(To follow the thread this post should be read in conjunction with the previous one)
I have been thinking a lot since my last post about John Moriarty, in his journey down into Christ. His was no quick ‘sinners prayer’ type confession or a nod in the direction of an intellectual assent to some Christian formula or set of ideas – but an experience that can probably best be described as a death into life. Listen again to a couple of paragraphs from his story:
In an instant I was ruined. Ruined beyond remedy and repair, I felt. The universe had vanished from round about me. I saw a last, fading flicker of it and then I was in an infinite void. And the terrible anguish was, not only was the world I had hitherto relied on for my sense of myself an illusion, it was a deception.
I felt that all of this (his previous search for meaning) was a genuine search for the truth, not a merely speakable truth, but a truth I would surrender to, a truth I would live, that would live me, not just for myself, but for others as well. And now, in an instant, it had all ended in ruination. The world in and through which I had been a self, that was an illusion, it had vanished, leaving that infinitely isolated self in peril of Trembling and bewildered.
As I contemplate this I am struck by how much his experience is so much closer to the philosophy of Jesus than much of our moralistic religion today – or the health, wealth and happiness preaching that, in one way or another, pervades so much of our current religious culture. That is certainly not to disparage a simple but sincere act of faith in believing. However, what we have here goes deeper than that – indeed to the core of Jesus message –
Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.
From this moment on John Moriarty is captured by two primary events in Jesus life – Christ in Gethsemane and on Golgotha, the Christ whose Passion carried him that far, that Christ the only thing in sight that could speak hope to me.
The mountain in Glen Inagh, Ireland, where he experienced such dereliction was his Gethsemane. He would later write – It is only with God’s grace that I would ever be ready for the final gift of dereliction.’ And – ‘I am becalmed – Christians call it dereliction, God’s terrible and wonderful gift to those who are seeking and, with God’s grace, are already finding homeport in God. And, as he gazed at the dereliction of Jesus he wondered – It surely wasn’t without reason, I though, that the word Gethsemane means oil press. Christ the crushed olive, Christ the crushed grape, Christ the suffering of the crushed grape.
A little later, quoting Marguerite Porete, the 13th century French mystic who was burned at the stake in Paris in 1310, he writes –
Being completely free and in command of her sea of peace, the soul is nonetheless drowned and loses herself through God, in him and with him. She loses her identity, as does the water from a river – like the Ouse or the Meuse – when it flows into the sea. It has done its work and can relax in the arms of the sea, and the same is true of the soul. Her work is over and she can lose herself in what she has totally become: Love.
Love is the bridegroom of her happiness, enveloping her wholly in his love and making her part of that which is. This is a wonder to her and she has become a wonder. Love is her only delight and pleasure. The soul has now no name but Union-in-Love. Yes, once she has become totally free, she then falls into a trance of nothingness, and this is the next highest stage. Then she no longer lives in the life of grace, nor in the life of the spirit, but in the glorious life of Divinity. God has conferred this special favour on her, and nothing except his goodness can now touch her.
It was in this union that Christ could declare to his disciples – Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.’ (John 16:32) And, even on the cross could cry – Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit. (Luke 23:46 & Psalm 31:5). And so it was for Moriarty as, in his emptiness, despair and ruination – he fell into the arms of Everlasting love.
The problem as I see it today is that there are precious few churches, if any, at least within my culture, that come near to meeting people like John Moriarty as they fall. As a result, like it or not, most outsiders seeking truth, give such institutions a wide berth and move on. Sadly some die, literally, in their desperation – we have utterly failed them. Again, like it or not, most see the church, at least in its traditional incarnations, as purveyors of a moralistic philosophy – something which can never speak to their deeper spiritual questions and searching. Paul Kingsnorth, another man in the mould of Moriarty, but who, unlike him, had not known any previous family connection to the Church, but, as we noted in our last post, would go on to embrace the Christ of Christianity – partly as a result of reading Moriarty, writes of his fleeting interaction with the church at school, weddings or funerals:
The Victorian vicar would hand out morality lessons from a man who had lived two thousand years ago and whose core imagery might as well have been from Mars.
Morality lessons – is that all we really have to offer? I don’t believe so – but like it or not that is how many people see us. Kingsnorth goes on in relation to his journey towards the Orthodox faith:
I had found the answers I had sought, in the one place I never thought to look. I found a Christianity that had retained its ancient heart — a faith with living saints and a central ritual of deep and inexplicable power. I found a faith that, unlike the one I had seen as a boy, was not a dusty moral template but a mystical path, an ancient and rooted thing, pointing to a world in which the divine is not absent but everywhere present, moving in the mountains and the waters. The story I had heard a thousand times turned out to be a story I had never heard at all.
I have said this before publicly and privately – unless the church as we know it returns to a deeper, richer strain of spirituality, call that what you will, the world mystical is fine by me, then it will continue to dwindle and die. People are looking for more – Moriarty puts is well as he expressed what he was really searching for – A truth I would surrender to, a truth I would live, that would live me, not just for myself, but for others as well. How we need a return to that Living Truth today. How we need to be able again to share Truth at a level that will engage those so desperately seeking Him – even those who, as yet, know not whom they seek.