In the Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates explain that and why no writing can ever be ﬁnal or perfect, that wisdom does not lie on the level of written words, but in souls. He then develops his insight with meditation on both the divine and human partners in the dialogue of life that we know as our human existence: “God alone is wise,” and so the best that a human being can do is to strive to be a lover of wisdom, a philosopher (Phaedrus 278). In the same passage, Socrates ascribes two purposes to writing: for playfulness, and for serving to help one remember, especially as one gets weak with age. Plato’s works do indeed remind attentive readers of much that one ought not forget, not let pass away into oblivion. And would that religious and ideological traditions, which idolize written texts, appreciated Plato’s caution about written expression, ﬁnding truth not in the written word, but at the level of conscious openness to the divine, “who alone is wise.” In other words, God alone is the unmeasured Measure, not human reasoning, politicians, or books. All truth is relative to the truth who is eternal wisdom.
The authority of Socrates-Plato not withstanding, it seems that one could adduce further reasons for writing other than playfulness and as an aid to memory. Indeed, the passage in question may well exemplify irony for which Socrates and Plato are well known. In any case, it seems important to remember that the purpose of writing is not only to produce a ﬁnished text, but to develop the activity of thinking, which is required in writing. Plato did not address this issue, at least not in the Phaedrus; his remarks pertain to ﬁnished products, and their necessary lacks. Whether or not Plato needed to write in order to aid thinking, it seems reasonable to believe that many who write ﬁnd it helpful to work out thoughts through the process of writing them out. Writing helps one explore various questions, and if possible, to think through a question or problem that one has found puzzling. Surely these or similar motives are at work in many who write. Very few of us have had the opportunities to think out questions in speaking, as Plato did. As we know historically, Plato did not have to work for a living, and was truly a man of leisure, spending his time studying, discussing, teaching. After all, he established the Academy in which he discussed and taught, and no doubt had some very intelligent students. Indeed, one brilliant young man, named Aristotle, studied under Plato for twenty years. Such lovers of wisdom could develop their thinking by questioning and answering, by dialectic, by exploring the human-divine in-between of ignorance and knowledge. They could think and speak; we often need to write. Of course, Plato wrote some of the most signiﬁcant, learned, and beautiful texts produced in history; it is difﬁcult to believe that he wrote only for playfulness and as an aid to memory. He also wrote to help educate human minds, and perhaps to work out ideas through writing.
It is probably not an exaggeration to say for many in our society who genuinely question, the opportunities are rare indeed to discuss questions arising in consciousness with similarly interested men and women. More simply stated: it is very difﬁcult to have genuine intellectual discussions in this society. There has been a lack of cultivation of reason. Perhaps in a large city, one interested in philosophy, or literature, or one of the sciences could ﬁnd a few likeminded individuals with whom to discuss. In years spent teaching political science and philosophy at two universities and one small college, I could usually ﬁnd a few colleagues as well as more intellectually inclined students with whom to discuss questions of common interest. In serving as a parish priest, however, I have found many kind and friendly human beings, and made some friends, but not often found minds desiring to share in an active search for truth about reality, about God, about what it means to be a human being. Hence, I have had to engage in questioning, not with ﬂesh and blood, but through reading, occasionally through emailing intellectually inclined friends elsewhere in the country, and through writing. At least since my early twenties, I have often lamented the lack of opportunities to engage with one or a few others in a common quest for truth about reality; no doubt such has been the lot of intellectually searching men and women in our culture. In America we have numerous colleges and universities, plenty of academics, boat loads of academic administrators, but no Academy, and little inclination to engage reason in a quest for God, for the truth of reality.
Studying and writing promote thinking and the movement of the mind into truth, and hence are means to develop a sense of purpose in life, and a degree of happiness. Furthermore, if thoughts generated in the process of writing have some existential merit, or even if problems are raised and explored in a less than satisfactory manner, others may beneﬁt who make the effort to read and to think about what has been written. Because the process of thinking is the heart of the matter, one may even learn much from a thinker whose thoughts are seriously ﬂawed, but who at least makes the attentive reader conscious of signiﬁcant issues requiring more careful reﬂection. For example, even once I discovered that and why such brilliant minds as Hegel and Nietzsche are often fundamentally disoriented and even spiritually ill, I continue to study their works avidly from time to time because even their mistakes and misguided teachings are more illuminating than facile truths generated by less radical thinkers. Nietzsche, for example, goes to the roots in his analysis of modern life and consciousness, and through his own rebellion against reality throws light on a truer way.
At least two stand to gain through writing: the writer and the reader. Writing sharpens analytical skills and critical thinking, requires one actively to remember, allows questions to arise in consciousness which may have lain dormant in shadows, makes one search for appropriate words and formulations, gives one a quiet sense of purpose, and may permit one to develop a means of communicating with fellow human beings not available through Platonic-like discussions. Time constraints, mental abilities, bodily needs, desires, various emotions, and so on, all can limit or affect genuine conversation; but the relationship between writer and reader may well be more objective, more dispassionate, and safely removed from needless distractions. The dialogue engendered between writer and reader, although largely hidden—at least to the writer—can be a mutually beneﬁcial human relationship. Reader and writer in effect journey together towards a better understanding of questions being explored. In this sense writing-reading may substitute for a conversation between two minds not immediately present to one another. Nevertheless, the writer needs to strive to be conscious of those for whom he is writing; and the reader needs to seek to understand not only the written words on the page, but the mind behind and in the words. The writer is not just speaking into the air; and the reader is not just reading a lifeless page. Ultimately, through writing-reading, mind is minding mind; that is, human mind is attending to human mind. Or, if one prefers, spirit speaks to spirit, heart to heart. Such is at the core of the writer-reader relationship. What is common to both writer and reader is logos, reason itself; and human reason by its nature is a participation in the divine Logos “who alone is wise,” and illumines searching minds, moving them to search beyond present thinking to a more complete and balanced understanding of reality—of what is, and why it is as it is.
Writing may help open the mind to reality. Using an image, writing may open doors. Some of the doors to be opened may be within the mind of the writer; other doors may be in the minds of readers; and still other doors may open up between writer and reader. Taking the last point ﬁrst: the case of the English writer, C. S. Lewis, and his late-found love, Joy Davidson, comes readily to mind as an example of an otherwise non-existent friendship that was engendered through the writer-reader nexus. As for doors or windows of perception opening up in the readers, that would largely depend, of course, on the quality of what is read, and how actively and intelligently the reader studies the written words. As for doors opening up through writing, it seems that whenever I have attempted to work through some questions by writing, new insights have arisen along the way, some conceptions have been modiﬁed or abandoned, and more questions have emerged into consciousness. Writing permits one to think through matters, to raise questions, to examine one’s own thinking, perhaps to make emendations over time, and to develop thoughts in one direction or another. And Plato is right: writing is indeed a form of play.
If one desires to think, to search for truth, and lacks adequate interlocutors, what else could one do than write? Well, one answer is obvious: one could study the best writings by those thinkers who broke one to wonder. What else can one do?
Now, what is this? I wonder. Someone just walked through my door, into my room, unexpected, uninvited, perhaps unwanted. “Who are you,” I ask, “and why have you entered my study?”
“Call me Study,” he responds, with an echo in his voice.
“Why are you here? What summoned you?”
“Let’s see,” Study responds, gazing out the window. “I like to gaze, and see what is. Recall that you just now asked what one can do if one desires to seek truth, but lacks suitable people to speak with. And then in the silence of your thought, I in effect tugged on your clothes and said, `Hey, remember me? You can study to gain some knowledge, can’t you?’ You reluctantly jotted down a few words about `one could study the best writings,’ but then you immediately turned away. You ‘tuned out,’ as kids say. And that is where we are now.—or where you are not. Now, will you dismiss me, too? That is the question.”
“I had not anticipated your sudden arrival. You interrupted my train of thought on writing.”
“Did you not just say that you desire to have doors opened up? Well, in effect I opened your door and entered. Open up! Why not read, study, reﬂect? Do you really need to write? Or do you feel compelled to write for some reason other than the ones you have been articulating? Could it be that you want to write to `get your name out there,’ to bring attention to yourself? You can study in silence and solitude. And you could write in silence, too—and never seek to ﬁnd another to read your words. Writing for others, or publishing in some way, is as the word “publish” says, a `making public.’ What is wrong with writing for yourself alone, and not displaying your thoughts to others? That is, if you do not discern my meaning: If you must write, why not just keep your musings to yourself? Why disturb the dust on a bowl of rose petals? Why not just keep silent and study?”
“Wow, Study, that was quite a ﬂood of words you hosed me down with, and perhaps deservedly. Because of your interruption, I have just changed my plans and I will title this section,“Writing and Studying.”
“You mean, `Study and Writing,’ don’t you? If you do not study, how can you possibly have much worthwhile to write? Or how would you know how to write, if you did not study the writings of others? You are not a cave man, living in isolation, but a human being immersed in a culture in which much information, knowledge, science, ideology, opinions galore circulate. You need to study more before writing, if you insist on writing, so that you may some day have something worth the effort to read. Isn’t that obvious?”
“Yes, Study, you are right, but I have read a few books `in my younger and more vulnerable years.’ I have tried to study, and presently I am seeking to prod my mind back into searching, into questioning. I can and do read studiously, and I enjoy time spent quietly and slowly reading, but I need focus, rather than merely take up any book at hand, as is my custom all too often. I am writing to ﬁnd the questions to study. Doesn’t that make sense? I write to discover what I need to study.”
“You may be giving me a glib answer to get me off your case, because I am suspicious of your motives for writing and seeking attention, as I said. If, on the other hand, you really are writing now in order to know what you need to study, that may be a good reason. Can you explain yourself more fully, and we can see if you are obfuscating or being truthful? Truth is clear-eyed, bold, and stands in sunlight, whereas a deceitful spirit loves to hide in shadows.”
“Okay, Study, I will try to make clear to you—and to myself—why I am writing here and now. But I ask that you assist me with apt questions, if you can, as I pursue the matter. For you see, my mind is not in truth crystal clear about why I am writing. That is part of the problem. I feel perplexed, as though I may be off the right track. Am I doing with my life what I ought to be doing? That is a genuine, existential question. And am I spending my time well? I know that all-too-often, I fritter precious time away. I also feel that time is running out for me, that the hourglass has already been turned over once, and the sand is pouring out. Here they come again to mind, those words from marvelous Marvell: `Behind my back I always hear / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.’ I quote these words because I hear the winged chariot, imaginatively speaking, of course. Death is not so far away for me, even if I live to a `ripe old age,’ which is never guaranteed.”
“So you are writing to avoid death?”
“No, that is not what I am saying, Study, nor do we need to psychologize. I am writing to help me ﬁnd the right path for my remaining years. I have various duties to perform, as we all do. In performing them, however, I know well that there are other things that I also must be doing. A few of these other necessary activities go by common names: prayer, meditation, study, thinking. I believe that in some ways, I need to pray, to meditate, to study, to think to be happy and to have a sense that I am on the right path. Not every prayer is genuine prayer, or the best prayer for a given person; not all forms of meditation are equally nourishing for a particular person at some point in life; not all thinking is really productive; and surely not every thing in the world can be or should be promiscuously studied. So I ask, What should I study? What books or articles ought I read?”
“If your spiritual or existential concerns are genuine, why not begin there, with appropriate questions? For example, you said that not all prayer is genuine prayer. What do you mean? Perhaps that question is worth pursuing.”
“Dear solitary friend, Study, I prefer not to rehash my thoughts on these matters, so I shall be most brief. Prayer can be the heart’s longing for God, delighting in God; and prayer may be the mind’s search for God. But one may also just mutter words, either mentally or verbally, and think that one is thereby praying, regardless of what one is really attending to. What good is prayer that lacks genuine attention, and genuine intention to commune with the living God? Dead prayer beﬁts a dead `god,’ living prayer beﬁts the living God. As for meditation, there are far more ways to meditate than I know, but I have observed that some types suit some characters, and other types work for others. For example, some persons need images and words to aid meditation. Others long for interior silence and a journey into the darkness of unknowing to encounter the God who is ever beyond all knowing. This type has long appealed to me, although I have become stale in practice.”
“Why? Why not make the effort to meditate?”
“That is a good question. Spiritual laziness is ever a problem at hand for most of us. As you know, it has long been called `sloth,’ and it keeps one from making the effort of what Plato called the `long, steep climb’ towards God. Presently, with a busy life and frequent interruptions, I have found that I often need words to help settle down the mind, and writing is again such an aid. If a phone call interrupts writing or reading, I can more readily ﬁnd my place. If a call interrupts either quiet meditation or sleep—as happens quite often in my life—it is difﬁcult to return to the state before interruption. Frankly, I often feel bombarded by interruptions. Mine is not a life of study, a contemplative life.”
“I suggest that you return to quiet meditation, and see if your mind is not sufﬁciently clariﬁed through the practice to know what you need to study—and what you need to write, if necessary. Quiet meditation, also called contemplation, is similar to attentive study, as you know: the mind must concentrate by choice and attentiveness. And this resembles genuine prayer, as you just articulated. Any genuine spiritual activity—praying, studying, meditating—requires devoted attentiveness. Without loving attention, these `spiritual activities’ are empty.
“And writing requires devoted attentiveness, too. If one does not concentrate when writing, the thoughts and words wander around, eh?”
“As you have been demonstrating,” Study tells me, smirking. “But then, perhaps I interrupted your train of thought with questions. Return to your original question: What do you think will help you have a sense of being on the right path of life?”
“Well, Study, as we brought to light, one needs genuine prayer and quiet meditation. I need both of these activities to have a due sense of being on the path of life, the Dhammapada, using the Buddha’s symbol.
“And one needs to study.”
“Yes, and study, Study. But then, what ought I to be studying?”
“What attracts your attention?” Study asks, gazing out the window again. “Why not begin where you are, with your present questions and interests, and see what emerges?”
“That is what I have been trying to do. I liken it to poking around in ashes, or better, turning over burning logs and moving them about in the ﬁreplace in order to help ignite each other, to keep the ﬁre going, and even to enhance it. I am writing now, and reading, to rekindle the ﬁre I once felt for the things of God.”
“The one question to which my mind has returned, year after year, often nearly every day, is simply this: `Who or what is God?’ So enormous is that question, however, and so small or weak is my intellect, and lazy my will, that I fail to pursue this question adequately. And yet, it remains the Big Question for me, the question posed by Moses in the episode of the burning bush, and of the man who became the Apostle Paul during his conversion experience: `Who are you, LORD?’ The question of God is the question of my life, even if I have done so poorly in seeking reasonable answers to it. In part, I think that “religion” got in the way of the mind’s quest. Religious practice has its place in life, but it can also stultify thinking, suppress questioning, dull the mind into thinking that it has found what it has not found, and hence move the human being to give up on the search for God.”
“What have you been reading recently?” Study asks.
“Most recently, Eric Voegelin’s Volume 5 of Order and History, titled In Search of Order, which should be more properly called, “In Quest of Truth,” for that is the phrase which he so often employs. I have recently reread parts of Plato’s Republic, especially the Myth of Er; Plato’s Apology of Socrates; and am now studying the Phaedrus, evidenced above. Again last evening I began rereading the fascinating biography called Voegelin Recollected, with all sorts of memories of the man as he was, or rather, as he was perceived by others to be.”
“You clearly are interested in Voegelin and Plato. Why?”
“Of all of the books I have ever read, I know of very few that have drawn me to seek God as Plato and Voegelin have. Especially in my younger years, when reading these philosophers, I would feel an intense, quiet joy in my spirit, and feel my mind opening up towards the vast sea of divinity, boundless, unlimited. I experienced openness to God through reading them. I love these philosophers because they engendered in me spiritual experiences. That is why I treasure these philosophical writers. To them I would add the Pre-Socratic philosophers, the tragedians, Aristotle, Plotinus; and some of the biblical writings, especially some passages in the Hebrew Bible; John and Paul, and Jesus of the Gospels; some of the most beautiful writings from the ancient East, especially the Dhammapada and the Bhagavad Gita; Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas; Hegel and Nietzsche; Eliot’s “Four Quartets; and so on. Again and again, in the past forty-ﬁve years or so, with keen interest and spiritual joy, I have returned to Plato and Voegelin, with ever renewed interest and, I hope, growing understanding.”
“Why do you still want to study Plato and Voegelin? Perhaps `these things have served their purpose, let them be.’”
“They still make me think, they help me to understand my experiences of reality, they increase my longing for the God beyond all conceptions. And I still have moments when I sense a kind of ﬂuttering of wings, a stirring of my spirit, and as I am studying, I realize the simple, obvious, and most beautiful truth: You are here. These philosophers still bring me into contact—not with a credal belief, a doctrinal God, the God of institutionalized religion or theology—but with the divine abyss beyond all conceptions. And although both philosophers require much effort to study them, they give me considerable pleasure in the joy of discovery—spiritual discovery, which always begins and is grounded in the opening of the soul.”
“Wow,” Study says, smiling, “you just spoke your heart, didn’t you? You are studying in order to think, to understand reality, to seek God, to have your spirit opened up, to experience the Presence of God—and you ﬁnd certain authors most helpful for these purposes. I think that you are more on a path of life than you may realize.”
“That is kind of you to say, and encouraging, and I hope that it is true. But I am also aware of my spiritual blindness and laziness. I wonder if there is anything I can do to set my soul on ﬁre with the love of God, and love of learning, so that I will study more intensely and intelligently?”
“Did not someone tell you, `Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you will ﬁnd; knock, and the door will be opened to you’?”
“There’s that opening door again. Yes, Christ speaks these words to anyone who will listen and heed. They are not lifeless words on a `sacred page,’ but words spoken from the Resurrected Christ, through the written words, into the heart of the hearer. The question is, how can my soul again be enﬂamed to seek God truly, and not to rest contentedly in ﬁxtures—opinions, doctrines, beliefs, rituals, institutions, and the like? Before becoming ensconced in institutional religion—Lutheran and then Catholic Christianity—I had a lively and intense sense of the reality of Christ. I longed for God, and sought the truth about that which we call God. Long have I lamented a dulling of my spiritual longing through immersion in an institutionalized religious life. Fortunately, something in me keeps bubbling up, despite the institutions’ stiﬂing air. What is there about organized religious life, in various forms, that quenches the search of the spirit for truth? What is there about life in western culture that dulls the mind to the search for truth? I think that our culture is killing the human spirit. What am I to do, Study?”
“Begin where you are. Perhaps later on you will see more clearly to ﬁnd the causes of spiritual sickness in American culture. For now, you seem to know the questions you desire to ask. Pursue them: `Who is this god?’ using the form from Plato’s Laws, and often quoted by Voegelin. You ﬁnd that question fascinating, do you not? Then ask it. Keep pressing on. Do not grow lazy or self-satisﬁed, but “strain forward to what lies ahead” (Phil 3). Beware the danger of institutionalism and a mindlessness of life. `Seek, and you will ﬁnd…’
“I wish to have my mind opened up again to the truth of reality, to the incredible ocean of divine Beauty. That experience is worth more than anything I know. Help me, Study, to `taste and see the goodness of the LORD.’”
“You have revealed your heart openly, and in the process, developed a new form of writing for you—a combination of essay and dialogue. You are on the way. See that you do not lose it.” Study looks me in the eyes, smiles, and walks out through my open door, leaving me to return to writing.
3 “He begins to leave who begins to love”
Study has helped to reignite enough ﬁre in my heart that I must pause before continuing. In our brief dialogue, something happened that I did not expect. Study drew from me the truth of my own heart, the truth of my life: that I long to return to, and to live in, an awareness of the Presence of God. It is not elaborate arguments, philosophical or theological teachings, rituals, movements of the body in the external world—it is none of these things, all good in their place, that truly “grab me,” or awaken the human spirit. None of these things constitutes the desire and the purpose of my life. I am on the edge of eternity, silently gazing out to sea, and I see: Nothing in this world can ever satisfy the longing of my heart, but an ongoing awareness of You. For me, there can be no other. I not only long to acknowledge You, but to commune with You, to be ﬂooded by your utterly joyful Presence. To experience the opening up of my mind and heart to You, the source and end of all reality, means more to me than anything I can imagine. Study helped to bring me back to the shore of Your boundlessness. Rather than lapse into silence, which would be tempting, I will write, and seek again to experience the most delightful union, lived in loving openness to You, wide open one.
"O you of little faith, why did you doubt? Why turn away?”
This world has nothing to offer that compares to the joyful beauty and beautiful joy of communing with You. Open me again. Please do not let me try to nail You down in words, in formulae, in beliefs, in teachings. I want You more than any thought of You. Thinking apart from communing with You, sharing in You, is not of much value—not to me, not to a man or woman of sense. Who would want sand when diamonds are offered?
Where are you, sacred Sea, you wine-dark Sea? I sense, but do not feel or see. You are indeed the one moving me to seek You. Plato and Voegelin are right. And St. Anselm. “If you are present everywhere, why, being here, do I not see you? Surely You dwell in inapproachable light. Who will lead me into this light,” this light that is too bright for my understanding, or too dark for my darkness?
It is not You that I feel or directly experience—You are too beyond for that—but the movement of my mind toward You, perhaps into You. In no way do I see or feel your depths or height, but I am aware of my awareness of You, and of the opening of consciousness toward You. The opening of consciousness towards You is the lifting of the veil, the tearing of the curtain in the Temple. You are not on public display or privately revealed. Rather, a concrete consciousness, this mind, becomes open towards You in the searching of love and the seeking to know You as You are—perhaps an unattainable-but-must-be-sought-for goal.
Present, but not present to be grasped. Whole, but not wholly seen or felt in any way. To taste is indeed to “burn for your peace,” to desire to know You as You are. Keep lifting the veil, divine Partner, not that I may see You beyond the mind’s sight, but that I will eagerly seek to live in loving trust, in openness to You. Uncover my heart, split me open, that You may ﬂow in, living Sea.
Writing is dialogical: a dialogue among one’s own conscious thoughts; a dialogue between writer and reader; a dialogue between seeker and that which moves the search; a dialogue unfolding within reality.
Even basic thoughts about reality—attending to the things around consciousness—is dialogical. For example, for one who enjoys logic, then let it be noted that for every verbal formulation, the possibility of its contrary can arise: “The grass is green. The grass is not green.” More truthfully: Thought is about reality, and one not only afﬁrms or denies a truth about reality, but one must test that truth, and the simplest form of test is by questioning its truthfulness: Is the grass green, or not? Well, as I look around, I see that some of the grass is a bright shade of green, but some looks brown, burned out. When one thinks, there is a dialogue of exploring truth, as various thoughts contend or agree. Without a genuine dialogue, could there be a movement towards truth? Perhaps in a burst of insight, but not by logical reasoning, which works by afﬁrmations and negations.
Based on observation, it seems that many people do not question or examine their own basic beliefs, or at least, they do not question themselves in discussion; what they do in the privacy of their own thinking is no doubt another matter. From appearances, from what “shows up,” many assume that their opinions, including religious beliefs, are true, and rather than test their truthfulness, they “get on with their lives.” They simply do not bother to question. Or we could right now ask a question, rather than make the preceding assertion: How many Christians wonder if their Christian beliefs are fundamentally true or not, or seek to discern truth from error in those beliefs?How many are content not to think at all about fundamental questions of existence: Why am I here? What is the purpose of life? Am I living the kind of life that beneﬁts others? How can I respond to that which is seeking me? Often I ﬁnd among Christians and American citizens alike the lack of an existential dialogue, a quest for God and for living in God, a lack of a desire to share in the life of reason. It seems true to say that more Americans would spend time watching a basketball game or other entertainment than spend time alone in prayer, or meditation, or genuine study, or simply thinking about God. “Living the good life” in America means doing whatever one wants, when s/he wants it. Many seek to keep themselves entertained or busy about many things, in part to paper over the boredom engendered by their spiritual emptiness.
Not a few philosophers, including Plato, Pascal, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Voegelin have noted the connection between loss of contact with God and spiritual emptiness, boredom, anxiety, depression. Clearly such diseases as boredom and depression are common symptoms of our contemporary society; they are virtually pandemic. If anyone doubts, look around, listen to conversations. One who is complacent about the spiritual void in our culture, should ask himself: How many understand that living as a human being—living the examined life—actually includes exploring the truth about ultimate reality, about God? And because human existence is indeed historical, in our present time in history that would include making the effort to ﬁnd out about the classical Greek discovery of reason as a form of divine presence in human being; and trying to ascertain what the early Christians experienced and believed about Christ, and how they struggled to achieve genuine openness to what is called God; and about the way of the Buddha to quiet and steady wakefulness. I fear that for most Americans, such inquiries provoke off-putting responses: “Who cares? If it does not make me money, or give me pleasure, or increase my sense of empowerment, why should I bother with such questions? Hey, did you watch the Lakers play last night? Want another beer?”
For many in our society, perhaps for most, God seems to be a chore, or even a bore. Other than attending religious services on occasion, what do self-professed “Christians” do to live Christ? How do they seek to stir up the spiritual ﬂame in their hearts? “What ﬂame?” they would ask, demonstrating the problem of existence at a very low temperature. All too rarely does one meet a Christian who expresses a desire to know how to live the life of Christ. Their faith seems to be compartmentalized and fossilized, perhaps boxed up in a building. Where does one ﬁnd genuine openness to God beyond scriptural beliefs, doctrines, and churchly rituals? Among self-described Christians, what passes for a spiritual life all too often seems to be a life within various ecclesiastical structures, within the routines of familiar rituals, bounded by static and ﬁxed doctrines, by selected and approved texts, by established clergy, by unquestioning minds who do not want to be questioned. What began two millennia ago as a tremendous movement towards truth—the truth of God in Christ, experienced by real human beings—has long since settled down into routine ways and beliefs that do not engage human beings by taking them out of their “comfort zones” and drawing them into deeper waters. The evangelist Luke has Jesus tells his disciples, “Launch out into the deep, and there lower your nets for a catch.” Judging by the actions and beliefs of many churched Christians, it seems as though Jesus said, “Do not launch out into the deep, but wade around in shallow waters, where you will feel safe and secure. And then just tune in your entertainment, and tune out God.”
Genuine spiritual life is and must be a launching out into the deep, an ever-new pilgrimage of the heart, a setting out from where one is, to where one is not oneself alone, but in God. Hence, genuine prayer is a spiritual and intellectual adventure, suitable for the abilities of the individual human being. Or in other terms: What matters is not just “praying” as mouthing words, but being courageous and steadfast in the habit of stretching out towards God, of seeking God with questions, seeking God by love. “Who are you, LORD?” was a genuine question before an answer was given; and the answer given became written down, fossilized, and ﬁxed, and “good Christians” forgot that ﬁrst and foremost they must be good human beings—seekers of truth, of beauty, of goodness.
St. Augustine was intellectually and spiritually alive, even if and when he made mistakes. Actually, making mistakes is a necessary part of the search for truth, is it not? How does truth appear, or at least how is truth sought, except in contrast to lesser truths or untruths? Unfortunately, however, Augustine not only made mistakes, but was hindered by a kind of “semi-fundamentalism,” as Voegelin described a problem showing up in Augustine’s writings. The semi-fundamentalism at ﬁrst seems surprising in a man of Augustine’s philosophical abilities and learning, but it stands as a reminder for anyone who thinks within a religious tradition with sacred texts and an institutionalized clergy: the heavy weight of tradition can hinder the ascent to truth. Despite the weight of the biblical tradition and the ecclesiastical environment, however, Augustine was truly a man energetically in search of the God seeking him, as his voluminous writings attest. Often he prayed or sought God by studying and by writing—these three mental activities feeding and enriching one another. Consider, for example, his massive Enarrationes in Psalmos. As evidenced in this collection, Augustine does not merely recite the Psalms, as monks do by chanting the divine ofﬁce repetitively, or as clergy may do by racing through written prayers; rather, Augustine meditated on the Psalms, actively thought about what he was praying, verse by verse, phrase by phrase. Fortunately, he wrote out these meditations for others to read. Voegelin draws our attention to Augustine’s meditation on Psalm 64:2, to be remembered by the memorable Latin of the ﬁrst phrase, “Incipit exire qui incipit amare” (he begins to leave who begins to love). Using Niemeyer’s translation found at the end of Voegelin’s essay on “Eternal Being in Time” included in Anamnesis, we read:
“Incipit exire qui incipit amare:
He begins to leave, who begins to love.
Many the leaving who know it not,
for the feet of those leaving are affections of the heart:
and yet, they are leaving Babylon.”
Voegelin comments: “Augustine places the conﬂicts between the Chosen People and the empires under the symbol of the exodus, and understands the historical processes of exodus, exile, and return as ﬁgurations of the tension of being between time and eternity” (Anamnesis, trans. Niemeyer, p. 140). Voegelin goes on to explain that in various forms of exodus—such as emigration, and conﬂicts within a society between representatives of superior and lesser truths, and so on,—“the dynamism and direction of the process stem from the love of eternal being.” In truly loving that which is “immortal and everlasting” one is making a break from the world as one has known it, making an exodus from one’s self-contained self, from what Augustine calls the “amor sui,” the self-centered love of self, and entering into amor dei, the love of God. But which God? Into whom or into what is one entering through love?
Loving God may entail, must necessarily entail, leaving behind much that one has considered true. A genuine love of God implies a genuine search for truth, goodness, beauty. “Launching out into the deep” is a costly adventure, albeit a joyful one, as one seeks to know the truth about reality, to behold real beauty, to love and to do what is truly good. The search for God entails seeking a new understanding of God, a new divine vision. The lover does not rest contented with what has been received, but presses on towards the divine giver.
Consider an example of letting go of accepted conceptions to live in open truth: In the previous section I quoted Plato’s question in the Laws, “Who is this god?,” and I assumed an equivalence of experience with the question, “Who are you, LORD?” Recall that this question is implicit in Moses’ encounter with God in the event known as “the burning bush,” and the question is explicit in the Apostle Paul’s conversion experience as recounted by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. Knocked to the ground and hearing a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” the stunned Paul asks an urgent question to the one breaking into consciousness: “Who are you, LORD?” (Acts 9) The Mosaic-Pauline questions are not as equivalent to the Platonic question, “Who is this god?” as I thought. I must practice now the leaving behind a certain understanding of God and seek a truer truth about God. Plato had already distinguished or differentiated the immortal gods (Zeus, Apollo, Athena, and so on) from his “Third god,”the Nous, the divine Intellect that operates in lovers of wisdom. His question, “Who is this god?” does not refer to either the gods of the city; or to the god of the philosophers, the Nous; or even to his Demiurge who orders the cosmos, as presented in the Timaeus. Rather, the question points toward, or into the unbounded sea of divinity beyond all that can be experienced or known. The question shows that Plato did not rest content in revelations received, but kept questing. His question points towards the god unknown, agnostos theos, not of the Gnostics, but of the mystics. The divine that is experienced as present in the intra-cosmic gods, in the structure of the vast Cosmos, and in the soul’s noetic search of the divine ground, is further differentiated by Plato as “the beyond,” here appearing in the simple question, “Who is this god?” Would that Christians and others who “believe in God” still stopped and wondered, “Who is this God?” Not many question themselves or God. Love questions; the lover questions the beloved lovingly.
It is necessary to make more explicit the God-problem in Judaeo-Christianity. It is the problem not of God per se, but of the “revealed God.” The revealed God of the various “religions” can get in the way of God, and the revealed God has often obstructed the search for the truth about God. The God of Moses, the I AM WHO AM, is in effect reduced, or religiously domesticated, in the edited text of Exodus chapters 3-4, to Yahweh-god, to the god of the fathers, the god of cultic worship: “This is my name forever,” declares Yahweh in the critical passage of the burning bush. With the appearance of a sacred name, I AM becomes ﬁxed for “all generations.” The Exodus passage, as edited, clearly displays a tension between two conceptions or symbolizations of God: the unknown god who refuses to identify himself, and gives the cryptic answer, “I AM WHO AM”; and the Yahweh-God of traditional belief and worship, who proclaims that “Yahweh is my name forever,” and tells how this god should be addressed in worship. This critical passage in the biblical narrative records the essential tension between God beyond all imaging, beyond all conceptions, and God as revealed, known, worshiped in cultic ritual. The movement towards the Who or what that moves the search in Moses, and erupts into his consciousness out of the burning bush, has settled down into a much more familiar Yahweh, the god of the Hebrew fathers, who is historically one of the Near-Eastern gods. Such is the problem of the revealed God: the unbounded becomes bounded, the nameless is named, the ever-beyond becomes all-too-familiar.
The tension between God beyond experience and a far more familiar, domesticated God can be seen in early Christianity, as well. In the case of the Apostle Paul, the divine presence who appeared to him on the way to Damascus is identiﬁed explicitly as Christ, as “the LORD.” The title “LORD” translates the Greek Kyrios, which is the word used in the Septuagint (the pre-Christian translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek) for Yahweh God. Paul insists after the “unveiling” of God in him that this God is the LORD, by which he always means Christ Jesus. In Galatians 1, for example, Paul explains that the God who had set him apart from before birth, and who called him through the grace of his conversion experience “was pleased to reveal his Son in me” (Gal 1:15-16). The Apostle carefully distinguishes between the God beyond the experience and the presence of God he experienced in consciousness as Christ, the LORD, in the revelation. Following the use among other early Christians, and going back to Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, the God beyond the Christ, and pneumatically present in Christ, is called “the Father.” The Apostle Paul never writes something such as “the Father was revealed.” He maintains an awareness that beyond the experienced presence of God as Christ, as the LORD, is the reality of the revealing-unrevealed God symbolized as “Father.”
The distinction-tension between the unrevealed divine abyss and God as revealed is largely absent from Christian consciousness. The distinction between I AM and Yahweh, and between the Father who caused the revealing and the Christ who was revealed in the consciousness of his Apostle has not been sufﬁciently preserved in the “religions” known as Judaism and Christianity. As one can see in the writings of the great mystics, Love would not rest content with a revealed God, but reaches out beyond the divine experienced towards the unbounded sea of divinity. Love must leave, must press forward into the divine mystery. Rather than imaginatively cling to the God as revealed, the God-seeker fares forward: “He who begins to love begins to leave.” What shows up in the history of Christianity is a tension between God as revealed and God beyond all revelation. The same tension emerged since the late Middle Ages as the tension between doctrinal theology and mystical theology, between God formulated in doctrines and God present-yet-beyond-presence in mystical loving faith.
The same unresolvable tension shows up in the history of what counts as “revelation” as well. From the time of the Apostle Paul to at least St. Bonaventure in the High Middle Ages, “revelation” was understood primarily as the process taking place in the consciousness or soul of the believer; from the late Middle Ages, through the Reformation period, into modernity, “revelation” has been moved from spiritual experience to doctrinal formulations about God, and even into a book, “the Bible,” as “revealed truth.” Instead of “he begins to leave who begins to love,” Christianity becomes a religion of not leaving, but of remaining in the safe, comfortable realm of revealed truth. Possession of God in revealed truth becomes an existential Babylon.
Whereas Plato, Plotinus, and Christian mystics (such as Eckhart, the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, St. John of the Cross) remain open to the truth of God beyond what has been revealed—and actively search out the truth of the unknown God through the love of wisdom and contemplative prayer, much of Christianity has been content not to seek, not to love the unrevealed God, but to have God pinned down, ﬁxed as a desiccated insect in a moth-balled collection, in the form of a doctrinal possession: “This is my name forever,” a static formula for those who want a shadow of truth, rather than to be ever immersed in living, unformulated, dynamic truth. Many in the churches—clergy included—prefer not to venture into the oceanic depths, but wish to remain comfortably at home in Babylon. The Platonic question, “Who is this god?” deserves to be asked, needs to be asked, including within the conﬁnes of Christianity; and the lover of truth, the lover of eternal being, must be willing to leave the familiar and “revealed,” and engage in a genuine search for the truth about divinity beyond what has been “revealed.” It seems reasonable to think that some things about the Divine can and have been revealed; but one would be arrogant or foolish to think that these revelations-become-formulations have by any means done justice to that which “by tradition is called God” (using a formula in Aquinas). The One who reveals is far greater than what has been, or can be, revealed. In the well-known words of that searcher, St. Anselm: “God is not only that than which nothing greater can be thought, but greater than can be thought.” And, we add, far greater than can be credalized. Anselm has journeyed by love in the form of a searching intellect beyond the light of revelation into the darkness of unknowing. To use symbols developed several generations later, Anselm has pressed by “darts of love” into “the cloud of unknowing.” Such is the life of ﬁdes quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding—by love.
These statements are not intended to discredit the presence, the parousia, of the unknown God experienced as intensely alive and real in Jesus. In the experiences of the resurrected Christ, as one discovers in the letters of the Apostle Paul, for example, one can both respond to God’s presence in the Resurrected Christ and live in openness to the depths of divinity beyond what has been experienced. The author of Colossians, probably the Apostle Paul, differentiated Christ in perhaps the most experientially mature analysis achieved in the documents collected in the New Testament. “In him,” in Christ Jesus, writes the Apostle, “dwells all the fullness of divinity bodily” (pan to pleroma tes theotetos somatikos, Col 2:9). The problem is not that divine fullness is lacking in Christ, it is that our knowledge and understanding of such fullness is surely lacking on our side. Far more of God-in-Christ remains unknown than known. No less an authority than Pope Benedict asked a question which theologians and faithful alike need to take seriously: “Has the Church misinterpreted Christ?” The truth of God in Christ is far greater than doctrinal and liturgical conceptions. More humility on the part of theologians, Christian clergy, and enthusiastic “believers” would probably go a long way to restoring a balance in consciousness between God received in and through Christ, and God ever beyond the horizon of human understanding.
“May I enter your study, please?” A young lady, wearing a lovely yellow dress, her hair glistening in sunlight, suddenly appears before me.
“My goodness,” I say, surprised by her presence and beauty. “Who are you?”
“My name is Charity, and I am here, if you wish, to discuss some things with you.”
“The love of God,” Charity says, smiling at me. “And to make a case for the little people whom you seem to be dismissing from your account, Herr Professor!”
“I am no professor, Charity. Nor a German intellectual, for that matter. To what `little people’ are you referring? I have been writing about particular human beings only in so far as they clarify the search for God, or obstacles that have emerged in history.
“I understand. Still, you seem to expect a little much from some people. Not every one can be a philosopher, or engage in the kind of analysis that you do. What provisions do you make in your account for men and women who do not spend hours thinking about the God beyond the God of revelation, but who show the goodness, mercy, and kindness of God to their fellow human beings?”
“I agree with you, Charity. There are many who go by the name of `Christian’ who would not understand well what I am writing about, but who show the mystery of God’s creative goodness in their actions and words, in their love of actual human beings.”
“I am glad to hear that. Many of these Christian disciples may be far less immersed in doctrine and ritual than you think—despite religious practices—and more attuned to the simplicity of God’s love in Christ, and doing good to their neighbors. Speaking with them, one learns that they are not nearly as attached to the Church’s beliefs and practices as theologians or clergy may expect. So the problems of which you have written may be far more common among theological experts and clergy, who often seem to take written texts, doctrines, “rubrics” and so on too seriously! Perhaps you need to write more for these non-intellectual disciples who would not know what you meant by a `revealed God’ anyway! For whom are you writing, dear soul? Have you asked yourself that question?”
“I write to clarify my own thinking, and if possible, to beneﬁt someone else who may chance upon the words, and give thought to the analysis. I have found institutional Christianity to be deadening at times, and especially problematic as it has not sufﬁciently nourished human minds. For years I have experienced the kind of spiritual-intellectual wasteland that often passes as Christianity. Clergy often come across more as bureaucratic functionaries than as men seeking God. Some of them—not all—seem to aim more at beneﬁtting themselves, at climbing a ladder of success, and at institutional maintenance, and give far too little thought and effort to providing spiritual and intellectual nourishment for those in their charge. That is one part of what I mean by the wasteland of contemporary Church life.”
“Perhaps these clergy do not know better,” Charity assures me. “Remember, they have been malnourished, too. How many of them would make the effort to study Plato’s Republic?”
“That’s true. The fundamentalistic, `evangelical’ clergy would not waste their time studying a pagan writer such as Plato in presenting the movement of man into God. As for Catholic clergy, they may have looked at parts of the Republic or the Symposium in a philosophy class they had to take to be ordained, but if they read the texts, they would have done so wearing the blinders of centuries of misinterpretation of reason as ‘natural reason,’ and never realized that Plato was as aware of revelation taking place in his soul as were the prophets, evangelists, and the Apostle. Even a learned Pope, in writing an encyclical on faith and reason, perpetrated this long-standing biased Catholic ideology in his account of ‘natural reason.’ He mis-presented reason, and did so in a long tradition of Jewish and Christian theological thinkers. He also ignored the revelatory insights of the Buddha. In such cases, this pope maintained for the biblical authors and for the hierarchy a monopoly of `revelation.’ That misreading is useful for maintaining the position of the organized church over its members, but it falsiﬁes historical reality: that ‘in many and various ways’ the unknown God has been letting his presence be known to human beings. Indeed, this is the One who is `the true light enlightening every soul that comes into the
world.’ (John 1). The intellectual arrogance of Christian theologians and clergy is not grounded on a study of reality, but on long-standing and self-serving misinterpretations. And the foremost of these biased conceptions is reducing reason to a non-revelatory process in human beings.
Charity lowers her face, and gently shakes her head. “You may well be right, but perhaps you see something that they do not see. They may not be as deceived and deceiving as you seem to imply. Remember the words,`Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Remember, too, that the prejudices of centuries are deeply ingrained in these men. `Cut them some slack,’ as I have heard you say about others. How would they know that Plato was keenly aware of his divinely inspired vision of reality?”
“Would they even care? These men should know better, Charity. If they ever took the time to study the ancient Greeks, or to read the Dhammapada or the Bhagavad Gita, they would see how divine wisdom is at work in vastly different traditions. Christianity has no monopoly on truth, and no monopoly on moral goodness. I have known self-professed agnostics to be far more moral and honest than some clergy I have known with their deceitful ways.”
“The story of their lives may not be over. You have seen many of the faithful betrayed by the vices of a few. Not all clergy would deceive the faithful, lie to them, neglect their spiritual well-being, or steal from them.”
“It is disturbing to see ignorance dressed up as learning, and vice masquerading under clerical clothing.”
“I understand your anguish at what you have experienced,” she says, as she lays a hand on my shoulder. “Do not let their evil disturb you. They cannot hide from the searching eye of Heaven. In some of their cases, their consciences are seared, and they will never admit the evil they have done. “Blind guides,” Christ called them. Avoid such men, and do your duties, caring for the souls in your charge. Tend the spiritual wounds of the faithful you meet, for you know from experience what neglect and betrayal feel like. Let the suffering you have endured teach you compassion for `the little people,’ and then you will be doing your spiritual service. Not farewell, dear soul, but fare forward. We shall meet again.” Charity blesses me with a sign of the cross on my forehead, gently kisses my cheek, and quietly slips away.
4 On the “nonsense of searching for God”
“Is anyone at home? It’s dark in here.”
I cannot discern his presence in the darkness, just a voice, a strange voice.
“I am here. Yes, it is dark. And cold. Who are you, and why have you come?”
“You may call me `Friedrich,’ he says, with a heavy German accent. “Turn on a lamp, if you need light. I do not. Do you always sit in darkness? Is that who you are?”
“I must have dosed off as the sun was setting. I had a guest with me, but she left—a lovely woman. Now I see you dimly, standing in the shadows of the lamp light. You may not need light to see, but I surely do. My vision is not so good.”
“Nor is mine, but I can see you well enough.”
“Please have a seat, Friedrich.” He sits by the side of my desk, his face now partially illuminated by the lamp. He is more strange in appearance than handsome, with penetrating, intense, dark brown eyes. “Are you Friedrich Nietzsche?” I ask, feeling excitement and a twinge of fear.
“If you wish, but I am not what I seem. Perhaps you are dreaming. You said that you fell asleep. I may or may not be here. That does not matter.”
“Well, if you are here—or seem to be here—why have you come, if I may ask?” I swallow. It smells like mothballs, as though his wool suit had just been lifted out of a sealed trunk.
“You are looking for God?” he asks. “Why? Have you lost him?” He utters a subdued laugh.
“I would not say that I am `looking for God,’ because God is not an object in the external world—“
“You need not play verbal games with me. You will not win. Do you think that you are seeking God?”
“Yes, I am searching for that which moves me to search. I am responding to a divinely-caused movement in my soul.”
“Abstract nonsense, and pretentious to boot. In your soul? What soul? Don’t deceive yourself.”
“No, Doctor Nietzsche. I am seeking to respond to what stirs in consciousness. Is that better?”
“If you think so. You seem philosophically confused. Clarify!”
“I do not think that I have lost God, nor do I claim to have found him. God is not—“
“True, `God ‘ is not. Finally you said something true. `God’ is not an object in the external world, not a being at all. You spoke truly.” His eyes search mine, as if looking for a way to enter into my mind.
“I overheard your conversation with that woman, and what you said about Christian clergy, and I agree with you. They are deceivers, slippery men, mere nothings. At best they are clowns in a passing circus. They wear costumes for their magic shows, and seek to dazzle their audiences with nonsensical babble and hocus pocus. In truth, they are merely using their ungodly god-drunk god-talk to dominate the minds of the herd. You were right when you noted that clerical apes in black are seeking money and power.”
“That’s not exactly what I said, but that some members of the Christian clergy climb a ladder for status, neglect the spiritual needs of those entrusted to their care, and on occasion use their position to swindle—“
“To dominate others, to Lord it over their minds as`alter Christus,’ another Christ. They deceive the herd, who are unable to see through their cunning tricks and the magical acts of their `divine services.’ They are playing before a dying crowd, these ministers and priests.”
“Your words are too extreme to be true.”
“Despite your futile protests, you and I are not so far apart, as you suppose. I sit near you, you near me, and our minds are closer still. The only difference between us that I know what I know, and you do not know what you know. You will not admit to yourself the truth you feel—that breath of freezing cold, embracing your head and face, and running down your spine. You are bordering on the edge of an abyss, and you do not acknowledge it. You are afraid to take the next step, for you lack the sheer courage for truth that I lived. `Why are you afraid? Don’t you have faith?’”
“Afraid of what? I am not playing on the edge of an abyss.”
“No? You will ﬁnd out soon enough. As I said, you feel the chill, but you do not know where it is coming from, nor to what you are being led. You think that you are exploring the border of the abyss of what you equivocally call `God,’ but you do not see that your `divine abyss’ is utter emptiness. It is nothingness beyond the bounds of your parapsychotic thinking, this so-called `divine abyss’ that you have imagined. In truth you deceive yourself. You are moving into real darkness, and you think that you are moving into `the darkness of God.’ Nonsense! Without knowing it—because you lack real knowledge, and manly courage—you are entering into a spiraling vortex of emptiness. And it is not `out there,’ or `beyond,’ but right within you—it is you—this emptiness. Your so-called `soul’ is as empty as the churches. And have you not stolen words from me, again and again? `What are these churches, but the tombs and sepulchers of `God’? Yes, you feel the cold of the empty void, because it is in your heart, growing as a cancer. Did you not listen to the avalanche of words you spewed out against your`God’, against what you call `the revealed God’? Take off your masks, and quit playing games. You have rejected your so-called 'God’—another dead god, washed up on the shores of history—and you lack the courage of your own convictions. Do you not know that you have already abandoned the `God’ you pretend to be seeking? Years ago you cleverly formulated words that made me proud of you: `Deus nihil,’ you wrote—`God is nothing.’ Did you admit your atheism to yourself? You were afraid to accept the consequences of your own words. Or when, at age eighteen, you played with words, even breaking from ordinary grammar, to assert, `I created I.’ That was a more radical formulation than Zarathustra’s declaration, my declaration, that human beings had to learn to give grace to themselves, in effect to be `god’ to themselves. You declared yourself your own creator, and that `God is nothing.’ As I said, we are much closer, you and I, than you admit to yourself. You are indeed in sheer darkness, my friend—the darkness of a universe empty of your `god’, of all gods, and empty of all that you have called `good, and true, and beautiful.’”
“I do not reject the `revealed God,’ but warn against its limitations, with the need to move in faith beyond what has been received into the mystery of the living God. By `Deus nihil’ I did not mean `God is nothing,’ in the sense of not existing, but `God is no-thing,’ not a being-thing in the world, in a formula that perhaps a Buddhist could appreciate. Or Meister Eckhart.”
“You are no Buddhist, and no mystic. You are a nihilist, a Christian nihilist! Ha, that is a good one! What you write and say, you are playing with words, and playing with ﬁre. And yet you will not admit it to yourself. When you bracket this `revealed god’ from your thoughts, when you remove `scriptures,’ and `teachings,’ and `rituals’—all your words, not mine—what is left? You are like a child who strips the wings off of a butterﬂy, and wonders why it cannot ﬂy, why it dies. Or like a little boy who pulls the wheels off his bicycle, and then expects to go for a ride. And you are truly going some where, but not on the ride you expect. You are descending into the abyss of nothingness with ever-accelerating velocity.”
“I do not wish to quibble, as you say I do, or to be argumentative, but the wheels that I remove from the bicycle—if I may use your image—are not the large wheels for riding, but a child’s training wheels. These training wheels have served their purpose, and there comes a time to remove them. In the earlier stages of life, a human being needs external helps in the response to God, but there comes a time when one must move beyond a child’s ways, and ride.”
“You think that you are clever, eh? So you admit that you do strip away scriptures and sacraments and rituals, and of course the hierarchy. You admit that?”
“I do not strip anything away, Herr Doctor Everything remains in place. I do not seek to change any institutions or structures in the lives of believers. I am saying that one must learn to move into the divine Presence by the actions of God, and not keep relying solely on external helps. The Spirit comes to our assistance in the response to God, who is moving one to stop taxiing down the run-way and take ﬂight, if I may change the image from a bicycle to an airplane.”
“What is moving you in this nonsensical search of yours is not `God,’ but your will to power, your desire to dominate others, and especially to dominate the dominating powers of the churches. You are as corrupt as you say they are. You ﬁt right into their churchy games. You even have the gift of verbal magic, of playing with words that blind others into thinking that you are leading them into the promised land of this make-believe `God.’ You are not what you seem to be, either.”
“I really do not know how to answer you. Everything I say, you twist, and take in the worst possible way. You do indeed `philosophize with a hammer,’ don’t you? I have loved you, despite your rebellion against God, and defended you, feeling genuine pity for you in your self-contained isolation and loneliness. Why do you turn your hammer blows on me?”
“Because you are a blind man leading the blind, and I am trying to strip off your blinders, and do you a real favor—one that your `God’ cannot do for you—because he is nothing. If you were a superior human being you would accept my blows, and thank me for them, as I liberate you from your illusions. You are a block of stone at which I am chipping away, to liberate your image from the imprisoning rock. Your `God’ cannot save you, not liberate you, or remove your blinders. For your `God’ has no eyes, so how can he see? No mouth, so how can he speak? No body, so what life is in him? No hands, so he cannot liberate you from rock—or from anything.”
“God simply is, and knows all that exists as sharing in his being, in his act of be-ing.”
“Clever man, you have read a few words of Thomas Aquinas, eh? His words, too, have come to nothing—all of his stale Medieval logic-chopping and merely deﬁnitional thinking, If this `God’ of yours is really beyond, as you assert, then it is beyond being, and all that exists. In that case, God cannot be the being in which all share, can he? You cannot have it both ways: God is beyond, and yet God is being. That makes no sense now, does it? If truly beyond, `God’ can know nothing of the world, or the world of him—being somewhere up in that `beyond’ of yours. (Remember as a young man when you wrote, `I beyond beyond the beyond?’ All in your ﬂighty imagination.) So the real question to ask you is obvious: Why are you disturbing the faithful with your half-baked ideas? Do you think that anyone who reads about your nonsensical search has the means to engage in a similar voyage into the abyss of nothingness? I told you: you are a blind man trying to lead the blind herd.”
“You raise a good point here in warning of the effects of my words on others. No doubt you know much about how disturbing one can be on the minds of readers—on one’s own mind, as you showed, too. I write for few, or perhaps for no one—“
“You are stealing from me again, with my book `for all and none.’”
“Perhaps no one will ever read these words of mine; but in writing, I am forcing myself to think about them, to take seriously the movement into God through a searching mind, a mind responding to divine pulls. These words will not damage others, as they will not be read. Still, I appreciate your warning about the possible harmful effects of some things I have written here. As for such nonsense as `I created I,’ and `I beyond beyond the beyond’—things I wrote that you just now brought up—I renounced that foolishness decades ago, as I worked my way through the Gnostic inﬂuences in my education. Remember, I read some of your work, and some by Sartre, while in high school—and you affected me, you infected me. And I was under Gnostic inﬂuences at large in our contemporary culture. In my early years—that is when I did indeed experience the abyss of nothingness. So I know the difference between the descent into the spiritual wasteland, and the mind’s movement into the divine abyss: one is agonizing, desolate, depressing, utterly meaningless; the movement into the divine mystery is joyful, peaceful, supremely beautiful. I know from what I have been rescued, Dr. Nietzsche.”
“Listen to my warning, you non-courageous man: You are harming other human beings. Do you not recall the story of the stupid monk, the ignoramus, who wailed aloud that he had `lost his god’ when he was informed that `God’ is not an external being, nor is `God’ the image of `God’ in his mind, but beyond all of these conceptions? Remember how he cried like a baby—the ignorant fool—‘You have taken away my god.’ He should have said to those who revealed the truth to him, `Thank you for liberating me from this god-nonsense, for showing me that because `God’ is neither external nor an image in the mind, he is nothing.’ Cry? No! Shout with joy, you happy, happy creature of the earth, and say, 'Thanks for freeing me from stupid superstitions about a so-called God.’ And then he would have torn off the monk’s habit, and thrown off all corrupted monkish ways, and returned to the world, to display his superiority to the ignorant believers of his day. He could have become a superior Man, a real god among men.”
Silence falls. “Where are you, Friedrich? I no longer see you. Perhaps I do not need to see you to hear you speak to me with understanding. You speak in your writings. I understand you fairly well, I think, because I love you far more than I fear you. Yet I do not intend to make your rebellion unto death my own. I love the God you hate.”
I turn off the lamp and sit in darkness. The air is comfortable and still. “You must be still and still moving,” I hear in my mind. Perhaps I am not ready or able to be fully still. Nietzsche’s words disturbed me, and were effective. He shot his arrows into me, and I am wounded. He turned my own words against me—words that I renounced years ago, or intended in a way he twisted, such as my saying, `Deus nihil,’ `God is no thing.’ At least on the level of words, there is a close similarity in what I write with Nietzsche’s teachings, but I think that on the level of our intentions, on the level of experiences, we differ radically—or I hope that we do. There is not one abyss, but two, each pulling from opposite sides of consciousness; the abyss of nothingness, and the abyss of divine love. I am acquainted with both, and seek the abyss of love.
And now I will sit still in silence.