Spiritual Poverty and the Mystery of Subjectivity

The wind blows where it will,
and thou hearest its sound
but dost not know where it comes from
or where it goes.
~ John 3:8

Yet the utterly subjective nature of our experience as human observers must be entered as into a mystery, its apparent infinities and eternities robustly explored. The interior is all there is, and yet it cannot be all there is, for one can never reach its end and thus say, “there is nothing beyond this.”

Barred from conclusion – from perfect knowledge, from the end of inquiry – we are given instead to wandering, forever hungry and thirsty, without even the comfort of divine guidance or instruction. There is only this: this this, and it is not enough.

window sill above the kitchen sink . . .

Our experience as human observers is forever bounded by – and bonded to – this mystery. It is as if we are forever entering the temple where the Beloved waits on her dais, and when we reach out to her she disappears, leaving only a note and a map leading us to the next temple. On and on we go, never quite vanishing into our desire, and never quite satiating it either.

Shall we worship then our going? The apparent cycle of discovering-only-to-lose-in-order-to-begin-yet-again?

We can, if we want. But it does not satisfy, not in the final sense. Worship never does; idols never do. That, too, is the mystery – this innate sense that we are called to fall to our knees and yet once on them perceive only the One who would never ask us to kneel.

The old Christians called this conundrum, this mystery, our “poverty of spirit,” being in the mode of Jesus who called on his followers to be “poor in spirit” and to “take up their cross.” If we interpret this in terms of our bodily existence, it devolves quickly into negotiating cultural mores. “I’ll recycle more and grow my own tomatoes,” “I’ll watch less television and read more books,” et cetera.

There is nothing wrong with executing our living according to terms and conditions which resonate for us according to circumstance, preference, et cetera. But this is a giving of meaning to our living that is secondary to the interior journey we undertake, the radical (as in rooted, not extreme) exploration of the subjectivity that underlies our living. How deeply can you go into yourself and what do you find there?

We are talking here about a movement – a journey, a dance, a descent-and-ascension – from which our teachers and lovers and allies are naturally excluded. The texts that point out the next step cannot actually take the next step. We go empty-handed, without provision. We go without a plan for going back. It is like Jesus said, the one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the reign of God. Harsh words but true and thus – in the end – kind.

We have to let go of platitudes about the interior, the easily memorized sentences and lines handed down by our idols and fellow worshipers. Bumper stickers are for tourists. We are not visitors who will go home to boast about our vacation. We are migrants, mendicants, apostles, beggars. The grace that inheres in our traveling cannot be possessed, recounted, valorized, or sold. It does not extend itself in the form of personal accomplishment.

To “bring forth Love,” which is what it means to be fully human, is to go into this mystery – this whole-that-is-not-whole, this God-forever-just-out-of-reach – without any image of what will happen next, without any plan for response, without any investment in investment in outcome. Those “withouts” are our poverty and only thus desiccated do we become a prism unto the One so that Her pure love might radiate through us in vivid scintillation. Truly we go into the darkness without lantern or fire in order to discover that we are the light and the darkness was but a dream.

Johannes Baptist Metz once wrote that “A human being is the ecstatic appearance of Being, and becoming fully human is an ever growing appropriation of this ecstasis of Being.”

Ever-growing means not ending. You see? There is no home. There is no one. No lover, no God, no shelter. No high table, no secret altar. There is only this, which can only be encountered in spiritual poverty – that is, in the utter open-hearted and empty-handed nature of Being meeting being meeting Being.

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