Friday, December 4, 2009

New Glasses

In his book, A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly uses the term “hyperaesthesia.” This word is not one we see often and is not particular to the spiritual experience. It means extreme awareness of the senses. A hyperaesthesiac person would be very sensitive to tastes, touches, smells, sights, and sounds. I remember a hyperaesthesiac experience when I got my first pair of glasses. I was about eight years old and it is still so clear in my memory. What a miracle it was to see! I remember my mother going on an errand to the fabric store immediately after we had picked up those glasses. The colors and patterns on all those bolts of fabric were so vivid! I could see every detail like I had never seen before. The whole world was a celebration of color and texture and detail. Imagine your soul with a new pair of glasses, celebrating a new way of seeing, seeing every detail and color and texture of your own being, of the condition of humanity, of the presence of God. Kelly uses this word to describe the state of the soul when it is attentive to the presence of God within. In the hyperaesthesiac state, the soul sees to the depths of the human condition, both for good and for bad, for shadows and for glories. From this place of deep sensing, we see deep within ourselves as well – deep into the shadows and soaring into the glories. We see our own sinfulness and grieve deeply for it. When we see that sinfulness, we recognize the grace of God and the gift of love that has come into our lives. We are so completely other than God and yet we are wanted and loved so deeply by God. Suddenly everything is new and different. All of creation is so much more than we had seen before. Now we can truly see the glory of God.

And now that we can truly see the glory of God and the deep reality of our own sinfulness, our choices take on a new dimension. We can clearly see the results of our choices and they are not bland or insignificant, they are vivid and colorful. The detail comes into focus for good and for ill. Our choices become more significant than we had imagined. The consequence of our response to God, whether it be acceptance and joy or apathy, is revealed in its fullness.

Again and again, we choose for God or against God. We choose to nurture the flame or to let it flicker feebly. As Kelly would say, our choice seems subtle at first, perhaps just an orientation. This orientation is the beginning, but it quickly becomes a “firm cleaving” to God, or a deadly earnest dedication. It becomes an “unceasing orientation of the deeps of our being.” The flame of love for God becomes a roaring fire as we become more and more drawn into the light. In this state, we are “owned men” says Kelly: owned by God and part of the process of the “divine creativity.” God works through us, we become God’s co-creators. God accomplishes change in the world through those who are of deadly earnest dedication, who have that unceasing orientation. Kelly calls this “prayed through.” God “works and prays and seeks His own through us.” Then, Kelly says, we become “time blinded men.” As time blinded people, we become untainted by the effects of time. What happens over time is that our sense of the immediacy of God fades. The fervor dies. The energy is used up. We begin to forget what it is like to be in the presence of God.

We have all had those mountain top experiences, like transfigurations. We see the glory of God for a fleeting moment, and like Peter, we want to build dwellings and stay there. But Jesus states the reality, we must go back down the mountain. And then the fervor begins to fade. Haven’t we all felt this and tried to hold it off. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to dwell on top of the mountain all the time, to feel that joy and wonder in every moment, to keep the fires roaring through our souls. But this is an unrealistic expectation. I think many of us have known people who have denied this fact and put on the outward appearance of constant uplifted joy. This is not reality, it is unsustainable. We are not created to live in ecstasy. We would be of no earthly good, as they say. Kelly writes of another state then, that is sustainable: the state of serenity. We must pass from ecstasy to serenity, a place where we can and must build dwellings, a place where we can live and sustain our earnest dedication. A place where we become unaffected by the passing of time: time blinded men.

This is how our practice and dedication endures. We become unshakable in our orientation toward God. What happens around us, whatever the storm of life, we are owned by God. We live and move and have our being in the presence of the Holy One, and from that place we are useful to God. We become detached from the world, in it but not of it. We are willing; willing to go where ever it is that God would lead us. The light within, that roaring flame, becomes our guide.

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