Fire and Light

Posted by on 02.10.10 | 5 Comments
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With Beth having fun in Mexico, I have volunteered to lower the standards of the VTH by publishing an extra post or two. Here is a poem I just ran across that got me to considering what it takes to express our spiritual perspective.

Woulds’t thou know my meaning?

Lie down in the Fire

See and taste the Flowing

Godhead through thy being;

Feel the Holy Spirit

Moving and compelling

Thee within the Flowing

Fire and light of God.

Mechthild of Magdeburg (1210-1297?)

It is short poems like this one I discovered quite recently that make me aware of how very close much of the best of modern spirituality is to that of the 13th century. In these few lines Mechthild captures, but certainly does not domesticate, an image of God as that which flows within all people. More important, by far more important, the poem reminds us that if we “wish to know the meaning” that is, I suppose, if we want any glimmer of understanding of this flowing “Fire and Light,” then we need to abandon language in favor of “seeing and tasting.” Not thoughts, not formulated concepts, but the whole human experience – the senses, the feelings, are the avenue to beginning to know the meaning of what it is to be suffused with the Spirit.

It reminds me of a short introductory speech to Bach’s B Minor Mass I heard Friday night. In the Creed, that statement of the Church’s teaching which gives so many of us such problems these days, our speaker pointed out that Bach used just two voices, singing the same notes but weaving in and out in a beautiful interplay, first one voice leading, then the other, for the part of the creed describing the relationship of the First and Second persons of the Trinity. “God from God, light from Light, True God from True God, Begotten not made. Of one Being with the Father, by whom all things were made.” According to our speaker Bach was using those two voices – one constantly proceeding from the other – to illustrate the doctrinal formulation. It worked, worked way better than the creed itself, which, let us face it, uses language and concepts that no longer play very well to most people. But after hearing that music I was able to say “now I get it.”

Mechthild got it too, or rather first. We don’t apprehend the Spirit – whatever that word denotes or points to – with our mind and our ideas. Worked out concepts – doctrines if you will – are at best pointers. We come much closer to the deeper truth by first letting our minds go away for a while and just sitting in the images without analyzing them, but rather asking them to talk to us.

This, by the way, does not mean I am going Pentecostal. I am not. I don’t trust feelings any more than I trust ideas to capture the truth of the matter – for feelings can lie just as certainly as words can. It does mean that language is a truly inadequate means of getting to the heart of the matter spiritually. And so when we want to express what our spiritual lives mean, better than trying to come up with some sort of formula is simply to point to Mechthild’s poem or Bach’s music and say “it means something like that, that right there.” Or indeed, as we express our own lives, to point to our music, or our poetry and say that same thing. “It means something like that.”

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