The Rhineland Mystics
A Mirror Image
Thursday, August 6, 2020
An image is not of itself, nor is it for itself. It rather springs from the thing whose reflection it is and belongs to it with all its being. It owes nothing to a thing other than that whose image it is; nothing else is at its origin. An image takes its being immediately from that of which it is the image and has one sole being with it, and it is that same being. —Meister Eckhart
Sometimes it takes a mystic to translate another mystic for the rest of us. My dear friend, CAC faculty member, and modern mystic James Finley helps us understand Eckhart’s words. A slow, prayerful reading of this brilliant text will deepen your own insight:
[Meister Eckhart] says that the generosity of the Infinite is infinite and [that God] gives [God’s self] away as the reality of all things. And he says that our sorrow is that we do not know that we are the generosity of God. . . .
This is a paraphrase of Eckhart: Imagine you’re standing before a full-length mirror, and imagine the image of you is conscious, that it can think. And this image of you has been through a lot of therapy; it’s taken a lot of courses on being an insightful image. And it has come to a point in which it informs you that it doesn’t need you.
You say to the image of you, “Well, you know, this is going to be rough, really, since you’re an image of me.”
“No,” the image says, [after a pause], “I’ve worked on this; I’ve come to this point.”
And so, to gently help the image out, you step halfway off the side of the mirror; and half the image disappears. The image has a panic attack and goes back into therapy and says to the therapist, “I’m not real! I’m not real! I was working on my affirmations. I bolstered up my confidence, but I don’t know where I went. I buckled!”
Now, the image was real, but the image wasn’t real in the way that it thought it was real. It was real, but not real without you. It was real as an image of you. See?
Eckhart says, “The image owes no allegiances to anything except that of which it is the image.”. . . There is nothing that has the authority to say what it is except that of which it is the image. And so it is with us, Eckhart says, that we are the image of God. Without God, we are nothing, absolutely nothing. In being the image of God, we owe no allegiances to anything but the Infinite Love in whose image we are made. And the idolatry of diversions of the heart where we wander off into cul-de-sacs with the imagined authority of anything less or other than Infinite Love to name who we are: this is the problem.
James Finley, Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate: Seeing God in All Things, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), DVD, CD, MP3 download. For more from Finley on this theme, listen to his podcast Turning to the Mystics.
Epigraph: Quasi vas aureum solidum, Sermon on Ecclesiasticus 50:10 [Sirach 50:9]. This translation from Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, commentaries by Matthew Fox (Inner Traditions: 1980, 2000), 107.