Trees: Piermont, NY
Photograph by Lee van Laer
Shanghai, October 18.
Students of esotericism are well familiar with the via negativa, a Way defined by the idea that one seeks only for the unknown, and defines God only by what He is not. We are separated from God by a cloud of unknowing; any name by which we call Him is incorrect.
One of the byproducts of this way is a habit of coming up with an endless list of descriptions of God, and then saying, one after the other, that each description isn't what God is like. If one were able to truly savor and deeply penetrate a specific instance here, and spend years contemplating it, the practice might prove useful, but simply writing lists of things that God is and then contradicting them by saying, He isn't this and isn't that is, in my experience, a grotesque waste of time, even though it looks impressive on the surface of things. It affirms a perverse (and negative, or inverted, but still very real) sense of power in the person who does it.
One of the potential yet very real hazards of the via negativa is that we instantly reach a result where we say God isn't loving, merciful, or good, because these are human concepts embedded in the material arising of the world, and thus disqualify themselves at once from being what God is. Even Being itself, which is clearly on the order of the essential nature of God, becomes something that God isn't. Although there is a deep truth in the idea that we can't know God in His entirety, denial of specifics and the rejection of qualities as they manifest creates a falsehood of its own.
I say that you can know God. And you can know God, to the extent that you have God in you.
This knowledge, this understanding, will always be fractional, because part of the Truth related to the manifestation of the material and the receiving of the emanations of God is that God's sorrow comes from His loneliness in the knowledge that he has the deepest wish for relationship with all of His creation, which He loves beyond all human knowledge, and the irrevocable fact that none of his creation will or forever can know Him fully.
We are all perfect reflections of this truth in our own way, because we share this deepest wish, buried underneath the layers of protection that we grow over ourselves. If we receive the particles of God's sorrow and concentrate them in ourselves, eventually we can understand much more of this; but the essential point here is that we do quite exactly and precisely know God, without denying Him, through this substantial (made of substances, material) receiving of God's Being and God's nature—through our ability to take in impressions more deeply.
This should be a daily thing that begins with our organic sensation when wake up; but I've written much about that elsewhere. Just think on it. We need to take God into us as we live and breathe.
In any event, this idea of the rejection of God and the impossibility of knowing God becomes an intellectual exercise that unmasks itself as a misunderstanding, a form of sophistry, if one is not careful. Very careful. Because it is so easy to do, people love it; yet the first and simplest contradiction is found in the organic sensation of Being, and the second and deeper contradiction is found in the arising of remorse of conscience. These are divine qualities that come without words, and although they are ever unknown through words, they are ever known through sensation and feeling, which are languages that belong more to God than the ones we have invented.
So mark well here in the marrow of your bones: God is Loving, and Merciful, and Good, and you can know this. There may be much that remains unknown, but if you reject the Good, and the Loving, and the Merciful in favor of some non-imaginary higher ground, your Hope goes with them.
Hope, let us remember, is a sacred property of consciousness as well as Faith and Love. Don't throw it out in order to find a way to think yourself important and knowing through a sophisticated unknowing. Unknowing is a thing of the material world, and, like everything else, easily turns into a kind of vanity before one notices it.
This is a powerful mask for vanity; if she wears it, she can rule us.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.