve in Stevensville; but I was not serving as a parish priest at the time, having been thrown out of the diocese by a heavy-handed, belligerent, and imprudent bishop. The diocesan clergy with whom I served admittedly saw me as “an outsider,” not as one of themselves—in western Montana, in Iowa, in South Dakota, and in eastern Montana. Had it not been for some good friendships with parishioners, I never could have endured the isolation of serving as a parish priest. Thank God I am now free of such church structures. It would be detrimental to my spiritual and mental health to return to a monastery, or to serve again in parishes, an issue that may deserve closer examination with coming months. I seek God by being free of Catholic structures (religious life, diocesan priesthood). Diocesan priests usually have their own families and fellow diocesan priests for friendship and support. Consider this: From many years of service, I do not even receive $1 a month for living expenses, so much was I appreciated by the institutional church. For turning in a priest for grand theft—embezzlement—the priest personnel board, I was told, unanimously voted to give me no benefits. In short, from my experience, diocesan clergy do not extend the hand of friendship to “outsiders,”—or to those with whom they disagree on various religious matters: not in Iowa, in South Dakota, nor in Montana. I concur with what one priest serving outside of his diocese said to me years ago: “It’s been a hell of a ride.” There is a large dose of a denial of reality in Catholic religious life (especially among men religious) and in the Catholic hierarchy. Again, this problem needs fuller treatment elsewhere. In sum, I note: I seek God in part by staying away from living within the structures of the Catholic Church in particular, but away from organized “religion” in general. “Know thyself.”
How do I seek God? How do I respond to God? I remain a Benedictine monk living outside of what felt to me like a mental-spiritual prison; and I remain a Catholic priest, grateful to have virtually nothing to do with diocesan clergy. I am not outside the Church, as I still count myself as a Christian in communion with other Catholic Christians. Nor do I seek isolation from them. I especially need the fellowship of friends in Christ—something that takes years to establish. This reality has been difficult to live because of the frequency of moves in my life. Just since leaving the monastery to serve as a priest on active duty (Navy and dioceses), I have lived in some 15-20 “permanent residences,” with all but one of these moves caused by the decisions of local bishops or (for several years) Navy chaplains. These frequent upheavals have cost me personally and spiritually. I feel a real need to put down roots now; still I find it very difficult to make good friends as a single man living among married folks in a small community. Hence, most of my search for God must take place alone and in a fairly painful degree of isolation from human community. I must endure this isolation as well as I can—a burden lightened, but not removed, by faith in God. I was not temperamentally designed for this kind of isolation, nor are many human beings.
In good conscience I wish to add this opinion: I would not recommend monastic life or that of a diocesan priest to anyone who intends to live a noble and balanced life. These ways of life encourage immaturity, irresponsibility, sexually “acting out,” theft, deceit, serious mental problems, and hypocrisy hidden by clerical garb and titles of respect. Or so it seems to me after some forty years of observation. Few are the men who can bear well these “vocations.” Again quoting Aristotle, “Outside of the polis (human community), man is either a beast or a god.” A good marriage is the foundation of good human community, and of personal happiness.
LORD God Almighty, You are the Beginning and the End, that from which all comes forth, and that to which all returns. God of all creation, God of every creature, you alone are all-beautiful, all-good, all-wise. To You I offer all that I am, all that I have. Guide me home by your life-renewing Spirit.
LORD Jesus, I need your friendship. I feel isolated and alone in SW Montana, a beautiful area, but one where I am not making friends. Truly, LORD, you alone are my home. Nothing else works well for me—not even friendship, which has proved ephemeral, or remote in space-time. Give me peace, LORD, in which to see the truth, and how to live today. I have been isolated and lonely since retiring from active ministry. A retired priest loses his community and way of life. LORD, have mercy on a human being in need.
Lord, what can we do? Can you befriend me in a way that really helps psychologically? Reach into my empty heart, as only you can do. Keep me still. Help me surrender now to your loving presence. Please Jesus, bridge the gap I feel that it is so wide, but for you—it is nothing, as you are present as God.
—Wm. P. McKane
25 January 2020 The Conversion of the Apostle Paul
Note: In the following section, I shall attempt a response-search for God. It will be limited in length and scope
As I begin, LORD, I call upon the beginning of all that exists. You are far too vast, too deep for my little mind to comprehend. What I ask is more modest: not to understand you, and surely not to comprehend you, but for you to allow some light of your intellect to radiate into my mind. Without your divine assistance, there is no way I would attempt to seek you out. Unless you are already within me—albeit in ways unknown or not clearly understood now—how could I possibly seek you? On the contrary, you are radically present as you revealed to Moses at the bush: ehyeh asher ehyeh—I AM WHO AM. I know that I “cannot see your face,” for you have no body, and cannot be seen by bodily organs. My intellect and love must detect your presence, as you are sheer intellect and love, at once and together, if I understand St. Thomas.
I call on you out of my depths, out of what feels like an empty heart. Although not truly alone I often feel lonely in the world, an experience within my soul since early childhood. Can you, LORD, ease the pain, can you enter into the abyss of my heart? If you cannot do so, who could? Or does this abyss belong to our common human nature, and last until death? I have learned that trying to have close friendships ease the pain of isolation in the soul is like putting a bandaid over the Grand Canyon. Our human loves are far too small for the abyss in each of our hearts—a seemingly infinite void at the center of our being—which drives us to you alone, it seems. Can you descend into this void, this abyss? Or is it perhaps wrong to ask you descend into the hell of one’s heart? Or are you already here, and I’m not acknowledging your presence? If I trust that you are present in this wasteland within my soul, will it ease the psychic pain? Surely you are here, for you penetrate and fill all things. I do not feel you, or sense your goodness. But I do not have to keep staring into the abyss, either!
I have not done well, LORD, on loving those you have given me to love. I am bothered by my shortcomings. My loves, our friendships, have fallen far short of you. You overcome our human weaknesses and failures, for you are the supreme Good. Help us to cooperate with your grace that liberates from selfishness.
How much easier and more joyful it was to write about you in nature, in the planet Venus, in the kindness of a close friend I use to have. How difficult to write to you, about you, out of such a sense of desolation, out of the depths of my inner emptiness. There may be a reason for this, and I need to discover it. Aristotle says that friendship for another is grounded on friendship with ourselves; what in me, other than you, Lord God, is worth befriending? You are what is good, and true, and beautiful in me. The rest is so wounded, so pus-infected, that it shrinks before your light. If it were not for you in me, LORD God, I may well have ended my life decades ago, or been in a mental hospital, or been forced to live on mind-altering drugs. The mental anguish in myself by myself has been too great to carry gracefully; or I carry this emptiness and pain only by the help of your grace—your free and loving presence. You truly do lighten one’s burdens, as we call on you. You are my sanity!
Dear LORD, I ask you to stir up the gifts of your Spirit in me, and above all faith, hope, and charity. Faith, that I may utterly trust in your loving and merciful Presence in me. Hope, that I will in your time (presumably beyond death) attain to full union with you in love. And charity or love, that I may truly love all whom you’ve given me to love by letting you love them through me. And love, too, that I will seek you unendingly, regardless of the cost, and attain that most desired oneness.
You are present; you are Presence itself. I would not be spending time sitting here seeking you in prayer if you were not with me already, and moving me to search out your abode. No one can call on you, or turn to you, unless you are at work in them. It would be impossible to do so. Lord, I know not to look off far, nor to look at abysmal myself, but to be attentive to your free movements in the Spirit. You move by not moving, you stir us up without stirring yourself. You baffle me. Why it is, LORD, that I see so much beauty in your world, but do not appreciate you as Beauty Itself? Why do I see so much goodness, but not acknowledge the source of all that is good? Why do I love truth, and yet often not realize that you are eternal truth itself? “O slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”
Lord my God, Christ himself, move me to ask the right questions. I know which question immediately comes to mind, the great question of my life: Who are you, LORD? What are you? I love these questions, because they focus my attention on you alone, you in yourself. And I sense that I know, to an extent before I ask, or why would I bother asking? Surely I trust that you are supremely good, or why would I be curled up with you now as I think, write, pray? Who are you, that you should come to me? How merciful of you to stir up this little creature. How merciful for you to be patient with me despite my selfishness. (And Lord, tears begin to come, as you know, when I call to mind someone whom I have hurt by my selfishness, by wanting more than that one can or wishes to give. I am truly sorry, LORD, and I ask you to help me crucify my desires and needs, and let you love him through me.) And when I speak with you, LORD, I believe that all whom you have given me to love are in some ways with me, whether they are alive on earth, or died, and now abide solely in you. What I do, I do for all whom you have given me to love, as well as for myself. We really are in this together, and not as alone as I often imagine.
You console me now, and encourage me, through Bach’s Great G-minor Fugue, which I hear playing, performed by Karl Richter. (Ah, these talented Germans!) It does not ruin my prayer to listen, but lifts my spirits. Such a man of God was Bach, so trusting in you, our Lord Jesus. And Lord, you know what I’ve told you: Bach’s Jesus is my Jesus, too. Our conception of you seems to be profoundly similar: real, intense, personal, joyful. You are intensely real to both Bach and me. Of course he’s in my heart and mind forever, because the divine Bach, the Brook of God, is forever in you. How many souls he has led to you, strengthened in you, converted to you. No wonder Bach has been called “the fifth evangelist,” because of his praise for you, Lord Jesus Christ, and for his most generous service of your people. All praise indeed to you for giving such gifts to men, and giving them the energy, drive, and intellect to use these gifts so astonishingly well to your glory! Thank you for my dear friend, Bach, Lord. Herr Bach, who worked harder than them all, and used your wonderful gifts to bring us to God. What a model of true Christian life you are, Johann Sebastian Bach!
A significant break-through for me
LORD, I will not seek you out in the abyss of my heart. This is a break-through for me, LORD, and I credit you with showing me. As you said through the anonymous prophet we call “Second Isaiah,” “I did not say, seek me out in an empty waste” (Is 45:19). And what an empty waste is my heart, or at least a large part of it, without seen boundaries. According to the priests who wrote the great Creation poem of Genesis 1, before God said, “Let there be light!,” the world was “tohu wabohu,” waste and void—empty, meaningless, a realm of confusion. So is the abyss in the heart, and although I shall acknowledge it, no longer do I think it prudent to seek God in such a wasteland. It will survive until death, and then “death will be no more,” and “God will be all in all”—and that includes taking over the Big Wasteland within. I will seek God in whatever has been formed and structured by God, the God of creation. As for the abyss in the human heart, let it be what it is: an empty waste. Again, to remind my all-too-empty-head, “I did not say, seek me out in an empty waste.” OK, LORD, let’s get to work! And I can go back to marveling at your beauty revealed in the planet Venus-Aphrodite, goddess in the night sky, goddess of love and beauty. This mode of searching for you, adoring your presence, brings me joy and energy; the descent into the abyss within my heart makes me depressed and sorrowful. Therefore, look up, little man, and be in awe at the works of your Creator!
Reflection: If I understood an important point Eric Voegelin makes in his final volume, In Search of Order, the divine Presence is known only through structures in reality, through what is formed (and not sheer waste). Voegelin reflected much on knowing you, LORD, through structures in the mind, in consciousness, and he sought to explore these structures common to us all: intellect, reasoning power, anamnesis (recollection), intentionality and luminosity of consciousness. This is probably all beyond me, and I prefer to work with what is familiar to me—or to what I can discover through diligent and focused study; but that awaits. I’m more eager to read again Plato’s two great dialogues on Love (éros): the Symposium and the Phaedrus.
In what structures in consciousness is God present to me now? Where are you LORD? In memory, for one. I recall the reality of God by remembering. In reason or intellect, and intentionality, as I direct my thoughts towards the divine Present. Surely you are helping me understand now, LORD, as I realize not to seek for you in the abyss within the soul, but in your creative activities all around and within You are not directly present in feelings, although my feelings can respond as I sense your presence by faith. And indeed, feelings do respond, as I have felt intensely during some experiences of your presence: peace and unspeakable joy. You are present right now as I hear Bach’s chorale, “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,” which is so highly structured, and hence an imitation of your creation. (Every real work of art is an imitation of Creation, a little world (cosmion) of its own, as I realized years ago.) And are you not known in our genuine questions, provoked by the Spirit?
One final request, LORD. You have given me some human beings to love. I ask that I would keep my self out of the way, and let you love them through me. By myself I get too attached, too desirous. I get so entranced by beauty, superficial fellow that I am! Letting you love them will through my words and actions will offer them a much purer stream of love than my ego could ever do. Amen.
To you alone, LORD,
I give all I have and am;
With you alone, LORD,
I shall arise to seek you
More diligently. Amen.
Hear Herr Bach! The melody of the chorale is now very widely known: “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring.”
Jesus bleibet meine Freude, Jesus remains my joy,
Meines Herzens Trost und Saft, My heart’s comfort and sap;
Jesus wehret allem Leide, Jesus guards from all suffering,
Er ist meines Lebens Kraft, He is my Life’s strength,
Meiner Augen Lust und Sonne, My eyes’ delight and sun,
Meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne; My soul’s treasure and bliss;
Darum laß ich Jesum nicht Therefore I will not let Jesus
Aus dem Herzen und Gesicht. Out of my heart and sight.
—Wm. P. McKane
25 January 2020
Click on the above Poetry and Tanka tabs to read a variety of styles of poetry.