Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thoughts on a summer's night

While looking up at the vastness of the nighttime sky, I am always moved by the blackness of space as much as the points of starlight. So much of the universe is empty that the emptiness itself must have meaning.  This makes me think of the Via Negativa, or Apophatic approach in theology, wherein we speak of what God is not, rather than by trying to speak of what God is. While both are needed, I have found over the years that this form of theological reflection is generally humbler and often more honest than its positivistic opposite, though it is much more illusive and less immediately comforting. However, like the great vastness of emptiness in space, it can have the oddly satisfying effect of making clear the reality of our own relative importance in something so grand, so mysterious as existence.

All of this is expressed quite well in a poem by R.S. Thomas, the Welsh priest and poet:

Via Negativa

Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm. We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection.

Call it the “divine darkness” Moses encountered on Sinai, or the “way of negation” practiced by so many of the greatest Fathers and Mystics, but don’t be afraid to look into the emptiness between the stars. That is the space left for wonder, possibility, and faith.