Saturday, February 16, 2013

A strange conundrum; is the absence of God the Presence of God? Is it dark or Light?

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.  Psalm 139:11-12

Jesus experienced the extreme of dereliction. Pronouncing on the cross the first words of the psalm, 'My God, my God, why have you deserted me?' Jesus wants to express the meaning of the whole psalm.

But how can we fail to see that this psalmody of Jesus on the cross is the expression, once more, of a temptation overcome, of a despair outrun? Faith, trust, hope are not natural to humanity: religion, law, sentence, are. But to reveal, in the very heart of failure and at the hour of death, amid human clamour and the silence of God, that God is Love, is that not the true, intense and free acknowledging of God? And is it not a turning of the back, in manner more victorious than any other, on the temptation of unbelief? Evil, wretchedness and failure are, in effect, the first grounds of unbelief and this is understandable: how can one not curse God and despair when evil is there - period - and heaven seems empty? Jesus overcame this temptation.

The cry that Jesus uttered on the cross - 'a loud voice' says the Scripture - must not be romanticized but, rather, taken in its precise texture.

Therese of Lisieux underwent profound changes in her experience of faith during the Easter of 1896: Before that time she thought that atheism was a flaunted position, a sham, ‘I could not believe that there really were godless people who had no faith at all: it was only by being false to their own inner convictions that someone could deny the existence of heaven.'

 Finally, her eyes were opened to realize that unbelievers really exist. She experiences the sense of the darkness, such impenetrable darkness, a darkness which cannot recognize the King of Light. 'But here I am, Lord, to whom Your divine light has made itself known.' She finds herself in a situation which seems absurdly contradictory. She does not cease to participate in the light of the faith and at the same time she participates in the darkness in which unbelievers live. She is immersed in suffering never experienced previously and in joy greater than she ever felt before. She thinks that if Jesus has made her see the reality of unbelief and has made her participate in the night of unbelief, it is only so that she may turn the tables: so that she may live this state of darkness for the sake of unbelievers themselves. And, consequently, for her it is a new joy that she had never experienced until then - the joy of not living, the joy of faith so that precisely these 'others', these unbelievers who do not know this joy, might finally attain to it: 'What does it matter, that I should catch no glimpse of heaven's beauties, here on earth, if that will help poor sinners to see them in heaven.'

The night Therese experiences is a sharing of life with Jesus and unbelievers at one and the same time. From the moment she recognizes the existence of genuine unbelievers she reckons herself as their companion.

'Lord, one of Your own children, to whom Your divine light has made itself known ... by way of asking pardon for these brothers of mine, I am ready to live on a starvation diet as long as You will have it so.' Her concern is to remain with those who eat the bread of unbelief: she does not want to 'rise from this appetizing meal'. She is prepared, she says, to remain there as the last one until 'all those who have no torch of faith to guide them catch sight, at least, of its rays.'

This manner of sharing the bread of unbelief is at the same time a manner of breaking bread with Jesus, of sharing the Eucharistic table: for it is Jesus who has led her to this table of unbelievers. Of this she is certain. For Therese, the perfect joy is to find herself among unbelievers and, eating at their table, to be shaken by their questions while remaining in the faith.

‘I find it difficult to believe in the existence of anything except the clouds which limit my horizon. It is only then that I realize the possibilities of my weakness; find consolation in staying at my post, and directing my gaze towards one invisible light which communicates itself, now, only in the eye of faith.'

The more a human being advances in the Christian faith, the more they live the presence of God as an absence, the more they accept to die to the idea of becoming aware of God, of fathoming Him. For they have learned, while advancing, that God is unfathomable. And from then on the presence of God assumes value in their eyes only against the backdrop of absence. The mystic, in his long and complicated pilgrimage, experiences alternately the presence and absence of God. But, by degrees, the absence of God is felt more and more and the mystic understands that this absence is now the norm. Thus the mystic is someone who has had a long-term confrontation with God, like Jacob in the struggle that he waged all through the night, someone who does not cease to confront God. God always precedes us, we see Him only from behind, He walks ahead, He is ahead of us. What the mystic experiences - and every Christian is a mystic because it is not the great illuminations that are the mark of the mystic but the night, an everyday night - is a kind of distancing from God in proportion to advances in the deepening of their faith.

Jean Francois Six as cited in Celtic Daily Prayer

And yet, somehow, His Spirit seems always to be present . . . it is a mystery.

A mystery also expressed in these poems:

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