(This is the third article in a series written for Lent, 2018. I have borrowed the chapter titles from Met. Ware’s book “The Orthodox Way” and sometimes reference his content. However, I go off in my own directions and therefore am responsible for the content unless otherwise noted.)
The gift of Creation is so magnificent and mysterious that we will never fully grasp it. Even less can we comprehend the Creator or the process by which all things come to be.
In this chapter of Met. Ware’s book, I encountered discussion of many topics I have already written on at some length. Though I cannot claim to have written well, I think it is best to leave well enough alone – rather than rehash hypotheses about the book of Genesis, good and evil, and so on.
However, there is one (seemingly) small part of Creation that I have not written of and would like to highlight. May God be merciful and permit me to share a few thoughts about this great gift given to humanity.
Met. Ware provides the following quote from Thomas Merton, a monk of the Western Church:
At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak his name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all of the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…The gate of heaven is everywhere. (from “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” by Thomas Merton.)
Several things drew me to this passage. First, I felt a personal affinity to it because of Merton’s use of the term “nothingness”, given that “nothing” is my word for 2018. I was intrigued that Merton termed this most sacred aspect of our created selves a nothingness. This set me to wondering why he did so.
His notion of a point or spark is further reinforced by his description of it as an absolute poverty. How can he say that of what he later refers to as the “pure glory of God in us” and “his name written in us”?
What could be of greater value than His name within us, His pure glory shining within each and every one of us?
If indeed the Lord God created the human person with such a point, would this not be far greater than any riches we can conceive of?
How then can it be a nothingness or a poverty?
Merton seems to recognize the apparent incongruity of his image – for he then proceeds to portray it as like a diamond “blazing with the invisible light of heaven”.
In other words, out of all of His Creation, this spark implanted in the human person is simultaneously the greatest of riches and the most profound of poverties.
This paradox, I believe, is what finally seized my attention, rendering inevitable further reflection on this one (seemingly) small detail of God’s Creation of humanity.
One key consideration should be noted before delving further into our topic, however. And that whether this point or spark actually exists.
There are no means by which we can view or measure it, nor will there ever be any method of proving its existence.
Yet the implications for believing that it is there are enormous. More about that later…
I cannot help but conclude that Merton’s words point to a truth inseparable from our belief in God as the Creator who made us for Himself, in His image and likeness, able to share in the fullness of His life.
The image that forms in my mind is that of the Lord God putting His signature into every person He brings into being, much as an artist signs a work upon completing it. Each human being is unique yet all are His images.
This signature proclaims, “This one is mine. I made it.”
When we view a great work of art, we are naturally drawn to the artist’s signature. We not only want to know who created it, we want to encounter the artist, the source of the beauty we see.
Whether we call it a point or a spark or a signature, it only makes sense that God would leave His imprint (yet another term for the unnamable) on what He has made.
And in the case of human beings, this imprint is an indelible mark of His presence within.
Merton is correct, I believe, in describing this spark as something we cannot access – in essence, something that we cannot ruin.
Though God has created us with a free will, there are some limitations on that freedom.
We are free to choose our way or God’s way. We are able to choose good or evil, life or death.
However, no matter how much we might damage ourselves and each other by our choices, there are some things we are not able to do with our free will.
We cannot stop God from loving us.
We cannot choose not to be His Creation, His sons and daughters.
We are free to deny these things – to deny that God loves or that He created us or that He exists. We are free to make ourselves ignorant of His way of love, blind to His beauty and deaf to the song He sings to our hearts.
But we are not free to stop Him from being love and beauty and song. We cannot stop Him from being our Father by denying that it is true.
Metaphorically, we cannot erase the signature of the Artist.
We can pile so many sins upon His glory within us that it is barely recognizable. But we cannot remove it – nor can anyone else.
This signature, this imprint of His glory is the splendor of humanity. It is truly like a “diamond blazing”.
Yet we can only know of it by experiencing the poverty, the nothingness of our being apart from Him. It is indeed an absolute poverty that impels us to cry out, “Abba! Father! Save me!”
To know our Artist as “Father”, we must accept in ourselves the poverty of being children – children who are ultimately not in charge of our own lives.
Awareness that this point, this spark, this imprint has been placed within us is perhaps the most important awareness of our lives.
First, even if I experience myself as confused or I feel detached from God, I have only to look within to find Him, to begin (again) the process of knowing Him.
I do not have to search far to find God or to know that I am His. No matter what the state of my body, my mind or my soul, I will find Him in that tiny spark within me. Every time.
Part of me may want to protest this point – “I don’t know how to find that point. I don’t know what it means to ‘look within’. Where do I look? How do I find Him? This is not nearly so easy as you make it sound.”
To clarify, I did not say that it was easy. I only indicated that we are always free to look within and He will always be there.
If I don’t know how to look within, I can begin by being still. Without a practice of stillness, my focus will likely be trained on things outside of my soul – whether that be the outside world or the clutter of my mind.
In stillness, I discover grace for the asking.
If this is not enough for me to find Him (and it very well may not be), then I must assume that there are passions, sins or other distractions that keep me from seeing Him.
And so I can begin (again) the process of repentance – of patiently but firmly removing all that keeps me from seeing Him.
Certainly none of this is easy. But if I know this spark is within me, I am much less likely to give up the search. “I must keep going, keep going – He is there, I know He is there.”
There is another aspect of this awareness of the spark that is of great value to us.
To consider that God’s signature is within me and within every other person I encounter may change quite substantially my thoughts and feelings and reactions.
If I am tempted to view myself as flawed, worthless or defective, awareness of the spark within requires me to rethink this.
Yes, there may be quite a pile of sins in me. I may frequently give in to the passions. I may feel damaged.
But beneath all of that still lies God signature, proclaiming that I am His creation and always will be.
Nothing I do – and nothing that anyone else can do to me – can ever change that.
And, of course, the flip side of this awareness is that every other person I meet or see or even read about has God’s signature in them as well.
I may not be able to see it – either because I am not willing to look or because they have a lot of sins piled on it – but I cannot deny that it is there.
How does this awareness change things?
It has the power to change them radically.
Someone cuts me off in traffic. Oh – he is God’s own creation.
Another person berates me. As the anger begins to build, I remember – she has God’s signature within her.
A world leader makes outrageous moves that places many innocent people at risk. That’s right – he is one of God’s own children.
This awareness, of course, does not excuse the wrongdoings of others – anymore than it excuses my own.
However, remembering that I am viewing one of God’s personal works of art, I become concerned if its beauty has been neglected or marred.
I do not rage. Rather I pray for the lost and forsaken and strive to cultivate a heart of compassion.
In my nothingness, in the poverty of my being, I search for the tiny points of light in myself and others that they may dispel the darkness of this life and lead us to the great Light of our Creator.
Abba, Father of all Creation, Holy is Your name. I thank You and I praise You that in Your abundant goodness You have placed Your name within me. May I always rejoice in knowing that I am Your child and not be afraid to depend on You. Help me to grow in all ways, but especially in Your way of love. Open the eyes of my heart that I may behold the light of Your presence in everyone and everything You have created. May my heart love most especially Your children in whom Your name, Your glory is buried – whether through their own sins or those of the world. Grant me the courage to relentlessly seek Your spark, Your light, in myself and everyone whose path I cross today and every day of my life. Amen.