Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In The Soul Alone, Part II: The Sobriety of Grace

The Alhambra
Granda, Spain

There is something in the soul in which God is bare, and the masters say this is nameless, and has no name of its own. It is, and yet has no being of its own, for it is neither this nor that nor here nor there…

 you should enter into God, into blessedness: for in here the soul gets her whole life and being, and from this she sucks her life and being, for this is wholly in God and the rest is outside, and therefore the soul is always in God through this, unless she turns it outward or lets it be extinguished within her.

—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, sermon Ninety-two, page 449

Life is a noisy thing, and I am noisy with it. The self is a cacophony of opinions, demands, and attitudes.

Yet this sobriety of Grace can come.

The life and being of the soul is the real life and Being I seek. It is a tangible thing, an inward condition that is not just of the mind, but rather of the entire being. I can physically feel the joining of the mind, the body, and the feeling at the very point where God flows into Being. Yet I have no mastery or command over this; God determines everything.

There is no point in attempting to believe in God. 

You should not believe in God. Believing in God is useless. 

The only thing that is useful is to know God; and that never comes through believing.

 It’s more likely, unfortunately, that evil will come of believing in God. Evil can never come from knowing God, because knowing God is the antithesis, the opposite, of Evil. Believing is of the imagination. The imagination is a tool; any tool can be used to destroy as easily — more easily, in fact — as it is used to create. So imagination doesn’t really help. Belief does not help. Only opening helplessly and wordlessly to the influence of God can help.

When Meister Eckhart says I should enter into God, I understand what he means. God can come; and he generally comes if I call — but not always. I am required to call through prayer at all times; my discipline and humility arise from the fact that he comes as he wills and when he wishes, and it is in my place as a servant to wait. I need to understand this over and over again, because I don’t understand very well that I'm a servant, and the master, that is, the Lord, has to teach me repeatedly. I'm such a bad servant that I even forget to pray or think I have better and more important things to do. This is true even though I know God and know I am a servant — so I am poor household help, indeed, and yet his mercy tolerates me nonetheless. (I should have been fired. That’s clear.)

Entering into God consists of presenting an inward question, reaching out a tendril of intelligence — spiritual, tactile intelligence — towards that divine spark of the soul which is always in touch with God, even when I forget it is there. There may be no answer; but that wordless, silent, nameless reaching out from within towards within is what issues a call to God. There is always an intelligible response, no matter how faint; as though I were calling in a huge mansion to a very distant wing, and the master, who is busy with much more important matters, does hear me, raising one pinky finger in a room to remind me that he hears and will be there when he is able. 

And I sense, from the servant's quarters, so far away, the slightest movement in the air around me—the gentle movement of that finger.

It's like that.

Everyone, I think, who is religious would like to know God, or at least they think they would. But no one understands — even I have great difficulty remembering— that we have to give up everything we are and go out of it in order to know God. This is almost impossible for us, because we cling to ourselves with a fanaticism that can only be appreciated once we lose it.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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