So what does surrender to God look like?
Perhaps one way to understand the exploration over the past weeks is to take up the idea of the flow of Presence. Each of the people discussed over the past weeks opened themselves to a ‘more than themselves’. Roberta Bondi ‘gave up’ and allowed the flow of Presence to reawaken her. Carl Jung deliberately opened himself to the experience of the inner world and went with the strange numinous figures that emerged, and Harry Williams understood that he was more open to the flow of Presence once he was less attached to his status and persona. Etty Hillesum set out to become increasingly open and this transformation was dramatically speeded up by the terrible circumstances in the external world.
In the last post I drew on the philosophy of Eric Voegelin, another refugee from Nazi Germany, who used the symbol of ‘divine presence’, ‘Presence’ or ‘flowing presence’ to define a person’s experiential sensitivity to and reflective acknowledgement of their consciousness’s responsiveness to being drawn or moved or pulled by the divine. This is where the divine is recognised as transcendent – in other words not present in the same way as things defined by space and time. In this way we can see that opening ourselves to God will take a different form and encourage different aspects depending on our circumstances and personality.
One of the interesting ways that Voegelin uses this idea is thinking about being open horizontally to the world whilst the opening to the divine is a vertical dimension. The first takes place in time while the vertical is ever present; in the first we are bound by time and in the second we are in the realm of the timeless and opening toward divine reality. This symbol of the flow of presence is primarily the intersection of time with the timeless (a phrase that Voegelin took from the poet T. S. Eliot). Any aspect of surrender involves being open, open to whatever comes our way whatever is possible. Etty Hillesum and Carl Jung both remained curious and interested and absorbed in what life had to offer; whilst Roberta Bondi and Harry Williams were the more cautious – as if their opening was almost forced on them.
I’ve been looking at this through personal stories but the same idea of the flow of presence can also be understood collectively across societies. Voegelin appreciated that we don’t necessarily see the drama that we are living through and our roles in it are only partially and imperfectly known to us, this is a perennial situation of inescapable essential ignorance. To find a way ahead he thought we must always turn inward and restore contact with the lost centre of our consciousness (Carl Jung would express this as the need to be in touch with our unconscious) and also restore contact with our culture and to be present to the flowing presence. Only by turning inward and gaining this insight can we get a sense of the Light that this throws on the mystery of human existence.