Friday, May 14, 2010

ECM, Day 4: How do we experience the Divine?

"God does not become present to human consciousness in the way that an object in the concrete world is said to be present. Encountering God is much more like meeting a friend or loved one, and many Christian mystics have used intensely personal language in their writings, especially in their descriptions of their relation to Jesus."

This is one of the big differences I personally see between Catholicism and Protestantism. The structure of Catholicism seems to lend itself to hierarchy. People can pray through the saints and through Mary (who is, of course, a saint herself). People get absolution from God but through a priest. Instead of a direct relationship with Jesus (or maybe in addition to that relationship), Catholics have an apostolic line. Personally, I can see this issue from two sides. On the one hand, it's hugely comforting for individuals to know their place within the structure. It's nice to know that if you go to Mass anywhere in the world, you're gonna get the same liturgy and the same Eucharist. You 'do the same moves' and know how it's going to go, more or less. On the other hand, I can see where some people find the whole thing very ... derivative. Yes, Jesus is supposed to be present in the Eucharist, but if everything else is the same, what makes this so transformational? Let's take it one step further. Even from a psychological point of view, I can see it both ways. On the one hand, things that are novel tend to attract our attention. They're more real and visceral for us, in a sense. On the other hand, studies have shown that repeated behaviors can affect the ways in which individuals thing. Practice acting holy (sixty or more Masses a year) and maybe the Divine Way will sink in? What are your thoughts on this? Back to McGinn...


"But God is not just another person - 'person' as a limited category of the created world cannot contain or define the God who is both the source of the cosmos and infinitely beyond it. This is why speaking of God's presence is at bottom another strategy for saying the unsayable - and why many mystics have wrestled the paradox that God is found in absence and negation more than in presence, at least as we conceive and experience it."

Two things here:
  1. God is ineffable. I love this word - ineffable - incapable of being described in words. It carries a connotation of something huge and complex, overwhelming. Some dictionaries even define it as taboo. I don't like this particular sense of the definition, but I can see where it comes from. God is bigger than us, and any time we try to limit him in words, we have to acknowledge that we're not complete in our understanding.
  2. There are differences in mysticism between 'presence' and 'negation.' I'm sure we'll get more into these as we delve into the mystics themselves. Many of us look to St. Francis as an example of an extraordinary man. But many of us - myself, at least - kind of romanticize his devotion to Christ. We see how much he loved animals, how he wore scratchy clothing, how he lived in poverty and physically built a church, how he received, quite visibly, the stigmata. These are all external, "cataphatic" signs of his experience. They are things we can see. The "negative," or "apophatic," way is a bit different. It's hidden and mysterious. It has to do with emptying the self of all things self-ish. St. John of the Cross describes the Dark Night of the Soul as something like a Void, an Emptiness, even a Loneliness. In this vein of mysticism, one must be empty before the Divine can fill you up again.
Today's short quotations come from page xv. Slowly, surely, there will be more to come. Comments welcome!

1 comment:

TLM0000 said...

Good Afternoon Emily,
I just wanted you to know that I am reading. This is not a subject that I have a lot to say about, so I am quiet, but I am happy that I am able to read your writings.