With Dr. Larry Chapp Ph.D., we conclude our conversation by discussing the sections Love as Deed, Love as Form, and Love as the Light of the World.
Literature is sparing in giving directions on how to meditate. Generally such directions omit the decisive middle part. They treat at length of the entrance to meditation and the various preparatory acts, and also of the end phase, where they deal with acquired and infused contemplation and their mutual limits. For “meditating” on the more abstract truths of faith there are the directives of the Spiritual Exercises. First we are to picture the object we are recalling and then let light shine on it with our intellect (but how this is supposed to be done is seldom explained), so that we can use our will to apply what we have found to our own conduct (Sp. Ex., 50). On taking a closer look, however, we see more than a mere preliminary step in the preparatory instruction for the “contemplation”, which tells us to place ourselves vividly in the scene to be contemplated. Rather, it is something that helps to determine the whole course of the meditation. We shall speak of that first.
Some aspects of this theme have already been mentioned, but now we shall proceed to the heart of the matter. When we meditate on a saying or scene of the Gospel, we do not meditate on a text but on him of whom the text treats and to whom it points: the person of Jesus Christ. This means more than what we have previously said—that the Spirit makes the scene present for us now after so many centuries. It means, rather, that by means of this text, Jesus Christ presents himself to us as present and turned to us in this articulate text by means of this very word spoken by him or through this miracle—not, therefore, merely on the basis of God’s omnipresence in general but of his presence concretized precisely in this word, this gesture or this way of acting. The movement from the written word before me, not to the Spirit but to the living Lord, seems to be difficult for many, although it is really very simple. I stand before my Lord, and he turns toward me personally. He himself is this turning-toward, inasmuch as he is the Word, the Word of the Father in all its human forms, whether speech or silence, jubilation in the Father or tears over Jerusalem, warning or consolation, a humble or a sovereign bearing. In every case, he is Word, and now he is Word just for me.
Here the close parallel between Word and sacrament makes itself felt. It would be wrong to attribute the Spirit’s work of making present solely to the sacraments and not also to the Word of the Gospel (which as we have seen, embraces the Lord’s deeds, sufferings and Resurrection as well as his words). Origen very strongly emphasized this in interpreting the texts in which the prophet Ezekiel and the seer of the Apocalypse are commanded to eat the Word (in the form of a scroll). This Father of the Church knows that “the Word is the true food of the spirit”, and “what could be more nourishing for the soul than the Word?” “Just as material bread is assumed into the nourished body and is transformed into its substance, so too the ‘living bread come down from heaven’—God’s Word—is assumed into the spirit and soul and imparts its own strength to anyone who offers himself to receive his food.”
The silence required of the Christian is not fundamentally and primarily of human making. Rather, believers must realize that they already possess within themselves and at the same time in God the quiet, hidden “chamber” into which they are to enter (Mt 6:6) and in which they are with the Father. This is perhaps analogous to how the unsuspecting “little ones” have “angels in heaven who always see my heavenly Father’s face” (Mt 18:10). Our earthly cares and preoccupations are always on the lighter side of the scale, while the, other, which sinks and is just as much ours—our being in God—possesses an “unimaginable weight” in comparison (2 Cor 4:17). We need not first pave for ourselves an approach to God on our own; already and always “our life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). Accordingly, preparation for meditation does not first necessitate lengthy psychological adjustments but only a brief realization in faith of where our true center and emphasis permanently are. We seem to be far from God, but he is near us. We need not work our way up to him. Instead, our situation is like that described in the parable: “From a distance the father already saw him coming and was moved with pity. Running up to him, he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him” (Lk 15:20).
If we want to hear something we must prepare ourselves to perceive by being still. If we ourselves are talking, or if our own thoughts, wishes and concerns are speaking within us, the noise they make will render us unable to hear. Hence directions for meditating always begin by requiring us to create inner stillness and emptiness as a means of making room for what is to be received. Mention is made of “turning off”, of “concentrating” the scattered consciousness, of entering upon the “mysterious path inward” and so forth. It would, however, be reasonable to doubt that such efforts, in their mere negativity, already belong to that positive readiness to listen that distinguishes Christian meditation from other kinds in which this readiness is superfluous because no Word comes from God.
Everything about Jesus is Word. This includes his silence before human tribunals, his being scourged and spat upon. Above all, his death after that great, inarticulate cry followed by the icy muteness of the corpse. No Word of God is more eloquent than this extreme condition of his mortal being. For if we did not have this Word and this self-expression on God’s part, we would not know that in the midst of all gloom “God is love”, a statement that no other religion in the world has dared to make. Nothing more than this statement is needed to prove that he is present. “He who has seen it gives witness to it, and his witness is true. He knows that he is reporting the truth, so that you too may believe” (Jn 19:35). What is narrated about the risen Christ over and beyond this is still more transparent in regard to God—paradaisal is too weak a word for it. Precisely for this reason, there is nothing in the Gospel more tenderly human than the conversation with Magdalen at the tomb and with the disciples in the Cenacle; the loving reproof of Thomas and the granting of his request; the scene on the way to Emmaus; the gesture of blessing at the Ascension. This reaches even to his glorious apparition to Paul, to whom Jesus repeatedly appears at very difficult moments to console and strengthen him (Acts 18:9-10; 23:11; 27:24). Even in the transfiguration, everything remains corporeal and concrete; in the world of redemption nothing pertaining to the world of creation is disowned.
Hence, basically, Christian meditation can be nothing but loving, reflective, obedient contemplation of him who is God’s self-expression. He is the very explanation of God and his teaching to us. “Anyone who goes beyond this does not possess God, but anyone who remains within this teaching possesses the Father as well as the Son” (2 Jn 9). This “remaining” means believing, and this faith is granted eyes to look through the man Jesus and see the divine: “Anyone who [really] sees me sees the Father” (Jn 14:9). In Christian meditation we are enabled to perceive the state and attitude of God not only in Jesus’ words but also in all his states and acts. When Jesus is angry (as Mark frequently mentions), when he brandishes the whip, we perceive how and why Yahweh, the jealous God, is angry. When he weeps over Jerusalem, which “was not willing”, he reveals the sorrows of the Lord of the Covenant on account of his love that was squandered in vain. When he lets himself be asked for something—by his Mother in Cana, by the Roman centurion in Capernaum and by the Gentile woman in Syria—and thereby “persuaded”, he shows how persevering prayer ultimately wrenches the desired favor from God’s heart (Lk 18:1-7). When he does not hesitate to leave the two beloved women in Bethany without an answer and apparently in the lurch, he demonstrates in advance that on the Gross he will feel forsaken by his Father, although he knew beforehand that “the hour is already here in which you will leave me alone. . . . But I am not alone, for the Father is with me” (Jn 16:32; cf. 8:29). When from the viewpoint of this world it would seem that God abandons us, even and precisely then he does not.
It is not we who force a knowledge of the Absolute for ourselves by means of techniques under our control. Of his own accord God freely reveals himself, explains himself in his Son and gives us a Word that satisfies our hungering soul. We learn that man has been created in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1: 27) so that God can one day place in his creature the perfect image (2 Cor 4: 4; Col 1: 15) and complete likeness (Heb 1: 3) of the Invisible One. The man Jesus Christ is not subsequently raised to being this image of God; from the very beginning he was aware of being such. His “but I tell you” surpasses Moses’ authority and can only be the “I” of Yahweh himself and of his Word. “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8: 58). This is the intolerable scandal of a people accustomed to prophets. They try to kill Jesus “because he called God his Father and thus made himself equal to God” (Jn 5: 18). They want to stone him “for blasphemy, because you who are human make yourself God” (Jn 10: 33).
In the whole history of religion Jesus’ claim is without parallel. He demands to be loved absolutely, in preference to any mutual human love, no matter how sacred, and even in preference to any well-ordered love of self (Lk 12:26) …According to Jesus’ demand,, then, the condition for mutual love, true Covenant love, between God and man is love for him, the God-Man and perfect embodiment of the Covenant. He is the twofold channel—of God to us and of us to God. the condition for mutual love, true Covenant love, between God and man is love for him, the God-Man and perfect embodiment of the Covenant. He is the twofold channel—of God to us and of us to God.
The dimensions of Christian meditation develop from God’s having completed his self-revelation in two directions: God speaks out of his own depths and, speaking as a man, he discloses at the same time the depths of man. Christian meditation can begin only where God reveals himself as a man and, consequently, where this man reveals God to his very depths. Hence this point of departure may not be bypassed. And this meditation can take place only where the revealing man, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, reveals God as his Father: in the Holy Spirit of God, whom he truly communicates to us so that in this Spirit given to us we may join in probing God’s depths, which only God’s Spirit probes -“But we have received the Spirit who is from God so that we may realize what God has given us” (1 Cor 2:12).
Consequently, Christian meditation is entirely trinitarian and at the same time entirely human. In order to find God, no one need reject being human personally or socially, but in order to find God all must see the world and themselves in the Holy Spirit as they are in God’s sight.