Dear Donagh,

What, for you, is a spiritual message? By this I mean a message which persuades us that we are more than skin and bone?  I have a sense they are "the narrow bases on which we build futures."  This fits with how I have lived.  S.

Dear S.,

I like that phrase: “the narrow bases on which we build futures.”  I suspect that every future is built on a narrow base: a chance meeting changes your life; even a glance could do it.  A friend of mine divides his life into before and after.  Before and after what?  Before and after a moment, long ago, when he was passing on the stairs and through the door of his parents’ bedroom – an inch ajar – he spotted his father praying.  The most powerful messages are seldom delivered in words.  All the words we use are… just that – used.  They are used property.  They describe events as if these events were now over.  Words are about the end of something, the summing-up.  When something really surprises us we are speechless.  When we talk we are arranging things, putting things in their place; we are not being present to what is new.  We are alleviating the sense of wonder, not leaving ourselves open to it.  “Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.”  A future is built, as you say, on a narrow base – on a moment of wonder.

There’s not much to like in the phrase, “the Christian message.”  It suggests that it could be written on a piece of paper.  It would be good if the word ‘epiphany’ could gain more currency.  It means a revelation, a showing.  I have a friend whose name is Epifania.  Another friend of mine, also in the Philippines, built a mountain retreat centre in which the theme of the art-work is epiphany – moments of recognition: Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3; the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17….  One wall is made of clear glass, giving a breathtaking view over the Batulao hills: it is another epiphany – a revelation of God in nature.  

Rationalists have difficulty with this.  They want every experience to be credited by the rational mind.  Nothing is allowed to exist if it doesn’t have its number in their system.  But essential knowledge has no credentials.  Credentials would be from elsewhere, and that would make essential knowledge secondary.  We should be sceptical about the claims to ‘objectivity’ that rationalists make.  The real quest is to attain the kind of intimate knowledge that carries its own credentials. 

Language is all generalities.  Even so-called concrete nouns like ‘tree’ are abstract.  If you are addicted to generalities you will soon live in an empty world.  We cannot live on words; they are too subject to our will.  We cannot live on word-messages: they can be turned on and off at will; they carry no credentials.  But epiphanies carry their own credentials, and so we can only wait for them, we cannot bring them about.  Many people looking through that clear glass window in Batulao would see only hills; but an epiphany is a moment of recognition.  Really it’s better not even to wait for them; it’s better just to forget about them.  Then when they come they are fresh.  The way to invite epiphanies is to meditate a lot – to leave your mind vulnerable.  When you don’t bother about them at all they come in their own way and in their own time.  But if you are greedy for them they don’t come at all.  If they are a product of you own mind they belong to the past.  Yes, epiphanies instead of messages….


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