Holy Envy

Column by Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers on 1 December 2022 0 Comments

For the last six weeks, my congregation in Norman, Oklahoma, has been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s wonderful book, Holy Envy:  Finding God in the Faith of Others.

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I consider myself a good person and I want to remain a church-going Christian but I find that living a Christ-centered life can be a difficult struggle - is the struggle worth it?


Dear Reader,

Is the struggle worth it, you ask?

I think that life is always a struggle and especially when one commits to including one’s conscience along the way.  Jesus never said life was easy, nor did he say, “Blessed are the comfortable.”  He did say, “Blessed are those who comfort others” however.

As for being a “church going” Christian, it depends very often on what the church or assembly stand for and how they do it.  I often find myself somewhat bored going to church—too much reading and being read at, too little silence or simply listening to being and not words.

Sometimes I find myself yearning for some silence and meditation but instead I get song after song after song being read from books.  One wonders if the liturgists ought not to consider this news Rilke offered us  over 100 years ago, “the work of the eyes is finished now.  Go and do heart-work on all the images that are imprisoned within you.”

More heart work, less eye work.  I suspect this is one big reason that many young people avoid church and seek out yoga or other spiritual practices that are body-based and more than reading and eye-based.  One yearns for some deeper experience than can occur strictly in the light—for some acknowledgement therefore of mystery and darkness and silence.  Of the Apophatic God, the God who is “superessential darkness” (Eckhart) and not just the God of Light.

Consider for example these teachings about the value of silence (including group silence):

“Nothing in all creation is so like God as Silence.” (Meister Eckhart)

“I feel closer to what language cannot reach.”  (Rainer Maria Rilke)

“Language cannot do everything—
chalk it on the walls where the dead poets
lie in their mausoleums.” (Adrienne Rich)

“O silence, golden zero
Unsettling sun
Love winter when the plant says nothing.”   (Thomas Merton)

“This word is a hidden word
and comes in the darkness of the night.

To enter this darkness, put away
all voices and sounds
all images and likenesses.

For no image has ever reached into the soul’s foundation
where God herself
with her own being is effective.”  (Meister Eckhart)

“Yet no matter how deeply I go down into myself
my God is dark and like a webbing made
of a hundred roots, that drink in silence.”  (Rainer Maria Rilke)

“In this temple of God in this the divine dwelling place, God alone rejoices with the soul in the deepest silence.  There is no reason for the intellect to stir or seek anything, for the Lord who created it wishes to give it repose here.”  (Teresa of Avila)

I think following Christ is less of a burden when we give silence and nothingness its due.  As the Taoists put it:

“Tao is beyond words
And beyond things
It is not expressed
Either in word or in silence.
Where there is no longer word or silence
Tao is apprehended.”

Substitute the word “Christ” for Tao and this teaching works equally well.  (See Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 132ff)

~ Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox




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