Thursday, April 10, 2014

Study Guide: The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapters 69-75

We’ve been reading and talking over The Cloud of Unknowing since September, 2013, and today we enter our final discussion concerning this classic text for Christians practicing contemplative prayer. Once again, as we come to the closing chapters (69-75), I trust it’s all right if I highlight three or four major insights and/or concerns Anonymous gives us, making a special effort to emphasis the most significant observation he makes in Chapter 75.

When reading Chapters 69 and 70, I thought of the beautiful comments Martha, a friend of mine, several weeks ago last as she described the transformation that Centering Prayer has brought about in her life. She echoes Anonymoous when he says, “Experiencing this nothing (no-thing-ness) in its nowhere (no-where-ness) miraculously transforms a person’s soul, outlook, and capacity for love.” 

In Chapter 70 our Teacher once more urges us in contemplative prayer not to pay any attention to what our five senses are telling us.  For example, concerning our sense of touch, he says that it “can only teach you whether something is hot or cold, hard or soft, or smooth or sharp. 


In Chapter 71 Anonymous urges us to be utterly realistic about our expectations when practicing contemplation. For some wonderful experiences come quickly or suddenly; for others nothing much happens. Either way is just fine.  Moses found contemplative prayer a real struggle; Aaron found it all coming easily as a gift from God.  So we should not, as Anonymous says in Chapter 72, “take your own experience as the rule of thumb by which you judge other contemplatives.”  So we all should “close-minded ways of thinking, for you can’t judge another’s unique contemplative experience by your own.” For Anonymous, the story about the Art of the Covenant in Exodus 25-27 gives us hints about “the grace of contemplation,” as he noted at the end of Chapter 71. To catch the drift of Anonymous commentary on the Art of the Covenant story and how Moses, Bezalel, and Aaron show forth various experiences regarding contemplative prayer, it’s best to slowly read Exodus 25-27. Anonymous says that “these three men symbolize the three ways that we advance in the grace of contemplation”:

In Chapter 74, our Teacher reminds us that he has covered many areas of our contemplative relationship with God in his little book.  He’s given us a great deal to digest and remember.  For that reason, he suggests that we might wish to read his Cloud a second or third time. Several readings will clarify things and bring out important teachings that we have not previously noticed. Moreover, we should not lightly recommend this book for everyone to read.  Some people simply are not “equal to its contents.”  Here Anonymous is not being judgmental; he’s simply giving good advice.  We have read the book with benefits because we’re quietly disposed to appreciate it; others are not. So don’t push things. After all, we who know the truthful realizations expressed in this book don’t want “habitual gossips, brownnosers (see Butcher’s note [260-61] on this one!), faultfinders, complainers, whisperers, and all kinds of character assassinators reading this book” (164).  Again, don’t push things.

Now we come to Chapter 75, the last chapter. Here Anonymous answers this question: who then should read this book?  His answer is straightforward.  The person who reads this book should have a desire and the determination to live a good Christian life. This doesn’t mean that you should be perfect. If that were the case, no one could pursue the loving search. As a reader, you must be willing to make use of the normal means the Church offers for the Christian life. This includes, of course, frequently weekly worship, active participation in the Divine Services, frequent participation in Holy Communions, study of Scripture, and engagement in works of mercy and the pursuit of justice.  All of these are expected from any decent Christian.
Then too you will want to feel an interior attraction to the simple prayer described in this little book.  Such praying (like Centering Prayer) does not have to take the place of all your usual devotions, but you should have a desire to give yourself, now and then, with greater or lesser frequency, to this work of loving God.  And if you begin this kind of praying and then find that you are neglecting it, please don’t despair or give it up altogether.  The desire to love God increases as we give ourselves to that love in prayer.  Sometimes we may not even feel the desire, but we still know that somehow this prayer is for us.
So be sensitive to that gentle tug of love, that tiny stirring in your heart that is the sure sign of God’s calling.  Do not be concerned with your unworthiness.  You are unworthy.  If you were ever to feel that you were worthy, then you would be in real trouble!  Do not be concerned with what you are or what you have been.  God is more interested in what you desire to be and in what God wish you to become.  Remember: no one less that St. Augustine teaches that “the whole life of a good Christian is nothing but holy desire.” 


But God has none of these dimensions. In fact, nothing spiritual has [the] characteristics [associated with sight, sound, or taste, or smell]. So we dismiss them when they come to us in contemplative prayer. It’s in this chapter that he first refers to St. Dionysius, a  contemplative whom Anonymous much admired and appreciated.
Sometimes we make progress by grace  alone, and then we’re most like Moses, who for all of us climbing and hard work on the mountain, only saw it seldom, and even then the vision only came by our Lord’s grace, when it pleased God to reveal himself; it was not a reward for Moses’ diligent efforts.  Sometimes we advance in contemplation by our own spiritual skill, helped by grace, and then we’re like Bezalel, who could not look on the Ark before he constructed it with his own skill, assisted by the blueprints given to Moses on the mountain.  And sometimes we advance in contemplation through the teaching of others, and then we’re like Aaron, who was accustomed to seeing it and touching it whenever he wanted, but is Bezalel who made the Ark and handed it to him. (162).
These three—Moses, Bezelel, and Aaron—symbolize, in a general way, the ways contemplatives experience the presence of God.  Moses struggled and eventually experienced the Divine Presence in the cloud, and when he did, it came by God’s grace; Bezalel possessed some spiritual skill, but he needed the help of a blue-print to see the Ark of the Covenant where God abode; Aaron was so blessed that he entered the Presence whenever he wanted, but, of course,  is was “Bazelel who made the Ark and handed it to him.”  Each one of these contemplatives, working together in a small community, entered the Presence by a different path, just as those of us in our little community share different comings and goings (pardon the “directional” implications!) with God.



Anonymous is now about to put down his pen, that is, his quill.  But he dips into his ink, and write one more little paragraph; it’s a blessing for all of us who have read his small book:
Good-bye, dear friend. Go in God’s blessing and mine.  And I ask almighty God that true peace, wise advice, divine joy, and abundant grace be with you always and with all on earth who love him.  Amen.
One couldn’t ask for a more beautiful last page, last paragraph, last blessing.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Study Guide: The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapters 64-68

If the mind is much like a battery passively storing information we receive through our senses (as he describes it in Chapter 63), in Chapter 64 Anonymous, using traditional medieval understandings of what goes on inside of us, tells us that our distinction-making reasoning power "helps us distinguish the evil from the good, the bad from the worse, the good from the better, the worse from the worst, and better from the best." Said simply, reason
clarifies our options. Should I wear a red or blue dress today? Should I eat a BigMac or order a salad? Is my answer to a math question the best one? Reason's job is to tally up the pros and cons about choices.

Once the options are made made, God gives us the power of willing to chose the best one, "the power that helps us choose the good that has been detected by reason. It also helps us love and desire this good and rest in God, completely confident and joyful" (144). When working well, our will helps us decide, love, and act with integrity.  However, the work of our will is often frustrated because sin "infects" good healthy analysis. A sinful will is something like the presence of a ripe cataract in  one of our eyes. While we may see and know about differences in things, our ability to take good aim and fire off a decision is darkened and blurred. Our ability to reason well and take action is impaired by the presence of sin. We miss the target we aim for because our trigger mechanism has been damaged.



Heaven, for example, is often imagined
as a "going up."  As Anonymous reminds us
elsewhere,there is no "up" with God
who is everywhere.
Having discussed our primary powers, Anonymous turns his attention to two of our secondary powers: imagination in Chapter 65 and sensuality in Chapter 66. Our imaginations--that is, our image-making ability--is designed by God to give jus clarifying images so that we can better see what reason is doing. However, our imaginations often present us with perverted images that
unless restrained by the illumination of grace in our ability to reason, we're plagued night and day by unhealthy images of flesh-an-blood creatures and various fantasies, physical representations of spiritual realities or vice vera. These are always fake, fraudulent, and synonymous with error. (145)
In Chapter 66, Anonymous turns to a secondary power, sensuality; its is "the power that affects and controls our body's perceptions." Working with the five senses--tasting, smelling, seeing, feeling, and hearing--our sensuality "allows us to know and experience all of physical creation." The power of sensibility works in two ways: first, it looks after our physical needs; and second, it serves the pleasures of the five senses. Our ability to sense alerts us to hunger and thirst; it also lets us know when food is delicious and water is pleasant tasting. Our sensibility, however, complains when it is not satisfied; it makes us grumble at people who irritate us and rejoice others please us. Before we came to know sin, "our sensibility was so obedient to the will--as if it were its servant--that it never led the will down the wrong path." Since the advent of sin, we must now learn, for example, that unpleasantness is not always bad and that too much rejoicing in pleasures is not always a good experience. "Like a pig inn mud," we can "wallow in filthy promiscuity and wordily possessions.  At that point, a person's lifestyle is so beastly and carnal that [he or she] ceases to be human or in any way spiritual" (148).


So there you have it--the inner dynamics of our "selves."  All was originally good and beneficial, but now we are in need of repair because sin damages the way things should properly function. It may be described as a struggle between sense and sensibility, a struggle writ large in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.

In Chapter 67, our Teacher now asks us to "look at the misery caused by original sin," because the presence of sin in our lives makes it difficult "to understand the vocabulary of they spirit and the work of contemplation, especially if we don't yet know the powers of our souls and how they work" (149). Eventually the analysis he given us in the previous chapters teaches us who we are as we "mature along the path of purification."

Finally, we come to Chapter 68, the great finale. This chapter is so important that you are encouraged to read sentence by sentence slowly so that you know who you are and where you are in contemplative prayer. Importantly our Teacher advises us not to take too seriously traditional introductions and invitations about the way to enter and do prayer, especially contemplative prayer:


I  only ask that during contemplative prayer [you] steer clear of withdrawing into yourself. I also don't want you outside, above, behind, or on one side or the other of yourself. (151)
In other words, "de-localize" yourself when you pray contemplatively. Let go images and thoughts that suggest you are going somewhere. God is "god-ing" you, "one-ing" you. 

As you read this chapter slowly and carefully, discussing it with others as you go along, Julia Gatta's summary may help you to appreciate Anonymous' encouragements:


Contemplation cannot be localized. When we engage in it, we should not imagine that our contact with God is taking place within, above, outside, or behind ourselves.  [Anonymous] deliberately leaves us "nowhere." We cannot hoard spiritual experiences within ourselves "like a lord with his possessions." Once again the method of prayer follows the pattern of self-emptying. If we are left "nowhere" with "nothing,"  our condition embodies the negative way of incarnation. When Christ reduces himself to nothing, he is manifested in everything. "Our inward man," comments [Anonymous], calls this nothing "All." [Three Spiritual Directors for Our Time: Julian of Norwich, The Cloud of Unknowing, Walter Hilton (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publ., 1986), 122.


You may wish to ask yourself, "Where in Centering Prayer does going No-where take me?" All-Where? The Presence?

  




Thursday, March 20, 2014

Study Guide: The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapters 59-63

Inasmuch as we have been reading and discussing The Cloud of Unknowing since September of last year and by last week we have read and discussed everything up to Chapter 58 , I’m going to suggest that now we sprint to the finish line and finish up The Cloud by Passion (or Palm) Sunday, April 30. That means we will now begin to read and gather up sometimes as many as four or five chapters for each Thursday’s forthcoming discussions. So here’s the schedule:
March 21: Chapters 59-63
March 28: Chapters 64-68
April 3: Chapters 69-73
April 10: Chapters 74-75
This schedule will allow to finish The Cloud at the end of Lent, and everyone can think about choosing and ordering another book for our rest-of-the-year study. I hope that’s all right with everyone!

To do this, we’ll have to skip some things and highlight or foreground more important themes and observations that Anonymous makes. I’ll take the liberty of underscoring what appears to me to be significant, but you too can introduce questions and observations you have about anything in any given chapter. We’ll work together!

For this week therefore will take a look at Chapters 59-63 (134-143).

Here are their chapter headings as Anonymous announces them:
Chapter 59: That we should also not view Christ’s ascension as a literal example of how our imagination should be strained upward during contemplation, and that when we are engage in contemplative work, time, place, and the body must be forgotten 
Chapter 60: That the quickest, best way to heaven is measured by desire, not by feet 
Chapter 61: That when nature follows God’s rules, flesh is subject ot spirit, and not the reverse 
Chapter 62: How to know when your spiritual work concerns what is outside and beneath you, when it is inside you and on your level, and when it is above you but under God 
Chapter 63: On the soul’s powers, with a special look at the mind as it major faculty, since the mind comprehends all other strengths and also their accomplishments
You will remember that in his comments before this chapter Anonymous has repeatedly reminded us that God is everywhere all the time and therefore there’s no need to imagine ourselves as “going” to God. No one gets in a trolley car and rides to God. You are always everywhere already “oned” (to use Julian of Norwich’s rare but wonderful verb) with God. Your “with-ing” with God is already God’s “with-ing” with you. God is the Divine With-ing. Or as Meister Eckhart so elegantly put it, "The Eye with which I see God is the same Eye with which God sees me." Such is the “ONE-ing” in which we live.

In Chapter 59 Anonymous says it one more time: “In contemplation, direction as we know it ceases to exist. Up, down, to, from, behind, and before vanish" (134).  Even when we contemplatives speak of a “stirring” in our hearts (that is, when we recognize the movement of love toward God), Anonymous insists that we don’t take the word “stirrings” literally. “Even when contemplation is sometimes called a “rest,” that term doesn’t mean “staying in one place and not moving away. When done maturely, this work is so pure and spiritual that, if you could see it for what it truly is, you’d know it’s far removed from motion and location" (135). The clear implication is that when we sit for Centering Prayer or any other contemplative practice, we are not going anywhere, and we are not entering anything.  We let go of such notions because they give one wrong impressions about what’s happening.

In Chapter 60, Anonymous does it again. He insists that notions about distance, which we measure by feet, inches, yards, miles, and kilometers don’t matter. With God “it’s all the same distance. ”Spiritually speaking, heaven is as close down as up, as close behind as before, as quickly reached from side as the other” (137). Thus we contemplative say, "We don't go to heaven; we are always "beheavened." That said, perhaps it’s simply best to say that “the highway to heaven is measured by desires, not by feet. Our longing is the most direct route . . . . we don’t need to strain our spirits in any direction, up or down or from one side to another. Whenever we love, we’re already there” (137).  Love moves us to the Nowhere and Allwhere of God.

Now comes the adjustment, so thoughtfully expressed by Anonymous in Chapter 61:
That said, it helps if we lift our physical eyes and hands up to the literal heavens, where God has gived the stars and all the planets. I mean that we should do this only if we’re moved by the Spirit during contemplative work, because every physical thing is subject to and ruled by something spiritual, never the reverse. (138)
So it’s okay to look up and to raise one’s hands provided that we are responding to the Spirit’s promptings. Never the reverse. We don't raise our eyes or our hands in any hope that such goings-on move us to heaven. The difference is big. Look at the example Anonymous gives us:
When your soul conscientiously focuses on this love work, immediately and often without knowing it, your body follows the lead ofy our interior activity. If at first your body was bent down or to one side so that you could be more comfortable, during contemplation God’s Spirit gives your body the power to stand up straight, erect. Your body imitates your soul and makes the work of the Spirit evident. That’s how it always is. (138-139)
My hunch is that you have experienced what Anonymous is talking about just as I have. Sometimes in contemplative prayer I become aware that my head has dropped down and my shoulders are hunched down, and in that awareness I slowly bring my body back to straightness, more awareness, with head more up, shoulders more back, backbone more aligned.  That's a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Now about Chapters 62 and 63.  To be honest and frank about it, I'm not entirely sure that grasping what Anonymous says in Chapters 62 and 63 is critically important.  In these chapters Anonymous as a medievalist presents a typical fourteenth-century understanding of human psychology, that is, how one's "soul" and its attendant parts may be mapped out.  When outlined, it looks like this:

1.  There is a material world outside our souls: the sun, moon, and stars, along with everything else like trees, animals, lakes and ponds and so on.  For the contemplative, everything in the outside material world (important as anything or anyone may be) is lower in contemplative value than what constitutes one's "soul."

2. Every person also has an "inside" world that we may describe as having three parts, powers, or faculties:

    a.  a mind which is essentially passive in its activity; doing no "work," the mind is like a battery that collects energy; just so, it "comprehends" or gathers up things and stores them for use by one's reasoning ability and by one's willing ability.  (By the way, some contemporary psychologists suggest that's part of the reason why older people sometimes have difficulty remember things: so much is "filed away"in the mind's cabinet that it takes a while to sort through it all.  Young people, by contrast, don't have too much "stored" in the mind, and therefore they can find what's on the shelf rather easily.)

    b.  one's reasoning ability is an activity that specializes making distinctions among things and ideas the mind has stored.

    c.  one's ability to make willful decisions also functions activity in that it gives us the ability to choose what is best.

These three "parts" of one's soul are its principal powers.

Well, there you have it.  Take Anonymous' mapping of the soul for what it's worth, helpful as a medieval description of yourself.  More importantly, avoid going anywhere to be with God.  Just be.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Study Guide: The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapters 57-58

Chapter 57:  “How arrogant young disciples misunderstand up and then are tricked” (129-130).

Now that we’ve taken a good look at the digression wherein Anonymous warns us about being taken in by quack-contemplatives (showing us in contrast how a good spiritual guide presents herself), our teacher asks us to return to his previous concern which he left trailing in Chapter 51: the need not to take literally words like in and up.  So he begins Chapter 57 by suggesting that we “go back to our discussion of the word “up.” He last mentioned that word, along with the word "in" Chapter 51 as he reminded us:

When something is meant to be understood figuratively, we shouldn't take it literally. For example, look at the words in and up. These two words are often misunderstood by those setting out to be spiritually active as contemplative, and their distorted meanings create much error and illusion (116-120).
The word up looks innocent enough; it’s simply a preposition and doesn’t at first glance appear to be dangerous at all.  From one point of view, it’s not; in ordinary usage, it’s common to our way of talking.  We go up to the second floor, for example. When studying Greek to read the New Testament in its original language, you’ll need to memorize the meaning of prepositions as they are used by the Gospel writers, Paul, and others, and you’ll find that the Greek word for up (ana) is quite common.  It’s simply one of many preprositions that help you find where things are.  Here’s what such prepositions in Greek look like:



While the Greeks have their own words for various preposition, so do we English-speakers and writers.  And the word UP (Anonymous capitalizes it in his Middle English text), like any preposition, can be a problem especially when we examine it as contemplatives. Yes, we use the word often, especially in worship as, for example, when our pastor encourages us “lift up our hearts to God.”  Anonymous reminds us that some people he knows, when they hear these words, actually tilt their heads upward and start looking around.  God is somewhere up there, they suppose, just as this medieval woodcut makes plain:



The word up tempts us to look around, especially heavenward, to see if we can locate God.  After all, Jesus ascended and went up.  It makes good sense, therefore, to imagine that we should go up too.  Some contemplatives, especially beginners, Anonymous says, take the word up even further up.  They hear the word in a statement like “Let’s all be sure to dress up to look good” and conclude that good spirituality implies that even God likes to dress up and so, as Anonymous says,

they make God in the shape of their desires, covering him in expensive clothes and placing him on a throne, creating a mental image far more fantastic than any painting done of him on earth.  They also give angels human shapes and different kinds of musical instruments—most odd!



Anonymous is very suspicious of this way of imagining heavenly realities.  In fact, he suggests that the devil may be at work here, so much so that some Christians seem to think that good things fall from heaven like dew and so adopt bodily postures meant to catch the blessings that fall down from the skies. 



As Anonymous observes such people, he concludes that all too often “their souls are empty, lacking genuine devotion while their hearts are filled with self-worship and dishonesty of their weird spiritual ‘exercises.” Of course, those who pray this way may not see that Anonymous is on to something. “They think it’s all genuine and are fully convinced that they’re merely following the examples set my St. Martin, St. Stephen, and others, who were completely devoted to the ‘looking upward’ of contemplative love.”  After all, stories in the Bible depict believers like St. Stephen seeing God, “surrounded by angels and wearing his robe.  That’s why they say we should turn our eyes upward.”
         

Anonymous acknowledges that this is true enough and says that he “completely agree[s] that if we feel moved during worship, we should lift up our flesh-and-blood eyes and hands.” But he then continues, “[nevertheless,]  I believe just as strongly that when we do the work of the spirit, we don’t actually move up or down or from side to side or forward or backward.  Contemplative love has no up, down, left, right, front, or back.  We experience it spiritually, unlimited by physical dimensions.”

Chapter 58: “That we should not view the lives of St. Martin and St. Stephen as literal examples of how to strain our imagination upward during contemplation” (131-133).
Having mentioned Saints Martin [1] and Stephen [2] in Chapter 57, Anonymous in Chapter 58 continues his examination as to how expressions of “upness” [my word], must not be taken too literally.  Although he acknowledges that stories about these saints give one the impression that being dressed “up” a certain way is part of the narrative, nevertheless thoughtful consideration about historical realities makes it clear that “St. Martin’s robe was never really worn by Christ because he had no need to be protected from cold weather.”[3] 

For Anonymous such a story is not to be taken literally not only because the details are improbable, but also because such stories are also said to be visions, non-corporeal events much akin to dreams.  Reading them appeals to those who are in need of images for spiritual sustenance.  After all, Anonymous says, “if we humans were more spiritual, we wouldn’t need [such] visions.”  They are like PowerPoint presentations for the spiritually handicapped. 



Finally, we don’t want to read and understand the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven too literally, imagining that if we try hard enough, we might “catch a glimpse of Jesus sitting or standing in heaven .”  Do we really need to know if he sits or stands or reclines?   Anonymous doesn’t think so.  “Instead, rest in this knowledge—in heaven, Jesus does as he likes, and his body exists in whatever way is best for him.  Whenever he shows himself to someone as reclining, standing, or sitting, this is only done to teach a spiritual truth, not to indicate how he really moves and acts in heaven.”

         When we use words, we need to be cautious about taking them too literally.  When we “stand by” someone, we don’t mean that we necessarily plant our two feet next to his body; rather, we mean that we’ll “be ready to help you.”  When Jesus stands by Stephen, such a use of language means that Jesus will comfort him even in martyrdom.  Jesus is “standing” by Stephen “with the strength of [his] divinity.”

Now there is a profound contemplative logic in all of this wariness even about the little word up.  Take another look at the “Graphic Scheme of the Greek Prepositions” on and notice that a preposition always requires an object, something like a box.  That object or box implies somebody in a relationship to it.  For example, if the box is a trolley car, I can have the following relationships to such an object:

·      I stood near the trolley car.

·      I sat on top of the trolley car.
·      I walked behind the trolley car.
·      I ran around the trolley car.
·      I crawled toward the trolley car.
·      I fell under the trolley car.
·      I jumped out of the trolley car.
·      I went in/to the trolley car.
·      I strolled up to the trolley car.
·      I sped down to the trolley car.

You get the point. Prepositions require both a subject (somebody) and an object (something). Prepositions imply distance, movement, and space. But as the Bible reminds us again and again, God transcends distance, movement, and space.  God is everywhere, all the time; and there is nowhere where God is not. So in a very real sense there is no pointing to God, no going to God (He’s not like a trolley car). From the contemplative point of view, God is known not by objectifying Him, but through “unknowing,” by means of “agnosia,”[4] through not-knowing—the whole point of The Cloud of Unknowing.

A few months ago someone wrote to Carl McColman, a teacher of contemplative prayer, practice, and life who lives in Atlanta.  Here’s what that person wrote to Carl:


Carl, I am a devoted reader of your posts and always find much food for thought there. Thank you for tackling the throny questions of the contemplative life in such an accessible way. Here’s my question that arose from a conversation with a skeptical friend: If the goal of the contemplative is union with God, does the individual begin to disappear and lose his or her unique self (personality, emotions) in pursuing this goal? I have my own theory but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this question when time allows.

And here’s Carl’s reply:


A few thoughts in response. First, I think we misdirect ourselves when we speak of the contemplative life having a “goal” (although, it’s human nature, we all do it). If anything, the “goal” of the contemplative life is not to find God, but to be found by God! We are already united to God, God is already present in our lives, God already lavishly loves us. There is nothing to do (or not do) to make this more or less real. If there is any point or goal to contemplation from a human point of view, it is a means of allowing ourselves to discover what is already there: to reveal what is hidden (remember, “mysticism” is related to “mystery,” that is to say, to the “hidden things” of God).

From the contemplative point of view we are and have always been one with God. St. Paul tells us emphatically that all of us live and move and have our being in God.   puts it this way: “God doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us.  He’s not remote; he is near.  We live and move in him, we can’t get away from him!” (Acts 17.28). Reminding us that it’s impossible to “locate” God because is He is “un-mapable,” Nicholas of Cusa,[5] put things this way:  “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”  And if God is “un-mapable,” he is also “un-timeable”  (without past or future) so that it may be said that “God is a now whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is always!  In short, in a very real sense, we don’t need words, images, thoughts, and ideas to be with God.  We are already always with God. 

So don’t try to go “up” to God.  Simply love and be “one-ing”[6] with mystery of Whoever, Wherever, and Whenever He is.  All of this is why Anonymous says that we want to let the literal be a minimalist way of looking at the Divine and move beyond it to a greater reality, the Mystery to which the literal ironically often points: the One-ing.


Notes


[1]  Martin of Tours (316 – November 8, 397) was a Bishop of Tours whose shrine became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela.  Around his name much legendary material accrued, and he has become one of the most familiar and recognizable Christian saints. 


[2]   For the story of St. Stephen, see Acts 7. 55ff.
[3]  When Anonymous speaks of St. Martin, he is referring to the following story:
[4]   From a-  without + gnĊsis  knowledge.
[5]  Nicholas of Cusa, was a German philosopher, theologian, jurist, mathematician, and astronomer. One of the first German proponents of Renaissance humanism, he made spiritual and political contributions in European history. A notable example of which is his mystical or spiritual writings on “learned ignorance.”
[6]   Julian of Norwich calls our not-going-anywhere to be with God, our “Oneing.”  The word “oneing” is taken from the eighteenth chapter of Revelations of Divine Love (c. 1393). When she was 30 years old, and during a time of grave illness, Lady Julian experienced 16 revelations or “shewings” of “divine love.” She describes one experience as “a great oneing betwixt Christ and us . . . .”