Friday, December 06, 2019

Deep calls to deep...

In one of his sermons, entitled 'The Depth of Existence', the theologian Paul Tillich speaks of God in terms of 'depth'. He says that 'the name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God'... Once a person has known the depth that is in the bleakest emptiness, then they are in a strange way open to the depth that is in the most sublime fullness. And in a mysterious way - and this is at the heart of Christianity - the emptiness even becomes the fullness. 'Blessed are the poor in spirit', says Jesus, 'for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven'. For such a person their practice of prayer can be described in terms of these four words: 'Deep calls to deep.' [Psalm 42.7]

Patrick Woodhouse, Life in the Psalms
These few words from Patrick Woodhouse's beautiful book capture something I have been trying to find words for for a very long time. The Apostle Paul writes, "For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross." (Colossians 1.19-20) Even here the fullness (pleroma) of incarnation is caught up in the self-emptying (kenosis) of the cross (Philippians 2.7-8).

These scraps of Paul's struggles to find words for the ineffable, and bits of his Greek that have become for us today technical terms of academic theology, don't come near the actual encounter that Woodhouse is hinting at. That's hardly surprising, as they seem to be close to the core of contemplative prayer itself, that is found only in silence; and then only as pure gift, the fleeting touch of the Spirit's wing.

But in extremis, at the far edge of being human, the "bleakest emptiness" can be so shot through with the presence of Christ, with the weight of his mercy, that it is almost like coming home. It is hard to describe, but possibly the nearest I can get is to say that, without the pain (physical or emotional) being in the least lessened, the nearness of God in Christ, mediated through that dreadfulness, is so much more significant than any personal experience, even this, that the heart rejoices in the midst of its distress. Jesus nailed it, in fact, in the Beatitudes.

Sunday, December 01, 2019


Carlo Carretto wrote:
Here is the miracle of love: to discover that all creation is one, flung out into space by a God who is a Father, and that if you present yourself to it as he does - unarmed and full of peace - creation will recognize you and meet you with a smile.

I, Francis
He also wrote this about prayer: long as we pray only when and how we want to, our life of prayer is bound to be unreal. It will run in fits and starts. The slightest upset - even a toothache - will be enough to destroy the whole edifice of our prayer life.

You must strip your prayers... You must simplify, de-intellectualize. Put yourself in front of Jesus as a poor man: not with any big ideas, but with living faith. Remain motionless in an act of love before the Father. Don't try to reach God with your understanding; that is impossible. Reach him in love; that is possible.

from Michael L. Gaudoin-Parker, The Real Presence through the Ages

And Jesus, when they asked him which was the greatest commandment, replied:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." (Matthew 22.37-40)
Love. That is all there is, finally. When everything else has failed, love remains. And all things lead back to love. St Paul saw this perfectly: not only in 1 Corinthians 13.13 ("...the greatest of these is love"), but so strongly in Romans 8. The whole chapter, beginning, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..." through all the statements about prayer and the Spirit, and the cry of assurance that begins at v28, leads on finally to "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Prayer is love. To "Pray always" (Luke 18.1) is to love always. The Jesus Prayer, once it becomes by use bedded into the heart, begins to sing gently under all our thoughts and all our words, fulfilling all but unconsciously that injunction of Paul's to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 15.17).

Micah recorded the Lord as saying, "what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (6.8) To love mercy. To love as prayer, and that prayer a prayer for mercy, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner..."

Annie Dillard:
"Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place?" [Psalm 24.3] There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead - as if innocence had ever been - and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, failed, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved. But there is no one but us. There never has been.

Holy the Firm
And Jesus gave us those two commandments, to love our Lord and to love each other; and our love can surely only truly be shown, as is Jesus' for us, as mercy. Lord Jesus, have mercy - on us and through us - use our love and our prayer as you will, for your mercy, in your Spirit. "Lord here I am - send me! Have mercy on me, a sinner..."

[Reblogged, slightly edited, from an earlier post, 2006]