“Every man is right in his own eyes but the Lord pondereth the hearts” [Proverbs, 21,2].
The life, teaching, and sacrifice, of Jesus Christ is calling us to something fundamental. When we answer that call, and step off the edge into the deeps that stretch us beyond the known, the safe, the comfortable, then we have the help and guidance of the Holy Ghost. The Spirit goes with us on that hard road. We cannot walk it without the Spirit helping us every step of the way. Christ is the visible model, or paradigm, of walking this way that is radical, and walking it to its very end; but the Spirit is the invisible counsellor, guiding us into what Christ at the end of the gospels calls “all truth” [John, 16, 13]. This is lived truth. Truth attained by effort and by suffering. Truth struggled for in the heart. This is the truth God is looking for when he “searches the heart.” Since God sees the human heart in its fathomlessness, why would he need to search it? He does this for us. He does it with us, throwing us deeper in, stripping away pretence and exposing what is in our heart, and where our heart really stands, in its depth. God’s first word to Adam after the Fall [Genesis, 3, 9] is, “where are you?” This means, look at your heart. Delve its hidden recesses, uncover its motive, wrestle for its truth. This is a great and terrible struggle, a long journey, and a savage battle. It is not romantic, it is not idealistic. It is real. It is ‘hard wakan.’ Hard mystery, hard holiness, hard road.
God searches the human heart to challenge us out of our complacency about being a decent chap, a nice guy, a good person, and similar kinds of illusion. The challenge to us is to drop the comforting belief that ‘we have a heart’, and instead be forced to look under the surface, and stare honestly in to our absence of heart– yet by owning honestly the horror of that absence rekindle our passion to find the real heart in the depths. These are the depths where all is lost, broken, ruined, for the human heart, yet they strangely still glower with the flame that rises from the abyss and cannot be extinguished. God already knows this place where break down and break through are knotted together, so coming to this extreme place is not for his benefit. It is for our sake. In the Old Testament the Spirit of God tests the deep things of God and of humanity. The truth God requires us to search out and struggle with in the depths of the heart, the truth that tests us so that we can prove it in the heart, is the truth too hard for any human being. Yet it is to this truth the heart is summoned, and if we respond to that summons, then it is to this truth the heart is vowed. The vow stakes us to the ground, the heart ground where truth is betrayed and faithfully pursued, lied about facilely and declared with blood. This is the killing ground.
On this ground, we are searched out and tested in depth.
On this ground, our heart is exposed.
On this ground, our heart is vowed.
On this ground Christ stood, and died. If we stand with Christ, we will die his death.
Our God is a consuming fire: God is radical. The searching for heart truth, the testing and proving of heart truth, is radical. It will cost us everything.
Is it worth it?
This is the sticking point. Not that the way of heart truth is too hard for us, for if we walk hard wakan, we will be helped. The real question is, is it too costly for us? The choice whether to pay the cost cannot be taken from us
We are hunting God, when we hunt the real, deep heart of humanity. Is it worth the terrible cost? It is only worth it if we want God– want God from our heart, and want God in our heart. For that is the great and deep end of the hunt for the hidden and elusive God which is at the same time the hunt for the hidden and elusive heart.
Do we want a heart?
This is the terrible question with which God confronts us.
Radical is not conservative, radical is not liberal.
Conservative and liberal are flip sides of the same mistake about God and about the human heart which has been dignified and cursed to struggle for God’s truth. Both conservative and liberal fear the human heart’s struggle with what God has blessed and gifted to the human heart, as a wound; both falsify and betray this struggle with God’s wound. Neither entrust themselves to its awfulness.
The authoritarian accuses the heart, the liberal excuses the heart. Both are heartless, but simply in opposite ways.
There is a difference between something that claims ‘authority’ and something that simply is ‘authoritative.’
Only when truth has proved itself in a living way, from the stand the heart makes and the struggles into which this plunges the heart, is truth authoritative.
But it is this test of truth in life, when the way of heart is really walked, that people who are worshippers of authority cannot risk: they defer to ‘the rules’ precisely so that they do not have to make authentic effort and endure the authentic buffets and blows that are inevitable on the real road of truth. Passion is needed to walk this road, and passion has to undergo and suffer, before it reaches heart truth, and can ‘know.’ For the heart, arrival is not assured. For the heart, going is dangerous. For the heart, the price to be paid on the way is total. This process in the heart is what is not trusted by those who rely on authority. Trusting this process that heart must be subject to and pass through is the real meaning of faith. It is this faith which is lacking in those who make authority their idol. They regard their reliance on authority as ‘obedience’, but it is fearful evasion. Such obedience takes the place of the testing and proving of heart truth which God requires. For God wants ‘truth in the inward parts.’ Following the rules evades the only process that can authentically find heart truth.
The problem with the conservative, authoritarian stance is that it has no truth in the inward parts. Its fidelity to truth is only outer: it parrots truth attained by other hearts with the mind only, but it pretends this outer charade is the real inner heart attainment. Though far from the process by which God’s Heart is born from tears, blood, and flame, in the human heart, it claims it is ‘loyal.’ In that, its heart is false. Its heart is bad. The conservative, authoritarian religious person is the ‘whited sepulchre’ Christ rebukes [Mathew, 23, 27-28]; it is of these ultra correct religious people Christ spoke when he warned that ‘not all who say Lord, Lord’ will inherit the kingdom [Mathew 7, 21]. To these people who have used the mere ability of the mind to ape truth, but not sweated, cried, and bled, for the difficult truth only found in the heart, Christ says he will ‘not know you’ [Mathew, 7, 23].
He searched for your heart, but you would not search with him. You blocked any testing of your heart, and thus you could not be proved, checked out, in heart. In your deep heart is still hell, though through your mind you convince yourself you are well on the way toward heaven. For this Christ also had a warning: no one can increase their stature even one cubit ‘by taking thought’ [Mathew, 6, 27].
With our mind, and will, we can clean up our act, and fake any amount of religious fidelity; but only in the heart, in the terrible struggles and sufferings the heart must let itself be subject to and undergo, can we come to the wailing wall, where it is all over, and where the turn around can occur. The hunt for our heart and the hunt in our heart for God’s Heart is horrendous, and no one passes through this as a good boy or good girl, as docilely obedient, keeping to the straight and narrow. We go through heaven and hell, and everything in between; we piss ourself and shit ourself, we humiliate ourself totally, we lose the plot and fall off the wagon. We fall out with God big time, and we despair not only of God but also of our own deep heart. What is in our heart, toward God and toward our own human potentiality, is terrible. A million times a day we turn back on the path, and run away, and have to arduously return. Like the western saint who covered the walls of his monastic cell with his excrement, we rail against God. It is not simply that the way is unknown, unsafe, uncomfortable, from the secular, rationalist point of view; but it is also offensive to our natural religiosity: it is a way where we lose the possibility of being the good boy or the good girl patted on the head by God, for the way of heart strips us of all possibility to be correct, to be right, to be kosher. Our need for confirmation, for justification, for approval, is not met by God. It is more than that: this need is utterly destroyed by God.
St Peter is the model of the radicalness of heart. He is always the first to leap in, then to get out of his depth and retreat, and have to weep bitter tears to return. But the mistakes he constantly makes and admits to are why he wins the name the ‘rock.’ Only through this horrendous heart process which a human being ventures for the sake of real love of God, real faith in God, can they find the immoveable rock in the abyss. This rock is passion’s immovable commitment to see it through to the end, no matter what passion must pass through.
At the core of the conservative, authoritarian stance is a double error.
 The creation of a false father as an ‘idol’
On the one hand, there is a yearning for a certain kind of father, a fatherly authority who acts with invulnerable power and irresistible force by unambiguously ‘laying down the law’, imposing it from above to below, and policing it in the below. But this ‘patriarchal’ father is an idol, and is not the true father. Christ instructs us to ‘call no man father’ [Mathew, 23, 8-9]. This means no human role, be it biological fatherhood, kingly fatherhood, or even spiritual fatherhood, is an ikon of God’s fatherhood. In some extent, these human roles borrow, by analogy, some attributes of the divine father. But the Biblical injunction is telling us to not stretch this analogy. In reality, the fatherhood of God is terrible and wonderful at once. The real divine father is the ‘unknown God’ to whom the ancient Greeks left their memorial [Acts, 17, 23-29]. This father God is still unknown. Though when asked about him, Christ said ‘look at me, and you will see the father’ [John, 14, 9], none the less, Christ also said only the father, not the Incarnate Logos, knows when time will end and the father’s purposes in creating humanity will reach their climax and conclusion [Mathew, 24, 36]. However much Christ carries and bears the divine heart in the human heart for us, to restore us to our fearful and wonderful calling, there is another sense in which the fatherhood of God is strange and wholly unknown. The real father is hidden from us, and we cannot conceive by any imagination, however expanded to Christ’s Light or to the Spirit’s Mystery, what this father who made us is doing with us.
The Biblical saying that we ‘cannot see God’ means just this: that even in the most exalted vision this father remains hidden. In the heart struggle and heart suffering we must place ourselves in the hands of, the father is–as the Lamentations of Jeremiah [3, 44] put it–covered within a cloud that our prayers cannot penetrate. Only when we break through, and the wailing wall crumbles in the heart, will we ‘see’ God. This is a special seeing, rarer in religious history than hen’s teeth. When the heart is finally won to God, then we see God and we see the world as God sees it. Then we know as we are known. But it is not yet. It cannot be faked. We are driven on, in our hunt for God and for the heart, by this seeing, and this knowing, yet we also know next to nothing about it and are utterly blind to it. The eye of the heart is closed. We have not reached it, and on the way to it, we are lost, broken, ruined. A Russian woman friend once said that even in the most sad Russian Orthodox church music, there is hope; but on the hunt for God and for the heart, all hope must be exhausted. If the church can hope in the midst of sadness, then the church already knows something we don’t yet. We cannot pretend to this knowledge. It must be lost to be found. The descent into death and hell is real. All this is the mixture of grief and compassion which the unknown father visits on those who really seek him, really love him, and in really loving him, despair of him and rage against him. This is the real ‘yoke’ we are under; this ‘waiting for redemption’, this being yoked to and waiting for break down to become break through in the deep heart, is what we have faith in. And our faith consists in nothing optimistic: for any image, secular or religious, of optimism would be an illusion we put in the place of the real father into whose hands we have surrendered our heart’s fate.
But this unknown father, whose way of dealing with us is–as the Lamentations of Jeremiah [3, 38] proclaim–an unbearable and unendurable mixture of good and evil which we must bear and must endure, is rejected, fled from, the hunt given up.1 It is not just secular humanist, rationalist and liberal people who turn from this father who cannot be known. His real betrayers are conservative, authoritarian people who think they are loyal to him, but put their own humanly constructed image of him in the place of the dark and the pain where alone he can be sought and finally found, when–as the Lamentations of Jeremiah [3, 32] say–he ceases making us grieve and shows compassion to us.
There is only one question at the root of all the existential questions for which there are no pat answers prior to going through it all: and this is the question of questions. It is not, is there a God? It is, does this God have a heart? Does the divine father care about what he has made? Or is his experiential absence a sign he has ceased to care and has washed his hands of us? Or worse, that he cares but is impotent to do anything? In the 19th century God did not just die as a doctrinal, credal belief; God died as a father with a heart. Even Christ, who in Aramaic calls this father ‘daddy’, cried to him on the Cross, and voiced our collective question; why have you abandoned your children?
Why are you not with us in the fathomlessness where we have abandoned you?
Without mystery, there is no depth to life. Yet it is in this very depth revealed by mystery that we are lost, broken, ruined. It is here we have missed the mark and failed; it is here the whole venture God risked in creating a human heart capable of attaining and losing the divine heart has come to final desolation.
It is not enough to say Christ’s Cross and Resurrection answers the question of questions for us. This same abandonment, and reconnection, in the deep and fathomless place of dereliction, must happen to each and every one of us. Christ did not do it for us, to absolve us from having to go through it. He did it that we can go through it, with him.
Yet in our Gethsemane, and on our Cross, we too must stake everything on this unknown father whose way of exercising fatherhood is unlike anything in human nature or in human experience. This is faith. To risk this father. To risk what this father has risked. To risk his unimaginable, unseeable heart, in our heart, is faith. We cry out to him, as well as fear and tremble before his mysteriousness, his hiddenness, his absence. One day, we will call him daddy, when we know as we are known, when we see what he sees. But to fake this now, when our heart is still contending in its birth pangs, and its moment is not yet, is faking. It is lying– lying to ourself, lying to God, lying to the world. This is what the conservative, authoritarian good boys and good girls are doing: they are lying. Their excrement is not thrown on the wailing wall, but at other people who are non conforming, and not towing the line; their tears at the wailing wall are stifled, swallowed, disavowed, and so they have to make other people cry for them with cruel and harsh judgements on their failures. It is easy to judge the heart when you are yourself not in it.
It was this unknown father whom Christ trusted all his life, and had faith in, like a human being must do, but it was also this unknown father who searched Christ’s heart and tested and proved it at the terrible extremity where all our hearts refused to go, long ago. Even Christ had to lose this father, and thus had to not know him, as we do not know him. Christ was made to struggle and suffer for him, as we must, so that we can. Christ calls us into the terrible depth. Christ speaks to our heart, and takes on, without judgement or fear, all our tears, all our ‘sickness unto death’, and all the real hell in our fathomless heart’s abyss. We have already lost our heart in that depth, and we can lose it finally, yet it is there we must go. We go to a deep place, a place where all hope in the father is lost. Christ went there, and he calls us to follow.
The conservative, authoritarian stance avoids the vicissitudes of the heart, all the ups and downs, the temptations, the falls, the confusions, and the terrible searing reversal of all we religiously believe and hope about God, when the heart really seeks him. God hurts the human heart which seeks him, breaking it to remake it. But, the conservative, authoritarian person denies this heartbreak which God inflicts. They pretend to be fully reconciled to God, when in fact in their heart they have chosen to reject the whole process by which the human heart’s illness and blindness toward God is healed. The deep heart becomes for them the no-go area. They risk neither its aliveness nor its deadness, they risk neither its heaven nor its hell. In the conservative, authoritarian stance, the human heart entirely atrophies. They are mind people, but of course, it is a rigid mind that clings to externals, not the nous that looks under the surface. This stance is father idolatry.
 Seeking ‘justification’ from the patriarchal idol
The conservative, authoritarian stance, then, invents a patriarchal authority as an idol designed to blot out the unknown father– and the whole process by which we hunt him in his hiddenness, and only find him as our heart goes through searing difficulty and changes as a result. Therefore, this stance seeks not to find the real God, but to be declared ‘right and proper’ by idolatrous authority. What drives this stance is not only the creation of a false father, but also the need for justification by him.
The real divine father will not justify us in this manner. He blesses and owns Christ at the river Jordan, but he also allows Christ to be wholly non justified, invalidated, and disapproved, by his accusers. We should remember, it was not the liberals who crucified Christ. They were off some place else, drinking and carousing, or making money, or whatever the slack and lax did in those days. It was the conservatives, the authoritarians, the kosher people who were trying so hard to be ‘right’ in order to please ‘the patriarchal authority’, who killed Christ. These are Christ’s most dire enemies– because they think they follow him.
When such conservative, authoritarian people are challenged by Christ’s radical heart truth, they cannot cope with that challenge, given the unchecked and unredeemed state of their hearts. So, they invalidate the challenger. He’s not in with the patriarchal authority, and so the substance of what he actually says, or does, can be dismissed, and entirely ignored, because he has no right to speak and act as he does.
This is the game played by the accusers of Christ at his trial. The game was played by the religious authority of the Jews who were kosher. Christ was regarded by them as non kosher. This outraged them. How dare this man say all that he said and do all that he did? He didn’t have the blessing of the fathers of the past. He went beyond the fathers of the past. He selected what he regarded the core of the past fathers and ignored the rest, making a differentiation of wheat from chaff in the tradition: but how dare he do that? — he was innovating, pleasing himself, rewriting religious history and scorning religious tradition! He was an anarchist with no respect for religious authority! That his words and deeds had existential ‘heart validity’ was of no interest to Christ’s accusers. He was insisting on standing on his own turf, and they were insisting he must stand on their turf. By refusing this, it no longer mattered what heart actually dwelled in his words and in his deeds. He had no right to speak or act, except on their turf, the turf of tradition and authority. Just by insisting on standing on religious turf in a different way, he must be wrong, bad, deluded. Non-kosher: not capable of being valid.
Christ has rejected this ‘rightness’; he calls it ‘self righteousness.’ In extremis, it leads to what St Isaac of Syria called ‘the derangement of zeal.’ He did not mean that very different zeal, or fervour, of a heart on fire because it is being burnt in God’s furnace to ashes, but the zealotry and fanaticism that declares existence a simplistic matter of right and wrong. Whilst there is a difference between the ‘two hearts’ in all of us, a heart of flesh and a heart of stone, and thus a difference in which heart we pursue, the genuine righteousness has nothing to do with the self-righteousness of the conservative, authoritarian stance. In self-righteousness, we prove our standing and prove we are worthy, by virtue of there being an external standard by which to measure ourself. But this external standard is, however moral it pretends to be, a humanly constructed idol, and is not the aim to which God binds the heart seeking him. The real truth of heart, real integrity, needs a much more subtle, and interior, yard stick to ‘read’ the heart’s stand and deed, its deep motive and inward condition.
And the real divine father addresses, engages, and blesses, only that subtle, inward place so hard to discern, and refuses all external proof. Christ is allowed to be publicly disinherited, shorn of all support of tradition and denied all mantle of authority. He is shamed and humiliated, and neither his father, nor he, lifts a hand to insist on his external rightness. St Peter followed him in this when he was crucified upside down, but St Paul could not go so far; he insisted on a degree of proving his credentials, proving his validity, at his trial. But then Paul is the nous man, and Peter the heart man. Paul could see the heart; Peter could act from the heart, in all its tragedy and glory. Paul may be the nous of the church, but Peter is the rock of the church’s heart. His entire life was making mistake after mistake, yet as soon as he had been foolish or deceived in heart, acknowledging it and using that ‘wrongness’ to go deeper. By making errors, even by the ultimate betrayal, he found heart truth. In the end he knew from his own effort and mourning ‘where Christ was coming from’ in the heart. He rejected the judgement of the mind for the knowing and seeing of truth in the heart.
The conclusion is clear. No one who seeks rightness or validation can walk the way of heart. You can only make yourself ‘right with God’ using the mind: the intellectual mind that polices behaviour but cannot gaze into the heart to perceive its impulse.
The search for truth in the heart is different. It is this search that Christ’s whole teaching addresses.
Conservatives betray heart in one way, liberals betray heart in another way. The way of heart is the royal road, yet it is not marked out, and according to Martin Buber is a ‘narrow ridge with chasms on either side.’ It is onerous, an ordeal, and smashes our authoritarian rightness, just as it smashes our liberal relativism. You can see those walking the way of heart clearly, if you know how to look. You can recognise them by the tears carving rents on their cheeks and by the fire in their guts. You can find them by how they sing existence’s deep song and whether their death song has any truth. Even the devil can quote chapter and verse: he knows the scriptures perfectly and he knows every word ever written by any past teacher about God. So what? It cuts no ice at all. We should note how often Christ clearly speaks from Old Testament scripture but does not offer any chapter and verse: he wants to show some more supple heart knowledge of sacred text, not just the mind studying and remembering words, and quoting them to demonstrate the quoter’s validity. Anyone can do that. The devil can do that. It takes only mind. It doesn’t require heart. To understand the text in the heart, it is necessary to have walked the way of heart.
The true criterion of walking the path is the quality of a person’s deep heart struggle and their deep heart suffering. This leads to “you can tell a tree by its fruit” [Mathew, 12, 33-35].
By their fruits, it will be seen what their heart is.
What drives us to hunt the fundamentally mysterious, unknown divine father should not be confused with our more psychological, archetypally governed, need toward the merely human father. The latter is meant to be only a help on the way to reach the former, but can become a huge impediment blocking that way. The divine father is not only unknown, but also unknowable—yet the heart can know him at the end of its lengthy, impossible hunt, if the need for either a human mother or a human father does not get in the way. Our need for the human mother can disable the heart’s road, by insisting on a love from God too maternal; equally disabling, in a reverse manner, can be our preoccupation with the human father.
The need for human fathers, whether biological, political, or spiritual, is to raise a standard of heart truth to be aimed at by those embarking on the difficult, long road that leads to it. This means we have ideals; such ideal figures personify heroism for those just beginning to embrace its exactions. We need to see others further ahead on that daunting road, whom we can ‘look up to.’ They demonstrate, by their life, by their life’s action, that ‘it can be done.’ Nowadays especially, when rigid rule followers who think themselves already safe and sound, and lazy, self indulgers who think it fine, and even amusing, to skim the surface of life, dominate the social and cultural scene, it is necessary for young people, and to an extent all of us, to respect the few heroes who ‘went all the way.’ They call us on, when the going gets really tough. They remain staked on the killing ground, even when the killers come. Like Christ, they took it to the absolute max, went to the last extreme. We need the heroes of passion who, like St Peter, dusted himself off, wept in bitter regret, and then got back to his feet and proceeded.
Initially these heroes seem to be far ahead of us. But as we become more adult in the spiritual road, more adult in the spiritual warfare, so we realise that we are all as humans in this travel, in this fight, together. It is humanity’s journey and battle, not any individual’s. Only Christ is ahead of us; and we have the Holy Ghost not only when we follow his lead, but also when we follow together, bearing each other, forgiving each other, pulling together [1 Peter, 1, 17-24].
The need for heroes also speaks of the need for what the Lakota describe as ‘instructions.’ There is certainly a need for instruction, guidance, counsel, as we walk. This is on the ground wisdom, not mountain top vision. But this wise helping hand cannot become a substitute for our actual wrestlings with walking the road. You have to be doing your homework, so to speak, to profit from the help offered as you travel and as you fight. No help can reach us if we run away, or put the burden down. The help only makes sense to us when we are trying. We may have to learn to try in a very different way, and we may have to come to key points where we are ‘all out of what it takes’ and can do nothing. But, the road and its journey and battle is strange; and unexpected events happen on it which no teaching can fully prepare us for. Studying Christ’s Gethsemane and Christ’s Cross, however far you delve, will not encompass what it will be like for you to reach your garden and your crucifixion.
This means, too much leaning even on authentic people who have walked a long way on this road can prevent each of us from ‘going through that lonesome valley by yourself.’ This is a danger of being too in thrall to our heroes, and to their instruction; God will savagely destroy this dependency, ‘because he is a jealous God’, and insists we put him first.
Thus, God often destroys religious idealism, even as he destroys religious romanticism. In the moments of real crisis on the ground and in the ravine, only God is with us in our heart, only God, us and the devil, occupy this wilderness, this desert of rock and sand, of scorching winds and burning heat. In that place, everything is spoiled yet only in that place can everything be regained. In that place begins real prayer, the prayer of the heart.
Only by undergoing do we come to understand, and to know, and to see. Such is the wisdom of the heart. Wisdom, for the soul, is one thing, but for the heart wisdom is lived truth: truth attained only by the living of it. No one can understand this truth ‘intellectually’ by studying its sayings; this truth is only understood by walking the road that leads to it [Mathew, 7, 24-27].
When a person has gone through their own solitary lonesome valley, it makes them brothers or sisters to all other human beings. They shed any conception of leaders and followers, of directors and directed. Our human leaders, paradoxically, are those most grounded in brotherhood and sisterhood; they rally others when down, when defeated, but they realise clearest of anyone that it is ‘we’ who go, and ‘we’ who get through. They would go back for one lost person.
Nor does this apply only to the church. It applies to the world. Everyone means the world.
We can go far on the road, but each of us will retain flaws, big flaws, to the last breath.
St Paul rebelled against this, complaining of it to Christ; but Christ rebuked him, telling him that the injurious grit in the oyster is necessary to the pearl. “My strength is revealed in weakness” [2 Corinthians, 12, 7-9]. St Peter accepted this, and went further with it, than anyone else.
Why did Christ insist the heart must remain weak, if ever it was to become strong in his truth?
St Peter refers in the simple yet majestic words of his opening letter [1 Peter, 1, 3-7], which sum up much that has been asserted in this statement. He says, “even gold passes through the assayer’s fire, and more precious than perishable gold is faith which has stood the test.” But what follows it is more extraordinary: “These trials come so that your faith may prove itself worthy of all praise, glory, and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” And this revelation will be only “when salvation comes– the salvation which is even now in readiness and will be revealed at the end of time.”
God puts us between a rock and a hard place to make us deep and great, so that in the end it will be the human heart that is victorious. In one way, God retrieves that victory when it is well and truly beyond our reach; yet in another way, God lets us struggle and suffer for it, that it may be ours. God puts a heart in us capable of carrying the divine heart, and though Christ redeems the future of this divine-humanity, it is we humans who wrestle toward and ‘work out’ that redemption. Thus in the end the victory is conjoint: it is God’s heart victorious in the human heart, but it is also humanity’s heart victorious in God’s heart. Our contribution is needed, not just Christ’s; he is, in this project, ‘the first born of many’, not the sole victor. In the end, not just Christ, but humanity, will receive all praise, all glory, all honour. The human heart will be ‘vindicated.’
But for this victory to come, the human heart will pass through every deadness and every hell. It will accept all the ‘evil’ God does to it for an inconceivable and unimaginable good. It will face its persuasion to the way of evil which was sold, like a huckster’s potion, by the devil who is the father of the lie, the father of all lies that undermine and destroy the human heart. In the ultimate, this lie seeks to convince us we are not good enough for God’s purpose. It will bring the heart to an end state where it is unworthy in its own eyes. This is so that, like Judas, we will give up and will give in, throwing our worldly sins back in the face of that in the world which occasioned them, yet still killing ourselves over them, to seal our heart in spiritual despair.
All this–all this life and death and everything between, all this heaven and hell and everything between–is forced on the heart by God; the heart is made subject to all of it. Why? Even the seemingly faithful Job, checked out to the extreme, was tempted to condemn himself–this is what the conservative, authoritarian religious judges recommended–or to just throw the towel in and die–this is what his wife, who couldn’t put up with it any more because she had had enough and wanted to bring to a close what Job was going through, offered as the way out. Judgement of the heart or putting the heart away: patriarchy and matriarchy. Neither can comprehend the person of faith who just persists, without kow towing to God’s judgement, nor cursing God and turning from him. Job’s faith consisted in simply going on, and remaining in it, letting the undergoing continue.
Why does God insist on this ‘passing through’ everything dangerous, pained, hard, costly, for the heart? Conservatives moralise over this: it is punishment for not being right with God. Liberals evade it, sweeping its ugliness under the carpet. But the real answer to this question is, there is no extraneous answer. Let’s put it starkly, as we experience it: there is no answer. It has to be gone through, and the going through and the undergoing destroys all the pat answers, whether religious or secular, whether supplied by absolutist moralism or supplied by pluralistic relativism, which we began with before entering the dark and pained place of the empty desert, of the starless night. There is no answer, because in the throes of it, all answers die. Doctrine dies; all teaching and instruction dies; everything goes, to leave the heart alone with its own abyss, God, and the devil. Yet there is an answer, and by passing through, it is found. The only answer is: God wounds us, God inflicts all this on the heart, for the sake of truth.
The short answer to our agonised question, why?, is: for the sake of truth.
People do not know what truth is. They mistakenly think it church dogma or doctrine, or past teaching and instruction. Or worse, they think it abstract propositions that can be argued about with the mind, so that one person says this, and another person says that. Truth is neither this nor that. Dogma is the boundary of truth, but not its essence. Doctrine is the shape of truth, but not its core. Teaching and instruction points at the truth, but the pointer is not the pointed at.
Truth is what is tested and must be proved in the human heart.
Truth is what is risked in the human heart: its victory is heaven, its defeat is hell.
Truth is what enlivens the human heart when it stands upon its ground in the abyss, and truth is the pit of deadness when the human heart has fallen from truth and finds in itself a gaping hole.
Truth is what is lied about and betrayed in the human heart, and truth is what is faithfully declared and acted upon in the human heart.
Truth is the life of the heart, the way the heart walks, the sweat, tears, and blood, the heart gives to go on seeking, and wrestling for, truth.
Truth is what the heart is vowed to, in its passion.
Truth is what the heart loves, more than staying alive, more than itself. It is for the sake of truth that the heart will undergo anything. There is no external obedience to authority involved in this; nor is there any pleasing of oneself. The passion that undergoes anything and everything, and does not give up or give in, however terrible and awful it becomes, is the heart’s “obedience to the truth” [1 Peter, 1, 22].
Truth is heart truth.
Truth is forged in the human heart, or wholly distorted and forfeited in the human heart.
Therefore, the truth that gives life, and the way, to the heart is what is victorious over the lie that kills the life and falsifies the way.
But this will not be reached in any individual life, as St Peter says, but awaits all humanity at the end of time. Thus, in all humanity, collectively, we still strain after it. Heart truth is what neither dogma and doctrine, nor past teaching and instruction, has yet attained. The redemption effected for all mankind when heart truth dwells in each and every human heart is, as St Peter puts it, “the theme which the prophets pondered and explored” [1 Peter 1, 10]. Christ brings it, for he says of himself, ‘I am the life, way, and truth’ of the divine heart in the human heart, but Christ’s coming, contrary to what the church of the time believed, did not bring the end of time. All of time is needed to complete in all of humanity what Christ accomplished.
What happens is that when we really go through it, he turns up to share the ordeal. But, the most far reaching fantasy of Christians has always been that Christ will do it all for them, and they need merely spectate as he takes the ordeal away from them. This is childish delusion, the ‘pap’ of which St Paul speaks [1 Corinthians 3, 2], and which he contrasts with ‘strong meat and drink.’ Did not St Anthony of Egypt ask Christ, after a period of hideous travails, “where were you when I needed you?” and Christ replied, “I was right beside you, admiring your valour.” God ministers to us, but he also waits upon us to make our move. It is ours to give. The ‘drama’ of human existence arises entirely from this waiting upon us, for it creates the tension of, which heart in us will we live? Which heart in us will prevail? It is not a foregone conclusion. It is totally open and vulnerable.
Hence, St Peter speaks to all of us, not just the new disciples of his own time, when he says, “you have not seen him, yet you love him” [1 Peter, 1, 8]. Indeed, St Peter says this love dedicated to finding truth, which enters an arena of trials, transports us “with a joy too great for words” [1 Peter, 1, 9]. This is not that joy brought by Eros, the joyful ecstasy. It is none the less joy, the joy of the passion stricken for love, the joy of the pained, grieving, mourning ecstasy. The Erotic joy is a state of exaltation, but the Daemonic joy is the ecstasy of the exulting that enters the arena, and says, ‘let it come.’ Let the trials begin. Bring it on. My Lakota brother in the Cante Tinze warrior society ends every letter to me with these words: ‘hoka hey!’ This was translated as ‘it is a good day to die’, but it really means, ‘let’s go.’ Let’s do it. But, the implication is, ‘let’s do it whether we face life or we face death. It is the same either way. Let’s get it on, for life, let’s get it on, for death.’ Few people comprehend the rejoicing in passion when it enters upon the road that will bring it to the place where God’s heart promise, God’s heart truth, will test and be tested by, will risk and be risked to, the human heart’s promise, the human heart’s truth. They collide and inter-lock in fiercesome contending. And the devil is in the arena, with God and us, trying to distort, twist, derail, this honest contention between Creator and creature over what most binds and divides them. The heart was created for this. The heart was created in a furnace, and it rejoices when it again enters the heat of the fire in which what is a forgery in it will be exposed but also in which what is true in it will be forged as ‘the genuine article.’
At last, we are answering the call. No more are we just messing about, but the drama of existence has struck, and we are riven.
God calls to each of us by name, ‘come try my passion’, and that entails, ‘try your own passion.’
This is the meaning of the enigmatic remark of one of the elders in the Desert Tradition: “If you have a heart, you can be saved.”
‘Passibility’ is a peculiar word with a profound meaning echoing down all the centuries of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Tradition of spirituality.
Passibility is the core of passion, since it refers to the way in which the heart is affectable, moveable, touchable, reachable, by that which is other to it and acts upon it. Temptation arises from this, and being temptable is a manifestation of the heart’s weakness. To be ‘weak’ implies that the heart can be affected or moved in a delusive and destructive direction: it can be converted to falsehood, thus persuaded out of the yoke of being loyal to truth.
Given this reality–and it is a reality–then would it not be better for the heart to be non affectable, non moveable? Cannot the heart be made ‘strong’ in a manner that hardens it to all negative influence? And, if this hardening of heart so that any influence bounces off it is not possible, then isn’t it better to entirely drop the claim that the heart can know and see truth? Surely, it is far better to see and know truth only through the nous, rather than trust the variable energy of the heart to direct itself toward truth? In fact, doesn’t passibility imply that the heart inherently lacks all direction, like a leaf that can be blown off course, tossed hither and thither, squandering itself to chase after chimeras? It becomes addicted to what is merely passing away, and of no enduring value; or it becomes enmeshed in the blindness, malice and viciousness, of evil. Who would trust such a heart? Christ voices an army of follies and sins that live in and emanate from the heart. All these are heart passions. Surely, then, the heart cannot be trusted as the central and most important spiritual organ? The heart is too malleable. It should be attached to God, but instead prefers to be attached to the world’s ephemeral fancies and powerful corruptions. Following our heart is the path to perdition.
This negative critique of passion’s passibility has to be placed next to the theological claim that complements it. This is the assertion that the very nature of God, and by extension all things pertaining to God, all things good and true, are always non variable, non passible. They are eternal. They are not passing, and so of only relative reality, good for a time, true for a certain context. They do not pass away, because God is not passing away, but eternal.
From this, however, it was further surmised that [a] God is not a passionate being, since by definition passionateness is not eternal, and indeed identified with relative reality and downright unreality; [b] humanity has fallen away from God’s ‘eternal verities’ by becoming a passionate being. To return to God entails that we, too, must become impassible. Passion holds us back. To grow spiritually is to shed our passionateness, by self control, ascetic exercises, and a nous-led raising of our being into the light that reflects eternity.
But [a] and [b] are false. In the Desert Tradition you can see this two-fold mistake contending with the more heart rooted approach. Evagrius is the most obvious casualty to the error about passibility, while St Macarios is the most obvious champion of the reality concerning passibility. St Peter validates the passibility of the human heart’s passion, but Christian Tradition never has adequately comprehended what is at issue. Some people went the way of St Paul’s temperament, to try to become flawless,2 while others took the way of St Peter’s temperament, to let passibility stand, with its huge flaws, but work with it and work through it. The paradox is that the temptability and weakness is necessary to the rock of strength. This is the paradox of passibility which Christ needed to reveal to St Paul, but which St Peter always lived to the full spontaneously. Indeed, if we excise passibility in our so-called spirituality, then spontaneity is no more. The capacity for spontaneity is a sign we are on the right road with passibility.
The paradox of passibility is that it is the door to our worst and to our best, yet to win the best from it, the worst must remain, like an injury that we must put up with and not try to surgically remove. That paradox of the heart, of passion, was created by God and it is God who tells us to let it be. It will guide us to the true strength, indeed, to many other fruits of passibility: courage, hunger for righteousness, generosity, compassion, patience, fortitude, and wisdom. The wisdom of the heart is wisdom, precisely, about our passibility.
Such wisdom is thus not touched by doctrine, or creedal belief, that is articulated as eternal and ‘accomplished’ verity. The truth of heart is different: it requires a process, and thus wisdom of the heart is all about how we get to truth.
Passion must ‘pass through’ life and death, heaven and hell; wisdom concerns this passing through.
How do we pass through that which is passible, and can ‘go either way’?
How do we get through, or come through?
How do we come through together, so that none are lost on the way?
Wisdom of heart, unlike the vision from the mountain peak, is about how we stand on, and walk through, rough, messy, ambiguous terrain. We are changed in this process, such that our inherent worth, the goldenness of our heart passion, is sifted and won from all the unworthiness. But this is if we come through. If we do not come through, we are lost, adrift, forlorn.
Many do not like or trust this paradox of the passible. The attempt to impose eternity on time creates religious fascism, oppression, moralistic accusation and moralistic murder. Eternity is given away, and sacrificed, to time, to bring time through a process to the eternal. William Blake put it like this: “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.” Eternity has been reversed to enter time. Eternity comes not in triumph to impose on time by force, but in a kind of powerlessness that has a very different power, the power to change and transform time from within its vagaries, from within its passingness. Eternity lets itself be reversed, over turned by time, in order really to be planted in time, so that it can reverse time, over turn time, from the abyss and ground of its existence.
The non-passible element in God’s passion is the promise to see it through to the end, to remain passionate until the victory of truth in the heart is won. This is the rock upon which God is staked, and this rock was the foundation stone of the entire creation.
It is this rock which upholds the world.
On this rock is spilled blood. On this rock is kindled fire. From this rock gushes forth living water.
But this has an extraordinary implication: in our passion we go through what God in his passion goes through to win truth, on the ground, through time, over the depth. We pass through the passion that God passes through, to redeem the divine promise.
For that promise really says, ‘truth will not just be declared from above, in eternal doctrines, but truth will finally live below, in the depth of the heart.’ But to live in the heart, it will have to be struggled and suffered for, journeyed and battled for, and lost to be regained. It will have to be searched out, tried in trials, checked. It will not be allowed to triumph, externally, imposed from above. Eternity’s victory in time will be more difficult, subtle, complex, paradoxical. That eternity will be reversed to enter time means eternity comes to us in humility, not spectacularly; eternity lets itself be humiliated, shamed, made guilty, scorned, laughed at, besmirched, by those living on the ground, in time, over the depth. Modestly, it refuses the provocation to ‘prove’ its power externally, by a show of force that can only triumphalistically impose above on below, and instead opts for a different way of proof. It proves the inward parts, it proves the heart, it proves the depth, it proves the passion, and demonstrates this inward proving where the seed really goes into the ground by outward deeds that bear much fruit [Mathew, 7, 16-17]. Truth is checked out in the heart: truth is checked out inherently, intrinsically, in and of what it is in the heart, and for the world. You will know their greatness of heart in what they give, lose, sacrifice, for the love that will undergo everything to bring everything to truth.
This is why strength is revealed through weakness: the accomplishment of a heart won to truth, in its living, by the way it passes through the passingness of existence, depends on that accomplishment being risked to variability, temptation, giving in. The truth that refutes error is no good; that is imposition, that is force. The truth that is discovered in error is really tested and really proved. That, alone, is good.
This is the point of the story of the woman who washes Christ’s feet with her tears, while Simon, the self-righteous Pharisee, looks on disapprovingly, thinking to himself that Christ must not be a prophet, since he has failed to realise this woman is a sinner. Christ reads Simon’s heart and, after telling him a parable about God forgiving both those who sin much [like the woman] and those who sin little [like the Pharisee], ends it by saying, “her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little” [Luke, 7, 36-47]. The kind of moral and ascetic correctness exemplified by the Pharisee ‘loves little’, whereas the many errors of the woman arose out of ‘loving much.’ Kierkegaard summed up this paradox when he said passion is both exaltation and perdition: we lose through passion, but we lose more with no passion.
So be it. Let it be. Let it come. ‘Amen.’
God really allows contrary ways to slug it out with passion’s way on the ground, in time, over the deep. Only passion’s way can win the depth, but these other ways, some human, some demonic, are allowed by God to seek their ends, and create their own test of the truth to which passion is vowed.
Non passionate human ways effectively say to God, ‘hey, relax, let us be, don’t torture us with your depth, we just want a few beers, a few sexual encounters, some productive work and a dash of creativity, and we’ll be fine. So, calm down, blow off the intensity, chill out, big guy. You can come down from the Cross. Let’s use our head to banish the existential exactions of this world; we’ll banish death, disease, poverty, strife. We’ll enjoy ourselves a little. Even if we cannot control fate, we will be content with whatever pleasures and rewards we can grab. Let’s just take it easy.’ Obviously, there are many non passionate human ways being tried out in the world, not all of them to be described as ‘secular humanist.’ Some are bourgeois, some are religious, some are scientific. Some hedonistic, some aesthetic, some bohemian, some conformist, some rebellious. A rich pluralism? In a sense, yes; but in another sense something sad, however quiet the despair: a shallow decency, arranged and enforced by reason. The tragedy in the deep heart is avoided, but so also is jettisoned the chance of its redemption. Passion is too inexplicable, too pained. Yet, the deeper tragedy keeps breaking in on the humanist rose garden. When we got rid of religion everything was supposed to flower, but the same old problems continued and intensified. We just made a religion of science, or politics, or art.
The heart’s passibility must remain open and vulnerable to influence. A closed, invulnerable heart cannot be reached by God, by the world, by its own precariousness. Nothing moves it, but it moves nothing. When we are moved by God, this moves God. When we are moved by the world, this moves the world. Strength through weakness: passion through pathos.
Satan is furious with God for creating us and declaring us worthy, by entrusting everything eternal to our passible heart, and thus Satan is determined to prove that God cannot bring us through and make us worthy in the end.
In Hebrew, ‘Satan’ means ‘the Adversary’, and Buber reads this as ‘the Hinderer.’ Satanic bullying and intimidation, which is aimed at breaking our spirit, crushing our passion, comes through oppression. This oppression is experienced as a dark, heavy, force weighing on the heart; but it also comes through being sexually abused, or being violently beaten up, in childhood. Satan is playing for keeps, so he attacks children who are passion at its most passible, variable, weak, temptable, open, vulnerable. Satan is the child murderer. He doesn’t fight fair: it is rare you get him to climb into the ring with you in direct combat. He fights dirty. He gets the world to do his dirty work. The child abuser, sexual or violent, in your own family; the nasty down-putting teacher; the corrupt policeman who is in with the criminals; the bullying gang of your peers; the lying politicians who feather their nests and care nothing for any common good; and the cowardly ministers and priests who stand around and wring their hands or go ‘dear, dear’, but never do anything; all these various kinds of heartlessness surround you as you grow up, and deliver a message: trust your passion and the roof will come down on you. Children often have the innocent enthusiasm, eagerness, élan and exuberance, that St Peter so clearly retained; but by adulthood, many children have been left in no doubt that if they push the boat out, they will be attacked. ‘Kow tow, or else’, a dark and hateful force says to every heart born in to this world, as it steps up to take its stand there. ‘Take a stand, and you will be knocked down and stamped on in the dirt.’ Christianity as a whole has over done the sin which the heart is tempted in to, and under done the hideous and vast damage, the scare and the scar, over-poweringly forced upon the heart by the world when in thrall to Satanic influence.
God does not cheat. He stays true to the perilous journey and fair fight that the divine and the human passions are committed to. God is not going to depart from the way of passion, in his deep heart or in our deep heart. That will prevail as we go through, or it will not; there will be no deus ex machina rescue, in which God gives up the pathos necessary to passion, the weakness necessary to strength, the vulnerability necessary to heroism. This is the only hand of cards God is playing with. He makes no deals. We can explore it together, question it together, nuance it together; and though there is only one Big Story that reveals how the divine and human passions fight each other and fight through as one, within that there are millions of personal stories that reveal and honour it in a myriad of different ways. This is the real pluralism. The route to heart truth is always the same, but always different. There are no rules and regulations mapping it. There is only a pathless path found in the heart, when it seeks truth. If the aim is genuine, the route to it, in a given life, reveals itself. It reveals itself only as we walk, as we try, as we give it our best shot.
The conscience which prods us tells us when we are not trying enough, or not even trying at all. This is a devastating stab. People resort to worldly things, or evil urges, to medicate this stab. But it is always there, never letting us rest, never giving us peace, always spoiling our quiet. ‘Where are you?’ Where do you stand? What is in your depth? What life do you live from your heart?
We understand, gradually, the pull of all these ways God allows to compete for our heart’s allegiance: the divine-human, the merely human, the spiritually evil. When we are truthful with ourselves in this manner, especially when honest self examination leads to tears, we confess then our love for the greater way, and our regret for being invested in all the lesser ways. This is a confession of faith in God’s deepest heart, in humanity’s deepest heart. Hence, such repenting renews faith, as well as clearing the undergrowth away, allowing us to see these different competing paths more clearly, and showing us a way through that jungle towards the one path our heart’s passion ‘really’ wants.
This passion has not lost its direction; it remains forever aimed at heart truth. That is why its conscience, when we pretend we have no directionality toward heart truth left in us, bites us so harshly. We know, in our heart, that is a lie. We know, in our heart, we have not lost the direction, the aim of our passion. But what we have lost is faith in this direction’s way, in its road, in the route going toward its aim. Fallen passion has taken an easier way, a safer way, a way of less expenditure. Every human heart wants, deep down, to be great, but what fails is the heroism needed to go on the hunt for this.
By admitting our sin, rather than feeding it, we can delve it to its root, and we can enter that other side of our heart’s weakness, which is its poverty, humility, modesty. Since it is God’s heart at work in our human heart that really engenders our passion, so we must come also to the place where our heart experiences itself as powerless, fireless, a nullity, a nothing. This is the humus, the humble earth, of the heart. This heart is not even our pathos, but something more basic: its malleable clay, which waits for rain, thunder, flame, to enliven and impassion it. But our passion, without God’s dynamic presence, is earth laying fallow. This is a different quiet, a different peace. The earth is humble, modest, poor. It is nothing. It strives after nothing because it rests in its own nothing. When false flames in us are purged, they are burnt to ashes; and these ashes rest quietly in the earth. It is a dying. But it is not a deadness, a deadening. It is a reduction to nothing. When we start to withdraw from false easy ways, when we begin to withdraw from false passions, they burn down and they burn out. We cease being falsely passionate, but our dispassion is a doing nothing, a silence, because we rest in the fallow earth. This is the ‘good earth’, ripe for God’s planting. The seed grows underground; the spark ignites far below. The Hebrew terms for passion [as in Greek, it is a family of words, not a single word] suggest not only carrying a burden and suffering a wound, but also a pregnancy, a coming to birth. The heart is that which can change; the heart is that which was set in movement by God from its inception, to undergo a huge change, and make the world part of that vast change. When we are reduced in false passion back to the earth, we are cradled in the poverty, the humility, the modesty, the nothing, that pregnantly gives birth to true passion. By this reduction we are renewed in faith, renewed in the way. The true passion is given birth from the lowly earth of the heart.
God does not want our heart hardened. He wants it malleable and pliable. In the Old Testament [Ezekiel, 11, 19-20; Ezekiel, 36, 26-27], this softness so easily snared yet also so open to the Spirit’s power and inspiration, is termed ‘the heart of flesh.’ This is the good heart, the bigger heart. The lesser heart, the bad heart, is termed ‘the heart of stone.’ This is the heart not just hardened in evil, but also hardened in human and demonic judgement of evil, which seals evil in, so that it cannot change. The fleshy heart can fall and repent in alternating turns a million times a day, if need be. The stony heart is inflexible: its evil is set, and equally set is its human and demonic judgement of evil. The fleshy heart is a mixed heart, full of wheat and chaff. It can always change. The stony heart is a divided heart. It cannot change. It is this type of heart which Freud described in his notion of ‘Super Ego versus Id’: a dark and harsh inhibiting judge pitted against a dark and harsh rebellious criminal, and there is no hope possible in their relationship, since each wants to do the other in. It is stale mate. Christ referred to this [Mathew, 12, 25] when he said ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand.’ Satan woos us into evil, then accuses and convicts and damns us for that evil: this is his game plan. Thus, both ‘condemnation’ and ‘indulgence’ are equally locked into Satan’s prison. They are flip sides of the same coin.
Our truest passion is like the wolf who finds the tracks of God in the trackless desert in the heart and in the world; our truest passion is like the raven who flies in the abyss of God within the heart and within the world without knowing the principle of its flight.
Passion is vulnerable, but out of its vulnerability is born its strength. The way we deal with our weakness determines the kind of strength we will attain. Passion crosses over. Passion moves through.
The devil has been stalking the heart down through all time, but passion is stalking him. Slowly, he is being manoeuvred in to a corner where he will have to fight openly, and there he will be brought down. The devil will be defeated, by God’s passion, by humanity’s passion. The way of heart will come through. The worthiness will burn bright and warm. This is the end, when Christ will be revealed openly, because the human heart made to be like him will have proved its worth.
This is redemption.
Christ made the impossible crossing over the desert and over the abyss. He paid the price of our failure, shouldering its consequences and taking that hit. But he did more than atone for us: he carried the weight of passion we put down, he suffered the pain of passion we refused. He went on where we turned back. He lived this. He did this. He did not simply teach this as possibility: he lived and did it in existential actuality. He was aflame with the fire that he wanted to kindle in us.
Christ is the ‘hidden man of the heart’ to whom St Peter refers; and Christ invites us all to unhide this man in us. This man is passion.
This is the man of sorrows, the man uncomely to behold and bruised for our sake, ugly with affliction. This is the man made the scapegoat for his people. This is the man whose passion is folly to Greeks, because they are too taken up with knowledge, and rising upward into the light of heaven, and this is the man whose passion is a stumbling block to Jews, because they are too taken up with judgement, and separating the righteous from the transgressors upon the earth. This is the man who gave his life to death, to make death life; this is the man who gave his heaven to hell, to make hell heaven. This is the man who made defeat into victory.
This is the man. Passion is the man.
But this is also the man despised more than all others. No man was ever so mocked, so reviled, so spat upon. His passion is the foundation stone of great worth [1 Peter, 2, 6], yet no ‘construction block’ was ever so cast aside, and left unbuilt on. A Christian saint once saw this man as a beggar in the wilderness, driven away from all human habitation.
He is the man not only of passion’s ‘self giving’, but of kenosis, passion’s ‘self emptying.’ He became less than the humble earth: he was humiliated, stripped and shamed, found guilty. He was laughed at, looked down on, scorned. The rock of greatest worth upon which is kindled passion’s flame was hated, as no spiritual leader ever has been detested. This is strange, even when you have factored in the political threat he may have constituted to the Roman Authority, or the religious threat he may have constituted to the Jewish Authority. There is more to it than all this. What is the unmitigated ferocity and savagery of hate which this passion provoked? Why does the passion of this man hidden in the heart elicit such hostility?
I have witnessed this hatred in the feigned off hand sneers of secular humanists who airily dismiss Christ, as well as in the fanaticism of those who actively oppose Christ. I once saw a Buddhist viscerally wince in disgust, catching sight of a Cross. To a large extent, this hatred of Christ is in all of us, for we all murdered him. That is the whole point. It wasn’t just the crowd, or the Romans, or the Jews, who killed him: it was us. He knew we would kill him when he came into the world. He came to die, at the hands of those he loves. He knew love would have to embrace even this extremity.
Why? Why must we devalue that of ultimate worth? Why must we desecrate that of ultimate holiness? It would be too easy to say this is simply the devil in us, though on the Cross Christ forgave us, declaring ‘they know not what they do.’ On one level we don’t: we don’t know who Christ really is, and what he really means to us. How could we so hate the redeemer of the heart and the redeemer of the world? Do we prefer the loss of redemption? Our hate for Christ cannot be comprehended, by grasping after rational explanations. Such explanations never penetrate the human heart. The heart has its reasons, but they belong to the irrationality of passion.
We hate Christ because we hate our selves. We hate our heart, we hate our passion. When we spit on and revile Christ, we spit on and revile our heart and its passion. Christ is the lamb, the eternal child, so innocently outgoing toward life; and Christ is the tiger, the adult who must face the enemy, to make a stand and a fight for truth. But we are this child too, and we are this adult too. Like him, we are lamb and tiger. Our hatred for him is, at bottom, the vast hatred we harbour for ourself.
Why do we hate the passion in us?
There is no reason and every reason.
It rebukes us, for we experience it as too demanding and we resent it for exposing our weakness, and cowardice. It humiliates us, shames us, because we are not up to it, or it makes us guilty because we cannot get it right but always get it wrong. We hate its vulnerability= we hate its pathos. We hate its big stand and its big fight. In one sense it is just too much, and in another sense it is just not good enough. We hate being passable, moveable, touchable, reachable. We hate it that we are in suspense, that the outcome is not assured, that our safety and status cannot be secured. We hate it that there is no extrinsic reward, or external confirmation, validation, approval. We hate the way of heart.
We hate it all, and we hate the man of heart who took it all on, so that we could take it all on. We hate his passion because we hate our own passion. He offers us a hand, he sends an invitation, but we have to say ‘no’ to tell him just how bad it is= to tell him how real and how deep is our loss of faith in the way of passion. He has to know how much we are hurting, how lost we are, how ruined in possibility, how far gone in dereliction. We have to inflict our self hate on him, because he loves us, and we do not love ourselves.
We hate Christ because he has faith in us and we have thrown away all faith in ourselves. In the deep, it is tragedy. In the deep, it is real bad. Death in the deep, hell in the deep, are real. Christ has to know that. He says he loves us, and will suffer to redeem us. We have to test that to see if he can prove it. That is why we kill him.
The passion in us is killed, and we kill it in ourselves and in others a thousand times every day. We are not going to buy in to any cheap salvation that does not embrace, and change from within, the immense devastation at our root. We have to kill him. He has to know how serious, and how impossible, redeeming our deep of passion is.
We hate the man of constant sorrow, the man of passion, because we hate the constant sorrow of our passion.
We cannot bear it. So, we cannot bear that he bears what we cannot, that we can bear it. He opens a wound we wanted closed long ago. To heal us, he must embrace our wound. To be healed, we must open our wound and let him touch it. We hate him for trying, still trying, with that in us which we have given up on.
We put defeat on him so we can evade our deep defeat. Thus do we sneer at his Cross. Yet conversely, his willingness to accept defeat opens us to our defeat, reminds us of it, regrounds us in it, because he goes there with us and suffers there what we suffer. Thus do we weep at his Cross. We slay Christ, refusing any opening to him in our heart, yet if we do this honestly, we are slain by Christ, for his death opens us to ours, his hell opens us to ours. We see the heart crucified by us, yet paradoxically and by reversal, we see the heart crucified for us, and this breaks us open, because we are already crucified. It is here, in this reversal, that the truth of his dying for us, because we are dead, pierces our heart. Suddenly there is a turn around: we are turned upside down, because he is with us in the dark, pained place, and he is there to get us through. He has come for us, and he is going to fight for us. He is not going to abandon us where we have abandoned ourselves.
Though we must hate Christ because he has faith in us where we have no faith in ourselves, by the same token, this deed changes us in depth. His faith in us generates a new faith in him and in ourselves. His fight for us gives courage to us to re-enter the fight. By his suffering of all that passion must suffer, he tells us we can suffer all that passion must suffer. He is not just the man for us: he raises the man in us, and sets him on his feet again.
By his wound, we are healed [1 Peter, 2, 25]. God suffers the human wound that the human wound may be healed. But this healing means the restoration of passion to its fate, to its destiny: to its mission. That ‘the just suffers for the unjust’ means that unbroken passion suffers for passion’s brokenness, to make it live and act again.3 He bears the unbearableness that we have rejected, that we may bear the unbearable through him. He is our passion’s strength: not just the elder brother leading through where we must go, but the spark in our spark, the backbone in our standing, the fire in our fire. Though his body went to death, his spirit went to life: so will it be for us, because his passion is in our passion. Hence, he not only leads us as an example, but he goes through the eye of the needle with us. He is our child and our adult. He is the hidden heart in our heart. He is the man of the heart who gives the man in our heart a new courage.4
May Christ be forever praised wherever human beings have shed their tears and shed their blood.
Because he did it, we can do it.
Once we really do it, our hate for our heart and its passion ends. This ends Satan’s rule over the deep heart. The worst has become the transition to the best; the tragedy has become the springboard for the journey and battle toward heart truth.
St Isaac of Syria sums up passion being alive and active again when he says those being made perfect “reject fear, disdain rewards, and love with their whole hearts.” He also articulated the heart of passion’s reconciliation to suffering for love when he said: “There is no greater invitation to love than loving first.” And the fruit of passion’s regeneration he put like this: “If you see your brother in the act of sinning, throw about his shoulders the mantle of your love.” And Abba Poemen, asked what is faith, replied: “To live in loving kindness and do good to your neighbour.”
But let St Peter close: “Do not be bewildered by the fiery ordeal that is upon you.. It gives you a share in Christ’s sufferings, and that is cause for joy.. If Christ’s name is flung in your teeth as an insult, count yourselves happy, because then.. the Spirit of God is resting upon you” [1 Peter, 4, 12-15].
The passion deep in our heart is a whole way, a path, a road. God calls to it, and it calls to us.
- In Deuteronomy God declares he has been tough with us that he might humble us, that he might prove us, to do us good ultimately. God’s ‘hardness’ is a school, and thus not to be taken as the last word on our relationship with God. As we are changed and grow, so the nature and dynamic of this relationship changes and grows.
- It is not that St Paul taught any kind of flawlessness; indeed, his teaching in Galatians 2, 15-21, that we are saved by faith, not by ‘the works of the law’, hinges on the claim that any moral or spiritual effort to achieve perfection is not only impossible, but also misses the point that only Christ can reach us where we are really lost and adrift, to bring us through to the other side. But, Paul would not have been rebuked by Christ if he did not have a personal difficulty with the flawed condition of the human. That he began, before meeting Christ, as a religious zealot and fanatic demonstrates he resisted embracing the depth of dereliction in the human heart through which Christ effects our redemption.
- Christ is ‘the just’ who suffers ‘for the unjust’ [1 Peter 3, 17-18], the healed who suffers for the diseased, the intact divine passion that ‘assumes’ the stricken human passion for no other purpose than to remake it.
- St Athanasios asserts the doctrine of divinization in his famous words, “God became man so that man might become God.” ‘Christ’ is a title, reserved in a unique way for Jesus Christ, but by virtue of his Incarnation and Cross, then spread beyond him to one and all. St Paul refers to this mystery when saying, “Not I, but Christ in me” [Galatians, 2, 20], and in speaking of “putting on Christ” [Romans, 13, 14]. The Christ is the Prototype, the pre-ordained pattern, of the divine-human joining; the ‘divine-humanity’ which is Christ-like is what our ‘humanity’ was created to finally become. This is why the Messiah, or God’s ‘Chosen One’, must become the Redeemer of this End for humanity, and cannot just remain its Primal Archetype. Hence through Jesus Christ the original possibility of becoming Christ-like is restored to humanity, in and by the Power of the Spirit.