Excerpted from “Out Of The Depths Have I Cried: Thoughts on Incarnational Theology in the Eastern Christian Experience,” by Metropolitan Philip Saliba and Fr. Joseph Allen, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1979
We are never totally aware of how God is moving in our lives, how He is active in our existence. We do know that He is there, that “in Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We are in Him and He is in us. But we are never totally conscious of just how He is there, and what are His motivations for our lives.
The Fathers of the East have known this truth of His “incomprehensibility” and have variously expressed it, remembering that we see, as Saint Paul said, “darkly, as through a glass.” Not understanding completely, we wonder in fact if we can lure Him into doing what we want. We make a “deal”: if this happens, I will do this or that. We sometimes make our faith conditional, even though our faith must be there in spite of what happens – not because of what happens.
We try to comprehend it all rationally, with our heads, but it does not work like that. We know such things not with our heads; we know them with our hearts – we intuit, we perceive, we sense, we experience. This is dangerous, as we will see, and yet it is truly the deepest kind of knowing.
But even with this kind of knowing, God’s existence in our lives remains only partially in our awareness; the rest is out of our awareness.
Of course, the more we mature spiritually, the more we can bring His energy into us, into our awareness, where it can then become expressed in our lives’ acts. We never completely exhaust this possibility because there will always be more; we are never totally “filled up” with God’s energy. Saint Gregory of Nyssa knew this when he said that our search for God was an “endless seeking.”
What he meant is that this energy is always coming to us, always active in us, always emerging, but we can become conscious of it, be aware of it, discern it, only partially. Although our consciousness, that is, our awareness or discernment of God in us, can only be in part, yet it constantly presses for expression.
Because this is true, we believe that God is in the “depths” of our lives as the source, and up from this source flows many forms, seeking always to incarnate His presence. In its face we cannot rest; our reaction to this “flow” cannot be one of fatigue. Saint Gregory of Nazianzos knew this: “Now it is time, truly it is time, oh my soul, to know yourself and your destiny … Look to yourself, oh my soul! Yield not to fatigue.” Saint Antony said, further, “He who knows himself, knows everything,” and Saint Peter of Damascus adds, “To him who has come to know himself is given knowledge of all things.”
This does not happen automatically, however. We, as living and growing beings, have a part to play in making our person available and open to God’s presence. We must cooperate – the Eastern Fathers called this “synergy” – in such a way that the energy of God and the energy of our very selves fuse, raising us to new levels continuously. Unlike some of the more common (yet valuable!) qualities associated with Christianity, there are specific qualities related to the exploration of our depths: surrendering, disclosure, silence, waiting, hoping, remembering, etc. It is through such qualities as these, which we can provide (that is, our part) that allows for the fullest flow of God’s presence (that is, His part) into our consciousness. That flow takes various forms: compassion, forgiveness, love, care – holiness. In this exploration, we shall be mostly concerned with our part out of which we will see God’s part emerging in such forms as these.
These “depths,” then, are not only a receptical for life’s repressed garbage and junk, as Freud thought; rather, as the Psalmist knew, they are also a source from which flows such Divine riches.
Certainly we fear that this experience of our depths is dangerous, because we do not know all that is there. We have, indeed, been warned that there, in our depths, the Evil One himself, the great deceiver, also dwells. We cannot presume that he does not also lurk in these deepest reaches of our souls, pushing always to mix his evil and dark intentions into the flowing of God’s energies. The Desert Fathers knew that our depths seethe with tremendous forces, both negative and positive, dark and light. The dark and negative must also be brought into awareness, and there to be confessed, exorcised and acted upon. But this must not keep the force of light from incarnation; the devil must not keep us from God.
Emphasizing and demonstrating this positive aspect, we must not forget the need to recognize the negative. Our battleground is always “to wrestle against such principalities.”
God wants to be more and more in our lives and it is truly up to us to expand our awareness of Him. Because He not only lives “above,” but also in our “depths,” our attempt must be to contact, penetrate and plumb these depths.
But these depths are not a place in the spatial or linear sense. Rather, they are a potential and a way. What lies in that potential and way is not merely something subjective, something that we have created; it is something objective, something placed there by another, the living God Himself, the Creator who “breathed life into the dust,” placing there His own image. He is the Creator, we the created.
Unlike what others think in the secular, psychological environment, to become more conscious and aware is not here the value in itself; “increased consciousness” is not the aim at all. Rather, it is “pivotal” in the sense that it takes us to something beyond itself. Through increased consciousness we are attempting to develop a relationship with our depths as a way of touching what is shining through them as a transparency of Divinity, that is, the light of another being and life. Thus, what we seek is not an “experience,” but God Himself. What is important is not an emotional, psychological, physical, or otherwise experience, but that our receptivity may be increased. The goal is clearly communion with the Divine; this is what we must seek to “experience.”
Further, also unlike those in the secular environment, we are not attempting to totally control these depths which we cannot, in any case, absolutely grasp. Anxiety over “control” of any aspect of our lives, that is, an overabundance of concern for self-direction, can only kill any fresh and spontaneous reaction to God’s arising message; this can only numb us. Wishing to absolutely “control” means forgetting that we are not our own, that we belong to Another Who shares our direction (and not that we can depend totally upon self-direction). More than that, our reaction is that one, precisely in order to “control,” will engage his life in a stagnating, monotonous, killing repetition, in which case one feels in absolute control (which does not mean that he is in control), closing himself off to any entrance from “other,” God or man. One who can never, therefore, live without the anxiety to control, can never live freely, like “the lilies of the field,” as Our Lord commanded us; one can only deal in those automatic reactions which falsely make him feel in control. Thus, one becomes an “automaton.”
Applying this truth to our exploration, such an anxiety to control the flow of our depths, never allows for that vitality and beauty which can proceed from there, the spirit of which is continually fresh and invigorating. That is precisely what one like Saint Simeon the New Theologian means: “Do not worry what will come next, you will discover it when it comes.”
Rather than control, we want merely to relate to and make contact with our depths, so that we may see disclosed through them the emerging Divine Light. Relating to them constantly will inform our conscious acts and lives, giving us direction in living more fully the Christian existence.
But then, how is one to relate to such depths? The task is difficult since they are not a “place” in themselves. One sees the depths, actually, only through those contents which flow from them. This is a condition synonymous with love, which one truly sees only through the acts which demonstrate and incarnate that love. Otherwise, love has no internal content of its own – it is then merely a word.
The task is difficult, to be sure. More than that, it is fearful; “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:31)
And yet we must! Saint John Chrysostom meant this when he said, “Find the door to the inner chamber of your soul, and you will discover the door to the Kingdom of Heaven.” And again, Saint Ephraim the Syrian knew that God placed in man at creation “all the Kingdom” for which he must dig deeply. Such men know this simple truth: the way “upward” is the way “inward.”
We explore, then, the part that we can play in discovering just what it is that flows from these depths, revealing to us God’s presence in whose image we are formed. It is, after all, from this deepest level of our self, that we can also exclaim, “Out of the depths have I cried.”
This excerpt provided courtesy of Fr. Joseph Allen and Metropolitan Philip.
The text of the 1979 book “Out of the Depths Have I Cried” is available as part of the book “Meeting the Incarnate God,” which is available for purchase here from the Antiochian Village Bookstore.