When All Our Strategies of Acquisition Have Dropped a Deeper Truth Presents Itself

Growing up as a Protestant I'm a naif when it comes to the contemplative Christian tradition. However, I've become increasingly convinced that being a Christian involves a deep, deep reconfiguration of our identity. This is a conclusion I reach in my book The Slavery of Death (appearing soon, more details in two days).

And as is generally the case in these situations, I'm great at pointing out a direction--we need a deep, deep reconfiguration of our identity--but struggle with the follow-up questions of practical implementation. How is one to go about working on this deep, deep reconfiguration of our identities?

I think the Christian contemplative tradition is a great resource here, so I've started reading a bit in this direction, starting with Michael Laird's highly-recommended Into the Silent Land. A passage from Chapter 1 that caught my attention over coffee this morning:
Union with God is not something we acquire by technique but the grounding truth of our lives that engenders the very search for God. Because God is the ground of our being, the relationship between creature and Creator is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent. The fact that most of us experience throughout most of our lives a sense of separation is the great illusion that we are caught up in; it is the human condition. The sense of separation from God is real, but the meeting of stillness reveals that this perceived separation does not have the last word. This illusion of separation is generated by the mind and is sustained by the riveting of our attention to the interior soap opera, the constant chatter of the cocktail party going on in our heads. For most of us this is what normal is, and we are good at coming up with ways of coping with this perceived separation (our consumer-driven entertainment culture takes care of much of it). But some of us are not so good at coping, so we drink ourselves into oblivion or cut or burn ourselves [like the prison inmate who shared with me] "so that the pain will be in a different place and on the outside."

The grace of salvation, the grace of Christian wholeness that flowers in silence, dispels this illusion of separation. For when the mind is brought to stillness, and all our strategies of acquisition have dropped, a deeper truth presents itself: we are and have always been one with God and we are all one in God...

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12 thoughts on “ When All Our Strategies of Acquisition Have Dropped a Deeper Truth Presents Itself”

  1. Not sure. It could be a part of some background working assumptions but theosis has a trajectory to it--a process of sanctification-- that isn't captured here. But I think theosis would assume that this oneness with God is a starting point.

  2. More evidence in favour of the idea that the outcome of the Fall, the human condition, is loneliness. Human finitude isn't the finitude of mortality, but the finitude of discrete selves. You've posted on similar topics before, and I enjoy thinking about these things very much.

  3. Laird's first line is a gem.

    Much of the Protestant world of which we are familiar approaches God as "some one else who is some place else". This approach keeps God at a distance and as an OBSERVER of our thoughts and actions. The other purpose this view serves is that it keeps God distant from our sins. It actually gives its adherents the false since of humility of "God can't possibly wish to be near me now", when actually the idea of God being absent gives a sense of relief.

    Most Protestants do such little reading of Contemplative Christianity, they tend to confuse it with Pantheism when someone speaks of "being one with God", especially "all things in God and God in all things", thinking they are hearing "all things are God". But Panentheism, which is the correct terminology for "God in all and all In God", is hardly given a chance among evangelicals. To their way of thinking it is the greatest fall into the liberal abyss.

    But after years of reading Thomas Merton and others such as St. John of The Cross and Teresa of Ávila,
    the awesome notion of "God being closer to me than I am to myself" creates a daily consciousness of God that "living correctly" never gave me,and to the shock of those who would point a finger in my face and say to me, "You were taught better than that", a consciousness of God's presence when I sin.....even deliberately so.

  4. It's the starting point, the goal, and everything in between... it is the "one thing necessary," the "better part" to be sought. It is, in fact, the Orthodox definition of "salvation."

    I like the selection you have chosen from Laird. It seems his book will be profitable reading.

    Since we are still in the Christmas season, I would also say that God is not simply "theoretically" or "spiritually" present, even in the holiest contemplation. It is true that for God, separation from humans and the rest of his creation is not possible, because of his love. Love seeks union while maintaining the distinctness of the beloved. "Sheer grace" - as if grace were something like ether - is good insofar as it indicates something about God's love. In the Eastern Christian way of viewing things, grace is the actual action of God the Holy Spirit, which is constant and mostly unseen, but often something we can apprehend in and through the material world. In that sense, the Incarnation is the deepest, most spectacular and *materially solid* action/manifestation in this world of God's love and impetus toward union. Ether it ain't...

    And in Eastern Christian thought, contemplation is not an exercise in conceptualization; it presumes interaction with God through the sacramental life of the Church, and through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Since Christ assumes in the SOM that we will do these things as his followers, and tells us some things we should do and attitudes we should have as we do them, much Orthodox devotional and instructional writing is about those things as well. In Orthodoxy, it is in doing those things with love, and in constant turning to God (repentance), that the actual working out of that radical identity reconfiguration is accomplished. Mental activity alone will not lead to that transformation; only truly self-giving loving actions toward God and others, optimally in the union with the death/life of Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit, will. It is not presumed that only Christians can do these things; we're not supposed to judge others, but tend to our own lives. But Christians do have a "leg up" with the Church, the Sacraments, and the prayers of the saints available to us.

    Of course, prayer is more than simply reciting, even the words of very holy people, or our Lord himself (Our Father...), though those are the best places to start. Fasting is more than abstinence; the point is made that demons don't need to eat - and our fasting means nothing if we don't take care of the poor. Almsgiving is more than donating cash and saying, "Be warmed and filled..." Your prison work, Richard, would fall quite neatly into the ethos of almsgiving.

    You may be interested in "His Life is Mine" by Fr Sophrony Sakharov. There are some videos on youtube of Archimandrite Zacharias, who discusses and explains the theological insights of Fr Sophrony and his spiritual teacher, St Silouan. These are all about the process of reconfiguration of one's identity.

    A blessed New Year to you & your family.

  5. I read Laird's book a couple of months ago; it's a real gem. Sadly, I have yet to really put the truths it expounds into meaningful daily practice. Perhaps I should make a New Year's resolution...

  6. you (and your readers) might like the writings of 30 year professed anglican solitary maggie ross, who's also a theologian who for many years taught half the year at oxford, and spent the other half of the year in alaska.
    she blogs at: http://ravenwilderness.blogspot.com/
    her more recent book about contemplation:
    Writing the Icon of the Heart: In Silence Beholdinghttp://www.amazon.com/Writing-Icon-Heart-Silence-Beholding/dp/1620326930/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388469830&sr=1-1&keywords=maggie+ross

    you can read a 21 page intro/excerpts from the book at:

    lastly (but unrelated to maggie ross), there's a very interesting 3 hour BBC documentary called "the big silence" you can watch for free online:


    "Abbot Christopher Jamison, a Benedictine monk, believes that he can teach five ordinary people the value of silent meditation, as practised by monks in monasteries, so they can make it part of their everyday lives.

    He sets up a three-month experiment to test out whether the ancient Christian tradition of silence can become part of modern lives.

    Christopher brings the five volunteers to his own monastery, Worth Abbey, before sending them to begin a daunting eight days in complete silence at a specialist retreat center.

    Journey into the interior space that time in silence reveals. They encounter anger, frustration and rebellion, but finally find their way to both personal and spiritual revelation.

    Will they make silent contemplation a part of their everyday lives? How much will their lives be changed by what they have discovered in their time in silence And will Abbot Christopher's hope, that they will discover a new belief in God, be fulfilled?"

    (or watch it in 12 parts on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_zDtdYu3mA )

  7. as some one who works in Los Angeles in the "consumer driven driven entertainment culture", God is here. When your business is what the church considers worldly or secular, even sinful, you have no choice but to go deep, deep and even deeper... It always works out. I have no fear. No matter how things look on the outside, God is always near.

  8. I am reading some books on Buddhism at the moment and the line " For when the mind is brought to stillness, and all our strategies of acquisition have dropped, a deeper truth presents itself: we are and have always been one with God and we are all one in God..." almost seems like a Christian/Buddhist hybrid form of thinking-- I like it.

  9. Dana, this is delicious stuff. The account you give of Eastern Orthodoxy reminds me that discipleship to Jesus, and the accomplishments of Jesus himself, are ruthlessly concrete and particular and embodied and contextual and...in short, very much like the account the late, great Dr. Willard gave us, and N. T. Wright continues to give us, as they urge(d) us to see spirituality and incarnation as interlocking, interacting, perhaps even coincident "dimensions" (I know the word is not appropriate, ironically) of the same reality rather than two separate realms.

  10. qb,
    Willard blew the roof off my Protestant theology in "Divine Conspiracy." Wright came into the house and rearranged all the furniture. I believe God used their work to gently lead me through the rational intellect to the doors of the Orthodox Church. I am an anomaly in that I am a female Orthodox "convert" who mostly read my way in by means of the theology. W&W couldn't usher me in, but they took me very, very far along the way. May Dallas' memory be eternal; may the Lord grant Tom many years so that he may finish the Christian Origins Series and whatever else needs to be written by him.

    If you're interested in good contemporary Orthodox writing about Reality as One Storey, see Fr Stephen Freeman's blog, glory2godforallthings dot com. Years ago when Fr Stephen was an Episcopalian priest, he worked on an editing project with Tom, though he hasn't read much of him lately.


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