A word arrived in my in-box quite unexpectedly this morning with compliments from Merriam-Webster: quodlibet.
It is defined as “1) a philosophical or theological point proposed for disputation; also : a disputation on such a point. 2) a whimsical combination of familiar melodies or texts.”
Originally I’d titled this post A meditation at St. Michael’s – but it was more – and less – than the title suggested. So “Quodlibet” was just the ticket – combining the thought of both the musical whimsicality of wandering thoughts and the disputation around “a philosophical or theological point“.
A few days ago I sat alone in a small Anglican church not far from my place of work. I found there, if not peace exactly, then a welcome respite, in the dark interior, with it’s stained glass windows and the wooden Christ above the altar. I paged through the Anglican prayer book which lay beside me on the pew, sat quietly a while, then went outside into the warm sunshine. The dappled shade, the spring flowers in the garden, the church, all quite lovely, a simple joy.
As a young man, I would have prayed, perhaps sought out a priest, or in more recent years even reproached the all-seeing God for His inexplicable silence in the face of suffering, a broken world. Now, to enter the sacred space is no longer a devotional act. It is not a seeking for encounter or silence of meditative prayer, supplication or even religious questioning. I enter the quiet, a place of stillness, seeking no answer, seeking nothing.
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence…” -Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Who am I to argue with the words of a recently canonised saint? yet I know that I did not go to St. Michael’s “to find God.” (The notion of finding God seems, for me, a little presumptuous. Perhaps Deus Absconditus, – the Hidden One – seeks – or does not seek – us: perhaps the shepherd chooses the hour he sets out to rescue the sheep stranded in the abandoned quarry – or does he leave the sheep there to perish alone? Perhaps he chooses to delay his search, to abandon his search, to not set out at all.
In “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light” we read of Mother Teresa’s own struggle to find God in the darkness:“Darkness is such that I really do not see -neither with my mind nor with my reason – the place of God in my soul is blank – There is no God in me – when the pain of longing is so great – I just long & long for God. … The torture and pain I can’t explain.” And “As for me, the silence and emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear. The tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak.”
Teresa, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/augustweb-only/135-43.0.html and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1561247/Mother-Teresas-40-year-faith-crisis.html
“… trees, flowers, grass, the stars, the moon and the sun…”
Was my visit to St. Michael’s simply a nostalgia?
(Interesting: Nostalgia: From Greek algos “pain, grief, distress” + nostos “homecoming,” from neomai “to reach some place, escape, return, get home,” from PIE *nes- “to return safely home” (cognate with Old Norse nest “food for a journey,” Sanskrit nasate “approaches, joins,” German genesen “to recover,” Gothic ganisan “to heal,” Old English genesen “to recover”) http://www.etymonline.com
to reach some place
from pain, grief, distress
“A melancholic longing for an absent something or someone
… a melancholy nostalgia for something that perhaps has not even happened.”
“If you hate God, why would you want to sit in a church?”
AN ANSWER OF SORTS:
(below: from “God-haters can be great company” by Bernard Schweizer at Religion Dispatches: ‡)
“Well, I guess I should be sorry for having messed up the neatness of St. Paul’s you’re-either-for-us-or-against-us ideology by introducing the category-defying species of misotheists, a type of religious believer who is neither fish nor fowl. But then, the misotheist surely is a colorful, exotic, and fascinating animal worthy of a separate display in the menagerie of religious stances.”
The question seems to resist an intelligible answer. Firstly, what do we mean by God – a multivalent term if ever there was one! surely to “hate God” one must have an a priori understanding of what it is one hates or is angry with. Are we talking here of the generally accepted idea of the God of the Christians, the Jews or the Muslims? And within these monotheistic faiths, which sect’s “God?” Are we talking about the God of the deist, the pantheist, the Hindu, the Buddhist? The Divine Mystery of Meister Eckhart or the vulgar deity of the fundamentalists?
GOD IN ALL THINGS
“Rahner insisted throughout his life and work that God is the Holy Mystery who pervades the whole of reality, the incomprehensible ground of all being. God is not one mystery among others, but the Mystery, one who can never be known or grasped: … the concept of God is not a grasp of God by which a person masters the mystery, but it is letting oneself be grasped by the mystery which is present and yet always withdrawing itself”
– Moving mysticism to the centre . Karl Rahner (1904-1984). Patricia Carroll
“It is impossible to talk of the human person outside the context of this core identity. This also accounts for the restlessness of spirit experienced by so many: “The God-experience is the cause of our dissatisfaction with life, for nothing measures up to that which rests at our deepest center. The immense longing speaks to us, even if at times only in a whisper: this or that finite thing is ultimately not where we have set our hearts.” Thus, the experience of God often exists as the experience of knowing something is wrong, or that there is a standard against which evil can be judged: “Where do atheists and agnostics acquire their often acute sensitivity to injustice, evil, suffering, and death if not from an even deeper experience of ultimate life, fulfillment, and meaning? In short, what provides the grounding for a radical experience of ‘what ought not to be’ for those who deny ultimate meaning a priori?” This type of experience is foundational, perhaps “utterly inescapable.” Rahner attributes this unavoidable nature of the experience of God to the identity of human beings as transcendent. This basic orientation to transcendence means that we are already, and always, open to the experience of Godself through grace, which is God’s self-communication. Rahner speaks of a mysticism of everyday life, a recognition that the way to a more explicit faith for Christians is through the often boring or monotonous daily grind of life. We find God, not only in profound encounters, but also in the ordinary aspects of life. “The simple and honestly accepted everyday life contains in itself the eternal and the silent mystery”
– Moving mysticism to the centre . Karl Rahner (1904-1984) Patricia Carroll
It is absurd to hate the life force which gives us the very possibility to hate, the capacity to love, to hope, to weep, to contemplate, write, sing, dance, compose music, to be in awe of a sunset or the anatomy of a dragonfly. To hate God is in this respect nonsensical: to ignore, for instance, the wonder of astronomy, botany, biology, physics; the beautiful mathematics shared between, say, a nautilus shell and a spiral galaxy – the Fibonacci sequence and the sectio aurea – is like a blind man insisting that flowers have no colour.
In the Fibonacci Sequence (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, …) each term is the sum of the previous two, and the ratio becomes increasingly closer to the Golden Ratio
God is עִמָּנוּאֵל, Immanuel, God with us. Not the remote, unapproachable God of Islam, or the bellicose God of the early Hebrews. Not ‘up there’ or ‘over here’, to be followed like a pillar of smoke and fire, to be visited or travelled towards like some stern and distant uncle or a holiday destination. Isn’t a rejection of God, ultimately, a rejection of ourselves? Exposed, afraid, ashamed, sinful, confused in our transgressions, lost in our trespasses: The Other we give the name “God” reminds us of our lack, that we are strangers to ourselves.
I evade the holiness of His presence because I know myself to be a sinful man, of a sinful people; yet paradoxically it is in this very difference from God, that we are saved through the mystery of the crucified God.
“Jesus said to them,
“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician,
but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous,
but sinners.” †
“Strikes me a good many religious folks ain’t got no need fuh Jesus.
They’s doin’ just fine without him pokin’ ’bout in their affairs.”
-From the Journals of Jebediah Luckett.
I reject a certain representation (or misrepresentation) of God (and here I recall the Cathars of Languedoc, who rejected what they believed to be the false God of an apostate Christendom). Not all misotheism is mocking or triumphalist in tone. There is an agonistic misotheism – like that of Elie Wiesel (see: Divine Apathy, the Holocaust, and Elie Wiesel’s Wrestling with God by Bernard Schweizer) which even pities God.(see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199751389.001.0001/acprof-9780199751389-chapter-5)
Am I obfuscating, being deliberately self-contradictory to hide my tergiversations? To disguise a secret apostasy? Perhaps all lovers “hate” at one time or another: they throw their love at each other like a reproach, smash the gifts given in devotion, return the letters of passionate promises and weep for the collapse of their hopes. Any radio station playing popular songs bears witness to the “love you/hate you”antinomy of relationships (and if we’re tempted to dismiss the love between a man and a woman as irrelevant visivi our relationship with God, then a quick read through The Song of Songs should dispel the reluctance).
Or we can find a 21st century secular example of the counterpoint in Lily Allen’s lyrics:
“Fuck you very, very much
Cause we hate what you do
And we hate your whole crew
So please don’t stay in touch
Fuck you (fuck you)
Fuck you very, very much
Cause your words don’t translate
And it’s getting quite late
So please don’t stay in touch.”
The Old Testament itself reveals a passionate deity: now like a hen with her chics, now spitting his children from his mouth; now tender, now cruel; now blessing, now cursing; now promising everlasting love, now smiting with plague, the sword and domination by pagan empires. If I were to hate God, then it would certainly be this parody of God which people claim to be God. It is the cruel, psychopathic god-mask stitched to The Divine countenance I repudiate. God as mean-spirited, petty tyrant, petulant and unpredictable, the imposter Yaldabaoth, pretender to the throne of Mercy. I am equally repulsed by the god of the atheist: the god a militant iconoclast like Richard Dawkins casts like a rotten fish at Christians. Paradoxically, such atheists are suspiciously redolent of the very god they reject: they share their malefisent deity’s characteristic intolerance and plain nastiness. Ignorant of the apophatic, they attack a pantomime-puppet version of God, a straw-man deity stuffed with bigotry that apes their own.
The agonistic misotheist, seeing in his mind’s eye a child dying of cancer, or a terrified animal struggling to free itself from a snare – affirms Divinity even in his very protest against God. Atheism is a too-easy exit from man’s existential conundrum, and thus the misotheist must abandon both atheism and faith: he must continually, obsessively take the visions which torment him to the throne of God. He is insistent and unrelenting: commanded by Christ to knock, he bangs until his fists bleed at the door that God has shut against his supplications, against his futile protest on behalf of a broken world. He shares neither the sneering, dogmatic confidence of a Dawkins nor the self-satisfied defensiveness of the evangelical: he remains at God’s silent door long after believers and non-believers alike have retired for the night to the comfort of their convictions.
“(For) Jewish protest theology… to protest God, even to call God out for his supposed cruelty or indifference, is at bottom nothing else than a yearning to be reconciled with God.”
– LOVING AN ABUSIVE GOD by Bernard Schweizer
HARE IN A SNARE
When I was a little boy, growing up in rural oxfordshire, I once found a little velvety hare’s foot beside a country lane. A farmer told me the hare had gnawed through it’s own leg to free itself from a snare. I kept it a long time, tucked in the pocket of my shorts, perhaps believing with the naivety of a child that I could ameliorate the animal’s suffering by caring for it. I also felt the anger only a child can feel at the stupidity of adults.
I still rage against gods and men that set snares.
Looking above the altar at the figure of a man nailed to a cross, I sense the Saviour of the world would free every wounded creature.
NOTES AND SOURCES
† The Gospel of Saint Mark, 2:17