God, happiness, participation and transcendence

Transcendence and participation.

Those are two modes by which the divine is described relative to the world, everyday life, our ordinary reality.

Transcendence means that the divine is totally distinct, separate, and apart from reality.

For me this corresponds to the sense that there is nothing in life that approaches the meaning and significance of the divine. Not even close.

Participation means that although God transcends the world, the things of this world still participate in his being and his perfection to varying degrees.

There are different ways of defining participation, but for me this corresponds to the sense that emotions like love and joy are closer to God than emotions like fear and anger.

God may be transcendent, but things are still either closer to, or further away from him.

This is significant because people who grow up with a strong sense of the divine may, like melancholic idealists, end up disparaging the world as falling short of the divine in every possible way.

The world doesn’t have enough meaning, joy, purpose or love in it.

And our sense of divine transcendence keeps us locked in this perspective, because the gap between it and our everyday reality seems just too great.

Can we close the gap?

I believe we can. This is implied in the statement “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you”.

It doesn’t negate or diminish the things of this world, but puts them in their rightful place.

My recent discoveries of the relationship between thoughts and emotions and my experience of reality show that the melancholic despair of finding meaning in this world is particular and individual.

The divine is not alienated from everyday life, nor is it withheld in isolation from our daily experiences, our emotions and our thoughts.

We participate in the divine not only in prayer or meditation but also in our thoughts throughout the day, the thoughts that shape how we feel, how we perceive, and what we experience.

The strictly transcendent view of the divine is very much “hiding a lamp under a bushel”, or putting new wine into an old wine skin.

But sorrow and misery – or rather the thoughts that create those feelings – are unlikely to dissipate just because we spend time thinking about a transcendent God.

Those thoughts need to extend to the aspects of life where we suffer or mourn or are frustrated, bored, angry, weary and need rest.

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2 thoughts on “God, happiness, participation and transcendence

  1. St. Peter Damian IRL and as he cameos in the Divine Comedy may relate here.

    You welcome knowledge of the transcendant divine, when in myth, such exposure would obliterate mortals. Kind of like a ‘good’ version of Cthulhu.
    [Exodus. “No man may see my face and live.” The myth of Semele in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Also, Indiana Jones.]

    Perhaps its that ambition that sets your personality type apart.

    But there is the notion that Dante included Peter Damian in the Divine Comedy as a model contemplative because he and Moses used their visions of God to energise them to help others in the real world. cf. Semele, who sought a vision of Jupiter for its own sake and got fried.

    Peter Damian advocated confiscation to alleviate inequality, so … not my favourite Saint, what with me running a higher risk than most of being liberated from the worldly goods I hold so dear.

    Still, something to think about as you try to bring divinity into the real world. You may or may not close the gap, but Peter Damian reckons you’re doing OK by simply re-energising yourself and trying. “… he who is carried away by contemplation should, upon leaving it, be constantly occupied by the affairs of his weaker brothers.”

    Also, Jacob’s [vision of a] ladder to heaven runs both ways (apparently.) You got angels going up, angels coming down… you may want to incorporate that in how you approach the gap.

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