Monthly Archives: May 2017

Creator God: ‘Their inscape is their sanctity’

Creator God: ‘Their inscape is their sanctity’

Taking a wider view of creation involves moving away from the reductive cause-and-effect discussion often found in religious circles, and also accepting the possibility that all created beings are of equal value – in other words human beings are not necessarily, as is often stated, ‘the Crown of God’s creation’, then creation can be seen as a window through which shines the light of God.

Thomas Merton expressed it like this ‘God creates things by seeing them in His own Logos.’ Thus Merton sees an intrinsic relationship between creation as an epiphany of the divine word and the incarnation as the culmination of this revelatory self-disclosure of God, the perfect manifestation of Creator in creation. He draws on the traditions of Eastern Christianity to show that the apprehension and appreciation of the presence of God in God’s creatures is an authentic dimension of contemplative awareness – ‘everything that is, is holy.’ This means that each created being reflects the Being in holiness of God in its own unique way; Pat O’Connell describes it as the infinity of God which is giving rise to an innumerable variety of ways of mirroring the divine goodness and love. He then quotes Merton:

‘Each particular being, in its individuality, its concrete nature and entity, with all its own characteristics and its private qualities and its own inviolable identity, gives glory to God by being precisely what He wants it to be here and now … Their inscape is their sanctity. It is the imprint of His wisdom and His reality in them.’

There’s a lovely description in one of the last talks that Merton gave to the novices where he is describing how we can see God everywhere and in everything if we can unclutter the care and worries from our vision. He gives the humorous example of building up some great event such as teaching something to the rabbits… And how it becomes this huge thing in his mind – which is ultimately an illusion, it’s nothing, because what really matters is leaving the rabbits to be what they are – rabbits…

‘And if you can see that they are rabbits you suddenly see that they are transparent, and that the rabbitness of God is shining through, in all these darn rabbits.’
Clearly this applies to people and to all other aspects of creation where you see God within each creature and created thing and where God is present and living in the world.

Creator God

The message of the past was that the future would be better. Things would change and for the common good … things can only get better. In terms of the environment – creation, the sadness is that so much destruction has taken place and in such recent times, when in fact we could and did know better.

One of the problems has been our Western, rational, reductive approach to creation where creation seems to just be the solution to a puzzle about where the world and most importantly we came from. This puts it at the level of efficient causality; and in church teaching discussion points to God as the cause.

However, as we are beginning to understand, and as both Buddhist and Christian contemplation appreciates, creation is rather a process of interconnection and participation in absolute Being. We really are all in it together. Along with all other parts of creation we are connected to the inexhaustible Source and with this awareness – this existential awareness – there is insight into what it means to be and at the same time a realisation that one’s being does not derive from oneself.

Thomas Merton saw creation not as a completed act of the primordial past but an ongoing, ever present reality, since there is never a moment when contingent beings are not being called into life and filled with life by their divine Source and Goal.

So that every part of creation and that includes the plants, insects, the animals, the birds and the entire created world that we see around us – every part of creation is a direct participation in the being of God. Sometimes this view is criticised in religion as pantheism but rather it is panentheism which is the awareness that nothing is and nothing can be unless it is grounded in that which alone is Being in the true sense. Then creation is an epiphany of the divine wisdom, as Merton put it, ‘playing before God the Creator in his universe… The beauty of all creation is a reflection of Sophia living and hidden in creation.’

So what are we doing in our destruction; what have we become with our desires and greed?

For example take the relentless deforestation by multinationals for palm oil despite huge protests. I like the quote by Lone Droscher-Nielsen the extraordinary woman who set up an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo

She said about our anthropocenic attitude to everything…
‘I think Darwin had it all backwards. There is no way that something as beautiful and innocent as an orangutan, could ever have evolved into man.’

The fourth questions, ‘For whom are you looking?’

This question is asked by Jesus three times in St John’s gospel. The first time is in the context of his arrest when Jesus asks the armed soldiers and police. It is in the dark and in a time and place limited context. The second time is again to the soldiers. The third time he asks the question is to Mary outside the tomb where his body has been laid. It is a question outside of time and place. When asked by Jesus ‘For whom are you looking?’ Mary’s reply – as with almost all of our replies to Jesus is to almost miss the point. She doesn’t recognise him until he says her name– and in being known and named by the risen Christ she finds him. He is not now an object and something external to her for her to cling to, but rather a joyous experience of communion to be integrated in the deepest part of her true self.

In contemplation we look and can find communion with Christ in the centre of our being, part of the body of Christ, and the communion of saints. It is prayer based on our serious love of God and (similar to eastern meditation) is where we bring our loving attention – our mindfulness with God. It is a place of silence and stillness, and a place of no-analysis, no-thought, no self-concern, beyond imagination. Alone and in solitude, we wait for God. We are completely in the present, here and now. This is the space of the vertical instant, a space outside of time. In this place of no-self, we may like Mary outside the tomb, meet the risen Jesus Christ and yet not recognise him.

We are alone in the company of ‘Another’. As Bede Griffiths puts it we are ‘alone with the Alone’. Remember Winnicott’s paper on the capacity to be alone. He describes this as one of the most important signs of maturity in emotional development – he wasn’t describing necessarily actually being alone but a capacity that emerges from sufficient experience of being alone in the presence of the mother ‘… where the presence of each is important to the other’. In the section where Winnicott reflects on the phrase ‘I am alone’ he sees this as dependent on the infant’s awareness of the continued existence of a reliable mother.

I think in silent contemplation something slightly similar may be happening. Alone can be described as a state of poverty which some have defined as purity of heart. In other words freed from the illusory false self we have the ability not to project the self onto God. God is then the ‘Other’ who is then also ‘Alone’ (alone in the sense of not being projected onto) although with us. Here, also in this last question, is the ultimate realisation which is that it is not just us who are and have been doing the looking. Christ is searching for us and perhaps, after all, as James Alison suggests, like the experiences of the medieval theologians, we have been uncovered and discovered and loved, rather than the other way round. It has all been and continues to be something lovingly done and lovingly given to us.

The fourth step of love, ‘We love ourselves for God’s sake’

St Bernard’s four steps of love are based on the idea that love is our whole reason for existing, and that the development that takes place in our spiritual life is almost like a process of re-education that gradually moves us away from self love toward loving God, and that of God in the other people that we meet. In the fulfilment of the final step we love ourselves for God’s sake. In other words, we no longer love our self except with God, through God, and for God. We finally understand that in God we live, and move, and have our being, and that ultimately our true self is in him. St Bernard, and those who have commented later on his text, understand that in this life this fourth degree of love may rarely be attained, and then only for a short time.

It will be something that happens to us – an act of grace and fully at our death when we move out of the material and into the spiritual dimension. St Bernard likens the experience to the drop of water disappearing in wine; to molten iron taking the form of fire; and to the air transformed into sunshine on a sunny day.

If we understand the four steps of love, which Etienne Gilson calls ‘the apprenticeship of charity’ as a path of continuous conversion and gradual assimilation with the divine life, then, it makes sense that this last step can only be glimpsed in this life. It can happen in our action towards another, we can experience it in moments of suffering, and it can sometimes be captured in poetry; and it may happen in contemplation.

Thomas Merton writing about this state of being says that it means that we are not lost in God, rather, in our true self, we can be found in God in all our personal and individual reality. In other words we become the person we are meant to be. The psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion writes about something very similar when he says that there is an ultimate reality that cannot be known but only be ‘become’- that is it is possible to be at one with it. It stands for the truth and for him ultimate reality can be thought of as a vast reservoir of infinite possibilities.

One person who glimpsed this fourth step of love even in the unlikely setting of Westerbork concentration camp was Etty Hillesum. Towards the end of her life she writes that for her the inner realms of spirit and soul remain spacious and unending even amongst physical and mental suffering and the threat of imminent death. She writes of her life as an uninterrupted dialogue with God, ‘one great dialogue’.

She wrote: ‘Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on Your earth, my eyes raised towards Your heaven, tears sometimes run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude. At night, too, when I lie in my bed and rest in You, O God, tears of gratitude run down my face, and that is my prayer… I just end up with one single word: God. And that says everything…’