I’m about halfway through a book that could be read in an hour and contemplated for a lifetime—Matthew Fox’s reflections on Meister Eckhart. Here are some excerpts:
For you ask me: Who is God? What is God?
I reply: Isness
Isness is God
Where there is isness, there God is.
Creation is the giving of isness from God
And that is why God becomes
Where any creature expresses God.
If you were able to deprive God of isness,
A stone would be more noble than God,
For a stone has isness.
What is God?
I doubt any thinking adult still consciously subscribes to the cartoonish image of a bearded gentleman in the sky that solidified in most of our minds when we were young. But rather than
come up with a better image (or describe a God who is beyond all images), I suspect that most of us only trick ourselves into thinking we’ve since devised a more sophisticated notion of the divine. We think we’re being sophisticated by making small second-order tweaks to the core image, by de-gendering it or disassociating it with any one religion or name. What we’re left with is simply a more blurry version of the same, no more sophisticated because it is vague.
In this sophisti-fying process, I’m guessing most of us assume that we are the being the smart ones, struggling to reconcile medieval images of God handed down to us from benighted religious institutions with our “modern” and “scientific” worldviews. Most assume this with only the faintest grasp on either the old doctrine or the new science.
And yet, weighing in at just over 135 pounds (guestimate) out of “pre-enlightened” Thuringia, here comes Eckhart gifting us with this kernel that stands virtually unassailable by anything that either the physicists or the philosophers have come up with sense. Whatever you think is driving the livingness of life, to whatever you ascribe the animation of the animate, that is God. To deny God is not one of the plausible theories of existence. To deny God is simply to turn a blind eye to everything that is. Anything else we may yet discover is just a primer on the subject.
Now God creates all things
But does not stop creating.
God forever creates
And forever begins to create
And creatures are always being created
And in the process of beginning
To be created
Frequently, these days, you hear the statement “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” and a thousand others like it. You generally hear this genre of sentiment in a Yoga studio or a new-agey self-help section at the bookstore. They’re so frequent as to become platitudinous, but they represent something real: the desire not to be pigeonholed into someone else’s definition of one or defined by one’s past. Given that Christianity (or the thousand ideologies parading around in its name) just so happens to be the most over-worked and over-familiar system of meaning in our part of the world, I’m guessing that these statements are generally given in exasperation and resistance to the dominant spiritual tradition in our culture, not as confirmation of it.
But the least we can say of Eckhart’s take is that, whatever God is, God is not a watchmaker whose existence or non-existence can be proved in a series of observations of what is and what came before. Whatever we are, we’re not a finished product that is fully hemmed in and limited by the falling dominoes that make up our past. We are currently still buffering. The really real, both outside and inside of ourselves is defined not by what’s already given but by what is becoming, and therefore by an end or purpose which we haven’t yet seen. Before we point to the “finger prints” or the “will” of the maker, we should first consider whether we’ve even seen the finished product.
We love everything according to our own goodness.
We tend to see our own preferences as the standard that the world and everyone in it need live up to. We judge the world based on impulse likes and emotional resonances. If this impulse was always there, it’s been put on steroids now in a time of social media followers and endless streaming options. We say, “I like this” and create a class of things and people who are deemed worthy of our time and admiration. We say, “I don’t like this” and set a bar below which we need not bother. Eventually, we grow bored with the limited number of things and people which rank worthy of our attention, so bored, in fact, that the list of things below the watermark might even start to grow. As more and more of creation sinks below our attention, we blame the world for not being interesting enough.
Eckhart locates the source of all callousness and apathy in the right place. Creation is creation. We find it beautiful and infinitely precious or boring and loathsome, not because of what’s going on around us but because of what’s going on inside of us. If the person next to you at the stoplight is unworthy of your love, if that family member is unworthy of your forgiveness, if the world around you is unworthy of wonder, that says little of them and much of you.
If I were alone in a desert and feeling afraid,
I would want a child to be with me.
For then my fear would disappear
And I would be made strong.
“Perfect love casts out fear” says the writer who gave us First John. This is not a dichotomy that we normally draw. We normally assume that the opposite of fear is safety and that the opposite of love is hate. Safety frequently ascends to become the one value and ethic that we hold inviolable. We give up any number of other noble ideals and pursuits in the name of “safety first.” We tolerate any number of racist and classist social policies if some feeble and poorly researched link can be made between that and the safety of our families. And when even a few people threaten our safety, we get so hateful and militaristic that the circle of collateral destruction from our reprisals grows ever further from the original threat. And in that sense, perhaps hate and safety are apt correlates.
Eckhart takes our fear in an unexpected direction. Notice that he, a childless monk, is not suggesting that it’s his child for whom he’s looking out. Most parents see their own children as an extension of themselves and will wreak all kinds of havoc for their sake. But Eckhart just says “a child.” Any child would do, in this alone and afraid scenario, to help him transcend his self-concern and ascend to what’s best in humanity—self-sacrificial love. Where fear normally causes us to shorten our reach, to close off, to limit our circle of concern, he suggests that if you’re looking for a cure for fear, expand your circle of concern to someone else. And in finding someone else to love, you’ll find that your fear is cast out.
Cheers and Peace,