When the moment of truth arrives, the situation in the depths can change.
This is the moment David in Psalm 50 yearned for: “Let our God come, and be silent no more!” This is the electrifying moment David could only anticipate but not yet experience: “preceding him, a devouring fire, around him, a raging storm; he summons the heavens above and the earth, to his people’s trial.” This moment when God comes in fire and storm, silent no more, summoning the whole creation to his people’s trial, is the same moment Lorca describes as “see where he goes!” and “see where he comes!” In this moment it is the dark Christ who appears, he is the center of God’s fire and storm, he is the ending of God’s silence, he is put on trial for God’s people. And in this moment, we become available to this Christ who has left Judea to come to Spain for a last Daemonic wounding and a final duende on the rim, on the edge.
Anyone can come to the moment which could be for destruction, or for destruction and recreation, if they have passed through the duende and stayed with it all the way. A religious person might never come to this moment, because of being defended from the duende by other-worldliness; a secular person might never come to this moment, because of being defended from the duende by worldliness. Both are escapes. Since the duende does away with opinions, beliefs, dogmas, it makes no difference what a person’s theories, or even visions, once were: God asks of us “truth in the inward parts”, thus anyone who goes through this truthfully can arrive at the climax of the whole drama, where the truth is finally revealed in us, and can defeat the lie from within: “and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.”
People of genuine religion, and people genuine in no religion, are united in this moment of truth.
This moment is existential. There is no formula to encompass it, no map to plan out its terrain.
Yet, there are three mysterious things which bring us to, root us in, and get us through, this moment. They seem three steps in a progression.
1= The pressure, from God or the world, which brings us to our crunch point;
2= Our surrender, at this crunch point, to the dark Christ’s surrender;
3= God’s secrets given to those in death and hell.
Deep song is humanity’s ongoing prayer of the heart, which declares what the heart is and what the heart is up against, but it makes no petition to God– because we would petition to be saved, to be let off the hook, when what we need is to be speared inescapably, and for good, so we stop messing around, thinking we have infinite time, and instead realise, time is up.
To tighten the tension on the inside, the pressure has to be increased on the outside: things are difficult normally, but for us to enter and remain in the deep place at its most charged, they must get far worse. The Daemonic ups the pressure on the interior heart through some relentlessly potent and inexplicable exterior happening that suddenly befalls it; this forces the heart to go in and down to the place of its ultimate crisis.
Sometimes God will turn the screw, as when ‘out of the blue’ the carpet is just swept away from our feet, and we fall into the pit or the furnace. This happened to Silouan by God unexpectedly shooting him full of arrows after a mystical experience: he is in the height, thinking himself home and dry, and suddenly he is cast down, swallowed by the depth and told to remain there with his awareness, but not give up despite being in hades and hell. More often the screw is tightened by disasters in the world pounding us, or the world suddenly throwing us into dramatic situations that rip the heart out of its hiding, and put the heart on trial as to what it is made of, and what it will do. Not just God with Adam, but the world with us, demands ‘where are you?’ Where is your heart, what will your heart give or not give to be true?
The dagger in the street is needed to make things serious. The worse it gets, the more grounded and energized in its deeper reality, its existential predicament, the heart becomes. The battle in the deeps is not helped by situations of certainty, safety, control, comfort, predictability, detachment. It is helped by storms, floods, earthquakes, that reconnect us to what is at stake in existence and hence reconnect us to our heart’s stake in what is at stake. Suddenly we are no longer drifting, asleep, apathetic, disengaged, uncommitted. Suddenly we are acutely alert and in the thick of it; we are on the rim, we are on the edge. We are struggling, suffering, fighting, in the deep place within that is bound hand and foot to the deep place without.
When the Daemonic puts us into the world’s arena outside us, it puts us into the deep arena inside us.
Whether it comes from God, or from the world, this mounting pressure on us is inexorable, and closes off all avenues of escape. Slowly but surely the options are taken away, and it narrows to the all or none, black and white, ultimate. This is like being in a room where, one by one, all the doors are being closed. In ordinary language, we refer to this when we say, ‘all my alternatives have run out, now it has come down to this.’ It is not the most scalding sounds wrung out of our wrestling with the blows and hurts of existence that signify this climax, but the sudden silence of a sharp intake of breath when the last door in the room shuts and we know ‘this is it.’
We do not want our suffering put under a pressure that will get it moving again. We prefer it to remain where it is, buried in us and paved over in the world. But the Daemonic does not let it rest in peace! The Daemonic pierces the ‘quiet despair’ buried in the deep heart, like a body wrapped in a shroud in a tomb, to dig it up, to stir it into anguished life, to pressure it into dynamism, in order to grant one last possibility: the coming of the dark Christ to our ‘bitter root.’
The heart has always been seeking this new way, but it has not been able to find it, of its own strength and its own effort. Suddenly a second chance, a last chance, to go for it appears. What we most dread and what we most yearn for arrives.
This is the redemptive element in everyone’s crunch point, and what can redeem those who have chosen the smaller heart no less than those who have chosen the bigger heart.
The choice by us is not enough to redeem the heart, whether we choose for the greater or the lesser. In choosing we find choice is not enough= it needs God to intervene.
At our crunch point, all that is required is that we offer what is lacking in our passion to the dark Christ. He is dark because he has already been tested and has already proved he can receive it.
Peter’s crunch came at Christ’s arrest. Three times choice was demanded of his heart, and three times his heart choose the lesser rather than the greater, denying he even knew Christ, much less followed him. The drama that put Peter in the dark room of no exit exposed his passion as not up to the mark. Yet, it was this failure and betrayal that finally broke Peter’s heart, and it was this heartbreak he could, finally, give to the Christ born to suffer, carry, and pay for, it.
Whatever the black inexplicable pain deep in the heart, the heart is not finally broken until, under the duress of the most fateful moment where the heart is required, it makes its last attempt to find the way of heart and comes up wanting. There is no heartbreak as savage as this. You know you have given it all you could and still you have let down what matters. Black Elk came to this moment on Harney Peak, at the end of his life, when he accepted that he had not been able to fulfil the great vision and calling early put upon him of saving his people. The tears that fall at this point, and run like rivers creating harsh rents down our cheeks, is not mourning at what has been done to us, but mourning for what we have not been able to do when it most mattered what we do. Heartbreak comes to the heart when it gives its all, and finds all it is and all it gives not enough for what it loves.
This is our deepest cut, our final wound. The heart comes to absolute poverty, and total mourning.
But this is the moment when it can turn around, and the way of heart be recovered, never to be lost.
Christ waits for us to give what is lacking in our passion to his passion, that his passion can redeem ours, and ours be resurrected with his.
It is in our lack, not in fullness, that we turn to the dark Christ, in surrender. Those who are heroic can put their own heroism in the way of Christ, while those who are not heroic can turn to him more readily= the sick know they must lean on a physician, while those seemingly healthier but in fact just as sick fundamentally, deny they have any such insufficiency.
There is a more comprehensive surrender when we can confess, at the point of heartbreak, that our passion is not sufficient, but is lacking= and we do not just offer this lack to God as acknowledgement of the deficiency of our fallen passions, as has always happened in the past, but offer it in a new way as the deficiency even of our unfallen passion. This allows us to really give our heartbreak to the dark Christ whose heart is broken for our sakes. We offer our passion to the only one who has paid for what our passion is lacking, and plumbed the mysterious depth of the lack in our passion, making it a door we can pass through to what an Eastern Orthodox saint called ‘the new mystical land of the heart.’ This comes only through the dark Christ. The passion not dead in Christ, not in hell with Christ, will not come to the resurrected life through death, the resurrected heaven through hell, of Christ.
We surrender in utter, final, bottomless, heartbreak over the whole destiny and calling of the heart in us. At this moment, we know this heart given to us does not belong to us, but to the giver who gave it, and the redeemer who, alone, can redeem its destiny and calling. It is something mysterious when we hand our heart over to the dark Christ who came to restore our heart. We recognise a friend, a brother, an ally: the one who, like us, is in the narrow straights, and has gone there for us, that we can get through. We love this dark Christ in a special way, unlike bending our knee to God, for in fact this deep place is where the God to whom people bow, and about whom they are pious, is not present. There is no transcendent, radiant God in the abyss. Only the dark Christ is with us in the absolute abysmal make or break point: there is no other help here. We know the dark Christ will stand and fight for us, and by doing this, make it possible for us to stand where we are endlessly falling and fight where we are endlessly being defeated.
It is this ‘human heart in God’ that the dark Christ offers to us, and it is not to the God of transcendence, but only to the God of a human heart that we really surrender. We really surrender, fully, to him because he has surrendered, fully, to us. This love of the God with a human heart, sharing in our heart’s defeat and destruction, moves our love as nothing else.
For our whole life reveals our lack of faith in the heart God has given us. Thus it is this heart we hate like we hate God, despair of like we despair of God, repudiate like we repudiate God. It is no good, we pronounce, damning our heart as we damn God. We experience our heart as cursed and accursed. It is we who pass this final judgement on the mysterious, beautiful, vulnerable, affectable, heart in us. And Christ, while still in Judea before he went to Spain and became dark, took on this mantle of what we most despise in ourselves, like a robe of glory. On this robe are all the scorches and rents of our own self hate and self despair and self cursing. Thus, unlike any Shamanic holy man, any Buddhist monk, or any Jewish prophet, Christ became the reviled, the despised, the besmirched, the accused, the lunatic and the criminal, who believed too much in the human heart– for as a human heart he also claimed to be God. As we denigrate and damn our heart, so he bore these stripes humanity ultimately inflicts upon itself. He took on, and shared in, all the loathing we feel toward our heart and toward the God who gave it to us. The defeat of our heart is also this God’s defeat. Thus when we throw away the heart, we throw away God, the world, humanity. This is the void of nothingness, of emptiness, beneath death and hell. This is our final damning of the whole thing, from beginning to end. It is we, not God, who condemn it all to naught. Our utter condemnation of the heart is assumed by Christ.
Christ reveals the heart of God, which never before had been fully revealed, and he reveals a divine heart that trusts, believes in, and will not give up on, that will never throw away, the human heart. Only Christ, in the deeps of his duende for us, validates the heart in us we invalidate, spit on, and want to throw away. To this day, it is difficult for people to accept just how radically Christ loved human nature, and human nature not only in its perfectibility but also with its flaw.
This is why Christ preferred the title ‘Son of man’ to ‘Son of God’; he had always been the latter, the Logos, but had become the former, the Christ, for a last push, for a decisive break-down that would become break-through. This love for humanity is also revealed in one of the strangest passages of the gospels [John, 11, 35] where it simply says “Jesus wept.” He wept for the death of his friend Lazarus, and brought him back from the land of the dead. Why? Why not wait, and let Lazarus come to the same paradise Christ on the Cross promised the good thief when their ordeal was over? Raising Lazarus anticipates the raising of all humanity, but it is more than that. It shows the reason for Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. It is nothing but love for the human being. Christ was moved by our humanity, in its passion and pathos, in its valour and pitifulness. That is why he sacrificed his heart to us on the Cross, and surrendered his heart to us in hades and hell. Henceforth, our heart belongs to Christ= not to us, not to God, but only to Christ. Henceforth our heart belongs to the God with a human heart, and this changes us into the humanity with a divine heart.
For anyone who experiences their root in death and hell, and lives every day in the abyss of the deep place, the love they discover in their heart for the dark Christ is a unique and special love: in putting Christ first, we are reborn as the Christ of the creation. This is Christ’s gift to us: he becomes like us that we can become like him.
All other confessions to God that humbly recognize human limitation and repent of human error, or cry out to God for mercy, are leading up to this final surrender. Whoever makes that last step stands on the shoulders of ancestors who went towards where they are now; and whoever makes that last step carries with them all those ancestors who came before. Each of us who makes this final surrender does not do it as an individual, for themselves alone, but stands in for all humanity and does it for all humanity. The final surrender is the most mysterious in every respect. Ontologically and existentially it is the moment of abject defeat, yet there is an incipient victory because we wholly turn in love to the dark Christ whose love for us has already been proved limitless.
Some people undergo instant conversion, after which they feel happy, even ecstatically joyous, but their mistake is to think that ‘now everything is solved.’ It is not. The long drawn out duende, increasingly heightened by the Daemonic, is only just beginning.
Real religion exists to prevent the painless quick fixes that people tend to invent ‘off their own bat’ once they break away from the traditional religious yoke, preserved from the earliest times down to the present day.
It is necessary to examine the different components of the heartbreak we offer to the dark Christ when we surrender to him, to distinguish the genuine article from the bogus simulation.
The heartbreak is not in our emotion, and does not make us emotional or emotive. It is in our passion, in our deep wrestling with the profundity of existence where we are radically on the line. It elicits silence, or the cry that expresses the silence. It takes a long time ripening, after much struggle and suffering, after much staggering under a heavy load. It is not some quick fix ‘release’ from the deep pain in the heart, but the moment when that pain has grown to crisis point. This cannot be hurried nor faked. The English poet who said God will ‘pursue us until our heart is broken’ understood this does not come soon or easy, but at the end of a harsh and lengthy road. This real heartbreak is too deep, too true, to be cheapened by short-cut, facile pretending.
The heartbreak has several components. Three stand out.
[2.1] The main heartbreak has been identified: acknowledging our human lack, our human incompleteness, our human inadequacy, not simply in our weakness, but also in our strength.
Christ asks us to cease trying to perfect ourselves by getting rid of our flaw.
This determination to be self perfecting separates us from Christ more than any sin, more than any fallen passion, ever could. It is not the evil in us, but the wrong attempt at being good, the misguided attempt at being perfect, that makes us unable to call out to, to lean on, to rely on, the dark Christ. This self perfecting has many forms, from wanting to be the spiritual superman who flies imperviously over existence, to just hiding from God and other people, and ourself, the flaw that brings us crashing back to the ground. Indeed, it is because we want a perfection without flaw, and want to achieve it all on our own, that Christ on the Cross seems weak and ineffectual to us, and the dark Christ in the abyss cannot be found by us.
This is why heartbreak brings tears, a softening of the heart= these spiritual tears, crucial to our surrender, acknowledge our paradox that without the vulnerability in our passion which can become weakness, our very strength becomes heartless. It becomes above it all, like Lucifer, or ruthlessly moralistically judgemental, like Satan. It never knows tenderness, compassion, kindness, pity, for the flaw in others which causes them not to be capable of fulfilling their calling, nor shows mercy on itself.
Our passion, cut off from its prototype, cannot resolve its own paradox.
Without the real Christ, we do not know what our Christ-akinness is for. We spoil it, by insisting we know what it is, when we do not: we abuse its mission. The real Christ reveals that the highest serves the lowest, in self-humbling and self-emptying. Sacrifice has no further extent than this: that he came to his own, and his own received him not, as John says, echoing Isaiah, 53, 2-5:
“..He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: on him lies a chastisement that brings us peace; and with his stripes we are healed.”
Confessing the lack in our best is confessing it is not yet Christlike, and cannot become Christlike on its own, through any advanced spiritual techniques, much less through ordinary obedience to the morality and beliefs of religion.
Without this confession of lack, we skate over the deep place where we are not yet redeemed.
[2.2] Repentance at its deepest= this is the second aspect of the heartbreak in which we surrender to the dark Christ.
One of the surest paths into the depths is confessing and repenting for our sins– our fallen passions, errors, evils. This is where we face the shadow in us, or put another way, own up to our heart of stone which is dragging down and inhibiting the heart of flesh. This is where we offer our weakness to God, in humility and contrition.
This too creates tears which soften the heart. The absence of tears can signify that the heart is not really embracing its deeper failure and betrayal, not really taking responsibility for having done it, but is instead blaming conditions, or the damage done to it, to excuse its actions. Conditions do limit our room for manoeuvre, and the damage done to us further imprisons and compels us. Certain things we do, to fail and betray our calling, seem unavoidable, and thus we protest it is unjust to have to repent for them. In the ultimate, it is all God’s fault– and that is true. God set it up, and God is ultimately responsible. Bishop Anthony told of a confession where, over the course of it, the person got more and more indignant about ‘the shocks and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ They ended up fuming, and withdrew any sorrow for what they had done. After all, given the Russian revolution and their rheumatism, to say nothing of their daughter-in-law, what did God expect? Bishop Anthony said, “When you are ready to forgive God, come back.” The person wanted no forgiveness from God, because they were not ready to forgive God for the impossibility of life.
Why, then, do we have to take responsibility for what we do? Why not blame God, blame nature, blame existence, blame other people?
Confession is not about blame. Blaming is a stalemate. But forgiveness only can happen when we are honest enough to face what has been done to us by people, and what we have done to people. Pretending to be calm, and OK, with it, is a cover up that creates the illusion forgiveness is not really needed. William Blake said, “Forgiveness of each vice opens the doors to paradise.”
The point is, blaming is stupid because we are all in this together. Confessing and repenting is rejoining the human race. No one is without sin, no one is without weakness, no one has not failed and betrayed the calling of passion. It is a collective problem, and we all have our share in the collective failing. We have all been let down by someone crucial and we have all let down someone crucial. We all have been burdened by others, but we all have also burdened others= forgiveness is so that we can stay together, and include all, excluding none. We forgive the other person because, whatever they have done, they are still our brother. We ask forgiveness of the other person because, whatever we have done, we are still their brother. Forgiveness allows us to remain ‘one people’, bearing each other’s weaknesses, enduring each other’s sins, for the sake of not breaking ranks. Sin cannot be redeemed individually, but as the ancient Jews knew, can only be redeemed collectively. We all live in a world soiled and tired from an old tragedy.
It is, like everything pertaining to our life in this world, a paradox. The person who refuses to repent for their sin refuses to see how they too add to the unredeemed suffering, weight, cost, of existence borne by all, but they also deny themselves any part in the redeeming of that tragic condition: whatever they do to try to relieve it will be in vain. The hero who has no shadow, who only does good but never evil, is a silly but also dangerous figure; his shadow gets denser and huger the more he denies its existence. In the end, he is wholly possessed by the shadow he denies. An old tradition says, only the devil casts no shadow.
For example, the hero of dramatic stories who steps up for truth and opposes the lie in the world has to realise this lie is in him, and that in some ultimate way, his only victory will be to overcome its hold on his heart, rather than imagine he can triumphantly dispel the lie from the world. Evil has to be fought in the world, but it can never be defeated there, until the collective redemption is complete, and that is far off. The real challenge is to overcome the hold of evil on the heart, in the deep place where it is rooted, so that such a heart can go into the world as did Christ, not to judge but redeem. The real hero is usually not triumphant in the world, but like Christ has to die for the sacrifice he makes. This is not Clint Eastwood outdrawing 6 men whom he dispatches, which is impossible, but it is more like Paul Newman in the film ‘Hombre’, where a half breed Apache has to give his life for the very whites defrauding his adopted native people. He starts out unwilling to pay any price for these whites, and is determined to leave them to their fate at the hands of a band of cruel outlaws, but through the dynamic movement of the story, he ends up paying the ultimate price for them. He goes down a hill to face 2 gunmen, knowing he is not coming back.
Evil has to be unmasked in the depth, because it offers the heart an alternative ‘way’ to that which is true; it is a lie that not merely corrupts but directs the heart in a false direction. Thus, repenting is not about telling a parent what a bad boy or bad girl we have been. It is about working with God at a deeper and deeper level to understand and break the hold evil exerts over the heart, as a false solution to its dilemma. Evil is destructive because it walks a false road through existence– but one that seems to be an answer to ‘all our problems.’
In part, evil tricks and fools us [Mephistopheles]; in part evil flatters and seduces us [Lucifer]; in part, evil intimidates and bullies us [Satan]. We have to humbly admit our collusion in this. We are innocent, basically, yet we become drawn in, and can get more drawn in if we do not resist the pull evil has over us.
Repenting is therefore life long—“my sin is forever before me”, David says in Psalm 51, 3– not because we remain as addicted to evil as when we first acknowledged its presence in us, but because we need to remain sober, and modest, toward the power of evil as a spiritually objective force, and our human capacity to be taken up in it. Until evil is rejected as a ‘way’ deep in the heart, and its ontological and existential root in that depth has been uprooted, we cannot in fact honestly say ‘all evil is gone from me.’ In any event, it will not be gone from me uniquely until it is gone from all collectively.
Repenting happens gradually in degrees over long years of wrestlings that are a descent for us, like peeling back layers of the onion. This is a self knowing that gradually takes us deeper and deeper in the heart. We go down into the heart’s secret recesses and hidden crevices, like going ever further into a labyrinth of caverns. We are not shown the deeper evil in us initially, but only as repentance grows do we come, steadily, to the starkest truth about the falsity our heart is in thrall to and even worshipping as its idol. Only in this deeper journey do we really face the harm we have done to others, and to our self. Anyone who thinks our sinning is not serious and easily shed is not spiritually realistic. Repentance respects the seriousness and intractability of sin.
The abysmal foundation of evil drags us into the abyss of the heart, revealing our passion’s weakness yet also its compunction, its sorrowing at letting down what passion was created to shoulder. More basic than guilt and shame is sorrowing for what we have failed and what we have betrayed, because it mattered, and no one else could give to what mattered the sweat, tears, and blood, it required to be redeemed. Our profoundest sorrow, which we pour out to God in tears when we repent at the deepest, is not for our own unredeemed state but for what we did, or did not do, for the sake of the unredeemed state of the world. This is why it does no good to confess our faults as a shopping list of blots on our character: this is far too individualistically oriented, when our sin is actually a failure of love’s passion in relation to what it loves. We need to confess the actions that failed and betrayed both specific situations and specific people in them. We need to be concrete and name the actions we performed and name the people to whom we performed them.
Confessing our sins is not simply about being forgiven by God. How could Christ sacrifice himself on the Cross, if God did not forgive everybody everything? Christ earned the right to forgive all sin, by undergoing all the horror it has placed upon humanity: “He remained alien to sin while he was laden by all its consequences”, as Bishop Anthony puts it. Moreover, how could we not count on God’s forgiveness when Christ urged us to be perfect like our father in heaven, and defined the real perfection as like the sun which shines on the just and the unjust alike, or like the rain which falls on one and all, denying none? St Isaac of Syria—who called the zealotry and judgementalism of many Christians a spiritual illness– said the Cross was “the judgement on judgement”, ending judgement and replacing it by redemption. Moreover, this Cross allows us to express our disappointment and anger with God for how God has made things function. Through the Cross, we forgive God as well as God forgiving each other and ourselves.
But confession is really about that ‘inward truth’ which God requires. For this truthfulness– even if we remain partly faithful and partly unfaithful to our calling at the same time– allows the heart to cease pretending to itself. This in turn helps the heart be open to God, and invites God to work with it more and more comprehensively. Hence confessing the sin that separates us from God turns out to be what most brings us closer to God. Bishop Anthony expresses this paradox about sin when he says: “We are.. strangely a mixture of holiness and sin, strangely to the outer eye, not to the inner experience, because at the moment when sin ceases to be an idol which we adore, a master which we serve or which we obey, [then] instead of being a wall of partition between God and us, instead of being an unbridgeable gulf between us and him, it becomes the very meeting point of God with us. [For] the.. meaning of the Incarnation was to meet us at the very point where sin abounds by a great abundance of grace. Sin cannot separate us from God, if we stand both sinful and broken-hearted, contrite and repentant, before the.. face of.. our Saviour.”
Honesty is therefore the vital necessity in dispelling the spell of evil. St Isaac of Syria: “He who knows himself is greater than he who raises the dead.” Evil makes us dishonest about what we are up to, and cloaks many sins in a mantle of respectability. Bishop Anthony speaks of “sins which are not recognised as such but presented as something else” as the most destructive forces buried in each of us and viciously manifested between all of us. He gives the example of ‘hate’ in a cleric whose personal enemies just happen to coincide with the enemies of God!
Hence, the problem is not the sin we repent of, in the tears of broken-heartedness, but the sin we still will not confess and repent of with our dry eyes and cold heart, because we are holding on to it, and thus invariably lying about it to ourselves as well as to God. The reason why we only partly repent, and thus are not fully truthful in the inward parts, may be complicated. Maybe it is some idealised or romantic role we wanted for ourselves as a child, or some spiritual goal that is different in the living to what we imagined. Maybe it is some revenge for what has been done to us, to appease our blaming, which we cannot give up. Maybe it is some desire to fit in with and be admired by people, or just the desire to have a pleasant, comfortable, lazy, untroubled, life, for which one will sell one’s soul. Maybe it is some childhood damage that is so severe it has left us feeling we are deprived of any real chance in life– such as child sex abuse, which leaves the person feeing dirty and besmirched, or child violence abuse, which leaves the person feeling fearful and powerless. How could the child exposed to these kinds of harm not grow up into an adult who sees sex as about using the other, or sees anger as about crushing the other? How can we repent even for the sins where we do to others what has been done to us? In fact, we do not repent only for things we could have done differently, but we also repent for what could not have been different.
Repentance cannot be worked out by thought. It is motivated by love, and fellow-feeling, that exceeds our demand for justice, our demand innocence be protected, and all other demands that existence ‘add up.’ It does not add up. Only love, and fellow-feeling, makes any irrational meaning, value, worth, out of existence. Thus, when we gaze at the harm we do, and really feel the suffering of the one we have harmed, it is love and fellow feeling that moves us to repent of it. In repentance, we throw away the weighing of scales and the keeping of accounts of the small heart, and embrace our bigness of heart. In doing this, we find we can pray for those who have hurt and harmed us, and as we grow, we find we can even throw a covering over their sins. Basically, if we forgive others what they have done to us, then they are forgiven in God’s eyes. Even if they cannot repent, our repenting of what they passed to us and which we passed on repents in their stead, standing in for them. Basically, once we enter the domain of repentance, we realise it is no scoring of individual rights and wrongs that matters, but that passion fights for the brother, and lets no brother be lost. This is what Christ does. He receives our hurtful and harming darts, but it does not stop him loving us nor fighting for us, that we should not be lost. Hence, the ultimate repentance is to repent of the sin done to us by others, as if we had done it.
This is the law of sin when it is not repented of= we pass on the poison put in us so that it is put in others. We give bad for bad. Sin being repented of is the converse= we cease passing on the poison in us to others, but cut it off in us. We give good for bad. In the way we bear sin we begin to reveal the deeper and greater way of heart.
What we find, at depth, is the threefold situation described by Bishop Anthony: “Think, each of you, of himself, as I do myself, and you will discover that on the one hand there is in you, incipiently, but.. how beautifully, Christ. On the other hand broken heartedness, and somewhere in between.. sins which are not recognised as such but presented as something else.” He elaborates on this threefoldness of  Christ-akinness,  broken-hearted repentance, and  something in between: “In each of us there is not only him who is already now.. indwelled and gradually melted into a holy alloy by the Holy Spirit, who is already a son or daughter of the living God. We are not only the repenting sinner, [but] there is within us a tragic no-man’s land in which each of us is still an unredeemed beacon. I do not mean to say, that we are unredeemed in the sense that the act.. [by Christ] is not addressed to that side of us.., but we have not yet accepted redemption.”
When we go deep into our sin in repentance, slowly but surely we clarify the way of evil that it rests in: we come to see both what the appeal of evil’s way is to the heart, and why that way, promising to secure and empower the heart, will let it down, and undermine it in the abyss, so it falls through the floor boards, forever. This is the most acute paradox about evil. For, evil has this two-fold economy inside our heart: if we give in to it, we are increasingly corrupted and undermined by it, until we end up engulfed in the deadness of hades and the torment of hell; but if we resist it, and contain and bear it in our love, then evil becomes the great teacher and revealer to the heart of what the heart really is. Why? Evil tests and challenges every truth of the heart as nothing else does. For example, when the Daemonic Spirit ‘drives’ Christ into the desert [Mark, 1, 12], and he refuses the three inducements of the devil [Lucifer: spiritual miracle; Satan: worldly power; Mammon: economic magic] during the 40-day ascetic period, the whole nature of the redemption hoped for by the Jews, but never made plain, is fully revealed. Evil clarifies what the heart is not: in the end it becomes part of that apophatic truth of negation, in which only the negative assertions of what God is ‘not’ really discern, and even serve to protect the precious quality of, what God ‘is.’ For the heart, this apophatic way of negation is a long and arduous, and very sore, tussle in the deeps. But its outcome is to be able, finally, to undercut evil at source, precisely where it enters and seeds itself, like a predator living off us, in the ground of our nature.
Repentance at its deepest causes us to realise that just as our best is not sufficient to do what it is required, so our worst cannot be removed by us. This is part of our surrender to the dark Christ because, having come to the pit of hades and the furnace of hell, we know only he who has gone to the bottom of the abyss and returned resurrected has the power to change death to life and hell to heaven. He has plumbed death and hell, and found a spark there of life and heaven. He, alone, can kindle it in us. Surrendering to the dark Christ means going where he went only because he takes us there. We cannot leap into the abyss alone. On the rim, on the edge, we buckle, and funk it. Like David [Psalm 55, 4-8], our heart is sore from pain, and the terrors of death are sweeping over us; fearfulness and trembling are come upon us, and horror is overwhelming us.
But there is no escape, so the fear and trembling brings on paralysis. The stuffing is taken out of us. We are gutted. Then we meet the evil one, and without the dark Christ, we are pushed off the rim, shoved over the edge, falling, endlessly.
[2.3] Our cry to God for help at its deepest= this is the third aspect of the heartbreak in which we surrender to the dark Christ.
When we are really broken-hearted is when we can cry to God for help. We acknowledge the limitations of our worthiness, we acknowledge our unworthiness, and in the end, we just acknowledge how much we need God. God is ruthless, because he will not allow us to put other genuine needs first, before him. He is a jealous God, and will take everything away, reducing us to ashes, reducing us to nothing, to help us realise our only help is God. Our need for God is absolutely primal, and cannot be evaded by trying to put other needs in its place. The abyss in the heart does not just produce the fear and trembling in which we become dizzy, and teeter on the brink, almost fainting, it is also our aching for God, our love of God and passion for God that is fathomless. Bishop Anthony used to say, we are so deep in heart because one thing only can fill our depth: the depth of God. At the deepest, our prayer is just this cry to God for help, out of need. Even if all other needs are not met we can survive, but we cannot survive our need for God being set aside.
Crying to God for help is just asking for God to come into the heart. But God does not come immediately. Again, the crying, and aching, must ripen over time, through immense ‘trouble of spirit.’ The moment when we can surrender is when we have wrestled in the trouble, with sincerity, and can do no more. Deep doubt has taken away all props and all idols and all substitutes and all distractions. Nothing makes sense. We have done our utmost to make it all hang together, now we are finished.
Stripped of everything, in the broken-heartedness of our poverty and our mourning we entrust our heart to God.
This is the ‘amen’ which finishes our cry. When we say amen to God, the heart accepts. The heart leaps into the mystery. The heart burns with the fire. The heart stands in the abyss, and does not fall.
[2.4] Conclusion= the heartbreak from which we can surrender to the dark Christ is foreseen, and prefigured, in several of the penitential Psalms of David, such as Psalm 22, but it is especially articulated in Psalm 51=
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness;
According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned..
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts= and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
..Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a constant spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
..Thou delightest not in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a crushed and broken heart, O God, wilt thou not despise..”
And in Psalm 50, David hears God saying this=
“Offer unto God thanksgiving; and fulfil the vows you make to the Most High.
And call on me in the day of trouble; and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.”
According to Eastern Orthodox Christian Tradition, the voice heard by the Jewish prophets is that of Christ: the Logos, or Word, of God is speaking to them about his own coming as the Messiah, and preparing them for it.
It is the coming Christ who is saying that he desires “truth in the inward parts”, so that through his mysterious redemption, “in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.” The hidden part is the deep heart, and its fruit will be the new heart, the heart resurrected, the heart that knows God’s secret wisdom only given to those in hades and hell.
It is the coming Christ who says to David, and still says the same to us at this very instant: “Call on me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you, and you will glorify me.”
May the dark Christ, who alone is with us in the day of trouble, who alone has gone all the way into the inward parts and all the way down into the hidden part, be glorified.
In Psalm 49, David says “man could never redeem himself”, and “it costs so much to redeem his life” that man couldn’t ever “pay his ransom to God.” Thus it is a measure of how valued, honoured, beloved, of God we are that Christ redeems us as we cannot do, and becomes the ransom for us we cannot pay. Do we, therefore, bring nothing to Christ? Is redemption done to us, while we are inert and passive, as some of the Protestant Christian Reformers claimed? No, we co-operate in redemption: we bring our heart, in its self-constructed and self-ruined Christ-akinness, in its sinful failure and betrayal of the mark, in its need and crying for help. We bring our heartbreak.
We bring our whole heart, loving and unloving, and offer it to the dark Christ, as the final sacrifice humanity makes to God, the final ‘burnt offering.’ This is, in reality, the final thanksgiving.
At the last supper, Christ explained that his coming Cross, and Descent into death and hell, is his free and loving self-giving, his passion’s blood and flesh. We do not ‘submit’ to God, as not only Western Christians but Muslims think, because we, in surrendering to the dark Christ, also make a free and loving self-giving of our passion’s blood and flesh. His surrender is communion with us, our surrender is communion with him.
A troubled spirit, a broken and contrite heart: these Christ will not scorn, but joins, to bring forth from their deep place a new joy, a new birth, a new wisdom.
The dark Christ is the only warrior of the abyss with us as we make our last fight.
3, The Secrets of God Given To Those in Death and Hell
The most extraordinary line in the Holy Saturday service, celebrated on Friday evening of Passion Week, is surely this=
“O Christ, as both God and man, thou hast revealed thy hidden secrets to those in hell who cry= there is none holy but thee, O Lord.”
Why would God reveal the most hidden secrets of the divine heart in the human heart only to those in death and hell? Surely, death and hell are for those who have put themselves outside God, in a place where nothing of God can reach? This prayer, from the service which honours Christ’s Descent into death and hell, overturns all settled expectation about the dualistic gap between life and death, the dualistic gap between heaven and hell. Even more galling to dualism, the hidden secrets of God given to those in death and hell have been hidden from the upright, who think themselves more deserving to be granted them. For this revelation exceeds what was shown to any holy shaman, to any enlightened Buddhist monk, to any inspired Jewish prophet. It is the most hidden, the most secret, Wisdom of God that is only revealed in hades and hell. To all those who think God’s final and ultimate disclosure should lift us up out of the deeps, and take us to the heights of eternal life and ever bright heaven, this saying in the Easter ceremonies must cause offence= it must be the utter folly, the utter stumbling block. For Christians, as offended as everyone else, it should be the central mystery of Christ’s coming, the climax of all that he did= how sad that so few Christians can even tolerate this declaration, much less live it.
What are these hidden secrets disclosed to those in death and hell, and what is the cry to Christ that signifies they have been received?
This mystery begins to unfold at the last supper, and so it is the mystery of what ‘communion with Christ’ really means that is at issue here.
The communion cup of wine and bread in the liturgy is, in actuality, the cup Christ asked to pass from him in the Garden of Gethsemane but drank to its dregs on the Cross and in the Descent into death and hell. This communion of wine and bread does not signify, therefore, direct entry into the communion of the Godhead, the communion of three persons who share one nature. The ultimate divine communion cannot enter the world through the ascetic desert, nor through the worshipping temple, but only through the blood and flesh of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and in the Descent into death and hell. Hence, communion with the cup of wine and bread in the liturgy is really communion with the blood and flesh of passion, both Christ’s divine-human passion and our human passion. The cup we drink from at the end of the liturgy to be in communion with Christ is a cup mixed of Christ’s blood and flesh and our blood and flesh, and it is pointless to drink it thinking it can directly unite us with the eternal communion in God. The wine is the wine of redemption, the bread is the bread of redemption: this refers to what Christ accomplished on the Cross, and in the Descent into death and hell. Our human communion with the Trinitarian Communion of God is only won by, and must pass through, the blood and flesh of the Cross, and the destruction and torment this blood and flesh is imprisoned in deep in hades and hell.
It is not Biblical to start with the God who is a Trinitarian Communion. Indeed, it is not Jewish and thus not Christian to start with any kind of purely mystical theology whatsoever, in which God is supposedly spiritually known apart from the creation. Our starting point, both as Jew and as Christian, is the story told by the Bible, and it is only in the course of this story, so full of both divine and human blood and flesh, that everything ultimate is gradually revealed.
Humanity: a passion, composed of blood and flesh.
Blood: heart; flesh: body. Passion is a spiritual fire with a material action.
Hence, it is only if we comprehend passion’s blood and flesh, meant to be on fire with God and meant to kindle fire in the world, that we can appreciate what the hades of death and what the hell of evil really is.
Immense fairy tales and psychological projections surround these two deep realities. Some say they are just frightening stories of divine retribution invented by religious authority to keep people docile. Others say they are just the personification in imagery of unconscious dynamics. Both these accounts have some truth, but they do not reach the deeper spiritual reality.
Hades and hell are real. They are not punishment by God for sin, for God does not punish our deepest error and deepest failing. As Bishop Anthony used to say, would not a parent who had witnessed their incautious child get hit by a speeding car and left bleeding in the road not run solicitously to them, to try to save and heal them? If the parent had an ounce of love for their mortally injured child, they would not lecture them with, ‘it’s all your own fault: it is a just punishment for what you did wrong.’ Rather, wouldn’t God act as did the Good Samaritan? Has God less love than the Good Samaritan? Wouldn’t God be capable of a goodness a million times greater? Is God’s loving kindness and tender mercy constrained by morality? In actuality, the entire ‘reward and punishment scenario’, beloved of Fundamentalist and Evangelical Protestant Christians, and conservative authoritarians of every ilk, is false. It is a teaching which comes straight from the devil, the accuser, Satan. He wills the killing of the human. He creates that spiritual murder—in the name of ‘rightness’—which masquerades as obedience to the patriarchal divinity; it was this Satan who acted in the Jews who judged and condemned Christ.
It does not help to invert the Satanic God with a nice guy God who is cool with everything because he has no passion toward anything. God chastises, to get us to change, but he is not vengeful, nor does he keep score.
The issue at stake in death and hell is that of the enormity of what human passion is entrusted with by God: it is because the load on us is so far reaching in all its creative and loving consequences that falling away from it is also so far reaching in all its non creative and unloving consequences. The Fall is an immense tragedy. The reward and punishment scenario– like the nothing matters too much scenario– is frivolous compared with the real enormity. It is not that we have done wrong when we were told to do right; it is not that we made a little mistake, but hey, no one is perfect.
The reality is that something immense entrusted to us was failed and betrayed, and it is a profound tragedy for us that we have not lived up to the dignity that God bestowed upon us, but even more severe, it is a profound tragedy for the whole world process that its destiny has been abandoned by us who were called to love and care for it. Because of this two-fold tragedy, there is a great and deep deadening and a great and deep hellishness in our heart, but there is also a great and deep deadening and a great and deep hellishness at the heart of the world. For our dignity was to serve the world, and finally, to reclaim the world, at any sacrifice to us. What fails in us inwardly fails outwardly towards the world, rendering the world an outer mirror for the death and hell inside.
When humanity fell, nature lost a friend and co-worker; hence the animals flee us, and we no longer, as we once did in paradise, commune with all the voices, energies, and spirits, who indwell nature. All of nature suffered with Christ in his crucifixion, because it knew him as the one awaited from old who would change nature’s suffering at the hands of humanity.
What appears to be punishment for error and evil is in fact ‘existential consequences’; passion cannot be entrusted with love and freedom, and a huge task, without that being for good or ill, for better or worse. And to save us from being glib and indifferent to this responsibility placed on us by God, so God must show us it matters what we ‘do’ with our passion: there are real consequences of either free and loving action or non-free and un-loving action, for our heart and for the heart of the world. We affect each other in this vast way: every loving deed of passion makes the shared, common life between us more full, whilst every unloving deed of passion makes the one life of all more diminished. This is how serious the Fall is.
It is even more tragic than that: the long journey and battle of the caravan of humanity moving through time is losing its true destiny to a false and horrendous outcome, more and more. If this outcome is what prevails at the last, then God’s heart in the human heart is brought to ruination, dereliction, perdition: the whole gamble perishes.
It is because the stakes are so high, that what God entrusted to us is so real, so serious, so valuable, so meaningful, so purposeful= and thus it matters physically, socially, cosmically—pervasively–whether we take it on, or throw it away. When God blasts us for what our heart gets up to, this is not rewarding good with good and punishing evil with evil, but it is God’s passionate attempt to force us to ‘get real’ about our passion: to take it seriously, to realise it is existentially and ontologically of radical value, of radical meaning, of radical purpose, so that we cannot afford to play fast and loose with it. We are rebuked by God to get us to be more honest about the heart’s passionate inner movements and outer actions: to be more sincere in its motive, to show more integrity in its deed. God is trying, in hitting us with the difference between good and evil motives and deeds, to get us to realise we must be truthful in heart about all the heart’s comings and goings. Christ brings us to a place of freedom and love beyond ‘good and evil’, but if we do not truthfully and faithfully wrestle in the difference between the heart God wants from us, to put the load on it, and the heart we want, to escape the load, no change, no progress, is possible. Good and evil is a stage, a necessary schooling, towards a freedom and love deeper and greater than any duality of good and evil. But this comes to those redeemed by Christ in death and hell.
Is death and hell a place?
Only if we understand that ‘place’ is only half literal, but really is a metaphor for a ‘condition’, an existential and ontological ‘state’ of being. This condition is, however, situated in us and situated in the world, and therefore does have a ‘location.’ It has effects, inside us and outside in the world, which are easily seen, but its source is invisible. Particularly hidden is where, and how, its source takes root.
The location of death and hell is the abyss= the deep place in our heart and the deep place in the world. It comes in through the heart and spreads to the world= then the world spreads it back to the heart. It becomes a damaging two-way dialectic.
How does death and hell come to ‘fill’ the abyss of the heart?
In two ways:
[i] First, through the deceiver. This evil spirit is our adversary, even as Christ is our advocate. Called ‘the enemy’, he is implacably opposed to the human, in all its frailty, and offended that it is this poor vessel which will be divinised– raised beyond any spirit. He tempts our frailty, in various ways, to try to get it to seek the power with which to transcend its lowliness and limitation. Then he judges us for the transgression this produces. He would bring us to death and hell, then seal us in this condition.
[ii] Second, through our own failure and betrayal of what has been entrusted to us. Passion’s Fall creates in the depth of the heart a zone of passion’s failure: hades, and a zone of passion’s betrayal: hell. Beneath both is the ultimate place of death and hell: the empty void. Again, this deep place of abysmal deadening and torment is not somewhere God sends us, because our motives and deeds are not to his liking. Rather, this is the deep place the heart creates in itself by refusing, by rejecting, its passion, its passion’s calling. For, in accepting, in embracing, its passion, its passion’s calling, the heart opens its abyss to the indwelling presence of the abyss of God, and in resisting and fleeing this passion, this call, the heart makes its abyss into ‘the place where God is not.’ The abyss ceases to be the place where God’s passion enters human passion, and becomes the place where deep sundering, deep separation, occurs. This is why the abyss is experienced by us as an empty void into which we could fall forever, without hitting bottom. The heart’s abyss ceases being empty for God, and becomes instead empty of God.
Thus emptiness, voidness, is all that the heart’s passion rests in at depth. This emptiness, this voidness, undermines and terrifies the heart, for it renders passion ‘baseless’, rootless, without source, without foundation.
Passion has no ground to stand on: the groundless ground it once stood on is fallen through, and thus passion cannot take any stand. Our fear of dying is gazing into this gaping abyss beneath our feet; this makes us fear the action in the world that might need our death. Towards our deepest origin we experience that dizziness that makes the heart go faint, loose its uprightness, and crash face down.
The abyss contains an empty void, and above this is the furnace of hell and above that is the pit of death. We fall progressively through deadness into hellishness and finally into emptiness.
By failure and betrayal, passion comes to a place in itself which is where its whole calling is lost and because of that, its whole deep nature is torn and destroyed.
It is we who put hades and hell, and the empty void, in the abyss. But having done it, we cannot undo it. Without Christ, this is the end of God’s gamble, in his passion, with our passion. These three places and conditions of the heart are ‘the end of the road’ for the heart.
That is why the less deep part of the heart pretends the abyss is not there, or tries to fill it with hamburgers. Yet signals from the depths percolate up to the surface. Shame over deep failure and guilt over deep betrayal assault us, waking us up in the middle of the night, and the mind goes into overdrive in the attempt to think away what cannot be thought away. Even more searing than shame and guilt is that signal of the empty void that creates profound fear and trembling, profound dizziness and faintness, profound sickness unto death. We suddenly feel we could fall and fall, endlessly, into nothingness. This is not simply our death. It is a horrendous ‘sinking feeling’ in which everything we have ever believed in and given ourself to suddenly ‘gives way’ because it is without any support, and thus we lose all heart for existing and our guts go to water. Both in the Psalms of David, and in existential writings such as those of Kierkegaard, deep existential and ontological malaise gripping the depth of the heart, are described.
It is for our redemption, not our punishment, that we should experience these disabling depths, not sweep them under the carpet. We need to experience the death and hell at our base, at our root, at our foundation, in the abyss beneath our feet, to admit two things: [a] That this gradual accumulation of the consequences of human passion’s failure and betrayal of the load, the task, the dignity, the calling, put upon it by God’s passion, is in each of us personally: we are each its victim, it is what we inherit from the faltering caravan of mankind, but we each are adding to the accumulation, making it more horrible, by our personal investment in failure and betrayal. Personally, our options are only two: we can make the accumulation more severe for everybody, or we can make it less severe for everybody. But we cannot escape being born into a fallen humanity and a fallen world that pre-exists our birth. Our personal responsibility is not only for what we add or subtract from the common burden of fallenness, but our real responsibility is to invest in the common tragedy such that what we care about is not ourself but mankind’s caravan. Then what befalls humanity befalls me. As John Donne has put it, “do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” [b] This gradually increasing accumulation is in everybody without exception, and thus is not simply personal but is in fact communal: “no one is without sin” [1 Kings, 8, 46; 2 Chronicles, 6, 36; 1 John, 1, 8; Romans, 3, 9-10, and 23]. It is not that it is in the evil-doers but not in those who try to do good. It is in everyone, and no one escapes, because we are each in fact part of the caravan of mankind. No-one will end up in a fate ‘better’ than the fate that humanity as a whole ends up in. Thus it helps nothing to separate oneself from hades and hell to try to avoid the common destiny of mankind. One, or a few, cannot be saved, while all the rest are lost. Thus, the Hades and Hell deep down undergirds all of humanity.
In the modern world– excepting the existentialists, and novelists like Dostoyevsky and Kafka– the experiential signals of the depths are blotted out. The empty void is medicalised, hades and hell are moralised. But these are evasions of the spiritual condition the heart knows to exist deep down, at the base, at the root, at the source, at the foundation, of its passion. We feel the deeps in us, and see it in others: William Blake notes in each face he meets in London’s streets, “marks of weakness, marks of woe.”
We cannot speak of the empty void, hell and death as a punishment for transgression. None the less existentially they do represent our choice to not shoulder the load God created us to shoulder. As long as our choice is to throw away this load, our heart cannot contain the life and heaven that signify God’s abyss has filled our abyss. To this extent, it is either/or, not both/and.
Yet our choice was not final, because it was engineered through deception, and only partly expressed our real will and real passion. A piece of us never went along with what the evil spirit, and our smaller heart, contrived. Looking at things from the perspective of the not extinguished ‘image of God’ in us, that choice was an immense tragedy, yet a tragedy capable of being redeemed. In this sense, the empty void, hell and death have not won, are not permanent; they could become so, but they might not: they are horrendous now but not yet permanent for all time. It is not over until it is over, and Christ’s intervention shows that just when we thought it over, it gets exciting: there is a second chance, for God’s passion and for our passion, created by the divine-human passion of Christ. This reversal of the run of play by Christ makes possible a both/and, emerging out of the either/or.
Until this intervention of Christ happens in our depth, we remain in either/or: life or death; heaven or hell; emptiness or fullness. Once it does happen, we come to both/and: life out of death, life that includes death to prove a deeper and greater life; heaven out of hell, heaven that includes hell to prove a deeper and greater heaven; fullness out of emptiness, fullness that includes emptiness to prove a deeper and greater fullness. This is when ‘good and evil’ ends, and an different and wholly non-dualistic freedom and love are ontologically and existentially reborn.
Until this happens, we are in real straights.
What, then, is the ‘pit’ of death, the ‘furnace’ of hell, the ’emptiness’ of the void from the point of view of passion’s collapsing, as a result of its withdrawal from God and negation of the world? If these places and conditions are in passion, what is their ontological and existential quality as passion?
What God asks and the world needs is passion’s sacrifice for love. Passion’s withdrawal from God, whose abyss alone can inspire, strengthen, uphold, it over its own abyss, negates passion’s calling to the world. Death, hell, and the empty void, are in passion as its own ground because when passion negates the world, outwardly, passion negates the very springs, the very spark, the very dynamic, of its own existence, its own life, its own flame, inwardly. Deadening, hellishness, emptiness, are simply the three faces of love’s sacrifice declined; in essence, the existential and ontological hole in the heart is created by the heart’s refusal to love.
The specific quality of these three faces of the inversion of passion thus all hang together, once we understand both how they shut down the opening in us to God, and shut down the opening in us to the world.
1= EMPTY VOID
This is where we experience God as absent from us, or as powerless to help us: all ground falls away, and we just fall forever. This is a condition of radical paralysis, of apathy, alienation, and what the Desert Tradition termed ‘Accidie’: nothing matters, nothing can make any difference, and the heart has no will and no passion to even try to make a difference for the sake of what matters. In this state, we laugh at everyone and everything, ourselves included, and dismiss it all. We are capable of the most sophisticated irony, demonstrating everyone and everything is shit, indeed not even shit but just pretentious nothingness: ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’, yet we cannot stir ourselves to even the slightest effort, the slightest engagement and commitment, to anything that matters. We sit around and sneer, and make not the slightest sacrifice for anything and anybody. They are lost, we are lost: what does it matter anyway? There is a sly but profound disrespect in this acid gall, a sense of ‘nothing deserved consideration’ and ‘no one held out a helping hand of consideration for me.’ But the will to live, the passion to live, is in any case gone, exhausted, all used up. This is despair, bitter and savage, bottomless. This is gazing into the abyss and seeing only absence. Meaning, value, purpose, are swallowed in the absence, and we can do nothing, and we don’t want to do anything anyway. This is the finish. We are so finished we care about and care for nothing and nobody; we are so finished we couldn’t summon the energy even to bury the corpse of those in our family= even with our nearest and dearest, we just don’t care, at all.
In Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, and in William Blake’s illustrations of it, sinful or fallen passions– from greed through lust to vainglory, and so on– are at a less deep place in the human heart than the pit of death and the furnace of hell, but deeper still is a cold and vacant place: this is the empty void. It terrifies us beyond terror because it seems to have the power not only to suck us down, and suck the world down, but even to swallow God. It seems the final victorious truth: we don’t matter, the world doesn’t matter, because God is absent. We don’t care, the world doesn’t care, because God doesn’t care. No one cares for us and we care for no one, because God is gone and his going declares he doesn’t care. In this state, we pronounce a last damnation on God, the world, ourselves. It was not worth the candle, we spit out, as we fall from the rim, as we go over the edge, and fall endlessly into nothingness. Everything and everybody ends up like this. So what?
2= PIT OF DEATH
This is where passion’s failure and betrayal of its task, calling, mission, first bites, and we fall not into an empty void, but into a vast pit with high walls. The walls cannot be scaled to get out, thus the pit is a place where we are imprisoned. We are imprisoned in a deadening, a deadness, of passion. The vibrancy and vitality of passion is gone, and thus we are like wraiths, ghosts, shadows, of a living passion. Both the Jewish Shaoel and the Greek Hades refers to the same ghost-like deadness of life, a thin half-life. For both Jews and Greeks, this mere spectral remainder of life was where a person went after this existence ended, but in reality the underworld of Shaoel and Hades is a pit of deathliness under-girding this life. It speaks of the fact not of physical death, but of an end to life in this existence: a dead zone underneath our passion which causes its flame to be unable to rise up, and reach out, but drags that flame down into a pit, where it is restricted, chained, tied up, and thus not able to release its energy to perform its action. The flame is mortally injured, not extinguished: it suffers precisely because it is not dead. It wants to leap up, wants to leap out, but cannot; it has no life with which to break free, it has no life with which to remain free.
But the pit is not only an imprisonment in the deadening of passion’s aliveness–its élan, its outgoingness, its intensity–but more basically it is an imprisonment in passion’s capitulation and giving away of its integrity. Passion eschews the hard way. The pit opens up and drags us down when we jettison all moral, but more importantly, all existential integrity: we funk stepping up, but let go what we should care about and in extremis die for, because we back off from taking a stand. Thus, in this state, ‘we have no standing.’ The person ‘has no sand’– the strength that keeps us standing– because they run away from any stand: their standing is non existent, and indeed they have ‘no ground to stand on.’ Thus they literally and spiritually cannot stand up, they are dragged down into the pit of deadness. They end up not only deadened in sheer aliveness, but also morally and existentially deadened: their life drive is weak, but more vitally, their passion for truth is fatally injured and mortally weakened.
In the Psalms of David, God tells us to keep the vows we make to him; almost the first thing I was told, when entering the domain of the Lakota was, ‘we make vows, and these vows are sacred.’ The vows we make to the world are really vows we make to God: and if passion cannot vow, if it meekly fails and meekly betrays its vowing, then it has no core, no compass, no direction, to keep it struggling. We are ‘not sure of our ground’: this ground has totally collapsed, and we cannot stand upright but again and again end up falling. In the pit, the heart is imprisoned in a deadening of its capacity ‘to fight the good fight’, to persist in fortitude, to persevere in patience: it is spineless, gutless, heartless, toward what it must do. Passion breaks its vow, because it hasn’t got the freedom and power to keep its vow. Whatever it promises, it fails and betrays; it may have good intentions, but it can never keep to these. Whatever strength and power the person possesses for evil doings, they have no strength and power for the doings of good. The ‘doing of the heart’ instigated by passion does not happen, because passion is in prison and cannot break out: the pit is a permanent condition of weakness so abject, we surrender what we care about and let it go to wrack and ruin. This shames us; we hide, we don’t want to be seen.
The pit of deadness is the place of ‘downfall’, in which we are ruined because we ruined our chance to make a contribution. The pit is where everything and everybody ends in ruin, like an unfinished building, like a glory faded, like a potentiality half finished then given up on. Though a moral and existential collapse of integrity, it is also a state of profound sickness. Decay carries the connotation of a disease, a viral infection, spreading through-out the hands and limbs to invade the entire body. Physical, psychological, spiritual, deadening is a sickness crying out for healing. All people have this illness: if they did not, the world would be a vibrant and contested place, where people told the truth and acted on the truth, honouring their vows, keeping their promises, and standing up to those who did not. That the pit of hades has infected the ground we stand on entails there is little or no fight in people for the truth: ‘Christian mildness’ is mere cover up for the depressive slime that keeps all vital cutting edges blunt, and allows the genuinely evil to get away with murder, unexposed and unchallenged. In the pit, zeal for the truth of God, and the courageous recognition this truth has genuine enemies, is sickened with deadness. Cowardice, timidity, self-protective caution, kills off passion’s whole connection with heart truth.
Thus the pit is the ruination, extreme and pervasive, that underlies us all in our world: a state of radical ‘impairment’, where the seed does not come to fruition, and the works we should do remain in tatters. The doing of the heart that should take placed in every walk of life never happens. Downfall= ruin= impairment= ‘perdition.’ The pit of death is the perdition where what could have been is spoiled. The wondrous and fearful possibility is ruined, and it comes to despoilation, on the way to coming to nothing. The relationship that got spoiled, the work that got spoiled, the mission that got spoiled: this is what faces us, night and day, in the pit. Tradition calls this place ‘the pit of destruction.’
In the pit are the untold millions of unlived and despoiled lives, past, present, future; yet each ghostly figure grows into the dank mud, unable to move, and is on their own, facing away from everyone. In this pit, the destruction of each separates them from everyone else. We are imprisoned in our own misery, not able to stretch out to anyone in their misery. Thus in our misery, there is no one else in all the world.
There are places in the New Testament where Christ very explicitly and unambiguously refers to people ‘going to hades’, and ‘going to hell.’ His remarks about these places are mysterious, allusive, poetic, but that he refers to them is undeniable.
Christ is referring to the pit of hades in the context of the ‘good-for-nothing servant’ cast into ‘outer darkness’ where there will be “crying and grinding of teeth’ [Matthew, 25, 30]. This conjures up the sorrow and anger that accompanies the imprisoning and deadening of passion. We are sorry about what we let down, but our sorrow is more complaint than plaint: we blame others, or circumstance, for our failing. Similarly, we are angry with ourselves for what we did not do, but our anger is more raging at fate than holding ourselves responsible. Moral and existential failure of our integrity and vowing goes with not being able to take responsibility. In the pit is self-pity and resentment at how we have ended up. It is the fault of everything and everyone else, except me.
Thus, the pit of hades is a place, and condition, of terrible and relentless ‘dereliction’, and this old word has a double meaning= it means having to live with, and never be able to either accept or escape the knowledge of our dereliction of duty; but it also has a more subtle sense of something left ownerless, left to fall apart and go to wrack and ruin, and thus abandoned. In this latter meaning, the pit of death is where we experience our passion, and all of its aliveness and action, as ownerless: as abandoned by God because we are not strong enough. It has all come to perdition because we did not measure up. Thus the pit we end in is where people who do not ‘come up to standard’ are thrown away. In this pit, we experience ourselves as bereft. We are ownerless, abandoned, thrown away, forgotten, robbed of life and action: we are deprived, radically, and left for dead. We are ‘uninhabited’ by God’s life and fire, and have no life and fire of our own in our house; we are devastated, disconsolate, discouraged, down cast. We are left in desolation.
3= FURNACE OF HELL
This is not where passion’s failure and betrayal of its task, calling, mission, first bites, nor where it last bites, but a place in between. Hell is invariably associated with burning, but since the Holy Spirit is also a fire that indwells the flame of human passion, in what sense is there a burning in hell? This burning is fierce, harsh, tormenting. In the furnace of hell passion’s flame is subject to a burning that is a torture to it. This burning is a further step after deadening. It is deeper into the heart’s abyss: it pertains not to the ‘solid earth’ that upholds passion– which is integrity– but to the fathomless deeps where passion is kindled and rises up: it addresses what kindles passion. Thus Tradition refers to it as ‘the depths of hell’, further down into the abyss than ‘the pit of destruction.’ From the pit of death we pass into the furnace of hell, and then into the empty void. In the first place, passion is put in chains and stopped dead in its tracks, in the third place passion has no air to feed its flame and is extinguished, but in the middle, second place, passion is sparked, but the way it burns hurts it: tears it, and hence is a torment to it. Passion becomes a hell to itself. In hell, passion is held fast in a furnace that afflicts it with a twisted and unrelenting suffering. In the gospels, Christ refers to it [Mark 9, 43-50] as “the worm that never dies” and “the fire that is never quenched” [this never dying worm and never quenched fire is quoted from Isaiah, 66, 24].
What is this undying worm? What is this unquenchable fire? What is this burning that is hellish, like being roasted in a furnace? Experientially it is ‘punishing’ to go through, and thus it also feels like it is a state in which God’s anger is singeing us.
Hell is a place where in reality God is angry with us, but not in the childish way that we imagine. God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways: his thoughts and ways are above ours, and it is therefore vital not to project anger as we psychologically know it onto God. What understands hellishness is the recognition that hell is what happens to our passion’s ‘anger for truth’ when we play false with it.
In this sense, the burning in hell is what we do to ourselves when our passion does not stand before God in truth at the deepest point where passion emerges from the smithy, the anvil, the furnace, of God. That smithy, anvil, furnace, is what ‘forges’ passion in the white heat of God’s truth, and therefore blesses passion to ‘forge ahead’ in existence, not letting itself succumb to a forgery. When passion is not in the truth at this primary level, then passion’s own ‘burning for truth’ becomes a torture and torment to it. Why should this be so? It is so because at this level, the fire of the Holy Spirit kindles passion, and so when passion emerges from the blacksmith’s hammering and refining of its mettle, and stands before God in truth, so the holy fire burning it creates in it warmth, glowing, sparking: it is joy to be burnt in that fire. It raises passion into action, and passion then seeks truth in all its action. Even the suffering of sacrifice is embraced by love of that truth. Conversely, when at this primal level passion resists, repudiates, and even lies toward the truth, then it experiences the holy fire as a twisted suffering: the holy fire which inspires us when we are in the truth is experienced, when we are out of the truth, as rebuking us, as running a sword through our conscience, as intolerant of our lie. We can find no peace: this fire assaults our flame, and renders its burning afflicted, anguished and agonised, all day and night. In hell, we never rest, sleep, get a moment off. The burning that tortures and torments us goes on all the time, in each second.
This refusal by the holy fire to let our flame of passion off the hook seems uncompassionate, unforgiving, unkind: we accuse God of accusing us, and we deem this accusation too heavy, too relentless, too demanding. We feel on the receiving end of God’s wrathful displeasure, and we would just like to crawl away and die– the pit of dejection would be a holiday compared with the furnace of hell! We ask, why isn’t God more loving? We judge God as a cruel, over demanding and over strict, pitiless judge. Of course, Satan wants us to conclude just this: which is why hell is composed of both a false vision of God’s anger with us, and a false vision of our anger. The whole complex knot revolves around ‘truth’, in its relationship to ‘love.’
God is truth as well as love, and we cannot be in God’s love without being in God’s truth. Even if God were to ‘compassionately’, ‘forgivingly’, ‘kindly’, place us in the midst of heaven, while our passion was still out of the truth, this environment of absolute and unending love would not touch us: it would not mean anything, it would not have any value, it would not have any purpose, for us; it would be worthless. Without truth, love cannot be kindled in us. Truth is how love works, functions, operates; what love is doing and how love does it; what love will give of itself and even how love will empty itself for what it loves. But all this would simply be abstract, it would be wholly outside us, it would be information we can take or leave, unless we could catch fire with it. The holy fire is love, and truth: through truth we enter love, through truth love burns in us and in this burning radiates from us.
It is therefore serious when our passion, at depth, turns from truth. This means it separates itself from the kindling of love. That is why it goes cool on love, and simply regards love as a choice, a possibility, ‘a life style option’, rather than the very driving force of its being. Passion burns, it is a flame not a machine, because it was meant to burn with God, in order to become God’s candle, God’s hearth, God’s pillar of fire in the world, to transfigure the world. When Christ stood on Mount Tabor and divine fire burned in him, transfiguring his whole being, he showed what the nature and destiny of human passion is. We are the flame called to burn with God’s love, becoming a raging torch, but it cannot happen if our flame steps out of the truth. Then, its own capacity for burning through truth becomes a hell to it: truth grinds at its untruth all the time, without let up.
In the pit of death, we are not up to truth’s integrity, we have no ground on which to make our stand. Existential and moral cowardice causes a catastrophic collapse. We are weak: passion sinks down. But the furnace of hell is not a reflection of weakness. We can be very stubborn, very tough, very powerful, very wilful, in hell. Truth, and the anger that is truth’s loyal servant, is the issue.
God is relentless in insisting on truth because he wants his love to dwell in our love, wants his passion to dwell in our passion. If we wield the sword of truth outwardly, but have not been stabbed by it inwardly, then we are not in the truth and will not be able to call the world to be in truth. We will lose the heart’s understanding that truth reveals love, and will increasingly just use the sword to Satanically accuse and murder people. Truth without love is demonic.
God is angry with us when we throw away our passion’s anger for truth by standing in a lie. These lies are various. They are idols, put upon the altar of the rock of sacrifice in the abyss. These lies are things we lie to ourselves about, but in being that, they are lies to God and lies to the world. The Bible is referring to this when it says ‘there is no truth in him’; his heart has enshrined, enthroned, the lie. It is hell for us to put a lie where the truth should dwell on the altar of our heart; it is hell for us to not be able to stand and fight for the truth that kindles love’s limitless passion.
The burning affliction of the furnace of hell is, therefore, not the experience of God’s anger frying us to a frazzle, so much as the experience of our own truth suffering its untruthfulness as a never-ending rebuke, creating not despondency, not vacancy, but a ‘hot and bothered’ uncomfortable sweating, and painful twisting and turning on a spit that has us skewered however much we wriggle to get off. We cannot. There is no exit from this twisted, tortured, tormented, suffering of untruth, which causes “wailing and gnashing of teeth” [Matthew, 13, 42]– until we embrace truth, as our conscience demands.
In the same passage where Christ speaks of hell as the undying worm and the unquenchable fire, he concludes by saying “for every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.” Truth is like salt, which gives the food savour, but more than that, truth is the salt that saves the food from corrupting, becoming diseased, poisoned, deadly to us. Thus, when we are standing in the lie, then that untruth invites the most terrible ‘saltiness’ as its only correction. The salt God then Daemonically pours on us is bitter, sour, biting; Christ refers to this when, in the same passage, he says it is better to go into life maimed, than to be whole and end up in this hellish furnace. Thus, if one hand, foot, eye, offends us, pluck it out. The salt ‘salts the fire’ of our truth to free it from untruth, and so such losses of our wholeness are redeeming. If existence smashes the greatest idols we worship, it has salted us savagely, but once we return to being able to stand in the truth in our deep heart, we are grateful, and give thanks.
In his anger with us, God has not ceased loving us, but he takes away his love, and turns away from our untruth for a while, to let us stew in our own juices. This is clearly put in Isaiah, where God is declared the husband, and humanity his wife [Isaiah, 54, 5-17]. God says, through the prophet, that he has been angry, but it will not last, it will not be final, it will not be eternal: “for a small moment have I forsaken thee: but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little anger I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, sayeth the Lord thy redeemer.” To be without God for a moment is to be ‘as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit.’ God comforts this forsakenness and grief when he says that just as he swore the waters Noah confronted should no more swamp the earth, “so have I sworn that I would not be angry with thee, nor rebuke thee.” This rules out any eternal wrath, any ‘eternal punishment for sinners’, and points directly to Christ; the Lord who is the redeemer is Christ, and Christ’s redemption will end hell, and restore those in it to heaven, in the end. Truth is angry for a season, to get us to realise we must return to truth, but love will convert that anger into zeal and fervour for redeeming what is loved.
This is what our anger will become, in Christ: the warrior for truth who becomes the martyr for love.
To stew in our own untruth allows us, in fact, to realise how much the heart needs God in order to ‘stand up’, before God and before the world.
There is another passage in Isaiah that prophetically announces universal redemption– the ending of the deep heart as the place of emptiness, deadness, and hellishness, and its restoration as the place of God’s holy mountain [Isaiah, 25, 6-9]. The prophet gives praise to God, saying he has done marvellous things, and that his counsel to humanity has been “faithfulness and truth.” God will bring the evil city to an end– the city built out of untruth and unfaithfulness in the heart– and will erect a holy mountain. In this mountain God will destroy “the covering over all people and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory, and ..God will wipe away the tears from all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth.. And it shall be said in that day, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us; ..we have waited for him, we will rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
Christ’s redemption ends God’s wrath with us, and our wrath with God. The time of opposition to God’s truth will end, and we will be able to stand in truth, reconciled to God’s truth.
My step-daughter’s daughter used to say to her mother, when she was a very little girl, “I’m angry with you because you’re angry with me.” Are we much different with God? We are angry with him because we try in that way to defend ourselves. Our defensive anger lies in asserting he let us down, for in truth, we know we let ourselves down. This is why our deepest anger in hell is actually with ourselves. We are full of self loathing, and self hate: this burns in us hideously, like a spear we constantly shove into the heart. We ourselves stab, repeatedly, the innocent, childlike loyalty to Christ at the bottom of our passion; we self harm, we self injure, that unfallen remnant of the image of God in our heart. Christ warns against abusing the child’s faith in him, but this refers to not injuring the innocent, childlike, impulse of passion, where it first arises. Yet we do precisely attack this very Christ-akinness in us, scorning it, belittling it, holding its willingness to love in contempt, as naïve and foolish. This child is wiser than the sophisticate in us who has a million reasons for remaining in untruth, and blocking off all of passion’s love. Our own innocent, childlike flame rebukes us most of all, because it just says: let’s go, hoka hey! Thus do we engage in ‘child abuse’, killing the innocence in ourselves and in other people. Hell is the place of child murder: where we slay the lamb slain before the world began at origin, so he cannot be given to and slain for the world. This plants real evil in us, for the devil hates the child passion that trusts, and has faith in, God’s passion more than he hates anything. Anyone who is abusing the child in themselves, and in others, is in hell. Better a millstone were around their neck and they were thrown into the sea than they abuse the child= this means, no disaster passion outwardly is harmed by is half as serious as the way we self harm the passion’s child, the lamb.
What, then, of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire? What aspect of the hellish burning is this? The unquenchable fire is the rebuke our passion brings on itself so long as it clings to untruth: this fire pricks and scorches our conscience; the undying worm is the regret, and the remorse, which burrows and eats away at us so long as we are hit by conscience but do nothing to answer its insistence that we change. The conscience we hide from finds us out, it chases us all the time, though we run from it; while we do not face it, we know we have blown our chance with passion, of being the “leaven of sincerity and truth” that makes the bread of life, and so searing remorse, and regret, invade our inward parts.
Remorse is filled with bitterness. We have no compassion for ourselves, and do not experience any compassion from God. Regret is even more extreme in hellishness. In regret, we feel not only profound existential angst and guilt, but also a horrendous existential incompleteness: a loss to our deepest sense of who we are, and what we are to do. In reality, regret signifies how disappointed we are in ourselves, but we mount both a case for the prosecution, and a case for the defence, against the pricking of our conscience: ‘I have failed myself, I am no damn good’, we say, yet simultaneously say, ‘I was given nothing good to lift me up, I had to betray my calling.’ Self-justification and self-condemnation are unbreakably locked together. We are stuck= our will remains relentlessly obdurate, preferring to hate the world, or even the self, for ‘what went wrong.’ However much we blame God or circumstances, deeper down we are in a state where passion’s ‘worthiness’ has been cut to the quick, and because of pride we are angry at God over this brutal revelation of our lack of worth. Having absolutely no worth sickens us more than deadness. It sickens us in our passion’s core. In its grip, we end up not wanting to have any flame. We believe God gave it no fair chance, and we want to kill it.
The worm and fire that never relent are not some eternal punishment God puts us in, but our own self-consuming, in hatred, of our deepest worth– our worthiness to stand before God in truth, and to stand in the world for truth.
In hell, truth devours itself, finds itself unworthy, without let up or end.
The progression through these three hells is, then:
1, Pit of death= shame– passion in weak hiding.
2, Furnace of hell= guilt– passion in corrosive self destruction.
3, Void= terror– passion in despondent paralysis.
The most basic theme of the progression is, then:
1, Failure= imprisonment/complaint
2, Betrayal= reproach/accusation
3, Despair= negation/disrespect
Hence, each of these places has its own quality, expressing its essential theme:
1= The pit of death is a place and condition of dank decay: decrepitude, atrophy, blight, degeneration, decomposition, fragmentation, decline, disintegration, rot, putrefaction, desolation.
2= The furnace of hell is a place and condition of hot excruciation: torture, torment, pricking, affliction, agony, anguish, dryness, burnt up.
3= The empty void is a place and condition of cold blankness: gap, vacuum, vacancy, futility, listlessness, depletion, drained, restlessness, absence.
In these three places in the deeps we have lost God, lost the world, and lost our own depth as the third relating the two, making an unbreakable trinity.
These three places in the underworld percolate up in experiential signals when we hear people say, in everyday life: ‘I am dead’, or, ‘it is hell’, or, ‘I feel faint, like I could just fall and fall.’
They are powerful conditions in the depths of all human beings. As such, they are the result of existential action which is not up to the mark and off the target, but they also undermine the attempt at existentially authentic action. It is a negative feedback loop: faulty existential action feeds the sickness and evil of the depths, which in turn increasingly undermines genuine existential action. However correct outer ‘behaviour’ might be, it is only a mask of what is in the heart, and it is not heart action in the sense God asks.
It is the human heart itself which must change, and change in the depths, for heart action to change, by returning to its task, calling, mission. It is this change in the depths which Christ’s Descent into death and hell, and the void, accomplishes. Death, hell, and the void, become the door-way into ‘the new mystical land of the heart.’ This is also the ‘new heaven and earth’ God promised humanity through the Jewish prophets [Isaiah, 65, 17; Isaiah, 66, 22; Revelation, 21,1]; it needs a ‘new heart’ to live in this new heaven and earth. Heaven comes to earth through the abyss: this is the new mystical land. Christ is referring to this mystery when he tells the Jews, to their astonishment and shock, ‘heaven is within you’ [Luke, 17, 21].
But before the mystical land is reached is the mystery of what happens in the deeps, when Christ dies our death and wins life, is condemned to our hell and wins heaven, plumbs our void and wins the abyss of God. The very worst, not the best, of human existence becomes not only the focus of redemption, but the key to the coming of the kingdom, in which God’s hidden secrets are revealed.
There are several points about this which should be noted:
[i] Christ must go all the way with us, and reach the very ground, root, source, foundation, base, of our existence. All that is potentially most human, full of flesh and blood and guts, arises in this place, and thus is what is most divinisable in our humanity. Redemption is not mainly to reactivate a past we lost, but to move us toward a future that always summoned us in the now= the nexus point of divine-human inter-weaving is not in the heights, via the nous or the soul, but is in the abysmal desolation, agony, and apprehension, of the heart depths. Thus, Christ makes ‘the place where God is not’, the place created by fallenness, into ‘the place where God toils’ and where God redeems: the place where the seed of heaven is planted in the soil of human nature. What had seemed ‘bad earth’ for any such planting becomes ‘good earth.’
[ii] It was given to previous human holiness to bring divine light into the gloomy, smouldering, swallowing, depths, but not divine water and not divine fire; not water to renew life in the midst of death, not fire to renew heaven in the midst of hell. If Christ were not divine as well as human, his entry into death, hell, void, could do nothing to change these. He does not wave a divine wand over them to magically remake them, but rather, he restores them to their original, God-created function. For each deep place is the fulcrum of the divine heart entering the human heart. Void: the matrix, the womb, the pregnancy, whereby the divine abyss enters and is born in the human abyss. Hell: the smithy, the anvil, the furnace, whereby the truth needed to kindle us as bearers of God’s passionate love is forged. Pit: the ground, the support, the solidity, beneath our feet as we act from the abyss and let its fire indwell, inspire and dynamise us. It is Christ’s life that reveals what heaven come to earth, through the abyss, will be. Only in the three deep places is the human being ‘born again.’ Here is our redemption, here is our rebirth.
[iii] As man, Christ enters these depths as we do, experiencing the abysmal ‘it can go either way’ like us. Being without sin means he can do two things, as human, we no longer can.
1, He lacks our disinclination, thus he reveals the way in which the human can bear and endure the suffering of our calling without buckling. In this sense, he can assume the human responsibility we fled because ‘he is innocent.’ He is what we once were, and are meant to be again.
2, He does not suffer as we do, in death, hell, and the void, because our suffering passion reflects our falling away from passion’s suffering for love. Christ is not defined by this suffering, humanly, and hence he can ‘assume’ it in a way we cannot. By bearing and enduring what imprisons our life in stasis, invalidates our worth, and reduces our fibre to nothing, without ‘deserving’ this, in innocence, Christ reveals to us our own innocence that is crushed underneath our three places of lostness. He reveals to us how to be in a different relationship to sin, and the fallenness undergirding it; he teaches us, in regard to this profound lostness of the human being, not to justify ourselves in endless rationalisation and lying; not to judge and damn ourselves or other people; not to disdain the action that we or other people are trying to accomplish as ridiculously useless from the start. Christ assumes the human wound, burden, cost, as a tragedy, a tragedy not to be lied about, not to be condemned, not to be diminished.
He enters into the pit, hell, void, but he also finds the way to recover in this extremity the innocent suffering humanity, the humanity hurt, weeping, broken, in the tragedy, but still open to God.
This broken-heartedness in us, that signifies a different relationship to our tragedy, is the redeemable passional spark in the human heart which Christ will ignite. It is this human broken heartedness, this human cry, still open to God, which the devil’s lie tries to snuff out, so that we come to accept the pit, the furnace, the void, as our irredeemable resting place. Christ repels this lie, and evokes our tragedy differently, as a wound still open to healing.
This is prefigured by David in Psalm 22, which points towards the different way to be in death, in hell, in the void, that Christ will confirm in his own human suffering, and unlock in our human suffering. Though there is the pit, the furnace, the void, the lamentation that David engages in embraces it in a different way. This lamenting opens the wound to God, letting its tears, sweat and blood pour out; this lamenting begins to offer our failure and betrayal to God, as pure tragedy, which we do not bewail, do not accuse, do not disrespect.
By this, we ‘offer’ all three hells to God, as our defeat, in humility, in trust, in faith, in hope, in love. The spark of passion that never gave up, that never gave in, even after the Fall, does this. The innocent child does this. The warrior on the rim, on the edge, does this. The lover of the world’s poignancy and fragility does this. The lover of the venture, the risk, the suffering, the burden, the cost, the struggling, the whole undergoing of life and death, heaven and hell, does this.
This is David’s broken crying, which brings Christ near to the heart:
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. But thou art holy, O thou who inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn, ..saying: he trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him delivereth him [now]. ..I was cast upon thee from the womb, thou art my God from my mother’s belly. Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help.. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up.. And thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.. But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.. I will declare thy name unto my brethren: ..for he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted.. But when they cried unto him, he heard.. A seed shall serve him.”
At times in this Psalm, David speaks as if his broken suffering were that of Christ, yet in some ways it is, for it is our most untwisted suffering over our tragedy that Christ identifies with and joins, that this innocent suffering may change the twisted suffering inherent to being in hell. The suffering in hell is closed off, but the suffering which expresses the heart of the human tragedy is opened up: it can be reached because it reaches out.
[iv] As God’s heart at work in the human heart, Christ refuses the demonically encouraged ‘evaluation of men’ that divides humanity, and seals us in our tragedy: he closes ranks with all, and reverses our evaluation by bringing God’s evaluation.
This reversal of our evaluation is why Christ’s death defeats our death, why Christ’s hell defeats our hell, why Christ’s void defeats our void. If the most high can lower itself, to reach the lowest in us, then the lowest in us can be made high. This is the heart of the mystery of Christ’s descent into death, hell, and the void.
1= For our sake, he who is life is found wanting, blamed and faulted like us, and is put to death, thrown into a pit, abandoned and bereft, yet God raises him from this place.
2= For our sake, he who is truth is accused, put on trial, judged and condemned like us, banished to hell, cursed and invalid, yet God raises him from this place.
3= For our sake, he who is the way is roughly handled, stripped naked, flogged, ripped up from his moorings and storm-tossed by ‘events beyond anyone’s control’ like us, consigned to the wasteland and tossed overboard into the void, yet God raises him from this place.
He who is ‘the lamb slain before the world began’, he who is innocent of all taint, is obedient to death, judged a transgressor, is blown away like grass in the wind, to remove death’s stasis, to remove hell’s accusation, to remove the void’s nullifying. By sharing in our abysmal place and condition of failure [pit] and betrayal [furnace] and negation [void], so Christ drives out the devil’s lie from those places, and solaces and encourages us in our loss of the true way in such a manner we regain it. For, his innocence has joined and shared our loss of innocence, and thus demonstrated love can undergo the same hurt and harm, yet not be destroyed.
By his death, he brought life; by his conviction, he brought acquittal; by his emptying, he brought fullness.
St John Chrysostom’s famous prayer on Easter night rings out an extraordinary message of universal redemption, for the first and the last, for those who came early and those at the eleventh hour, for those who have kept the fast and those who have disregarded it:
“Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shone forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the saviour’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it, has annihilated it. By descending into hell, he made hell captive. He angered it when it tasted of his flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: hell, he said, was angered when it encountered thee in the lower regions. It was angered, for it was abolished. It was angered, for it was mocked. It was angered, for it was slain. It was angered, for it was overthrown. It was angered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered heaven.. O death, where is thy sting? O hell, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To him be glory and dominion unto ages and ages. Amen.”
St Macarios of Egypt speaks with less ‘hwyl’, but asserts the same:
“When you hear that Christ in the old days delivered souls from hell and prison, and that he descended into hell and performed a glorious deed, do not think that all these events are far from your soul. [For Christ] comes into.. souls.. And into the depth of the heart’s hell, and there commands death, saying: release the imprisoned souls which have sought me and which you hold by force. And he shatters the heavy stones weighing on the soul, opens graves, raises the ..dead from death, brings the imprisoned soul from the dark prison. Is it difficult for God to enter death and, even more, into the depth of the heart and to call out dead Adam from there? ..the Lord of everything enters caves and abodes in which death has settled, and also souls, and having released Adam from there, [remains] unfettered by death.”
Bishop Kalistos puts it like this:
“The Incarnation.. is an act of identification and sharing. God saves us by identifying himself with us, by knowing our human experience from the inside. The Cross signifies, in the most stark and uncompromising manner, that this act of sharing is carried to the utmost limits. God incarnate enters into all our experience, [sharing] not only in the fullness of human life but also in the fullness of human death. ..the true meaning of the passion is to be found, not in [physical death] alone, but much more in his spiritual sufferings– his sense of failure, isolation and utter loneliness, the pain of love offered but rejected.
..’he descended into hell’ [apostles’ creed]… Hell is not a point in space but in the [heart]. It is the place where God is not.. If Christ truly ‘descended into hell’, that means he descended into the absence of God. Totally, unreservedly, he identified himself with all humanity’s [dejection], anguish, and alienation. He assumed it into himself, and by assuming it, he healed it. There was no other way he could heal it, except by making it his own.”
[‘The Orthodox Way’, pp 104-107.]
‘He made it his own’: by Christ’s descent into death, hell, the void, the most dire absence of God is made the most loving, overflowing, and radiant presence of God.
What, then, are the hidden secrets of God withheld even from the holy, the enlightened, the righteous, but given to those in hell?
Christ, as both God and man, has revealed the most hidden secrets of God’s heart to the human heart in hell. It is this heart which cries out to Christ, you alone are holy, because it is in this heart that redemption’s mystery is wrought.
By absence, presence.
By death, life.
By hell, heaven.
By emptiness, fullness.
What are the hidden secrets, then? They are the hidden secrets of God’s love, a love that knows no limits, in its passion for what it loves.
In our fallenness, we seem to put a limit on God’s love: we turn from God and create in our deeps a place where God is not, a place dead to God’s life, a place hellish to God’s truth, a place empty of God ‘s fullness. In Christ, this limit we put on the freedom of love becomes the mysterious and holy inversion, reversal, turning upside down and turning inside out, of all limit, and instead becomes the very thing that allows love to reveal and pour out its limitlessness.
From the duality of freedom finally arises the all-embracingness of love.
The hidden secrets of God therefore concern how God ‘operates.’ God operates through love. The hidden secrets reveal and pour out a radical love without limit, a love at its most universal and powerful at the very point where it appears to be at its most dualistic and impotent.
This is why Christ says that prostitutes and tax collectors are entering God’s kingdom ahead of the religiously correct, who aspire upward, and never look downward [Matthew, 21, 31-32]. Sinners are nearer to redemption’s mystical paradox than all the religious people who think that by aspiration aimed at ascent, morality, discipline, they have been lifted up, and thereby transcended the tragedy lodged in our deeps. This pious ‘thought’ of the religious is not God’s thought: not God’s way, not God’s secrets, not God’s wisdom which is given to the backward and foolish, to confound the advanced and sophisticated.
The desire to be free of the human tragedy is what causes us to put ourselves beyond the reach of redemption.
Because of Christ’s mystical paradox, our worst is closer to God than our attempt to make our worse better.
Because of Christ, ‘all bets are off’ and the conditional becomes the door to the unconditional: by failing, the heart has uncovered the nature and dynamic of failure, and is freed from its blight; by betraying, the heart has uncovered the nature and dynamic of betrayal, and is freed from its blister; by negating, the heart has uncovered the nature and dynamic of negation, and is freed from its fainting.
God set up existence as a Koan, as a Golgotha, in order to call humanity to a dark place, where love could be drawn beyond limit. But God did not simply call humanity to that place so deep, for ultimate regeneration or ultimate degeneration: God called himself to that place, to manifest his depth. God made a day of trouble for humanity, but it was really a day of trouble God made for himself. God always knew, in this existence, in this world, he would be called to a dark place. The day of trouble is not just the deep day of humanity, it is the deep day of God. On this day, our depth is revealed; on this day, God’s depth is revealed.
Christ’s love has no limit, and when we allow this love to redeem and resurrect us, then our love has no limit. The existential becomes the mystical.
The new mystical land of the heart begins in the depths, then it is resurrected to return to the world.
In the depths=
Christ leads us to the three supreme mystical realities that under-gird the conjoint passion shared by God and humanity. These enable the transfiguration of our dark place into the cave from which Christ called forth Lazarus, and out which God raised Christ.
1= ‘The rock of life.’ This rock is not up in heaven, but down in the abyss where God opened his own blood, and vowed to go through all toil and loss, without limit, to establish the divine heart in the human heart, making the divine heart the ‘ground’ of the human heart. God will not give up on humanity, whatever the consequences to him. Love and freedom no longer contend.
2= ‘The altar of truth.’ The rock of God’s promise is also the altar of truth, where God’s vow becomes active in the fire of sacrifice. Love’s truth exceeds any limit when it goes on loving despite its truth being faulted, accused, unheeded. Truth no longer insists on itself, but is prepared to be faulted, accused, unheeded, to become the seed that must die into the ground to bear fruit. Love and truth no longer contend.
3= ‘The abyss of wisdom.’ The wisdom of God’s Way is planted in the abyss of the human heart, grounding and empowering the human heart’s passion as it follows and takes a chance with God’s promise and God’s sacrifice. What we thought solid is flimsy, what we thought worthy is trash. The abyss of wisdom not only upholds us as we stand and burn, it also inverts and reverses, turns inside out and upside down, all we see and do. What is folly to philosophers is to us the supreme wisdom; what is defeat to the worldly is to us the supreme victory; what is a stumbling block to moralists is to us the supreme righteousness.
This is the real ‘promised land’ the Jews searched for in the wilderness, but still have not found. It is hidden from all those who do not realise seeking to fix the human tragedy blocks redemption and becomes the real folly, the real defeat, the real stumbling block.
In the world=
Give and it will be given to you.
Bear and you will be borne.
Jump in hands and feet and you will be upheld.
The more the well of life overflows the more full it is.
The more the fire of truth makes sacrifice, to illumine, to warm, to serve, the more inspired and empowered it is.
In the new mystical land of the heart, we see the tragedy of humanity as God does, and we act for that tragedy as God does. We go to any lengths. In the ‘worst case scenario’ we uncover the story of redemption at work, hidden, in secret, incipiently.
It has come. It is coming. It will come.
It will dawn. The 8th day– the day of resurrection– will dawn. After the crisis of the hour of the wolf, the hour of the dark place and the pained place at its most black and most suffering, the moon sheds tears and the wolf howls. The new day is not far off, the glad day has almost dawned.
We venerate the passion of Christ.
Christ venerates the passion of humanity.
In the new mystical land, there is only one humanity, and we know that anything we must give up, suffer, sacrifice, for the redemption of all humanity in their oneness is a very small loss for a stupendous, ultimate gain. Thus can we say ‘my life is the brother’; our life is each other. We suffer hell because we are inter-related and bound together, and our redemption is to conquer that hell by how we sacrifice to each other for the love that brings us together and keeps us together. ‘There is no greater love than that we lay down our life for our friends’; and in the new mystical land the friends are the stranger and the enemy. To make sacrifice for one and all, that none should be lost, is the rock of life, the altar of truth, the abyss of wisdom, alive and on fire and rising from our depths, going into the world.
We venerate Christ’s passion.
Christ’s passion venerates humanity’s passion.
There is a freedom, truth, love, beyond ‘standing and falling’, beyond ‘good and evil’, beyond ’emptiness and fullness.’
The limitlessness of love is freedom, is truth. To love without limit, in the limited, is to be made free, is to be made true.
In the end God’s intention for us is fulfilled: we are love, we are freedom, we are truth.
It burns in us, and all the creation rejoices.
We venerate the God revealed in Christ because this God venerates humanity.
May God’s passion, and humanity’s passion, forever be praised, grieved, rejoiced in.
Passion wins the victory. Passion is vindicated, in the end, both for God and for humanity.
God’s eternal power only works through humanity’s ‘passible’ power: passion. The only real power that redeems is the power that love has to be passionate, to carry a load for what it loves, and to go beyond all limit. God is in this power. God is in no other power.
Passion rises to what is hard, fated, deep.
Passion suffers a wound.
Passion carries a burden.
Passion pays a cost.
It is passion that undergoes.
It is passion that struggles.
It is passion that bears.
It is passion that endures.
It is passion that risks, takes a chance, ventures.
It is passion that takes on ordeals, challenges, obstacles.
It is passion that makes give away.
It is passion that steps up, and fights.
It is passion that makes love’s sacrifice.
Passion is staked to what is at stake.
It is passion that surrenders to destiny.
It is passion that offers itself, and lets go.
It is passion that wrestles with the hindrance of love, and it is
passion that, having come through, loves without hindrance.
Passion is ecstatic.
Passion burns with fire.
Passion leaps into mystery.