Madonna and Child (detail of work in progress)
icon by Chantal Heinegg
Real feeling is the organ designed to permanently install a sense of our lack in our Being. Because we need to measure our own love, which is weak and unfocused, which lacks aim and purpose, against the Love of God, we must develop real feeling. This is the only part of us which can touch that greater Love and thereby take its own measure—to know whaty we are.
That action, which is an extremely sacred action, is actually the action to which all of the great arts — music, dance, poetry, and the visual arts — aspire; and it is the aim, as well, of objective art: to bring the feelings to a point where they can actually touch what is real.
To bring the question of nothingness into us sounds important and dramatic, and makes us feel like we are on a mission to achieve something. In fact, seeing my own nothingness eventually becomes an act of egoism, because there is a perverse negative importance in the idea that I am nothing. Not only can I be something important by being nothing; I can even feel sorry for myself about it. I can then perhaps even mount a jihad against my nothingness. The whole thing is disturbingly sneaky, because the ego is circling this activity like a hungry wolf — the way it does with everything.
Let me make this clear. The ego has absolutely no power over real feeling. By the time real feeling emerges, the parts of personality that gave birth to ego as we conventionally understand it are already crippled. There is no way for this largely external force to stand in the way of a three-centered experience of one's life; and it is impossible for it to do anything but submit in the face of real feeling, which instantly brings into relationship the difference between my own capacity for love and God's. When I stand in this place, there is absolutely no question that I am — and no question that, in this moment, within this Being, there is something—
It is the inadequacy, the insufficiency, of this something upon which all of the questions turn.
I measure the insufficiency of my something against God.
All real measurements of time and distance are taken through Love. Love measures the distance between heaven and hell in each human being; Love measures the distance between man and woman and between human beings and God. (see Swedenborg’s explanations of distances in heaven.) But it always takes that measurement in relationship to the real, that is, things that are. It cannot take that measure against nothingness, because nothingness is the antithesis of what is real. And we all contain a bit of something real in us. Even the worst of us, even the Hitlers and the Stalins of the planet, have what is real in us. It is not a question of nothingness, of what is not; it is always a question of what is, measured against that infinitely greater Love of God.
Those familiar with my book Glory, Grace, and Mercy and the principle of the three great prayers will recall that the third prayer reads,
I call to thee from the depths of mine iniquity;
I have not delivered myself sufficiently onto thee,
I know not how.
This prayer is an extension of Jeanne Salzmann’s original call to us to see our lack. The prayer is, in fact, the exact extension of that act of seeing, which must be born of our active sensation, forward into the sense of its need for contact and rebirth within a voluntary, organic feeling of Being.
The call from the depths of my iniquity is an indication of place and ability: I am far from God, and unequal to him.
The phrase is, however, not put in the physical terms — terms related to the act of voluntary sensation — of the expression, seeing my lack. It is instead rendered in terms that describe the distance between my own love and God's Love, which can only be understood through feeling—through Love, which is the tool that measures.
It then proceeds to describe my capacity, that is, what is possible for me from the level of feeling I am on; and it describes the situation not in terms of nothingness, but in terms of a failure to understand. Once again, we are in feeling territory here, not the territory of sensation, because I have to actively feel my unknowing, not just sense it.
That is to say, unknowing must not be a merely physical or intellectual perception; I must suffer it emotionally.
There are important connections here between the organic feeling of Being and the action of remorse of conscience; without the inner actions in question, remorse of conscience does not enter the picture except as a theoretical attitude.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.