There is a hidden sense of God both being near and yet far, palpable and yet invisible, radiant light and yet luminous darkness, as close as our own heartbeat yet only a distant echo.In the spirit of both Zen and the Eastern Fathers apophatic approach to the spiritual life I have been contemplating this verse ever since I prayed it this morning in the pre dawn candlelight. What we see in this verse is someone who is aflame with longing to see the risen Christ, and yet in his seeking he cannot find Him. In this moment it’s the flame of Faith and Hope, two of the three theological virtues,that keep him going in his groping and seeking.
It seems to me that this is someone who has already seen the Lord at some point in the past, someone who knew Him in the flesh, yet seeks Him in those twilight hours on Easter morning amongst the empty tomb. His heart is still aflame with that intimate knowledge of Christ even in the darkness– the radiant darkness if you will– of the Easter sepulcher.
Does the man in the verse not mystically represent our ourselves in our own spiritual lives in that we too have met Christ at some point in our lives, really met Him, be it in prayer, in Holy Communion or in some mysterious yet palpable way.
In Zen, like in the Christian East and in St. John of the Cross, God is luminous darkness, mystery, and yet radiant. None of our concepts about Him are anything more than, to use the zen saying, fingers pointing to the moon. They are helpful–necessary even– and yet no more than rungs on a ladder climbing to heaven.
We desire Him with all our hearts and yet this side of eternity He is a mystery that sets our hearts aflame with ardent Hope and yet remains hidden.
And are not these tremendous mysteries of our faith– the Trinity– the Incarnation–the Hypostatic Union– the mystery of how Mary could be the Mother of God— not unlike zen koans? Are they not ideas and concepts that, while partially accessible to reason,still ultimately mystery, beyond man’s ability to know this side of eternity?