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Friday, March 30, 2007

Meister Eckhart and the Silent Desert

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Tank at The Nine Mile. Photo by Brigid Walsh.
[Meister Eckhart] puts it in a German sermon:
Therefore, I say, if a man turns away from self and from created things, then – to the extent that you do this – you will attain oneness and blessedness in your soul’s spark, which time and place never touched. This spark is opposed to all creatures; it wants nothing but God naked, just as He is. It is not satisfied with the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Ghost, or all three Persons so far as they preserve their several properties. I declare in truth, this light would not be satisfied with the unity of the whole fertility of the divine nature. In fact I will say still more, which sounds even stranger: I declare in all truth, by the eternal and everlasting truth, that this light is not content with the simple, changeless divine being which neither gives nor takes: rather it seeks to know whence this being comes, it wants to get into its simple Ground, into the Silent Desert, into which no distinction even peeped of Father, Son or Holy Ghost.

This, then, is the goal of our quest: the ultimate Reality, to which we can give no name, which we cannot describe in any image, to which we can ascribe no quality or distinction. We can unite with it and understand it only in darkness and silence, in a kind of unknowing knowing. Yet Eckhart himself uses image to evoke this imageless reality: he calls it the Source, the Root, the Ground, the Silent Desert. This is the desert spoken of by the prophet when he said: "I will lead my bride into the desert, and speak to her heart.” (Hosea 2:14)

Plunging into the abyss of divinity, vanishing into the heart of the Silent Desert, is not something we do only when we are engaged in solitary meditation, in imageless prayer. The abyss, the desert, does not lie merely at the heart of our devotional and religious life; it lies at the heart of our whole life, and especially of our inner life, of that which goes on, often without our being fully aware of it, in the depths of ourselves. Every time we detach from an old, limited love, and open up to a newer, deeper, more universal one, we are taking a step nearer to our goal. It could also be that many people who seem to have rejected religion, who profess scepticism and unbelief, are really treading this same path without knowing it. What they are rejecting is not God, but the limited images of God which can actually, at a certain stage in life, hinder our perception of reality. What they are smashing is not God, but an idol, and their anger is a sacred anger. Once again we find ourselves in the world of the poets, for it is Yeats who gives clearest witness to this iconoclastic wrath in search of the transcendent:

Then my delivered soul herself shall learn
A darker knowledge and in hatred turn
From every thought of God mankind has had.
Thought is a garment and the soul’s a bride
That cannot in that trash and tinsel bide:
Hatred of God may bring the soul to God.

Extracted from The way of paradox: Spiritual life as taught by Meister Eckhart
by Cyprian Smith OSB. London; Darton, Longman and Todd, 1987
[1] Walshe, M. O’C., Meister Eckhardt: Sermons and Treatises. 3 Vols. London, Element Books Ltd., 1979. – Volume 2. Page 105.
[2] Yeats, William Butler, Selected Poetry. Ed. A. Norman Jeffares. London, Macmillan, 1971. Supernatural Songs, v.

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