At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billion points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 158
Merton's vision of the point vierge has been haunting me recently. Cynthia Bourgeault quotes this very passage, tying it to the sense of the present mercy of God, the hope that lies deeper than all fear and doubt, at the very bedrock of being itself (Romans 8.28-39).
We are waiting, with the first disciples, for Pentecost. Christ has gone before us, as he promised (John 17.11-13). His promised Holy Spirit (John 16.7-15) will come upon them, and unimaginable consequences (the Acts of the Apostles, and all history since then) will follow. Since then, each of us has had the means (Romans 8.24-27) to observe, inwardly, that "point or spark which belongs entirely to God."
There are many ways to that vision; or should I say there are many ways to wait for God to reveal it to us, since it "is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our own will." For Bourgeault it seems to be centring prayer; for me, as it has been for years, it is the Jesus Prayer. Its words, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner," contain precisely that waiting, that emptiness that is the contemplative precondition itself.
The kind of awareness that the Jesus Prayer may lead us to is very simple... We believe – we know by faith – that God in Christ is here, with us and in us. Our task is to try to remember him and be attentive to him. It is this attentiveness that is the door to our experience of the presence of God. We cannot summon this experience at will. It is, like the Prayer itself, a gift. Ours is only a discipline of faith and perseverance. The experience, when it comes, will come of its own accord, and will be nothing like what we could ever imagine. God is immensely bigger than our imagination... And then, at last, we shall know what we longed and hoped for all these years when we called on Jesus' name again and again.
Irma Zaleski, Living the Jesus Prayer, pp.30-31The words of the prayer, too, contain within them that constant sense of trust in the mercy of God in Christ that Bourgeault sees so clearly. In Zaleski's words (ibid., pp.52-53) we meet God alone:
In a very real sense, we can only pray within the Church. When we say "Jesus," and ask for his mercy, we ask on behalf of his whole body, the Church, and by implication, on [behalf of] every human being who has ever lived. (See also Romans 8.12)
On the other hand, because the Jesus Prayer is a prayer of repentance, a prayer of a sinner, it must also be a prayer of each one alone... In the final analysis, we must make our own individual peace with God, find our own relationship with Christ, meet him face to face. Nobody can do it for us...