Monday, August 29, 2011

"I have sunk my hearing in the deafness of mortals"

"There is a tale that a man inspired by God once went out from the creaturely realms into the vast waste. There he wandered till he came to the gates of the mystery. He knocked. From within came the cry: "What do you want here?" He said, "I have proclaimed your praise in the ears of mortals, but they were deaf to me. So I come to you that you yourself may hear me and reply." "Turn back," came the voice from within. "Here is no ear for you. I have sunk my hearing in the deafness of mortals."

This vignette of 'divine encounter' is told in Buber's 'Between Man and Man' (that being German should more accurately translated 'Between human and human [or person and person]').

By it Buber wanted to suggest that any word we might want to speak to God will go astray if it does not include address to one another, that all true, living speech, is that which sees the other person, reverences the other person, as God's image.  God is found in the everyday, and if God is not so found, God cannot be found at all.

It is no use 'being holy' and failing to respond to the woman at the Sainsburys checkout as a person!

My natural impatience was explicitly reminded of this on Saturday,  when coming around the corner of an aisle, there was an elderly woman restocking some of the shelves, and our eyes caught each other and she launched a simple, beautiful smile, that lit her eyes glancingly, and ignited mine. It was one of those moments of simple encounter that are divine.

Buber's whole work could be seen as how do we take seriously in our relationships and our society that each unique human person is a divine image bearer, and the whole world is a speaking forth of God. This puts a great weight on the world that it appreciably fails but I keep returning to it as the standard.

It could create (in me at least) considerable amounts of guilt, except that it also reminds that you are always 'greater' than the sum of what presently rests on your heart. Guilt may be present but the 'I' always contains possibilities of transcending it, work through and past it.

You always had to be specially cautious of the people in prison with whom I worked if they told you that they were guilty - I am guilty often meant that their whole 'I' was wallowed, subsumed in guilt feelings. There was no space in there to work on restoration and transformation. What was important was the guilt, not the challenge that guilt represented to become yet other, to restore their true depths as a human being.

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