5. Deep Song and the Dark Christ

In the ‘Saeta’ – a poem based on a musical prayer sung during Passion Week — F. G. Lorca speaks of a ‘dark Christ’ who has changed in coming from Judea to Spain. Lorca says, “look where he comes from!”, then describes the darkened Christ of Spain’s hard land, pained land, fated land — elsewhere he calls it, “earth of light, sky of earth” — and ends, “look where he’s going!” Christ is coming from where he entered the existential arena, the arena of Seville to wound, Cordoba to die, the arena of the dagger in the street and the blind archers, but Christ is going to another place, the place of the dry land, still land of immense nights, ancient land of the oil lamps and grief, land of deep cisterns and death without eyes. Christ is darkened because we only meet him now in the deep place where our despair is quiet and resigned, but his arrival there will be the dagger that goes into the heart like the blade of a plough in barren land, his arrival there will be the ray of sun that sets ablaze terrible hollows, the fire that penetrates terrible depths.

Again the crucial question is not theological, not doctrinal, not dogmatic, but existential: how can the dark Christ reach us if we will not go to the dark place?

Even among those who are stricken by the Daemonic, there is a temptation to falsify its depth.

In the music of the heart tried in the fire of suffering that comes unchosen, we hear the strange battle in the depths for which we have no words, for which we have no images, but which haunts us with its urgency. We know it holds some ultimate danger and some ultimate opportunity.

This battle is critical. It is a death that could lead to life reborn or a death that could just end in the heart’s failure of its call, ruination, dereliction, without end; it is a hell that could lead to heaven reborn, or a hell that could just end in the heart’s betrayal of its call, remorse, regret, without end. Therefore this battle is ‘on the rim of the well’, or ‘on the edge of the abyss.’ Since this struggle in the deep is already abysmal, taking place in the fathomlessness within each and underneath all, in what sense is it on a rim? On the edge of what? It is stretched, in suspense and suspended, on the edge of a plunge into the abyss that will reclaim the depth as the matrix of the profound, or will lose the depth as this well of living water and forge of true fire, and instead will consign the abyss to becoming an eternal hades of dark death and an eternal Hell of burning torment.

In everyday language the mysterious and potent word ‘abyss’ is used in precisely these two converse ways: [1] We speak of the most dreadful evil, or the most abject letting down of our calling, as ‘abysmal.’ In such usage, abysmal means lowest of the low: bad in a deep, not a shallow, way. [2] But the abysmal also carries the reverse implication, of that which is not the highest, but rather, is the deepest, the most profound. Height signifies truth which is secure, impregnable, shining out. Depth is truth which is put at risk, and thus losable; in depth, truth is hidden, dark, latent, and can either be ‘tested and proved’ or it really can be lost, swallowed up, blotted out. In the abyss, we can fall forever, into a nothingness without bottom, or we can stand on a groundless ground that upholds us from a void we cannot fathom yet can lean on.

Depth is where it can go either way.

Depth is the mysterious, unknown and unknowable place of ultimate paradox. Depth is life and death. Depth is heaven and hell. Depth is the fact truth is not impregnable but vulnerable, and can only be victorious by being made subject to the challenge of what can defeat it. Depth is the unfathomableness of truth, as it is risked, and put to a test, to see if it can or cannot come through in the human heart and therefore to see if it can or cannot come through in the world. Truth is in the heart for the world. The risking and testing of truth can be failed and betrayed in the heart and therefore failed and betrayed in the world.

It is here, precisely at the most ultimate point, that we are not yet through to the other side. Human beings can blow it all at the last gasp, or make remarkable last minute turn-arounds, but this is because the deepest level is not resolved yet.

There is, then, always a yearning in deep song, in the cante jondo, for a resolution that is not yet reachable in any person, because it is not reached in all the world for all of humanity. Deep song must lack classical music’s harmony and thus closure, it must be discordant because the closure is not yet attained, truthfully, in the deep. In deep song, all the extreme opposites of human existence converge, not cancelling each other out, not balancing each other out, but creating a tension of yearning. Even when quiet despair has settled over the drama of the fight, still there is yearning. The deep song is praying to the unknown God, deep is calling to deep, out of the heart’s knowledge that another deep must be in our deep to resolve it, to bring it to ‘the peace beyond understanding’, but until we commit to and engage with the last throw of the dice that the dark Christ calls us out to one last time, we cannot really surrender our deep song to his deep song. The yearning in our human deep song stretches towards this final risk and final suffering, yet also holds back from it. Our groaning is the heart’s prayer, but that praying has not yet come to the ‘amen’, when we surrender to the dark Christ’s surrender.

Yet this same dark Christ is always in the deep place with us though we don’t know that. It was the dark Christ who was in the concentration camps, and when the Jews put God on trial, it was this dark Christ who would have been handed over to their justice if God were convicted; yet it was this same dark Christ who underwent their crucifixion with them.

We cry to the unknown God–the God people think they know is no use—and we yearn for the dark Christ. Yet, we do not surrender to him in the first wound of the Daemonic, nor in the second wound of the Daemonic. He is with us, all the way in and all the way down, and we cry to him and this is our prayer and our yearning. This is almost, but not quite, our surrender to his surrender. We are not ripe. We must take a further step, but we cannot find it, and so we must be true to where we are, and not move from it prematurely. We must let the tension rise, let the intensity turn and twist. We must yearn, and only when the time is right will we take the final step. We pray from within a defeat where we still fight, from within a staticness where we still move. “Be still and know I am God” [Psalm 46, 11]. We stand in our truth, in one sense stuck but in another sense stilled, and we cry to God. We yearn for God. But the yearning has to grow to a crisis point, before it can give birth to the step we must take to join the dark Christ.

Deep song is what is wrung out of us — like all true prayer, all prayer of the heart — from the wrestling with the most powerful burning of the suffering that comes unchosen. The wrestling itself, if done with humility and boldness, if done with sincerity and honesty, generates ‘duende.’ Duende means ‘spirit’, but it is not the spirit that floats above the sticking place, nor pretends to be in it when it is merely play-acting a dramatic role, but is the spirit only born of being nailed to the spot.

The more we move through the first Daemonic wound, and the more we become engulfed in the second Daemonic wound, so the more duende, the more spirit, is raised from the depth. This spirit must be raised in us before we can give it to the dark Christ. He waits, he even stands tactfully back, to allow our passion to be forged in its most black, most pained, spirit. It is this spirit that will be redeemed, and will redeem. The duende is the human spirit being hammered on an anvil. In this we start to be ready to accept the third Daemonic wound that wants to resurrect heart truth from death and hell to make a final stand in the world.

Therefore, if the Daemonic is the spirit that strikes us, like lightning, then duende is the process of burning in our depth whose outcome is that same spirit born in us. Like the grit in the oyster that produces the pearl, the duende ‘forges’ the heart with the power of the spirit of truth. The Daemonic is the spirit, the power, of truth. Anything that rings false to this spirit, to this truth, proves powerless under duress, and gets burnt up. But what rings true is burnt into us, and becomes our spirit, our power.

Only what withstands can stand= neither ‘God lifted me out of it because I am such a good boy/girl’ nor ‘I got through it because I am such a heroic figure’ can survive the duende. No moral law, no ascetical yoke, but only the duende, sifts wheat from tares. The Daemonic took everything away from Job, but in his duende it remade him; the Daemonic was the monster who swallowed Jonah, but in his duende it changed him so that when he was spat out, it was to complete his mission. The duende takes time, and ripens. It gathers power. It sparks spirit, like rock on flint.

The duende operates in the heart’s lonely place, where the heart is alone with God, the devil, and its own abyss. To come through the duende is then to be with the world in a radically new way: but to fail to come through is to be lost to the world, and thus to let the world remain lost. This renders the duende starkly dramatic. A spirit can be born, a power can be unleashed, that will shift things decisively, but if this is not attained, the shift will not eventuate. The whole creation holds its breath, waiting to see what will happen. Everyone and everything is on the edge of their chair when the duende really bites. Redemption or damnation is coming.

It is not just humanity, but also the unknown God, and the dark Christ, and his Spirit of truth, with its dread power, who is in this duende in some manner that disallows any quick or any easy victory ‘over’ the depth. The victory is to overcome that in our passion which would cry in a different way, breaking the rising tension and dispelling the gathering intensity, by exclaiming, ‘I cannot stand the heat of the kitchen, let me out!’ A man once went to a Russian Staretz and said, “I cannot stand my life.” The Staretz replied, “it changes nothing to say you cannot stand your life. You are still standing it.”

Anything purporting to be heart truth, or depth truth, that has not come through what God has established as ‘abysmal’, will be sucked down into the abyss, and will go on falling for ever= this is the empty void beneath the pit of death and the furnace of hell. Only truth that is stripped naked of pretence and distortion and deception in the duende, and that is ventured, checked out and proved, will be upheld by the profundity of the abyss in its fathomless depth; this truth will stand on the abyss, and act from it towards the world, no longer paralysed by the world’s abyss. This final moment is coming, it is what the spirit, the power, of truth will give birth to if it goes to the end.

‘God toils in the sign of the abysmal’ [the Chinese ‘Book Of Changes’, the ‘I Ching’]. God toils, humanity toils, in the abyss, that it can become a life born of death, a heaven born of hell. The duende is this toiling in the abyss, for both God and humanity. It was prefigured from the beginning, long before Christ’s Incarnation, but Christ took it on, and pushed it to its radical extremity, embracing the suffering that comes unchosen at its deepest, at its most mysterious, at its most crisis-gripped and crucial, in his Cross, and in the Descent into hades and hell prior to the Resurrection.

But the very prospect of stepping up, and assuming humanity’s oldest, and most blackly inexplicable pain in the depth, brought Christ to his knees in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked God if the cup could pass [Matthew, 26, 39], as all of us do. We should be clear what this request means. It means: can heaven triumphantly be victorious over hell? Can heaven eliminate any need for the abyss where hell is either going to be defeated– or hell is going to win, for all of us and for the God vowed to us, for all eternity? The full drama of what his passion had put him in hit Christ hard, and he almost buckled under the hit. He voiced all human reluctance, when he asked a last time of God, ‘can heaven be spared the duende in the abyss?’ ‘Can heaven be saved from hell?’ And Christ knew the answer already, but he asked not only for himself but for all of us, in our lack of faith. The answer to Christ, as to all of us, was in God’s silence. It said, ‘no way out.’ An angel came, to strengthen him to do what had to be done, though his struggle with its reality was not over yet. “His sweat was as great drops of blood” [Luke, 22, 41-46].

For Christ, God’s silence was a thunder clap, saying ‘take the step on the ground that will plunge you into the abyss beneath the ground.’ And knowing this was the reply, Christ sang his death song in the garden of choice, in the garden of a last questioning before venturing the final heart deed that put him in the place where our heart deed has been failed and betrayed, and come under the alien power that does not want it to ever come back, for the world’s redemption. In the depth, the devil has power; in the depth, this power must be broken. Christ breaks this alien power, but he dignifies us because he wants us, the fallible human heart, to be the one who finally brings the devil’s power to naught. In the end, only this false power will fall forever in the abyss.

Christ put a question to God, but really, by his silence God put the question to Christ: are you still in, are you prepared now to go all the way? Are you prepared to finish it? The final battle on the rim, in the deep, is beginning.

Christ chose, after the crisis, to follow passion to the end: he freely tried, and was tried in, the passion of love we have not fully tried and not fully been tried in. But we must go on burning, go on ripening, in our duende until we can take the step that will join Christ’s step. God waits for this, as does all the creation. It cannot be rushed: yet when the time comes we must cease all hesitation, and wade straight in.

There is silence in the deep place because there is nothing more to say, nothing more to ask. Words are used up. Images are used up. Once we stop weeping, we are just silent. The pain in us exhausts and is inexhaustible. It is beyond words and images. It is beyond pain.

The pain of the heart wanting to go all the way, yet doubting the heart can make it, becomes acute. In this slowly but surely increasing pain is converging the vast contradiction of our existence as a creature of heart. One of the Hebrew meanings of the word ‘passion’ is ‘pregnancy’; this pain in us is full of ultimates that clash, yet the pain is pregnant. This pain is capable of destroying us yet it is also capable of recreating us. It is a sacred pain.

My step daughter Anita Harmon’s poem:

One day– a dragon will fly out of the sun
And sink his claws into your mind in perfect perspective,
Your flesh will be tossed from your bones
And your bloodless belly left gaping,
Warm scales falling around you– like petals.

Beating on the highway– all alone
Your aching heart will cry out
For another glimpse of
The flaming Moses-bush he carried in his maw.

What, then, brings the pregnancy, the burning, the ripening, to the moment of its fruit-bearing?