February 6, 2012

The Glorious Cloudiness

I love the scene in the first reading today. Solomon presides over the dedication of the Temple, the Ark is brought into the Holy of Holies, and the glory of the Lord appears.

"When the priests left the holy place, the cloud filled the Temple of the Lord* so that the priests could no longer minister because of the cloud, since the Lord's glory had filled the temple of the Lord. Then Solomon said, "The Lord intends to dwell in a dark cloud." (1 Kings 8:10-12)

I imagine the priests unable to minister because of the cloud of God's glory. Perhaps some simply stopped and adored in wonder. Maybe others missed out on the glory of God all around them because they were fretting about the ritual tasks and 'rubrics' they found themselves unable to complete.

The scripture reminds us that there is a moment in prayer when there isn't anything left to do, not because we have done everything we could have, but because God, in his mercy toward us, draws us into the mystery of himself. We are drawn, even seduced, into the glory of God which we, in our limited and temporal state, can only experience as a cloudy darkness. But we know this cloudiness is the Glory addressed by all our doxology, this glorious Cloud the desire of our minds and hearts. At this point there is nothing left for the intellect to do. There is only our will in the sense of our desire for the One who has been conforming us to his own Beloved since our baptism. Religion, in the human sense, ends.

Sometimes folks think they can go straight to this sort of prayer and experiential contact with God without first making use of the ordinary means of prayer and sanctification which God has revealed. On the surface this attitude seems enlightened and progressive and a way to avoid the conflicts that obtain between religions and between religionists and so-called secular humanists. But really this idea is a symptom of the shallow and pornographic nature of our culture, in its belief  that personal intimacies can be acquired quickly, even instantly, and without ascetic struggle and work on the part of those willing to let go of selfishness in order to love another precisely as other. We want to be loved and accepted just as we are, as if we were God himself. We confuse love with the various and often very subtle lusts that only make others into players in our own dramas, immaturities, and confusions. We want to be instantly matched with our 'soul-mate' without letting go of ourselves for the sake of another, just as in the same way we want mystical experiences without ascetism.

The good news is that prayer is the best school for learning the chastity that can love another precisely as other rather than as a pathological extension of ourselves. This is because God, in all his cloudy Glory and glorious Cloudiness, refuses to be a commodity, cannot be manipulated, and, to be a little silly but right to the point, has the best boundaries of anyone in the community.

*I apologize both to God and to readers for the inadequate style. I don't know how to make small caps.


Tim SJ said...

Fascinating reflection. Very profound thoughts - I have will mull over this for a long while. However I think I disagree with what I understand as the central point. We cannot 'earn' our mystical experiences with God through asceticism, or even through ritual or faithfulness to the ordinary means. Those means are not to be disparaged - but God has a sovereign freedom. It is more to do with how open our hearts are. In fact it may be the opposite - at the beginning of serious prayer life God encourages through mystical experiences, consolations etc. It is when we get further in - and are faithful to the rhythm of our prayer that dryness can come...

Brother Charles said...

I certainly don't mean to suggest any such Pelagian thing; only that the a life of prayer and consent to grace within the community of the Church is what God has revealed as the ordinary way we let him draw us in. In other words, God has given us the Scriptures, the sacraments, and each other on the way as the way our hearts get to be open.

And indeed you are quite right...beyond the consolations is the 'uninteresting wilderness' of unadorned faith.

greg said...

Excellent thoughtful post.

One could mine this area for riches for some time.

Make sure to include it in the Brother Charles book of catechism discussions, when you get around to writing that helpful guide.