We have heard a lot about distance in the last few months. Social distance has been lauded and praised and considered essential for safety. Hospitals and Nursing Homes have been in lockdown, isolating a lot of sick people and elderly from their families and friends (for their own benefit). The natural openness of the child is frustrated by masks and distancing and virtual education, as though a computer screen can ever take the place of a swarm of kids playing and horsing around!
As a lot of our diversions are called-off and we have a little more time on our hands, we can get close (not distant) to our friends with a call or a card; we can spend more time on our prayers; and we can eat together with our family in a deeper way. Simply put, we can generally reap the benefits of this time to balance all the distancing directives and to work on deepening our relationships.
There is always a tendency for us to give ourselves over to passive enjoyments like binging on Netflix or Amazon Prime. But I have found that it can also be an opportunity to take nice walks and to be more humanly present to others (even while masks understandably and charitably seek to separate us).
And then there is our relationship with God.
Traditionally, there are two ways of approaching God. Warning: technical terms approaching!
The first way is the cataphatic way. This is the way that is mediated by the creation around us. In this way of seeing the road to God can be through a sunset, in a baby’s smile, through working through a math problem. All roads lead to God when you try to see Him in the ordinary details of living. Sometimes, people involved with Mindfulness find God at the end of a purely secular run of being in the present. As the poet Hopkins put it, all things are, “charged with the grandeur of God.” This is one very valid and truly time-tested way to a closeness with God.
There is a second way that almost seems to say the exact opposite: Everything we see and can experience is definitely not God, for God is completely and totally ‘other’ than creation, including we human beings, caught in the reality of the created. You cannot make any affirmation about God, for God is beyond anything we can say about Him, and any attempt to describe Him. To picture Him or to make any affirmations about His being is to be in the work of idolatry. Even the word ‘God’ gives us a false impression (as does the masculine pronoun Him). Our very concepts of God are hopelessly mired in earthly reality and can never approximate an understand of who God is. This road is called the Apophatic way (also called the Via Negativa). The only things we can say about God is what He is not.
The major proponent of this understanding was St. John of the Cross who, through his writings, advises the seeker to hold onto nada (nothing) and to wait in ‘naked faith’ until the Almighty reveals to us the barest part or intimation of His Being. While this approach sounds a bit scary, it keeps God free of any concepts that are not divine and are superimposed on God by us.
In a mystical way, we can always rely on the simple way to come to God: Through love of our neighbor (see this Sunday’s Gospel). For Christ said that anything we do to the least of our brethren, you did it to Christ (Mat. 25:40). So, the more loving we are, the more in contact we are with the True God and not a figment of our imagination.
So, whether we are seeking social closeness or Theo-closeness, there are a variety of ways to get there; but the destination is the same. For God is in each other, but not the way we think!