Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Beyond the Absolute Part 1 of 3: The Seduction of the Absolute

There often come times in each person’s life where life can become muddlesome, sorrowful, and painful. There are other moments of joy, pleasure, luxury, love, and comfort, and of course moments for other things in this life as well. But it seems in all of man, and in all of life there is the subtle whisper of the desire for the Absolute. He Who Is, Is the Absolute, and this we know as Christians, but for many others there is the Absolute, the Transcendent One, whom one may experience the desire for flirtingly in the beautiful view of nature in its tranquility and elegance. But for many, there is no understanding of this desire, and many times a misattribution of it, and we all feel somehow intuitively that that Transcendence though we may have seen it by a strong wind, the overthrowing of mountains, an blazing fire, or another natural event is yet not contained by the wind, nor by the fire, nor by the mountain, nor by any natural event of any kind.

Sometimes when sin clouds our life we lose touch of finding God, but to every soul that has been touched by God, and every soul has in a small way, there is still ever yet that yearning and desire for the Absolute One, but we cannot find Him in the things that come to pass, but only in the embrace of prayer and through the ministry of His holy Church.

I write this post as the lowest of novices in prayer, and as one who struggles to even incline or be inclined to prayer, but I simply wanted to post some thoughts on the reflections of a Carthusian monk, found in the book “The Wound of Love.” My comments are in plain text, and quotes will be italicized.

“Beyond the Absolute” an essay by a Carthusian, Introduction

To become a Carthusian, the desire alone does not suffice… He alone remains in the Charterhouse [this is where Carthusian monks live, and where the term Carthusian comes from] who has felt a call in the very centre of his soul which is more powerful than any of the contradictory forces within and around him. The Carthusian vocation is a work of God. Our human co-operation is perhaps more indispensable than in any other context, but we are well aware that we are utterly incapable of brining the work to fruition left to our own devices.”

Here we must realize that each of these monks is called to be a Christian first and foremost, and that the call to become a Carthusian though a very high call is of the same operation and desire of the Holy Spirit to every Christian to become holy as we ought to be. Then it is that faith must be a call to the very center of our souls; the very core of our heart must be upheld to God in a manner more powerful than any other string that pulls on the chords of the heart. But then we must realize that all of our calling is the work of God, that though our co-operation in love with God is absolutely necessary in order to be truly called love and transformation, but that without God’s work we would be lost in the dark.

First of all, then, there is a call. Though purely interior, it seeks to realize itself within an exterior, institutional framework whose rigidity may seem surprising. Once the decision has been made, the discovery of Carthusian life in practice opens up a world in which the paradoxes are often difficult to accept.”

Here of course we see the parallel to our life of faith, that first there is the call within our hearts, though it may be faint at times, it is that call that when it strikes to the core of our heart and firmly takes hold, the rest of our life falls in line. For the theological virtue of faith when lived fully breeds hope, and hope is ever present in the holy soul with love, which is the greatest of these three. It is this self-giving love, this self-sacrificing charity that creates in us the heart of righteousness and mercy, ever living in unity, both operating in totality through the Spirit of God Who gives our souls life. At once there is mercy and forgiveness with our brothers and yet the acknowledgement of the Lord’s expectations for us and for our brothers. This is how I understand partly how our call becomes expressed in the exterior, by works of charity ever founded upon the sanctity and help of the Paraclete.

The Seduction of the Absolute

“He alone who has experienced this seduction can understand. When God calls, it is so self-evident that all words and arguments are left behind. When God reveals Himself, there is no room for discussion; it is He alone whom we meet, even if we can find no way of explaining this to others.”

When God calls us to the core of our hearts, the manner in which I think St. Augustine might say called appropriately and hence chosen by the Divine Spouse, there is no mistaking it. The heart is left in awe, in mystery, in peace, in tenderness, and by a piercing of the heart, to which no other love could ever fathom to pierce and abide in. The human heart is awe-stricken it seems and there is no room in the heart to say no, it is absurdity to say no, there is no reason to say no to God in these instances. The Lord does not violate our will here I propose and we might be able to say no but we would have no reason to do so, and doing so would be an act of caprice for the sake of sheer caprice, but it is nigh unthinkable, almost logically contradictory to the human essence itself to do so.

From here on out our Carthusian monk will talk of the Absolute though he notes the advantage this might hold in a conversation, but also the inability to really put words to the authentic experience (perhaps as well we might consider that God reveals Himself differently to many people, but always with the same ineffable nature). The distinctive attribute of calling God the Absolute here is that it shows us that it is Him and no one else.

“We recognize Him immediately even if we have never met Him before. There is nothing with which we can compare Him. He reveals Himself truly as perfection itself and takes hold of our hearts at once. A thirst is born within us which nothing can quench except the Absolute. Anyone who has received this wound sets out in a quest of the means of reaching the Absolute in so far as it is possible in this life. No doubt the means available will always be inadequate, but we long to do all that is in our power to attain it.”

May the Lord grant us the help and grace to seek Him with a full heart as the saints do.

 To give oneself to God for His sake
To the one who sets out on this quest, the Charterhouse appears from the outset as a world he already knew, sight unseen. It seems to hold the answers, as if by instinct, to his search. There seems to be a sort of connivance [act of secret transpiring] between what one is told and what one would have said oneself. To give oneself to God for His sake. To live for Him alone. To renounce everything that is not God and find in Him the fulfillment of all we seek. Not only do we find these formulas written down, but we have the feeling that they are actually being lived, even if we realize that the framework is in many ways rather shabby and apparently a bit shriveled up.”

The Christian life in its deepest levels is lived in the interior of the soul, at the heart of a man, and so what we learn from the saints and holy ones who live this life, is almost secretly and bewilderingly accurate, though one wonders at times whether this mystery is all conceived in our minds from having heard it so much [it is not]. Our lives are to give our lives for God, we were made for Him. If you love Me, keep My commandments says our Lord, and here is the sheerest bliss, all of our love is to be centered around Him, all of our being is inextricably centered on God, and unless we discover this and center ourselves about Him, all things will be misery. When we live the holy life of listening to God in our hearts, we will see that what the saints write is true, even if we live a holy life on the verge of shambles, for who is not on the verge of spiritual shipwreck without God’s guidance and love?

A complete break with the world
A Charterhouse couples in a quite inseparable manner both the heady prescriptions for union with God and a brutal rupture from what in traditional monastic language is called ‘the world’. Despite certain misrepresentations, there is nothing in this of Manichaeism, pessimism, or contempt for those who are part of ‘the world’. The world is the whole of humanity engaged in the splendid enterprise of co-operating with the action of the Creator. It is man tending towards God across the whole spectrum of creation. It is religious man who reflects the face of God in Christ through a thousand forms of apostolate. All of this is good and all reflects God; but none of it is God. Choosing God consequently implies a separation from everything that is not god without even considering all that is involved, and we would not dream of compromising on its exigencies. Even the most wonderful of His creations is nothing compared with Him and He it is whom we seek

We seek God, and every man stretches out to God, even in our most deformed ways of sin, we still desire God. Our hearts were crafted, molded, and made for Him, without Whom we have no rest. Just as well then we know as Christians that we are called to be not of the world, though for some we must work in it. This does not make us any less Christian if we understand that we cannot be of the world for the world is not God and was never made by God for us to rest our hearts in, but rather to use and enjoy what is of the world to see Him and finally rest in Him.

1 John 2: 15-17
15 Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh and the concupiscence of the eyes and the pride of life, which is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world passes away and the concupiscence thereof: but he that does the will of God abides for ever.

Now here St. John the Theologian tells us that we cannot love the world because it passes away and so then we must not love what is below us, for one it is not fitting with our nature, and two it is to miss the point of what the human heart was made for. One, for a man to love as his all something below or equal to him is not fitting with our nature, for it reaches ever upwards in its desire for the Absolute Who alone fulfills our needy hearts. Why spend your life loving the material things of this life when “[e]ven the most wonderful of His creations is nothing when compared to Him”. Two, to love the material things of this life is to misunderstand the transcendence of our own existence as the beloved image of God. We will not perish, that is our faith. Our lives are meant to dwell in the truly Immortal One, to live and abide in Him, for those who do His will abide forever in Him. So though His Creation is beautiful indeed, those who love it as if it were all that there is, never giving over to God one’s heart, then one has missed the entire point of Creation, and has created a travesty that is full of folly.

To be resurrected with Christ
Only Jesus, through His death and resurrection, was able to fulfill this dream completely; to respond with His whole being to the call of God, to cast Himself onto Him and to find Himself again fully in His embrace. To choose the Carthusian way is therefore to immerse oneself in a particularly expressive and effective way in the Resurrection of the Saviour. There must be a death, of which we are not always fully conscious at the start, but which gradually extends its effects into all the dimensions of our lives. Yet there is also a birth into a new life which truly brings us into intimacy with God.”

This is the mystery of the entire Incarnation and life of Christ. He bore poverty in our flesh, becoming a Man, but yet God eternal. Our Lord had two wills ever conjoined by the unity of His one Personhood, and so it is true that our Lord had to will in His humanity to do what was required of His divinity (perhaps there is a better way to say this, and I humbly bow if my orthodoxy is out of line). Yet it was this marvelous Savior whom we desire to be engrafted into, for He is the Vine, and without Him we can do nothing. We as Christians must insert ourselves into His life, in and through Whom is the most perfect union of creature (Christ’s Humanity) and God (Christ’s Divinity). None can contemplate that Infinite perfection, and we must leave it as a task afar to contemplate for those who are deep in His love.  We rejoice, for to join with our Lord Who has offered everything for us is to reign with Him as coheirs to that Infinite bliss! Rejoice O soul, Rejoice! You have been given life eternal, not merely life everlasting but life in the Infinite, in the Absolute, and in some manner Absolute is not proper, for God is beyond Absolute, and our hearts if abiding in Him will live in Him. So O heart, if you die with our Lord, you shall rise with Him. Die to your sinful ways, be obedient, take up your cross, follow Him, experience the Passion whereby we die to all things except life in God, and if so doing we will rise with Him.

Do you not know O soul that Christ in His Passion died? But never was there an instant in Him where He did not respond infinitely to the Lord. He had life in God, and so we are called to an imitation, albeit finite and flawed. Rejoice with such a mission! Rejoice at such a chance! Take care to walk straight and pray for His help and mercy. O Lord, teach us Your ways. It is only in a self-emptying and following the total example of Jesus that we experience what is meant for us beyond our initial inexplicable experiences with God. Greater joy is there in the soul that is truly united with God, for what we taste at the beginning of our journey will most certainly be exceeded by what we taste at the end of our journey, for there we will experience God, who is Beyond the Absolute. May the Lord protect us and guide us.

For my grandmother, may she rest in peace eternal and be granted a quick arrival into the Lord’s abode. What joy that she might be with Him. Let us pray for it.

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