Awe and Richard Rohr

August, 2010

Last night I was listening to Richard Rohr address a group at Soularize 2007.   He was talking about Aquinas and the idea of co-natural knowledge and like seeking like in human experience.  Good people see good in people.  Kind people see kindness. Hateful people see only through the prism of their hate.  So it is with our experience of God: “The divine image in us,” Rohr said, “sees the divine image over there. God in us sees God, God in us loves God.  There’s a part of you that’s always said ‘yes’ to God.”

Karl Barth said that the Holy Spirit is the recipient in us of God’s own self-revelation.  For Barth, God is the author (Father) of God’s self-communication to humanity, and because God only communicates God’s full and true self to us, this communication is also God’s full self (Son/Logos): the content of God’s self-revelation is God.  In Barth’s understanding, the Holy Spirit then is God receiving God’s self-communication (which is also God) in us.

I like both of these related ways of thinking, but there is, of course, something more self-consciously contemplative about Rohr’s application.  For Barth, God’s self-communication seems basically initiated by God the Author, and though I doubt Rohr would disagree, he seems naturally more interested in the ways God encounters God’s own creative works in us.  For Barth, we are receivers, and for Rohr, I think, we are detectors, maybe Geiger counters.

This morning, as I walked my dog in the first cool August morning teasing Pennsylvania with the rituals of fall, I considered what it is about nature that is so awe-inspiring. What is it about any beautiful thing? Perhaps awe is God in us encountering and recognizing God’s own creation in the world?  If so, we are sorts of conduits, not just the hands and feet of God, but in a very real sense also God’s eyes and ears, God’s experiential interface.  You might say we are blessed in this way to be a part of God’s own communication with God’s self.  We are part of God’s ongoing internal conversation.  What else could communion with God mean?  Why seek anything less?

The Beloved and the Knowing

I’ve been thinking about Plato’s idea of the Beloved, and about how every decent pop song ever written exhibits the yearning for wholeness and completion that Plato locates in the Beloved.  This is, perhaps not coincidentally, also why so many pop songs can be rendered as peans to what we usually mean when we say “God.” (Brian Wilson knew this when he talked about “Smile” 40 years ago).   That’s really all I have to say about it; just that pop songs are almost invariably Platonic. Our relationship with the Beloved teaches us about ourselves, cultivates joy, and lifts us for observations of the divine.  (Brian Wilson knew this when when he wrote “God Only Knows” and knew it again the first time Carl finished singing the first line).
The spiritual tension isn’t always expressed as sexual/romantic.  Often it’s rendered in terms of what people usually mean when they say “platonic” in the first place.  How right they are, as it turns out.  All the Pink Floyd songs about Syd Barrett are about the platonic (in the popular and classical senses) friendship of Roger Waters and Barrett and then its loss, or rather Waters’ and the world’s loss of Barrett spiraling out from Barrett’s own loss of self.  God, those songs are good.
I suppose you need this yearning if you’re going to make art.  I suppose you need this sense of incompleteness…I suppose this is why art has become so personal and why didactic art or message art is usually bad.  I suppose it’s also why you can hear and see yearning in art at all, that is, why you can receive it as such, why you can feel like you own it, why you can sing a stranger’s words and somehow still feel known and like you know.  And so then art is in the intuitive, emotional knowing that we are not finished. That we lack.  What it is we lack is something else.  God or human other, lover, loving, love?  But at least there is the knowing.