Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A deep shyness

The hidden God. My God is no God shining on an altar in a nimbus of gold-painted spikes, but the hidden God, the God who waits to be disclosed, as we wait -- to find him. Between Him and me what silence, what long preparations and rehearsals, what a deep shyness.
What are we reading here? It might be something by a medieval Christian mystic -- John of the Cross, say, or Richard Rolle. But no, it is from the just-published journals of the eminent critic Alfred Kazin, as quoted in the New York Review.

Kazin was Jewish -- he died in 1998. His reviewer says of the journals: "He has no interest in literal or supernatural beliefs. His messianic faith is his belief in the invisible reality of value and meaning."

I grew up with a God shining on an altar in a nimbus of golden spikes. The consecrated host, the very substance of divinity, displayed in a marvelous gold-spiked contrivance called a "monstrance." As a child I fixed upon the similarity between "monstrance" and "monster." My God was a fearsome thing, who would not have the least hesitation to send my soul to hell if it suited his purpose.

Well, that's all gone now, but not a lingering belief in "an invisible value and meaning." Kazin appears comfortable with the word "God" as the source of these elusive qualities. And why not? The word comes loaded with anthropomorphic baggage, but it bears a handsome pedigree too. The hidden God has a long history among searchers of a more "mystical" bent -- the Deus absconditus.

Clearly, we have an appetite for value and meaning. That appetite may be as much a part of our evolutionary natures as our appetite for food and sex. How we act on that appetite is a matter of personal choice that lifts us out of the evolutionary dynamic. Kazin says as much:
I am more and more convinced that this dimension of personal freedom…is decisive. Only this individual sense of good and evil can abolish the pathetic sense of being a disappointed spectator and onlooker, a reader of historical fortunes.

(Tomorrow I will be in transit to New England. Back on Friday or Saturday.)