The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid;
then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matt 13:44)
Recently while sitting alone in the forest in silence and contemplation there arose some disturbing yet evocative words into my consciousness. I had once again, in utter futility, been caught up in the pondering of death and rebirth. I believe in resurrection and rebirth. Like the Incarnation, Resurrection is eternally occurring. There is just one small problem. I have to die first. This is, as Kierkegaard would term it, the halt. The most perplexing aspect of the entire enterprise is even if I would like to die–I truly believe I do, or perhaps I am lying to myself!–I cannot accomplish it. Whatever feats of self-denial I might employ to achieve this death only end up reaffirming my refusal to die. It is the ‘I’ that must die. It is a divine process that I can only consent to–”Thy will be done”– and passively participate in by turning my attention to God.
My mind was considering all these thoughts in prayer when, from out of the silence, the small voice uttered “God does not exist.” I had sought solitude and silence in the hopes of being enlightened with the secret of rebirth. Instead, I had come face to face with the dreadful realization that God does not exist. And yet, I know these words to be both true and to possess a secret which wishes to manifest itself. What is the secret which silence wishes to reveal to us? It will be helpful to clarify what is meant by the term silence.
There is an external, superficial side of silence which is denoted by absence of noise and cessation of restless activity. It is not the interior silence which contains the mysteries of God, however it is absolutely necessary to cultivate a life filled with silence and solitude if one wishes to be drawn into the deeper depths of silence. This cultivation requires intention and effort. Our hearts and minds are harassed by meaningless noise and strained activity. This is just normal life for most Westerners, but as Trevor Hudson likes to say, it does not have to be this way. A promise of Christ, as a gentle and humble guide, is to provide rest for our souls. Rhythms of solitude prepare the way to meet Him and enter into that deeper silence and rest. A helpful analogy may be to think of the ocean. On the surface is the constant motion and activity of water as it is exposed to the elements but as you go deeper and deeper the surroundings are silent, still, and dark. We are invited to “plunge into that darkness” and explore the secrets of silence.
The voice whispers “God does not exist.” And yet, if God does not exist, then neither do I. What does this mean? It means that all my conceptions and images of God are not and cannot be God. Meister Eckhart likes to say “God is neither this nor that.” I may discover or derive the most pure and “precise” concept of God as Trinity. One that is theologically irreproachable and surpasses that of Augustine, Athanasius, and Aquinas. However brilliant it may be, it comes nowhere near to comprehending in totality the being and essence of God. The Source of all things cannot be grasped through intellectual reasoning. It can only be known through unknowing. St. John of the Cross writes “to come to the knowledge you have not, you must go by a way in which you know not.”
Likewise, our true self is nameless and formless, hidden in the secret depths of God.
However, during our earthly existence we come to name ourselves and society is quick to pitch in for the effort. We are given a name at birth. Family, teachers, governments, and churches all present us with images of persons we should be. Much of our lives is spent in either living to achieve this image or to reject it. A false self, a distorted image of who we truly are becomes what we name as our self. St. Maximus the Confessor describes this human propensity over 1400 years ago as a “voluntary exchange for what is better, true being, for what is worse, non-being.” However–praise be to God!–this self is not our true being.
As long as I know God and myself as distinct and particular things, then I am still operating and knowing with my intellect. For in God, there is no distinction. All created beings are one in the truth that all exist in God. It is in this unknowing of silence that we begin to become aware of the obscure secret of God and our true self: we are inseparably “one-d” together. Could it be that the treasure hidden in the field is our true self grounded and hidden within God? Could it be that this is, always has been, and always will be the true reality of things, that the ground of God and the ground of our soul are one and the same fertile ground.
It is from this ground that rebirth, or the “birth from above,” springs forth. Silence is the invitation to approach this ground. This oneness with divinity exists within each of us. It is not something that needs to be attained; however, we are unaware of it because of our attachment to concepts and images of God. We become attached to false gods and false selves. In true silence we learn to let go of all ideas and images of God. This does not mean that we do not have images of God. It is crucial to have a good image of God. This is a necessary starting point. However, one must realize that this image is just an image and be detached from it. For we are not seeking knowledge concerning the divine but rather consenting to be loved, to be known, and to be named by the only One who can in truth name us. This One is full of grace and truth and His words proceed, create, and resurrect from a boundless source of Goodness and Beauty, which may be likened to the kingdom of heaven. We knew this name once, did we not? Somewhere during our childhood or beyond, we have forgotten or mislaid it. Oh, that we would know the joy of that paradisiacal discovery within in which lies our true being resting in harmony with God, world without end!!