September 22, 2011

'Seeds of Contemplation' and 'The Essential Kabbalah'

Visiting a friend in Regina this summer I purchased a pocket-size copy of the American Catholic Thomas Merton's Seeds of Contemplation from the Religion/New Age section of a little bookstore in a strip-mall.

My copy is in terrible shape. Every time I open the book several new pages come unglued. It's in shambles now, and I'm only half-way through. I enjoy watching it disintegrate as I read it.

Merton's ideas of God are very unlike those I encountered in the Evangelical church. I'd heard he was a somewhat unorthodox Christian (that was what got me interested in reading him), and now I see just how eccentric he is -at least compared to the Christians I've read up 'till now.

For example, in a chapter on faith he writes:

Since God cannot be imagined, anything our imagination tells us about Him is ultimately a lie and therefore we cannot know Him as He really is unless we pass beyond everything that can be imagined and enter into an obscurity without images and without the likeness of any created thing. And since God cannot be seen or imagined, the visions of God we read of the saints having are not so much visions of Him as visions about Him; for to see anything is not to see Him.

That section from Merton reminded me of a piece I'd read in a book that I regularly pull off my shelf: The Essential Kabbalah, compiled and translated by Daniel C. Matt. In that book (also in a section on faith) an unnamed Kabbalist writes,

Every definition of God leads to heresy; definition is spiritual idolatry. Even attributing mind and will to God, even attributing divinity itself, and the name "God" -these, too, are definitions. Were it not for the subtle awareness that all these are just sparkling flashes of that which transcends definition -these, too, would engender heresy.

... As the human spirit verges on complete clarity of faith, the final subtle shell of corporeality falls away -attributing existence to God. For truly, existence, however we define it, is immeasurably remote from God. The silhouette of this denial resembles heresy but when clarified is actually the highest level of faith. Then the human spirit becomes aware that the divine emanates existence and is itself beyond existence. What appeared to be heresy, now purified, is restored to purest faith. But this denial of existence in God ...requires exquisite insight.
(emphasis mine)

It could be that Merton would differ with the Kabbalist, but their ideas seem complimentary to me.


Anonymous said...

Nice to have you back Matt.

My response at the moment: the quotation font is a little too small. Especially since blog reading (for me) occurs with fuzzy eyes between 6 and 7 a.m.

Thanks for asking.

s$s said...

thanks Forrest. Nice to be back.

I'll change the size, and no one will know what this is all about.