There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. –Ephesians 4:1-6
The fundamental relation of humanity to the ground of its being is paradoxical; it is a relationship which presents two faces. One is built upon the premise that each living, individual human being is potentially in contact with the eternal and uncreated ground of all being. This is the divine spark in each person to which Meister Eckhart refers when he writes, “There is something in the soul which is uncreated and uncreatable; if the whole soul were this it would be uncreated and uncreatable; and this is the intellect.” Intellect here is the latin intellectus, synonyms for which are spiritus, spirit and animus, mind.
There exists a spiritual ferment in the soul, says Eckhart, which, under certain conditions, can transform and spiritualize it. “In this power, God is fully verdant and flowering, in all the joy and honor that he is himself. ”That is to say, each particular has potentially a unique connection to the universal; but the connection must be made.”
Such is the relation of the individual to God: alone before the alone. But the uncreated ground present in each also has a relationship to all other human beings–indeed to all of creation. This is the second face of the paradox. Both relationships are religious in the sense of “binding together” in order to re-form the whole, religion and reformation being one. Today there is a tendency to emphasize the mystical spirit immanent in each human being and to ignore the aspect of humanity itself as a mystical body. And yet these two aspects cannot be separated, any more than the many can be separated from the one, or the body from the spirit. All things in the universe are essentially two-uncreated and created, creator and creation-and these two must be made one or, at least, not-two: that is the paradoxical work of creation. In the phrase of Maximus the Confessor: ” … always and in all his Word God wills the mystery of his embodiment.” A precursor of Meister Eckhart, the ninth-century “Holy Sage” John Scotus Erigena, is of help in two ways. He tells us that the virtue of the soul is faith, while that of the intellect or spirit is knowledge. Secondly, in his interpretation of the Johannine story of the encounter of Christ with the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s Well, he makes the logic of their relation quite clear: the soul must summon her spouse, the intellect, in order for them both to receive the inexhaustible gift of the Holy Spirit, the invisible divinity that can act in man to guide him to all truth. Everything hangs, therefore, upon the soul, the anima.
Contrary to what one might expect, this soul or anima is traditionally taken to be the individualized and individualizing aspect of the human being, the separative, discursive faculty which establishes the line between this and that, past and present, self and not-self, I and other. By means of such distinctions human beings begin to feel themselves at first distinct; later, isolated; and finally, opposed to each other in fear, greed, envy, lust, etc. Faith, according to tradition, is the hidden virtue and cure of this. It is the eye, the opening of the soul, by which she first sees and gives birth. For this reason, in Christianity, the exemplar of faith in its purest form is the Virgin Mary, the “handmaid of the Lord,” whose perfect surrender, epitomized in the phrase, “Be it unto me according to thy Word,” echoes down the centuries to instruct us still.
Virgin, according to Meister Eckhart, “designates a human being who is devoid of all foreign images, and who is as void as he was when he was not yet.” “Listen closely to the instruction that I am going to give you,” he continues.
I could have so vast an intelligence that all the images that all human beings have ever received and those that are in God himself were comprehended in my intelligence; however, if I were in no way attached to them, to the point that in everything I do or fail to do I did not cling to them with attachment–with its before and after–but if in this present now I kept myself unceasingly free and void for the beloved will of God and its fulfillment, then I should be a virgin, without the ties of all images, as truly as I was when I was not yet.
By images Eckhart means the contents of consciousness: the finished, fixed forms–past thoughts and memories-which we take to be the world, but which in fact are not the world in its immediacy and presentness, but only our own past, our own habits and fixed tendencies. Immured within these images, we feed upon ourselves and take our self-feeling for the world.
These images interpose themselves between us and the world, breaking the continuum of being, and making any true meeting or true knowledge impossible. The antidote to the attachment to these, which is the normal condition of human consciousness, Eckhart calls Gelassenheit, releasement or detachment. Attachment imprisons us in the past, dismembers and fragments us. Detachment releases us for and to the present. Surrendering what is dead, materialized, and arrested in us-our mineral body-we become open to the genuinely new, a new body.
Such detachment and openness is faith, the body of faith. Voidness is its activity; dematerialization, spiritualization is its effect. “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” Now, hearing is listening, attending. It requires silence and patience; for if you are talking or in a hurry you cannot listen. Faith is inner silence. Listening in silence, renouncing and dissolving the categories of thought which rule us, relinquishing our ego’s claim to be self constituted and autonomous, we become open to the true awareness of things as they are. We hear the word spoken in silence, hear the word that silence speaks. In this way, as Eckhart says, the Virgin becomes a wife, a mother. In the words of St. James: “Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being explicitly echoes St. Paul’s “Hymn to Love,” with its refrain that whatever gifts I may have “and have not love ” I am nothing, a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal:
Love is patient; love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offence. Love keeps no scores of wrongs; does not gloat over other men’s sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope and its endurance.
Love in this tradition is the fruit of faith. for the beginning is faith and the end is Love and when the two are joined together in unity, it is God.” (Ignatius). Faith is “freedom from the known” (in Krishnamurti’s phrase); the sine qua non of unmediated knowing. The openness of faith or active release dissolves the carapace of habitual images and fixed circuits which we took to be the boundaries of the self. The objectified, materialized self opens into an experience of a provisional, contextual,”empty” self. Who we are becomes immanent in the network of relations we are engaged in. For a moment, indeed, we seem to be constituted by those relations, determined wholly by our recognition of an “other.”
Who we are becomes who we are with, as the Word is with God. In that space of our relations we first come to be, and awaken. But perhaps that is to move too fast. To truly meet another one, as we are one, to feel something or someone in our inmost being as truly real, is very rare. We do not have gelassenheit, and for the most part feel ourselves as more real than what surrounds us. We are the center of our attention. Indeed, if we are honest, we rarely attend to anything else. Love, agape, as St. Paul means it, begins with the terrifying recognition of the reality of something, someone, truly “other.” In this sense, love and beauty are closely allied-beauty which, in Rilke’s words “is the beginning of a terror we can hardly bear”: the sudden, overwhelming presence of a reality that seems greater than we are. Love recognizes the unconditional significance of something other than ourselves. We have a dense and carefully cultivated sense of our own importance-which we forever shore up and reinforce by projecting the world in our own image and then acting in it like a god. Then, suddenly, standing before a great work of art, a beautiful landscape, a person, something happens: we lay down this objectified self in recognition of something larger that, momentarily, takes possession of us and makes us feel more fluid and less bounded than we felt before. This is all well known. Lovers, like mystics, feel themselves “melt” into their surroundings. We have all felt it. Truly, our subject is one of the most ordinary. Of all the miracles of the everyday, it is perhaps the most clearly available–each time we meet. “When two or three are gathered together in my name I am there.” The mystery is, if this is so, what body shall he have, shall I have?
St. Paul can best guide us here, for he makes the right distinctions, separating flesh (sarx) and body (soma). Flesh he uses above all to refer to the outward, visible, mortal condition-to creation in the solidarity of its dismemberment, pain, and solitude. Flesh is the letter, the law, idolatry, by virtue of which sin (which is unfreedom, ignorance, suffering) comes to be. “Flesh” thus connotes the human being in his distance and difference, his isolation. It is “sin” because, denying the consubstantiality of humanity, creation, and God, it distorts the fundamental relationship of the universe, which is harmony, wholeness, and unity. Only by virtue of the spirit are humanity and human beings open to and together with the whole. Walking “after the spirit” is therefore contrasted by St. Paul with “walking “after the flesh;” and “carnal mindedness,” which is death, division, strife, and envy, is contrasted with “spiritual-mindedness,” which is life and peace.
St. Paul, however, also uses the word “body” to refer to the external man, but this time with the connotation of wholeness or unity. Wholeness in-deed is of the essence of what a body is, and therefore body comes to mean what is essentially whole or has become so. It is the body, not the flesh, which is the Temple of the Holy Ghost, the place of God’s manifestation or glorification, where his Word is magnified. We come closer to the mystery we are approaching when we notice that St. Paul uses the term “body” collectively as well as individually. Indeed, he moves freely from the one to the other, speaking now of the “individual” body, now of “the redemption of our body,” of Christ reforming “the body of our humiliation.” By this usage, body comes to connote what human beings have in common, irrespective of what appear to be individual differences. Mystically, we may take this consubstantiality to refer to human nature as a whole. This “body” is what connects human beings to each other and the universe. While “flesh” establishes human solitude and otherness, “body,” joining human beings together, is the_ bearer of the resurrection. There is a body of sin, death, and humiliation, but there is also an immortal, resurrection body. In this sense, there is no resurrection of the flesh. It is the body that is for the Lord and the Lord that is for the body.
Looking more closely at this body, which from another point of view is the bride whose disunity is fragmentation and exile, we find that it is made up of beauty and love: it is, finally, a body of beauty and love. Call it Shekhina or Sophia. Love binds together what is separated, overcomes what separates, brings parts together into a whole, a body. Love makes the body. But this love is not eros; it is agape. Platonic eros, though beginning with the soul movement inspired by the beauty of sensible things, leads the Platonist out of this world, intensifying desire into a singlepointed heavenly desire, whereby what is human is raised up. Platonic love, unlike Christian, proposes as its end not identity-in-difference (i.e. relation) but identity-in-union. Its last term is death. But for agape or caritas (charity) death is the beginning. Love, which was death, becomes life, particularity. As God’s love is particular” He first loved us”–human love too must be particular, specific, from moment to moment. ”
A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” There were two old commandments-to love God with all one’s heart and all one’s mind, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. These are human loves; they derive from the human point of view and indicate the path from the human to the divine. Such is the activity of eros by which all things yearn for unity. The new commandment, fulfilling but not eliminating the old, proposes an inversion: that one love, not from a limited, human perspective, but from an absolute, universal, limitless point of view. This inversion is profound; by it “human” love is “divine presence.” To love one’s neighbor as oneself means to love one’s neighbor as if he were oneself. The new commandment inverts this. It enjoins one to love for the sake of the other alone, to give oneself unconditionally, to empty oneself utterly: to go beyond oneself, out of oneself, so that one becomes, as it were, “nothing.” It is to act as God acts, to love as God loves.
Such action, or love, which does not imitate but makes present, has been called (by J. Edgar Bruns) “the Christian Buddhism of St. John,” who is the greater teacher here. According to this, it is what humans do that reveals God’s presence, and is God’s presence, just as for the Mahayanist it is his understanding that is the Buddha-nature-not conversely. “No one has seen God,” but the Son has “acted him out.” Similarly, ‘No man hath seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us”-because, or St. John, God is love. God is not some thing; he does not do anything; he is the doing. God cannot be identified with any faculty or any entity: in our activity we reveal him, he is there. Consequently, to be born of God means to bear God-in both senses of giving birth to and carrying. If we “love” we make “God” present, because “God” is “love.” ”God is love, and whoever abides in love, abides in God, and God abides in him.” If we abide in love, remain in and one with it-if it becomes our body-our activity becomes what is divine. There is no dualism here-no difference between the love that is our body and our spiritual unity with God, because God, Spirit, True Self, is simply another name for the love which is our body. What is most important in this is that the activity of love, which allows for such presence and realization, requires the recognition, the presence, of another. The making of God present is an interhuman, relational activity. It is not achieved on the mountain-top. St. Basil had something of this kind in mind when, after a trip to the eremitical settlements of the Egyptian desert, he remarked, “That is all very well, but whose feet will they wash?”
To wash the feet, as an activity paradigmatic of love, means the laying down of our own sense of unconditional value in recognition of the unconditional value of another. By this we shift the center of our lives away from ourselves as objects of our own attention; we change the direction of our attention and we become other. Forced to acknowledge the reality of another, we are forced to relinquish the sense we have of ourselves as isolated, atomic, egoic beings, to abandon the selves that we have constituted by materializing past memories, thoughts, and desires into the complex artifact with which we are identified. As the Russian philosopher Solovyov puts it, “The meaning of human love, speaking generally, is the justification and deliverance of individuality through the sacrifice of egoism.” Otherwise stated: ”The truth, as a living force, taking possession of the inward essence of man, and effectively rescuing him from false self-assertion, is termed love.” As to the difference between true individuality and the false individuality which is egosirn, Solovyov is very clear. The fundamental illusion of egoism lies not in the absolute self-assertion and self-estimation of the subject; rather, that while rating himself in accordance with what is due to unconditional significance, the subject denies that significance to others, relegating them to the circumference of his being and giving them only an external and relative value.
Washing of the feet, in this sense, is more than simple humility or ordinary selflessness. By its active identification with the other, the love it manifests at the same time overcomes “materiality” and affirms the consubstantiality of creation, the body of the whole. ” Materiality,” material existence, which from this point of view stands opposed to the consubstantial unity of the world, presents us with a twofold impenetrability; in the words of Solovyov:
1. Impenetrability in Time, in virtue of which every successive moment of existence does not preserve the preceding one within itself, but excludes it or, by itself, dislodges it from existence, so that each new thing in the sphere of matter originates at the expense of, or to the detriment of, what preceded it.
2. Impenetrability in Space, in virtue of which two parts of matter (two bodies) cannot at the same time occupy one and the same place, i.e. one and the same part of space, but of necessity dislodge one another.
By this we define our selves, our bodies, and thereby irrevocably make the world a place of dismemberment and conflict. Unmaking this view, transforming ourselves by love as spoken of above, we become consubstantial with one another. We become many persons in one body.
What is body? According to one view it is Sophia or Divine Wisdom. Florensky speaks of Sophia as “the great root of the created world in its wholeness and unity,” and “the original substance of creatures, the creative Love of God in them.” Sophia is, at once the ideal substance of the created world, its truth or meaning, and its spirituality–itis holiness, purity, sinlessness, beauty. At the same time, she is the beginning and center of the redeemed creation, the Body of the Lord. In Christian terms, she is the Virgin, Mary, the purified human soul. But there is a mystery here, that Boehme brings out, but that the Russian Sophilogists (Solovyov, Florensky, Bulgakov) also knew; there is an uncreated Sophia, a sense in which Sophia is “God’s revelation and the Holy Spirit’s corporeality, the body of the Holy Trinity.” That is to say, as on earth Sophia is the unity of creation, so in heaven she is the Godhead’s unity.
This unity of the Godhead, of the Persons, brings us closer to understanding the unity or body that human beings have and are-and that allows them to become true persons likewise. For the self or intellect to manifest, said Erigena, the soul, whose virtue is faith and whose vice is egoity, must summon it. By faith it must, in Eckhart’s words, overcome egoity and become virgin, imageless, a perfect mirror. Considering the Virgin in her activity, we find her the exemplar of the human virtues of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Such must we be also. She lays down her will in order to live from moment to moment the will of the divine. According to Christian story, by that activity of perfect love and surrender, the Virgin was able to form a body for the Logos, God’s Word: become his mother and his bride. Generalizing on this, Christian tradition takes her for the true type of the church or mystical body-which is the universal body redeemed at once from below and from above. From below, by the human activity of the renunciation of egoity, from above by the descent of the holy spirit. But these two activities are one, as body and spirit, soul and spirit are one. The place of their meeting is who we are.
Have I dissolved the body by some metaphysical sleight-of-hand? Have I denied the unique relationship each one of us enjoys with the unfathomable ground of being? I hardly think so. There is no body outside the body we cognize, perceive, think about-and that body is the projection of the self we think we are: we only see ourselves. All the great traditions teach us to become other-thereby, too, our body must become other. We are our body, but not the body we think we are. Realizing our true self through the laying down of our egoic selves, we become one with each other, we realize the single body of all humanity and become truly one for the first time. He who would find his life must lose it.
— @ Parabola, Vol 10:3, by Christopher Bamford