Beyond Descartes

Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time (Year I)

Hebrews 4:1-5, 11; Mark 2:1-12

The aim of the Christian life may be expressed in many ways: union with God, communion in the Trinity, deification (theosis), the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, returning to the Father’s house (the heavenly Jerusalem), or in the words of the author of Hebrews, entering into God’s Sabbath “rest.” The seventh day is unending peace and joy in the Lord, according to Rabbinic glosses, because unlike the first six days of creation there is no mention of evening. The sun never sets on the glory of God (Revelation 21:23; 22:5).

And whoever enters into God’s rest, rests from his own works as God did from his. Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest…

Hebrews 4:10-11

How are the people of God to “enter into that rest?” The author of Hebrews calls our attention to the faculty of hearing, for failure to “enter” resulted from a failure in listening:

Therefore, let us be on our guard while the promise of entering into his rest remains, that none of you seem to have failed. For in fact we have received the good news just as they did. But the word that they heard did not profit them, for they were not united in faith with those who listened.

Hebrews 4:1-2 (New American Bible Revised Edition)

Original manuscripts differ concerning the second verse. The alternative reading is exemplified by the Revised Standard Version which reads:

For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers.

The basic message is the same in either version: listening was not accompanied by faith. The hearers did not listen as did their leaders Joshua and Caleb, and the message failed to be received with faith in the heart.

“Oh, that today you would hear his voice: ‘Harden not your hearts.’”

Hebrews 3:7-8; 4:7; Psalm 95:7-8

When faith is alive, the voice of the Lord awakens the heart of the beloved:

The sound of my lover! here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
Let me see your face,
let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.

Song of Songs 1:8, 14

Almost 1500 years after the bitter desert wanderings, the Bridegroom appeared and called the attention of his Bride to the vital connection between hearing and the heart:

This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.’

Matthew 13:13-15; cf. Mark 4:11-12; Isaiah 6:8-10

Seeing and hearing are our windows onto reality, are they not? “All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason,” Immanuel Kant tells us. “There is nothing higher than reason.” Yet according to Jesus, something far surpassing seeing and hearing is required to “understand with the heart.”

The biblical language of the “heart” is foreign to empiricism and rationalism, but it is the key to “understanding,” “conversion” and “healing.” 

The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2563

The spiritual heart is the hidden center of union and communion in the Trinity, the Sabbath “rest” of God. 

Johannes Tauler (c. 1300-1361), one of the greatest German Dominican mystics, wrote some of the most striking statements about the interior “Promised Land.”

The Image of the Blessed Trinity rests in the most intimate, hidden, and inmost ground of the soul, where God is present essentially, actively, and substantially. Here God acts and exists and rejoices in Himself, and to separate God from this inmost ground would be as impossible as separating Him from Himself… And thus in the depth of this ground the soul possesses everything by grace which God possesses by nature.1

“No path of the senses will ever lead you there,” Tauler writes. “Within this ground the Heavenly Father begat His only-begotten Son.”2 This union of created and uncreated natures (theosis) surpasses sense perception, images, forms, words, thought and reason.3

The very being (hupostasis) of the Father and Son spoken about in Hebrews 1:3 is found in the heart and “ground” of every human person united to God by grace. 

You were more inward to me than my most inward part; and higher than my highest.

St. Augustine, Confessions, 3.6.11

Faith is the key to entering the Promised Land. 

For we who believed enter into [that] rest.

Hebrews 4:3

The faith of four friends circumvented every barrier between their paralytic brother and Jesus, and made a way where there was no way.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven… I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”

Mark 2:5, 11

There is more to God than meets the eye (or ear). 

May sight and sound 
give way to
Light in the ground
By faith in the heart
beyond the mind of Descartes.

-GMC

1 Sermon 29 from Johannes Tauler, Sermons, trans. Maria Shrady, Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1985), 105.

2 Ibid., 106. 

3 Sermon 37 from Ibid., 126. In different words, the testimony of an imageless, formless “eye of the soul” (spirit, heart, nous, ground) has been present from the time of the ancient desert tradition. 

2 thoughts on “Beyond Descartes

  1. fdan

    Double wow! Richard Rohr, OFM, expresses my sentiments exactly: “It is often a momentary shock where we know we have been moved to a different plane of awareness.” Thank you, GMC!

    Like

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