Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Staring Into The Fire

One of the more paradoxical things that one encounters in the reading of mystics like George MacDonald is the juxtaposition of their earthy, grace-filled and open-minded faith with a rather ferocious and intimidating view of the mysterium tremens of the Creator. Though mystics glory and delight in the created order, the One from whom all things spring isn't presented in terms of butterflies and bunnies and huggy bear Jesus, all viewed through a warm fuzzy filter of wuv, sweet wuv.

God, as MacDonald says again and again, is a consuming fire:
He is a consuming fire, that only that which cannot be consumed may stand forth eternal. It is the nature of God, so terribly pure that it destroys all that is not pure as fire, which demands like purity in our worship. He will have purity. It is not that the fire will burn us if we do not worship thus; yea, will go on burning within us after all that is foreign to it has yielded to its force, no longer with pain and consuming, but as the highest consciousness of life, the presence of God.
In this, MacDonald resonates with Merton and all those who have perceived the nature of God's love, including those few, brief flickers of presence that have formed my own faith. As I meditated on this yesterday, I found myself musing over how the Fire articulated by MacDonald relates to the teaching of the Dark Philosopher Heraclitus.

Heraclitus is the dude who came up with the idea that everything is change. "You can't step in the same river twice?" Heraclitus said that twenty-three hundred years before Disney Pocahontas sang it. He argued that nothing is constant, that everything is dynamic and ever changing, and that it is impossible to make any meaningful statements about being, other than that it changes. He's the father of postmodernity.

In his philosopical poetics, Heraclitus declared that underlying all being was an all consuming, all devouring fire, which he called the logos. Yeah, that logos, the same Greek term that English versions of John's Gospel translate as "Word."

I puzzled over this juxtaposition. There is nothing in mysticism that points to God as the engine of impermanence and meaninglessness. Nothing at all. Quite the opposite. Yet the imagery is so close...and the influence of Heraclitus on Western Philosophy so huge...that it felt like a non-random connection.

Perhaps it's a question of perspective.

We are creatures of change. As we view and perceive ourselves, we are ever changing. The organic processes of our bodies. The fleeting impermanent moment in which the light of self dwells. We are not the same being from one instant to the next...and yet, paradox of paradoxes, we are, and we cohere.

In our encounter with the One who formed us and in whose love we dwell, we are entering into relationship with that which does not change. As beings who are ever changing, we look at our Maker, and see that glory from the perspective of our own changing. Observing that endless, timeless presence in which lies all potentiality, we see terrible fire and change because we are changing. The Word is not flux and change. We are.

Perhaps, perhaps, we encounter God as we might view the tarmac beneath us as we book along on our motorcycle at 200 klicks per hour. "Wow, the road is moving fast," we might think. But it is not the road that's moving.

Though we perceive God as fire, that may just be...relative.