Searching

I think the life of the spirit mirrors the intellectual search for God. We start off with a rich profusion of anthropomorphic images, symbols and metaphors. We delight in the stories of the Old and New Testaments. Slowly we discover that these are inadequate. They say something about God, by analogy, but they fall far short of the reality. So we proceed to use more philosophical and abstract terms. Theology opens up a whole new way of thinking about God. But it too fails us. It can be cold and unsatisfying. We end by having to deny that anything we can conceive, think or say can come anywhere near the reality of God. God is utterly beyond and yet he is also utterly close or how would we ever come to suspect the power of the intellect to understand. 

Likewise with our spiritual life. We begin with warm sentiments and feelings for a close and personal God – a very self-centred spiritual life. Gradually we become aware of the numinous, of the Mysterium tremendum. We become aware of an all-embracing love that transcends subject-object, inner-outer, time and space. The world becomes translucent inhabited by a Presence in whom all differences and divisions are resolved. And then, gradually, over time, all these feelings, the awareness of a sense of presence, all this atrophies and dies back. One is left with a naked faith and occasional glimpses of what once was felt so strongly.

 And I can see the logic of this. This dialectic, the cataphatic-apophatic process applies not just to the intellect but also to one’s psychic and emotional life. I think often of Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross. He had to go through it. So have we.

Somehow, although in theory it is impossible, we become aware (without being specifically, or consciously aware) of the Transcendent. I suppose it is something like Michael Polanyi’s ‘tacit knowledge’. It is there beneath the surface. If you look for it there is nothing there, try to put you finger on it and it slides away. I shouldn’t say ‘it’ because it is not impersonal. On the other hand personal pronouns don’t fit either. Can the tacit ever become explicit? No, and that’s the problem. We can be tacitly aware of the Transcendent but never explicitly. Only on the other side of death will we know as we are known. 

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