Unshakeable Reality

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.

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15 Responses to “Unshakeable Reality”

  1. Orthodox Collective Says:

    […] 9th and the score is 8-0.  GO NL!Update: NL wins!Syndicated by Atom ☆ ☆ ☆ 5) Unshakeable Realityhttps://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/unshakeable-reality/By fatherstephen on Tuesday, Jul […]

  2. TeresaAngelina Says:

    Hello Father – I enjoyed this very much. And very much wish that when I return to the insanity that is my work place on the morrow, that I might recall this. I won’t of course, but it is still my wish all the same. But I will try. The world is crazy…my work place mirrors that rather nicely.

  3. reverse psychology 101: “focus on the anti-negative” (the language of taboos) « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci Says:

    […] Unshakeable Reality (fatherstephen.wordpress.com) […]

  4. dinoship Says:

    This is truly our Joy…

  5. Nick D Says:

    I had a hard time with the Perelanda illustration, so thanks for the photo of Simonopetra.

  6. Father Stephen Says:

    Nick,
    Yes. The photo, though appropriate to Perelandra, was a little weird. We return to something a bit more uplifting.

  7. Drewster2000 Says:

    The Great Divorce is one of my favorites. Though I don’t take it literally, I think it to be one of the most accurate pictures we have of Heaven and our relationship to the after-world. The whole “solid” business is pure genius as a metaphor.

  8. Anna Says:

    Father, bless!

    I could not leave aside the concreteness and materiality of Byzantine architecture as an image (or icon, if you like) of the solidity and reality of spirituality. We tend to think of the spiritual as lacking substance, but perhaps the truth is that the spiritual is more substantial (or solid, or real) than the mere material. I think Lewis was onto something.

  9. TeresaAngelina Says:

    If I may ask, practically speaking, how is the movement from the false self to the real self begun? I almost said “accomplished” but somehow I do not think that would be real either.

  10. eternallypresentfillingallthings Says:

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen!

    I especially liked: “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….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.”

    Like others I wish that I could better remember that true reality is far more transcendent & real that the tiny & limited reality that is my “world”.

  11. Michael Bauman Says:

    TeresaAngelina: the movement from the false self to the real self is always through repentance. Which is not just feeling badly for our mistakes (although that is a part of it), it is a constant effort to see the false and give it up in prayer to Jesus Christ. There is both the official sacramental repentance with a priest acting as guide, guardian, intercessor and icon of our Lord, but also the daily effort to become more aware of and reject the falseness in our selves as we go about our daily activities. The Jesus Prayer is a good tool for that.

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    TeresaAngelina,
    In addition to repentance, as Michael Bauman pointed out, you might find the suggestions in these two recent posts helpful. They are here and here.

  13. TeresaAngelina Says:

    Thank you. I’ve read the links, Father, and it now appears that the work place in which I am in is not the only crazy place…it is within myself. Okay. Good to know. I have been reading this week Archimandrite Sophrony’s “On Prayer” with great puzzlement. No; I have not even begun. Thank you Michael and thank you Fr. Stephen. I have read the links and the other links contained. I will bookmark this page. Much to do. (I am new to your site so please forgive me that I did not know where to look. Thank you for offering directions.)

  14. Unshakeable Reality | The Expanded Kingdom | Scoop.it Says:

    […] 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,&#8…  […]

  15. syrian88 Says:

    This winds up being a good warning about the nature of idolatry, which could be defined as “assigning a solid aspect to created things.” Every materialist essentially believes that “matter” is the most self-existent and real thing we are likely to come across and then he goes on to assign qualities of deity to it rather than seeing it as a transient pointer to something else. Maybe that is the big breakdown between secularism and what used to be a called a “Platonic” way of seeing the world (not that Orthodox theology corresponds to a Platonic cosmology exactly). The world is either pointing to something greater or the world is “all there was, is, or will be.” We order everything in our lives accordingly.

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