Something Happened at Gethsemani

Bird Flying In_1In one of his German works, The Book of Consolation, Meister Eckhart says, “My suffering is in God. My suffering is God.” These two sentences have been reverberating through my mind for days.

Does God suffer? Abraham Heschel, the great Jewish rabbi and activist of the 20th century, wrote about the pathos of God:

There is a living God who cares . . . passionately (pathos). Justice is more than an idea. The covenant is more than a legal contract . . . a legal document of obligations . . . It is a guarantee of mutual concern.

God is pained when he sees people he love abuse one another.

God simply wants justice. (  Amos’ message)

Eckhart says God suffers but God does not suffer because God’s suffering is not seen as suffering but rather as joy.

Something happened at the Abbey of Gethsemani a few days ago. Attending a Merton retreat, I sensed something different going on within me. All of a sudden the Psalms chanted by the monks took on new meaning—a profound regained sense of trust in God who is my protector and shield. God cares about me and calls me forth to be more than I am. Like Paul, I am powerless to do this on my own. The saying over the enclosure entrance gate, “God alone,” spoke to my heart and this time to the ears of my heart. I “knew” now my own helpless and total emptiness before the abyss where we find God. Eckhart says that our attachments destroy our relationship with God. God alone matters.

Jesuit, John Higgins, has written an excellent analysis of Merton’s thoughts on prayer—Thomas Merton on Prayer. Merton’s basic concept of prayer is that we are made for union with God in Christ. Thus in love we are to share that love with others. The difficulty comes in praying and loving in a world and society where we are often alienated, move to the margins, not allowed to be who we are in Christ. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried” ( Action and contemplation constitute the pillars of our life with God. Prayer keeps our compasses on true north and guides us on the way. Spong has documented that the basic human instinct is self-preservation and survival. We are summoned by the spark of God within us to transcend our survival instinct so that we might love God alone and then love one another. A simple peasant beautifully described prayer to the Cure d’Ars, “I look at God and God looks at me.” In solitude, God speaks to us in the only language God knows—silence. In order to provide a place of solitude, Gethsemani has signs all over the place, “Silence spoken here.”

Our struggle is not promethean, not something we can do of our own effort. It is rather our struggle to let God into our lives. It is our struggle in our quest for God. Is this our suffering in God and God suffering? Our struggle. Our quest. In one isolated moment years ago, deep in the here and now, I realized, “There is nothing here.” This has percolated within me for years and now I am getting some glimpse, as through a glass darkly, that my realization of my no-thingness is the doorway into Merton’s “palace of no-where” (now here). I fall into the abyss when I try to love and come up short.

I am watching videos on the Origin of Earth. The lecturer says that creation came from nothing at the instant of the Big Bang when the vast universe was smaller than a small atom. Moving into fullness and expanding the universe is moving toward the point of nothingness. (Don’t get worried—it will take billions of years.) Is Chardin’s Omega Point the point of no-thingness? Yes, because then all will be all in the Risen Christ.

Like the cosmos we arrive at a points of nothingness during our life. Life is always in process and there is no one final point of nothingness. Life is a journey into nothingness. Life is not working for us. We are no-where. If we can morph no-where into now-here, maybe we can open to the grace of God in Christ who empowers us to transcend our survival instinct and come to a new level of consciousness. We pass through our false self  and always arise to new life and new abundance but, like Sisyphus, the rock of life keeps tumbling back down the hill. Life is death (no-thingness) and resurrection (abundance).

Something did happen at Gethsemani and I have difficulty describing it. Seems as though my prayer was revitalized by chanting the psalms with the monks where I gained a deep, abiding sense of God and God’s love and mercy. I came away praying psalms daily, practicing lectio divina (sacred reading) daily, and trusting more in God. God will empower me in the Risen Christ, like Paul, to do that which I cannot do.

A brief excursus on this theme. It seems to me that some people have a better ability to love than others. Original sin is but a metaphor for our innate brokenness. Some of us are more broken than others by dint of our upbringing and our life experiences. No parent is perfect. If one’s early life experience included unhealthy doses of emotional and perhaps physical abuse, it will be harder for that person to open in trust to God’s love. Suffering with the baggage of the past gets in the way of union with God but there is hope. Again, what a person cannot do on his/her on God can and will do once the person comes the deep dark abyss of no-thingness and falls headlong into the palace of no-where and tumbles out into the realm of God’s love—abundance and life await on the other side no-where.

God comes to us disguised as our life. Life with God is not all kumbaya and blissful oms. Life has its ups and downs. The Buddha saw that suffering was the root of our existence. We suffer because we are attached to things and to our small self that seeks only what we want and need. We humans have arrived a new level of consciousness but we are still trapped hopelessly in our false self. We cannot answer the God-call to love and service on our own power. Not to be outdone, Christ teaches us that through our suffering in life’s daily struggles we are empowered by His Spirit to transcend ourselves, to become who we were meant to be in God’s eyes. Christ’s suffering divinized him and He now “sits at the right hand of God.” He has shown us the way to life in abundance.

Life happens. Eckhart counsels that a change in our perspective can change how we deal with what is happening to us. If we have 80 coins and lose 40, why not rejoice in the fact that we still have 40 coins? The suffering of loss morphs into the joy of gratitude.

Back at the ranch, we have been facilitating an eleven week John Dominic Crossan DVD-based course at church—“The Challenge of Jesus.” The course is full of new insights into matters theological. I was still struggling with what was going on within me, when a class member asked whether the material presented on the DVD really mattered. In one sense it does because it puts a new perspective on the Resurrection. But in another sense, it does not matter. Theological knowledge is no shortcut to a living relationship with the Living God. The God of Pathos cares about us and cares deeply. Our suffering is in God. Our suffering is God. The God of justice and mercy suffers with us as we reach from the depths of the dark abyss to grab a grace rope.

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