From Grace to Grace

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The desert bears witness that wisdom is the fullness of sheer goodness, completeness poured out from grace to grace.  The wisdom of Jerusalem is the glory of God’s Name whilst the wisdom of Athens is self-examination leading from self-forgetfulness through dialectical questioning to the fullness of self-knowledge.  Culturally speaking, this is an integration of two wisdom traditions, the Abrahamic and the Socratic, but the experience of the grace of Name-hallowing and of the Socratic dialectic is the revelation of one mystery, spiritually discerned in the light of one wisdom, not two.  This taught desert Hesychasm that not only is God one, which Jerusalem always knew, but that wisdom is one, which Athens knew dialectically, not as sophistical monism but as integral transcendence of monism and dualism.  This gave to Chalcedonian Christian wisdom the depths of Jerusalem’s royal wisdom, but also the wisdom of the Socratic dialectic, which purified union of confusion, curing division with unity embracing difference.  The ancient wisdom of Jerusalem wedded the Socraatic wisdom of Athens, bequeathing to desert Hesychasm a culture of Jewish Christian Hellenism, transcending even this when ineffable wonder dawned, an apophatic awareness that no formulation finally confines what cannot be defined, freeing dogmatic definition of every kind of dogmatism.  For Athens, wisdom begins with wonder, but for Jerusalem wisdom not only begins but also ends with wonder.

Wonder liberates wisdom from its reifications, humbling vain pride of mind in every formulation, vanity that might harden wisdom into dogmatic sophistry.  Wisdom is not information or the acquisition of factual knowledge, but humble awareness of uncreated presence.  The desert loves humble wisdom, subjecting all the philosophies of the academy to radical questioning, refusing to reify the wisdom that it loves with a sophistical philosophy of its own.  For Hesycahsm, wisdom is ineffable, although when prophetic speech unveils the Name, it does of course speak but does not reduce wisdom to the literal surfaces of what it says .  Prophecy speaks to reveal; it does not, like philosophical logic, speak about speech for its own sake.  Nor does it read prophecy literally but mystically and symbolically, freeing it to bear witness beyond itself to the ineffable glory of the Name.  For Jerusalem, hallowing the Name dies daily to every reified definition of the mysteries of glory, whilst for Athens, to live well is to die well, dying to linguistic as well as psychological fixations centred on past or future, awakening to the timeless completeness of ineffable glory.  Both Jerusalem and Athens know that true self-knowledge turns to see, turning the mind around with a profound metanoia, awakening in the Spirit to an in-seeing union of seer and seen, theoria, God seeing God, in God, in the midst, which is revelation of Holy Trinity.

To sustain turning, seeing dies daily to all that fixates on a temporal past or a temporal future, unveiling timeless vision of glory to ineffable wisdom centred on God’s own God-centred glorification of God, which is the timeless life of true well-being, grounded in timeless being.  Such wisdom dies daily to every temptation to grasp and possess wisdom for self-interested, penultimate ends.  It renounces and releases every self-centred reduction of holy wisdom to egocentric or ethnocentric ends, reductions that turn wisdom into a conditioned means to self-centred ends.  The desert examines itself daily as it dies daily to all self-centred reductions of wisdom to egotistical sophistry.  In this respect, desert wisdom is Socratic, but its vision of self-knowledge is not self-centred but God-centred.  Desert interrogation cuts through every egocentric or ethnocentric foreclosure, questioning the self until it empties itself of itself, unveiling God.  Self-emptying dialectic is fundamental for Hesychast  wisdom, because self-knowledge is knowledge of God that empties the heart of every fixated notion of God as well as self, which is why kenotic dialectic is radically apophatic without degenerating into nihilism.  

Hesychast wisdom is radical, daily dying, opening to a revolutionary daily living of the timeless life of hallowing glorification.  The wisdom of wonder takes nothing for granted but gives thanks daily for the grace that opens grace to grace, grace opening glory to glory in the timeless presence of the Name.   Jerusalem is nothing if it is not the revelation of the deifying Name, but Athens is nothing if it is not enlightenment, wisdom that discerns self-knowledge in the light of the glory of the Name.  It is said that Socrates laughed but apparently never wept, whereas Christ wept but apparently never laughed.  Desert elders certainly wept but wept with an ineffable joy that laughed as it wept and wept as it laughed.  Wisdom weeps then laughs whilst wonder laughs then weeps, opening wisdom to wonder and wonder to wisdom.  Wonder sustains wisdom by liberating wisdom from sophistry, whereas wisdom sustains wonder by liberating wonder from addictive fixation on wonders.  Miracles dazzle for a moment but may feed addiction for more and more miraculous wonders, extinguishing wonder.   A Socratic questioning of Jerusalem by Athens liberates Jerusalem of its addiction to wonders.  A Socratic questioning of Athens by Jerusalem liberates Athens of addictions to sophistry.  The desert upholds the wisdom traditions of Jerusalem and Athens together in their mutual, reciprocal questioning, well aware that its own addictive temptation will always be to reduce wonder to wonders and to reduce wisdom to dogmatist sophistry.

For this reason, the desert never ceases to question itself, to examine itself, to die to itself, in order to live well in the light of the timeless simplicity of wisdom.  For this reason, elders never forget that eldership is a spiritual function, never an excuse to grasp an inflated status, never a pretext to abuse or impose on others, or to use one another as a means to an end.  Love of enemies was always pointing beyond what was sensible or even possible, indicating that the desert, though IN the world, is not OF the world.  No elder or saint ever thinks she is a saint, just as no elder claims to be an elder or presumes to call herself a saint.  This is because humility continually questions elders so that saints question the vanity that prides itself on its humility.  A daily self-examination is wisdom’s way of dying daily to vain-glory that prides itself on its humility, separatiing awareness from every collusion that proudly confuses sophistry with wisdom, preventing vain-glorious egotism from laying claim to what grace freely gives or what humble wisdom lovingly discerns.  Of course, self-examination without daily dying does not purify the heart, any more than Socratic questioning without self-emptying love can enlighten the vain-glorious mind.  All ancient remedies can descend into the age-old pathologies they were meant to cure, if wisdom remains nominal and glory is deceived by vanity.  The moment wisdom becomes sophistry, glory descends into vainglory. 

Prophecy speaks but in the desert, nobody presumes to usurp the Spirit of prophecy by claiming to be a prophet, perhaps sometimes leaving the mistaken impression that prophecy has died out because nobody persists in calling himself a prophet.  Montanism revered prophecy but perhaps misunderstood the paradox of prophecy without prophets, and in this regard, was itself widely misunderstood.   The desert revered gnosis but did not permit knowledge of God to degenerate into divisive Gnosticism.  Prayer of the heart was valued without separating it from vocal and liturgical prayer, spawning a divisive Messalianism.  When a divisive ‘ism’ is examined and its dualistic separations are questioned, wholesome difference heals division with communion, curing collusive confusion.  Socratic questioning conjoins with Name hallowing glorification that dies daily in order to live well, a union of wisdom and glory that regenerates hearts and minds in radical, even revolutionary ways.  Seers never confuse wisdom with vain-glorious sophistry because genuine wisdom sees through sophistry and exposes its vain pretensions.  Socratic questioning supports humble trust in the glory of grace, opening wisdom to glory in ways that sustain radical openness.

Wisdom discerns the glory of being, the wonder that there is something and not nothing. That there is anything at all and not nothing, is wondrous, inspiring a wonder that awakens wisdom.  Dying daily, wonder discerns the goodness of wisdom, sustaining being with well-being in the light of the timeless being of glory.  The wisdom of self-emptying love grounds the practice of seeing in hallowing kenosis, without which deifying theosis would remain a sterile or abortive abstraction.  Dying daily to all that death releases into glory, wisdom sustains well-being in the timeless being of ineffable joy, transcending all the temporal limitations of happiness.  Dying hourly to the vagaries of optimism, joy nourishes hope, trust in love that endures all the trials and temptations of worldly confusion.  Dying instantly, in every moment, grace opens grace to grace as glory opens glory to glory, liberating obsessive addictions into revelatory joy, as incompleteness transfigures into ineffable completeness.  Joy, like wisdom, is ineffable, releasing the incompleteness of conditioned emotions into the peace of unconditioned completeness.  If Socrates never wept, his freedom was perhaps skin deep, waiting as a lover of wisdom for the completeness of wisdom to be revealed.  If Christ never really laughed, his joy is now complete in all his saints, whose laughter rejoices in wisdom’s love of glory, embracing incompleteness in wisdom’s ineffable completeness.