Friday, July 31, 2015

A Sunlit Absence

In the well-trodden path of Hollywood sequels, Fr Martin Laird's 'A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness and Contemplation' is not as riveting as his 'Into the Silent Land'
http://ncolloff.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/into-silent-land.html. This is, I think, one of the most exemplary introductions into the contemplative life, from a Christian perspective, that I have encountered.

Thinking as to why on the plane home this morning, I was struck by its opening Introduction, subtitled, Hedgehogs and Foxes. This is a reference to a famous essay by the philosopher and intellectual historian, Isaiah Berlin, on the philosophy of history in Tolstoy, that invokes the ancient Greek poet Archilochus, "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Fr Laird proceeds to suggest that St Teresa of Avila is indeed a hedgehog, knowing one big thing, revisiting it continuously from different perspectives in her writings, with regards to the relationship between God and the human person, "it is all about love melting in love". "The union between Creator and creature is so utterly convincing that Teresa says it, 'is like rain falling from the sky into a river or pool. There is nothing but water. It's impossible to divide the sky water from the land-water."

This is so, and yet reading it, I felt a concurrent wish to uphold an abiding foxiness. We may be, in the ultimate grounding of our being, one. We may step into this ground in the heart of our contemplative experience, though as Laird beautifully notes, the actual practice of our prayer may not feel like this, and why this is so is gracefully explored, but the answering response to this disparity may not simply be: keep praying.

Laird is too wise and gifted a director of souls to say this but you do come away with the sense that this 'one big thing' will do most of the heavy lifting of transformation and I think that is a perspective in need of correction and that the complex, fox bound nature, of our actual, psychological and physical lives deserve their rights!

In Zen, this would be called 'polishing the stone', the task of cleaving to the unitary experience and the freedom it confers whilst working on the difficult task of untangling all the personal knots and obstructions that yet remain.

This reminded me of Robert Forman's wonderful book: 'Enlightenment Ain't What It's Cracked Up To Be' that is a brilliant exploration, grounded in his own life and experience, of this 'gap' between spiritual awakening and personal transformation.

The former may attract the latter, creating space for it, but does not guarantee it. The structure of our consciousness: how we see and hold the world may be transformed - we live in a new spaciousness - but it does not guarantee a 'personality transplant' - that requires of us a different work, on the level of our own psyches and in relationships with one another - at home and in the workplace. (See here: -http://ncolloff.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/enlightenment-aint-what-its-cracked-up.html )

The hedgehog may know 'one big thing' but the bringing of that into the actual world of our lived lives, in the here and now, needs the acute attention and awareness of the fox that attends to the multiplicity of things, often living in complex contradiction with each other, that is everyday life. Love may be melting in love but will I remember to put out the dustbins?

[Putting out the dustbins is an image I carry ever since a friend in Oxford noted that living next door to a renowned author on spiritual intelligence did not guarantee that they would remember to put the garbage out, forgetfulness leading to unholy, unneighbourly smells]!

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