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.


Unknown said...

Thank you for this Mike; you have conveyed that 'place' beautifully. I hope all is well with you. Your recent blog posts have really been speaking to me as though you're walking along side. Blessings, Phil

Mike Farley said...

Thank you, Phil - I'm really glad. If it works like that, then this blog is worth doing!