Archive for July 10th, 2012

Unshakeable Reality

July 10, 2012

In his novel, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis imagines a bus-load of people who travel from “hell” to “heaven.” Their trip takes them from a place described as “gray,” and ghost-like in its not-so-solid existence. Heaven, on the other hand, is quite solid. The day-trippers find the most immediate difficulty of their journey to be the problems of dealing with a solid world while being ghost-like. The grass does not bend (thus becoming something like small spikes). A falling apple is a most dangerous prospect.

Lewis’ fictional imagery reveals a genuine metaphysical problem. Our popular imagination tends to equate “spiritual” things with the less-real and imaginary. Lewis properly reverses the equation and suggests that the spiritual is more “real,” more “solid.” Though the language of “solid” is perhaps too specific, it is an apt metaphor for how things are. When we speak of God and of those things that transcend our world, the Christian should understand that we are speaking about things whose existence is greater than our own.

“Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.”  Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:26-29).

We dwell among “things that are being shaken,” but are receiving “a kingdom which cannot be shaken.” St. Paul does with shaking what Lewis does with solid. It is the less solid, the less stable, which can be shaken. Or, as St. Paul says, “the things that are made.” It is the things that are merely “created” that can be shaken. Only the uncreated remains. It is beyond understanding, but the promise of the fathers (and here in the Scriptures) is that in Christ we are to become “uncreated by grace.” God alone is “uncreated.” But by His grace, we become partakers of His uncreated life (which alone is unshakeable).

This establishes the path of theology. We speak from the place of the shakeable about a place being revealed that is unshakeable. We speak from the less real, about the more real. What we know and experience is not unreal, but its reality is contingent and relative.

This brings us back to discussion of the true and false self:

Surely [the good man] shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid…(Ps. 112:6-8).

The Scriptures grant an unmovable quality to the true self (heart). It is a spiritual creation, established in the Lord’s Pascha, and participates in the uncreated life of God. It is through that participation that we know Christ. True faith is not an ephemeral thought that passes through the ego. It is established in the heart and there it abides (I Cor. 13:13).

This expression “to abide” clearly has the meaning of the unshakable, uncreated life of God. The lyrical words of Christ in his discourse and prayer in the Garden (John 14-17) speak repeatedly of our abiding in God and God’s abiding in us. This stable, immutable reality reveals God’s glory:

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me (Jn. 17:20-23).

The Uncreated became flesh and dwelt among us – and now invites us into His uncreated life, that we might share in His glory, that we might abide in Him as He abides in us. This is true unity – not the political or social unity of negotiating egos. This is the unity of persons participating in a common life, whose prototype is the holy Trinity.

The movement away from the instability of the false self with its anxieties, imaginings, ever-changing narratives, etc., is the most fundamental act of the spiritual life. Though the life of the heart is still largely hidden, it is the treasure hidden in the field. It is in the stillness (hesychia) and quiet of the heart that we begin to perceive Christ.

That perception is of the truly real, the immoveable and uncreated life that is ours in Christ. It is not yet the uncreated light of which the fathers speak, but its life belongs to that light.