Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Truly, madly deeply...or, truly, deeply mad

Brother Lawrence writes about coming to know God through faith; a faith at once childlike and obstinate. This faith he considers to be a superior vehicle to knowledge of God than "deductions of the intellect." Knowledge of God thus acquired is deepened and sustained through "practicing the presence of God," and its fruit is a relationship of love.

For me, such a relationship, and by such means, appears exquisitely beautiful and appealing. It also appears dangerous. Whether seeking truth via faith or intellect, I feel that I am blind. Relying on the intellect, I reach about, grasping for a sense of my surroundings. My reaching hands are aimless guides, utilizing the accumulated knowledge of life to discern what is touched and to make inference of what is yet untouched. Relying on faith, specifically on faith in God (this is a challenging term, even with intellect a measure of faith is required; a trusting of learned facts, mental processing and memory. And then, can we assume an experience of "faith" is not being filtered through the intellect?), my reaching hands have found a rope. When I am willing to take hold of this rope and hold fast, I find that there is someone or something at the other end, drawing me forward. Wonderful, awful discovery! Am I saved? Am I being drawn to Truth, Light, Love? Or, is this a steady tug pulling me to a deeper darkness, drawing me into an enthralling delusion?

Encounters with certain gentlemen who experienced dramatic transitions towards what they perceived as transcendent awareness and even some of my own reactions to relationships and situations have left me scarred and wary of an encompassing spirituality or complete release of the self to the Other. I am afraid of losing my mind, losing control, losing my place in this world. The jubilation I felt this weekend is being crowded by gathering clouds of anxiety. Yet, I do not feel that my withdrawals from these situations and into more reasoned, rational ways of being has led to the life of liberation and purposeful action and enriching relationship that my heart persistently hunts for.

I feel more at ease moving at my own pace, reaching about in the dark, but I also feel alone and unsatisfied. So, disregarding whatever psychological or philosophical rationale may apply to qualify my experience (it is so tempting to me to enter into that realm where conclusions are indefinitely delayed), I feel there is something constantly being point to, that amidst a milieu of raucous clamor something insistently, consistently speaks in a still small voice, and I feel that this something is God and that God is Love. If this is so, how can I not desire above all things to seek after, to love and be beloved of such a One!

I hear my struggle voiced in the words of Dorothy Day when she writes,

"Always at the bottom of my heart was the desire to believe, sometimes so faint as to be imperceptible, at other times very strong. But I distrusted myself, my own emotional reactions and my own instability."

Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and C.S. Lewis are three spiritual writers through whom I am consistently inspired and challenged and with whom I feel a deep synthesis and mysterious kinship. All three had sharp intellects and brilliant creative talent, to the point that I feel overwhelmed in the presence of their work. They were well learned, curious and speculative. In the end their knowledge did not inhibit their aptitude for faith but in fact played into their inclination toward it.

Perhaps this matter of faith versus intellect is not an either/or affair at all, but a situation where each would benefit from humbly acknowledging the presence and purpose of the other. With that in mind, I think it is valuable (and has proved itself to be productive) that I continue to identify and pursue those things that kindle my heart, while simultaneously continuing to actively question myself and my influences.

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