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“In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being”

There is One Being, Who knows Himself and sees Himself.
He dwells in Himself,
And from Himself sets forth.
Glory to His name.
This is a Being Who by His own will is in every place,
Who is invisible and visible,
Manifest and secret.
He is above and below.

This hymn was composed by Saint Ephrem the Syrian, called the Harp of the Holy Spirit.  It masterfully illuminates the paradox of our faith: the Eternal Being is at once “invisible and visible, manifest and secret.”  He is simultaneously the Hidden One and the Glorious One, impenetrable darkness and unapproachable light.  

One of David’s haunting oracles tells us: “He made darkness His secret place; His pavilion round about Him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies” (Psalm 18:11).  This notion that God is shrouded and obscure occurs throughout Scripture.

Some claim that God does not exist, and they are technically right, for God exceeds such categorization.  Saint Dionysius says of the Divine: “It is the Cause of being to all, but Itself is not, as being beyond all substance.”  This philosophical language attempts to express the impossible: the Unspeakable Reality subsisting beyond existential boundaries.  The Creator transcends those dichotomies which force creatures into the snare of either/or (i.e. something or nothing). Rather, as Sovereign of All Being, He is both/and (i.e. One and Three).

Our perception of God is limited to His Uncreated Energies.  The Essence of the Divine remains absolutely mysterious.  Saint Basil muses: “‘The Activities are various, the Essence simple. But we ourselves say that we know our God from the Activities, but do not venture to draw near to the Essence Itself. For His Activities come down to us, but His Essence remains unapproachable.”

The radical Ipseity of the Divine is shown to Moses in the Name of Names: “I AM WHO AM” (Exodus 3:14).  This most awesome insight remained the highpoint of revelation until the incarnation of the Word.  Even today, the entire enterprise of human knowledge amounts to a grain of sand next to the Holy Name, a veritable mountain of meaning.  Yet it be a mere spark from the flame of the Infinite.  

Later, when Manoah asks the same question, hoping perhaps for a deeper look, he is firmly rebuffed: “Why ask you thus after My Name, seeing It is secret” (Judges 13:18). Yes, the Name — that is, the Essence — of the Three-and-One is the Secret Above Secrets.  Not only is It unknown, but unknowable. We can never grasp It; at best we can immerse ourselves in It.

This is precisely why we are called to love God.  In the face of His utter transcendence, the wisdom of the world withers away.  Only love can lead us to union with the Immortal One, for “love never fails” while “knowledge passes away” (I Corinthians 13:8).  Love alone endures the violence of sin.  Love alone binds God to man and man to God in the theanthropos Jesus Christ.  Love alone is the mystical balm of Gilead which “makes the wounded whole,” as the old African-American spiritual proclaims.  Paul is clear that the vision of God is not of the mind but of the heart.  And the Lord confirms: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).  In and through love, we come to know fully, even as we are known (cf. I Corinthians 13:12).

Our souls desire nuptial intimacy with the Living God.  Yet we are fearful, and rightfully so, of His total Otherness: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).  Are we really capable of communing with such a Being?  The intellect wavers.  Only the heart — saturated with the Holy Spirit, moved by the passion of the God-Man, fixated on the glorious Father — dares proceed.  

Thus we appreciate Saint Paul’s exhortation: “Know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).  The Absolute is actualized in love.  “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (I John 4:16).  Through the Trinity’s harmonious ministrations, we engage in an endless exchange of dynamic love and creative wisdom.

We encounter, bit by bit, the obscure Otherness of the Divine through our new existence in Christ.  “You are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3:). The Lord’s transcendence is ‘immanentized’ by His work as Sustainer and Renewer.  All things are filled with the Uncreated Energies of God, especially human beings (cf. Philippians 2:3), and so drawn as by gravity toward the Incomprehensible Center.  God is the All-Present because He is the All-Powerful: “Both in heaven and on earth, all things whatsoever He wills, He does” (Psalm 113:11).  

O God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit! 
Lover of Souls, You are Three-in-One and One-in-Three. 
You are beyond space, beyond time, yet nearer to me than my very heart. 

Most Merciful and Most Compassionate, Most Mighty and Most Jealous. 
Unchanging One, full of light and love, You are the Truth and the Reality. 
You energize within my soul and subsist beyond the reach of my imagination. 

O Incomparable! O Unspeakable! O Beloved! 
 Let my mind rise to You. Let my spirit fly to You. Have mercy on me! 
Allow me to glimpse Your face, O Eternal One! 

You are past. You are present. You are future. 
You fill everything, yet everything seeks You. 
You are found everywhere and nowhere. 

You are Something and Nothing. Sweet One, knowing yet unknown, 
grant me the perfect peace of Your endless embrace,
and the joy of Your secret kingdom. Amen.


Philip Primeau is an associate editor at Catholic Lane. He also blogs at a-heart-of-flesh.blogspot.com. He may be contacted by email at philipryan.primeau@gmail.com.
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  • noelfitz

    Who Am is a being whose essence is existence. Simple! Isn’t it?