“The Paradox of God in the Spoken and Unspoken”

“Each of us is a word of God spoken only once. We have a word to speak with our lives. If we don’t speak it, it may never be heard.”  Sr. Peg Dolan, RSHM

I love this quote, and it’s one that I always return to in life. Sr. Peg reminded me of how sacred every life expression is.  She reminded me how important our service to this world is.

As I was reading Meister Eckhart, I came upon an expression that stood out to me that mirrors the above statement as true.  Eckhart, the 13-14thcentury mystic wrote: “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are the same eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.” What a powerful expression for God as the ground of being.  I felt as though Eckhart recognized the presence of God in us.

Once again, a mystic has laid bare truth of being in sacred and poetic expression of theology. But as I continued to read Eckhart, a statement that he made regarding God confounded me.  The statement worked itself into a koan, a puzzle and conundrum that needed to be solved.

He writes, “God is in the unspoken word”. This threw me into a quandary.  I just saw that he wrote we are “one with God”.  If God is the word of my being, how can God be in the unspoken? He said God is in the “unspoken word”. If I am a word of God, how can I be unspoken?

The koan is this:  How can God be a single expression of who we are and at the same time be an expression of something that is not who we are?

Many theologians look at God from many angles.  We see what God is by what we can understand.  This is called “positive theology”. We also see what God is by what we cannot understand or we discern what God is not. This is called “negative theology”. Both are valid ways of looking at God in helping us discern our belief about what God means to us. This approach is the central paradox to theology. God is within us and outside of us. God is beyond us.  As long as God is present with us, either approach can work.

Recognizing the expression of God opens the boundaries of further inquiry and should inspire us to go deeper in our quest for understanding God. This is why science can help us see God in new and literal ways. This is why the arts can inspire us to see God in figurative and metaphorical ways. We can reason the existence of God and God is beyond reason, beyond expression. The later is just as valid as the former.

On one hand, God can be an active participant in our lives through the action of our lives. We can help shape our moral universe by helping others and acting in good ways. We know how to do good by looking to the process of discernment and creative solution making.  We engage in the process of life as co-creators with God, building a world based on what we want for the good of the world.

On the other hand, we can also engage in the act of creating a world based on what we don’t want. We can look at history and discern decisions that have caused suffering for our world and led us down a path of destruction that compromised the lives of many.  We have seen how poor choices in a culture have led to the destruction of systems and civilizations.

The same could be said for prayer.  On one hand, we engage in the act of experiencing God through rituals and symbols. On the other hand, theologians have recognized that God comes to them through their “inaction” or contemplative being.

Scripture addresses this with the Martha and Mary scenario.  Martha is trying to serve the Lord, while Mary is sitting at his feet. When Martha complains that Mary is not helping her serve him, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her”.  Luke 10: 41-42.

This passage can serve us in many ways, but looking deeper at it as a metaphor for prayer it has deeper implications. The Taoist concept of the Wu Wei is useful here.  “There is action in inaction”.  In other words, through the act of contemplation, we are actively engaging in and participating in life in a more meaningful manner.

In our prayer lives we enter the act through sign and symbols, words and ideas and active rituals. This type of prayer is called kataphatic prayer.  Other times, there is no single word, no expression, no ritual that suffices in expressing itself to us.  We need to “rest” and be present to God in emptying ourselves and not thinking. We need to sit at the Lord’s feet. This type of prayer is useful, too, and is called apophatic prayer.  Some theologians have called this “centering prayer”. Both forms of prayer are valid. With a healthy balance of both, we can see how God might manifest in more meaningful and prayerful ways.

The sacred and the secular can help us in experiencing Mystery in more profound ways.  They both have a place in our lives in helping us discover more about life and discern possibilities for greater expressions of happiness and fulfillment. Both the sacred and the secular can also help us discern what we do not want in our lives. Both have a place at the table.

When I think back to Sr. Peg’s statement about each of us being a word of God, it leaves it open to how that word should be expressed or what the individual word is. Each person has to determine what word he is and how he expresses it to the world.  There are billions of words out there and no two are the same.

Reading Eckhart’s quote there is an emphasis on seeing, knowing and becoming through love in all its glory. Love is the thing that connects us to God within, but love is also the glue that binds us to the world.  Love may be the glue that holds entire universes together. It takes the sacred within and connects us to the sacred without. It calls to be recognized in the spoken and unspoken. Something tells me that this ineffable thought is making its way known through us.

Love itself demonstrates that we can experience its presence through signs, symbols and expressions. We show our love through our actions in what is said and not said. We write notes of love for our lovers. We care for them and attend to them.  We surprise them and fawn over them. We hug and kiss them. But we can also experience love in ways that are not expressed. Sometimes just our presence and the quiet expression of our sacred presence is enough for the ones we love.  Who has not sat in the presence of the one they love and just been satisfied by the act of being with love?

Love is secular and sacred. Love is literal and figurative. Love is active and inactive, but none can deny its existence.  It is a healer of hearts and mends the broken.  It is care and concern for others. It is fullness of life and what St. Paul called “patient” not proud…  It is in the humble and exalted and is the very food of life. Love is in the depths of darkness and lives equally in the fullness of light. One in love has experienced both the darkness and light of love — the hopes and dreams, disappointments and despair of love. But perfect love has driven out fear and dispelled the darkness. (1 Jn 4: 18).

Love is also the unspoken expression that sustains us and empowers us to see something greater in possibility. It gives us hope for new understanding.  A new presence of love can make the most mean spirited curmudgeon softhearted and loveable. It can make the articulate a speechless buffoon. Witness the birth of a child that has come into the world for both examples. A mother suffers in the name of love and brings forth new life as a result of her pain. This is a paradox.

The paradox of love gives new meaning to life and wills us to go on. We learn through the pain and grief of love and grow through it. So we speak of love, we live of love and be love to all. I guess it could be said, “Each of us is a word of Love, spoken only once”. The word ineffably uttered is the love of God. What a beautiful word – spoken and unspoken — that is.

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