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
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