Participating in God

The Path of Descent

Participating in God
Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as one,
received not in essence but by participation.
Just as if you lit a flame from a flame,
it is the whole flame you receive.
—St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) [1]

The path of descent involves letting go of our self-image, our titles, our status symbols—our false self. It will die anyway. So don’t make anything absolute when it is only relative. This is one of the many meanings of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 and Deuteronomy 5:7). We must let go of our false images of God (which mostly serve our purposes) and also of ourselves.

The German Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260—c. 1328) preached, “God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.” [2] But in the capitalistic West, we think very differently. We all keep trying to climb higher up the ladder of success in any form. We’ve turned the Gospel into a matter of addition instead of subtraction. All we can really do is get out of the way. The spiritual life is often more about unlearning than learning, letting go of illusions more than studying the Bible or the catechism.

When C. G. Jung was an old man, one of his students read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and he asked Jung, “What has your pilgrimage really been?” Jung answered: “In my case Pilgrim’s Progress consisted in my having to climb down a thousand ladders until I could reach out my hand to the little clod of earth that I am.” [3] Wow!

The word “human” comes from the Latin humus, which means earth. Being human means acknowledging that we’re made from the earth and will return to the earth. We are earth that has come to consciousness. For a few years we dance around on the stage of life and have the chance to reflect a little bit of God’s glory. As a human, I’m just a tiny moment of consciousness, a tiny part of creation, a particle that reflects only a fragment of God’s love and beauty. And yet that’s enough. And then we return to where we started—in the heart of God. Everything in between is a school of love.

Gateway to Silence:
The way down is the way up.

References:
[1] Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 1, from The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives, trans. John Anthony McGuckin (Shambhala Publications: 2003), 160.
[2] Meister Eckhart, “Sermon on the Fourth Sunday after Trinity,” in Meister Eckhart: Selected Treatises and Sermons translated from Latin and German with an Introduction and Notes, trans. James M. Clark and John V. Skinner (Faber and Faber: 1958), 194.
[3] C. G. Jung Letters, Volume 1, selected and edited by Gerhard Adler in collaboration with Aniela Jaffe (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), footnote 8, p. 19. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 168-169, 172-173.

Image credit: Jonah and the Whale (detail), Jami al-Tavarikh (Compendium of Chronicles), circa 1400.
FacebookTwitterEmailPrint