“God does not know how to be absent”

Baptism and Eucharist are the great sacraments of God’s self-giving. They create, cultivate, and sustain the foundational unity between God and humanity that is manifested in Christ. These are the sacraments of our deepest identity, hidden in the self-emptying of God in Christ.

Union with God is not something we acquire by a technique but the grounding truth of our lives that engenders the very search for God. Because God is the ground of our being, the relationship between creature and Creator is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent. The fact that most of us experience throughout most of our lives a sense of absence or distance from God is the great illusion that we are caught up in; it is the human condition. The sense of separation from God is real, but the meeting of stillness reveals that this perceived separation does not have the last word. This illusion of separation is generated by the mind and is sustained by the riveting of our attention to the interior soap opera, the constant chatter of the cocktail party going on in our heads. For most of us this is what normal is, and we are good at coming up with ways of coping with this perceived separation (our consumer-driven entertainment culture takes care of much of it). But some of us are not so good at coping, and so we drink ourselves into oblivion or cut or burn ourselves “so that the pain will be in a different place and on the outside” [Elaine MacInnes].

The grace of salvation, the grace of Christian wholeness that flowers in silence, dispels this illusion of separation. For when the mind is brought to stillness, and all our strategies of acquisition have dropped, a deeper truth presents itself: we are and have always been one with God and we are all one in God (Jn 17:21). The marvelous world of thoughts, sensation, emotions, and inspiration, the spectacular world of creation around us, are all patterns of stunning weather on the holy mountain of God. But we are not the weather. We are the mountain. Weather is happening—delightful sunshine, dull sky, or destructive storm—this is undeniable. But if we think we are the weather happening on Mount Zion (and most of us do precisely this with our attention riveted to the video), then the fundamental truth of our union with God remains obscured and our sense of painful alienation heightened. When the mind is brought to stillness we see that we are the mountain and not the changing patterns of weather appearing on the mountain. We are the awareness in which thoughts and feelings (what we take to be ourselves) appear like so much weather on Mount Zion.

Fr Martin Laird

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6 Responses to “God does not know how to be absent”

  1. Iain Lovejoy says:

    This sounds almost Buddhist, or perhaps more Daoist (I do not intend this as a criticism, still less that it is not Christian, I am simply fascinated by the universality of many religious concepts and ideas.)

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I too have the same questions as you do, Iain. I note that Laird prefaces his comment by invoking Baptism and Eucharist. Does that mitigate your concerns? I wonder how his views line up, for example, with the Catholic Catechism?

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      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        Sorry if I wasn’t clear: I was not expressing concern, but delight. One often trotted-out dubious argument against God is the unlikelihood that one particular faith’s god is the correct one, rather that Thor or Jupiter or a thousand other ones: the frequently commonality of experience of those seeking the divine, even when seeking him behind a different name or face, is to my mind a strong pointer to the reality of that being sought.

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  2. Tom says:

    Reminds me of a previous conversation: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/eastern-orthodoxy-and-the-eucharistic-transmutation/

    I’m still asking the same question and seeing things the same way.

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  3. Young and Rested says:

    This brought to mind a passage in Tom Talbott’s essay “UNIVERSALISM AND THE SUPPOSED ODDITY OF OUR EARTHLY LIFE: REPLY TO MICHAEL MURRAY”

    “Perhaps some of the very conditions essential to our creation in the first place and to the emergence of our unique personalities are themselves obstacles to a perfect union with God— obstacles that God must subsequently overcome in a variety of complex ways after we have already come into being. Might it not be, for example, that God’s hiddenness is more than a (questionable) concession to our freedom?— that it is also a metaphysically necessary condition of our creation? Why suppose it even possible for creatures like us to develop self-awareness, or to become aware of ourselves as distinct from God and from each other, or to develop a will of our own, in an environment essentially different from the earthly one? For my own part, at any rate, I suspect that the experience of ambiguity, frustration, separation, and even alienation is an indispensable condition of our emergence as rational, self aware beings; and if this is true, then God could hardly have started us out in a state in which such conditions do not exist.”

    I find this to be an interesting line of reasoning. Talbott doesn’t expound on it in this essay because it wasn’t the main thrust of his paper, but the idea that self-awareness in the fullest sense can only come through wrestling with illusions and frustrations is intriguing.

    Also, I love the image of the mountain that Fr. Laird uses at the end of this quotation. I think that it is very helpful at times to remember that the thing observing is neither the observation nor the object of observation; that we are distinct from our circumstances and even from our experience of them. It reminds me that my true identity, my life, is hid with Christ in God; wrapped in the luminous mystery of the divine.

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  4. Young and Rested says:

    Quick question for whoever may be reading this.

    In the evangelical circles that I grew up in, death was almost unanimously defined as separation from God. This strikes me as metaphysically impossible unless death is some form of annihilation. Right now it seems more plausible to me that if separation language is to be used, that death is more akin to the separation of our awareness from the reality of God. Thus, death and separation from God are real, but only in the sense that an illusion is real.

    Can anyone comment on this from an Eastern perspective (or at least a non western evangelical perspective)?

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