Notes From a Retreat-IB

How are we initiated into mystery? The initiation is being born.
This is not an initiation that is visionary, gnostic, or scientific. Scientific mysteries are solvable, and as such once they are uncovered they are no longer mystery.

Modernism and modernity are a war against mysteries as such. As Ezra Pound wrote, “Make it New”. If God is a God that one can learn more about, we have to eliminate the mystery. Even if God is infinite, we would posit that the cosmos is too.

This idea of God and mystery is a battle of love-it is an antagonism of lovers. There is always a subject who pursues and object. The love is never simply being one.

How are we at war with God? The “god” of war, who is entirely conquerable, is one to be at war with.

But God, the one who is, he is not fenced in by walls. He is a God of peace. Therefore to be a mystic is to repent. It is to repent of our war with God. It is to receive His life in the sacramental life of the Church. And this helps us understand why so often we as Eastern Christians refer to the sacraments as mysteries. For mysteries will help us end our war with God and our neighbor. In the sacramental view of reality, we experience what we need in life-washing, anointing, eating, and drinking, these are the things that we need. But the modern view is a journey that takes us to the Sun. It is one where more data leads to less darkness. Its view of glory is in the ethereal non-worldly existence only. In the heat of the sun, as it were.

Artistically, we can see this in the Christ of Caravaggio. In Caravaggio’s depiction, Christ is the source of life.

Caravaggio Christ

Similarly, if one compares Rembrandt’s ascension of Christ with the icon of Christ’s ascension (which is similar to our previous post of the icon of the Transfiguration). In Rembrandt, there is a lot of darkness where there is no Christ, no heaven. The doxa/glory/shining is in the middle of this image.

Rembrandt Ascension

We can contrast this with the Mandorla-the closer one moves to Christ in Byzantine iconography, the darker things become. You begin in light, and as the circle moves to the center one ends in what appears to be skepticism.

Ascension Icon

The journey to darkness, however, is a journey of surrender, a journey of peace. It is a mutual surrender, a mutual peace. Light is unidirectional in Rembrandt. But it is everywhere except for the deepest presence of Christ, in a Byzantine Icon.

And so we return to initiation, being born. If this initiation/beginning is light, how do we see children mimicking mysticism? The life of a child is peaceful. It ends, however, in an ordinary way of life that is divinized. It is a light that darkens as you approach the source.

We see this childlike brightness in the icon of the Dormition. The Mother of God is in a Mandorla, but even in darkness, it is brighter than the light.
Dormition Icon

In the icon of the Theophany, we see the world as darkness as Christ is baptized.

Theophany Icon

This leads to an acceptance of all of life as a gift. And it leads to a view that to know God is to not know Him. Agnosia.

The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence-in our hearts, when we are at war with Him.

There are liturgical expressions of mystery, the apophatic way and the kataphatic way. Dionysius’ vision of mystery is apophatic. We know God by not knowing him.
The kingdom of God suffers violence, and so often this is within our hearts…when we are not fully mystics.

Again, we can see our mystical vision clearly by quoting from the Mystical Theology:

TRIAD supernal, both super-God and super-good, Guardian of the Theosophy of Christian men, direct us aright to the super-unknown and super-brilliant and highest summit of the mystic Oracles, where the simple and absolute a!nd changeless mysteries of theology lie hidden within the super-luminous gloom of the silence, revealing hidden things, which in its deepest darkness shines above the most super-brilliant, and in the altogether impalpable and invisible, fills to overflowing the eyeless minds with glories of surpassing beauty. This then be my prayer; but thou, O dear Timothy, by thy persistent commerce with the mystic visions, leave behind both sensible perceptions and intellectual efforts, and all objects of sense and intelligence, and all things not being and being, and be raised aloft unknowingly to the union, as far’ as attainable, with Him Who is above every essence and knowledge. For by the resistless and absolute ecstasy in all purity, from thyself and all, thou wilt be carried on high, to the superessential ray of the Divine darkness, when thou hast cast away all, and become free from all.

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