Student – “Everything is God and yet nothing is God.” I just don’t understand that!
Teacher – You mean you’re mind can’t understand it?
Student – Of course my mind can’t understand it.
Teacher – Then stop trying to get your mind around it and just experience it.
Student – Ah, I understand now.
The mind is an amazing tool. It can help us reason through and see things that at first glance are terribly complex. However, the intellect to the contemplative can be a hinderance. Now, before people start going overboard and saying that you have to turn off your mind to believe in God, let me delve into the shackles of the intellect. Keep in mind, I am not calling for mindless Christians or those consumed with blind faith. God gave us a brain and the ability to reason for a reason. Who are we to look down upon a gift from God? Still, there are dangers to that gift.
For instance, in an abusive relationship, the one being battered often reasons out to a great extent why the relationship is still OK. They reason to themselves to the point that they no longer see any great damage being done. This is a simple defense mechanism. The mind shields the individual from the pain that they are in. The mind can reason away what is really there.
So what does this have to do with contemplative prayer? Everything!
We are so geared to be mind-centered individuals, to hold the intellect above all else that we tend to loose touch with the gift of experience and emotion. We are very mindful people, but not very compassionate people anymore. The intellect tends to rule us and even go to great lengths to shield us from spiritual experience. So at times, in order to experience the Divine within us, we must find a way to short circuit the intellect.
Enter the paradox. The paradox offers a twist that the mind can’t grasp. In the apparently contradictory statement of “Everything is God and yet nothing is God,” the brain siezes up. In that moment we have the chance to understand the paradox through experience. As soon as the brain locks up we have a chance to sit within our hearts. There we grasp the reality of God in everything yet nothing really being God. In our hearts we know what it means. Experience is undeniable no matter how the intellect may twist and contort the words. The intellect can prove anything, regardless of actual truth. Any politician that makes his or her living on weaving words for the intellect to digest is proof enough. But as soon as we allow our hearts to understand through experience, then we have proof that no amount of rhetoric or intellectual dicing can cover up.
So let us revel in the paradoxes that we find and enjoy the brief respites they allow us from our over industrious minds.