Emptiness: Stepping into the Mirror
Perhaps God’s name is a mirror that simply and silently waits. It waits to be seen and heard. It waits to be what is looking at it, to be what is listening to it. Perhaps God’s name is a mirror waiting, a reflecting invitation waiting for our true reflection to be seen, and our true name to be heard, truly and compassionately.
I wish to explore “Engaging Emptiness” as both the thin place and the activity that occurs there, between organized religions and our individual personal expressions of the sacred.
I will play with the image of mirror. I will use the word “contemplative” as one engaged in a longing…loving…looking.
In his essay “The Mystery of Shared Intent” Gerald May in the Winter 1999 issue of Shalem News writes about the institute’s early days when several people shared a longing but had no name for it. He writes: “The simple experience of being together in silence was deeply affirming and was enhanced by working together at various practices, sharing our experiences, and uncritically listening to one another.”
This is a lovely way to begin something!Mirrors give back what they are given. Usually, just as it is given – same colors, same size, same time. Mirrors are very faithful, troublingly so. Some days what they return seems wonderful in appearance. Some days, just awful. Mirrors are many, and they are everywhere.
Richard Rohr, in Raven’s Bread (Nov.1999) a newsletter subtitled, Food for Those in Solitude, writes he’d spent last lent in hermitage “…looking until my eyes were filled and thinking escaped me. Then, at last, I knew by not knowing. And I knew Him. And ‘I’ was of no concern.” Rohr wrote that:
It was good, for a change, to be a ‘Clandestine Christian’ – to return to the One Mirror, where all is mirrored in truth and compassion, without all the distractions of group think and group identity and group polarizations. I wonder if this is not the way through our present morass within churches and in our cultural hall of mirrors. What else will clean the mirror?
Rohr shares a quote from a Moslem mystic, Ibn al-Arabi, (1165-1240), that, Rohr says, delighted him for days on end while in hermitage: “God sighs to become known in us. God is delivered from solitude by the people in whom God reveals himself. The sorrow of the unknown God is softened through and in us.” Rohr concludes by saying: “That’s enough work for all our remaining years. All we can be is transparent and vulnerable. Our authority will be the authority of those [who] have passed through – and come out the other side – dead and alive.”
Richard Rohr leaves the “mirror image “ there. I want to take it one step further for this Thin Place Reflection. To engage emptiness, that open space between organized religion and personal expressions of the sacred, we step into the mirror, or the “One Mirror.” What does it mean to step into the mirror? It means that all reflecting-of-other is done away with. It means that there is no you, no I, to be reflected back. This is not an eradicating or destruction of what we typically think of as “me” – rather, it is a recognition of our true identity, what Jung called the Selbstverwirklichung, “the Self realizing itself.” Jung wrote in “Conscious, Unconscious, and Individuation,” in the Archetypes and the Collective Unconsciousness, that:
If stepping into the mirror were possible, would it be a desirable thing to do? And even if desirable, who would do it?
I think the contemplative would do it. I think the contemplative, (the word might be translated “the longing loving looker”) would enter his/her very looking, and grow tired of trying to find something, or if found, tired of trying either to possess it, or even describe it. The contemplative would, in the words of Hui Neng, no longer look at something, but as something, no longer look at reality but as reality.
The contemplative desires to step into the mirror to accomplish 3longings:
To be one as God is one and all else is one, that is, awake to
one’s true nature. (And here I caution myself that I am not talking of
some vague or overarching engulfing “One” into which we fall, losing what
we’ve known as our separate selves, our individual egos). Rather, to become
one, as each is one, as God is one, is to be what the Japanese word Jitai
means, to be Itself). To be “itself” is to be what one is. Often
this is called one’s “true self.” This entails a loss of comparison or
contrasting, object relation, dualistic thinking, not-good-enough, not-there-yet.
It is also an arrival, or, if you will, a gain, (although there is nothing
to be gained).
The contemplative steps into the mirror so as to see, truly, what
is to be seen.
3. Lastly, by stepping into the mirror, the contemplative is finally safe and sound, able to do what it is they long to do. I suspect the contemplative longs to do what they are, they long to be what they do. No five year plans, no more sorting out and through what accumulates as distress, and sickens as lies, no more being terrified by potential loss (of security, of self, of sanity). Stepping into the mirror eventuates the wholeness of being/doing. You are what you do. You do what you are. Martin Heidegger said that “To save means to set something free into its own presencing.” His notion of “saving” and being safe are intriguing.
These three longings: to be one; to truly see; to live safe and sound – are these the longings “engaging emptiness,” the longings and the activity of what-is-between? What value in stepping elsewhere, in moving from appreciating other to realizing no-other? If there is something further to do, what is it?
Esther de Waal in her book Living With Contradiction tells when John Howard Griffin, a biographer, was living in Thomas Merton’s hermitage at Gethsemani, he wrote:
De Waal goes on about Merton’s photography:
Thomas Berry in his book Buddhism tells of the 7th century saint, Santi Deva, saying that in this “…saint of Buddhism one of the most profound trends within the entire tradition came to its own final fruition. It was the desire not only to experience but in some manner to become identical with the entire order of things, to be immersed in the highest experience possible of the total order of things even though this was eventually a world of sunyata, of emptiness. Indeed it was precisely in this final mystery of things, this emptiness that is somehow a fullness, that Santi Deva found his final life experience:
I will cease to live as self, and will take as myself my fellow-creatures. We love our hands and other limbs, as members of the body; then, why not love other living beings, as members of the universe? …Make thyself a spy for the service of others, and whatsoever thou seest in thy body’s work that is good for thy fellows, perform it so that it may be conveyed to them. (Barnett, tr., Path of Light)
In Conclusion, this image, this metaphor of stepping into the mirror, is the act of engaging emptiness, the itself of each and all. Religions hold what have been the cultural understandings at differing times of human evolutionary history and consciousness. Religions are the repositories of Faith as captured and conveyed to the present. They represent many reflections in many mirrors.
Correspondingly, as individuals who have also had encounters with the sacred in forms and expressions that perhaps are more varied or, at least, not the same as the particular reflections conveyed by established religions – there are a great variety of reflections mirrored (even in this very room tonight) whenever people gather to tell where they’ve been and what they’ve seen. For each of us to try to recount or perhaps even remember and connect with the multitudinous manifestations of the sacred, clandestine encounters with the divine – would be a wondrous use of our time with each other. It would also be a huge hall of mirrors, perhaps like Indra’s Net, a net of jewels reflecting each and the other, back and forth in a sparkling display of the innumerable manifestations of sacred life. These are lovely tasks, and many future conversations.
Between the two is that which sounds like the words German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about love: “Love is when two solitudes greet, touch, and protect each other.”
Between the two is the Mirror-Itself, which, when stepped into, is a resplendent and engaging emptiness. Not a frightening emptiness, but an engaging emptiness that greets each one in their distinctive solitude, touching the reality that they are, protecting and making safe by allowing each the freedom to be, uncritically, what each is.
Perhaps, stepping into the mirror, we will transparently, in God’s-Name:
1. be the sound of our own True Name, and
It is an empty passage. It is a going without knowing.
There is a Japanese poem that suggests this not-knowing moving with the name of God. The image of crossing what-is, completely engaging what-is, simply and silently:
I can only imagine the smile of joy on the boatman’s face in such a passage, on such a path -- looking, listening, waiting!
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