Monday, April 16, 2007

My refuge and my fortress...

We must in all things seek God. But we do not seek Him the way we seek a lost object, a “thing.” He is present to us in our heart, in our personal subjectivity, and to seek Him is to recognize this fact. Yet we cannot be aware of it as a reality unless He reveals His presence to us. He does not reveal Himself simply in our own heart. He reveals Himself to us in the Church, in the community of believers, in the koinonia [liturgical assembly] of those who trust Him and love Him.

Seeking God is not just an operation of the intellect, or even a contemplative illumination of the mind. We seek God by striving to surrender ourselves to Him whom we do not see, but Who is in all things and through all things and above all things.

Thomas Merton: Seasons of Celebration. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950: pp. 223-24

I think it's sad that there is so much fear in certain parts of the Christian community. No, I don't mean 'the fear of the Lord' - that would be a good and healthy thing. No, I mean paranoia, anxiety, suspicion. You can see some of it if you do a web search on say, "contemplative prayer" (double quotes for phrase search). On the first couple of pages, maybe half to two-thirds of the sites will be about contemplative prayer - my own Mercy Site will be in there somewhere - and rather less than half will be various sites dedicated to explaining the 'dangers' of contemplative prayer. Apparently there are people who believe that all there is to contemplative prayer is 'emptying the mind,' and that if one does that, there are legions of demons lurking ready to pounce and demonise the luckless pray-er.

Surely the God we serve, and in whose name we pray, be our prayer never so contemplative, is stronger than that? In any case,
contemplative prayer, even that which is basically Christian zazen, is hardly just 'emptying the mind;' as Merton says, "[God] is present to us in our heart, in our personal subjectivity, and to seek Him is to recognize this fact. Yet we cannot be aware of it as a reality unless He reveals His presence to us. He does not reveal Himself simply in our own heart. He reveals Himself to us in the Church, in the community of believers, in the koinonia [liturgical assembly] of those who trust Him and love Him."

The Church is all of us, it is the community of believers past and present, the whole glorious thing, far greater than our local parish church, or our denomination, and far far greater than any demon. In his wonderful book The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis describes the Church from the point of view of Screwtape the demon as "... spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners." That is the Church within which we pray, and is at least partly why we pray within the church, and one of the reasons why, as Lewis also said somewhere, there is no such thing as a "freelance Christian," someone who is a Christian yet eschews anything to do with other Christians.

No, our God is good, and the Church is his idea. It is a practical community within which, despite the occasional wobbles of individual Christians, and even whole groups of Christians, God's promised grace in Psalm 91 is brought to bear on the "real world:"

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.’
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.


A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.


Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling-place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.


For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.


Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honour them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.


As Merton said on p. 52 of the book quoted above, "We possess the grace of Christ, who alone can deliver us from the 'body of this death.' He who is in us is greater than the world. He has 'overcome the world."

Amen! Alleluia!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Mike, this made me cry. I had such a wonderfully numinous Mass in our little chapel at work today, and half of what you've written here was in my mind and heart,
    Bless you!
    Kelly

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