the rock which is christ
Today’s gospel reading (Mt 7:21, 24-27) was perfect for us in Big Sur, but we have to add some words: The rains fell, the floods came, and the winds blew… then the rocks fell and the road closed! But the road we are really trying to open and keep open is the road to the heart, to the ground of our being. Jesus says that ‘It is not everyone who cries “Lord, Lord” who will enter the reign of God’ but only those who do the will of God. And then he associates that will of God with listening to his words, and we need to build our house upon a rock, and that rock is his words, his Word, the Word, the Logos.
One distinction never really occurred to me until I came here to the monastery and that was the difference between outer prayer and interior prayer, or maybe you could say between prayer and meditation. It’s not that I hadn’t experienced both, I had just never thought to name it that way. I first ran into the distinction when I was studying Fr. Bede Griffiths’ teaching about the difference between the Vedas and the Upanishads in the Indian tradition. The Vedas are all about ritual, sacrifices, hymns, calling out to the gods and to God out there—those who cry out ‘Lord, Lord’?—whereas the Upanishads are about the inner journey. The Katha Upanishad (II:1) says that
The self-existent Lord pierced the outgoing senses and therefore we look outward and fail to see the antar-atman––the inner self. But rare discriminating souls seeking immortality turn the gaze inward and when they do they find the pratyagatmanam––the indwelling self.
We could think of this idea of listening to these words of mine and acting on them again as an outer thing, outer observance, but I think there is another way to look at it too.
I think that the best piece of spiritual advice I ever heard is from Saint Romuald (or at least Fr. Thomas’ translation of it): “Empty yourself completely and sit waiting…” This could apply to almost any spiritual seeker from any spiritual tradition, certainly from any of the contemplative traditions. And I also think it is a perfect description of our Advent practice: we’re spending some sober, quiet days emptying ourselves in order to make pleasant shelter for Jesus to dwell in the cradle of our inner being so as to give birth to Christ in the word anew. The reason I bring that up in the context of this gospel is because of that image of the rock on which we build the house. That rock isn’t just “out there”––those who cry ‘Lord, Lord’; it’s also an interior thing. In the first reading today from the prophet Isaiah (Is 26:1-6, which we sing as a canticle on Tuesday mornings Week II), he says that The Lord is an eternal rock; and remember Paul’s phrase from 1 Cor 10:4: … they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. So God is a rock we stand on, Christ is the rock we stand on, and we build our house on the rock that is Christ, the person of Jesus and his word, his teachings of the Gospel. But this rock which is Christ is an inner experience too. Why that especially applies in this season of Advent, which has a slightly penitential aspect to it, is because the promise of the spiritual life is that if we do empty ourselves completely, if we were to realize what the fundament of our souls is, we would also have an experience of this bedrock on which to build the rest of our lives as the ground of our being. Why that also applies in this season of Advent is because we are speaking of the Logos here, the Word that we believe is made flesh in Jesus.
For Origen, for instance, the “image of God” in the soul is actually an image of that very Logos; the imago Dei is an image of the Word imprinted on the ground of our being, which Origen thought of as primal reason, primal spirit, primal life, and we are only truly alive and grow, he taught, when we are in a dynamic personal relationship with that Logos in the ground of our being; we are only truly alive and grow when we are in dynamic relationship with that image of God in us that is the very image of the Logos. When Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote about this he calls it the “fundament of the soul” and he uses a gorgeous image. He says it’s “like an open window through which enter the illuminating rays of the Logos who is also present in each spirit as personal conscience,” primal reason. (I know I’m mixing metaphors here––the window, the light, the rock, the Word, the Spirit—but God is one, and there are all actually different images for the working of grace in us, like turning a diamond around and looking at its different facets.) There is a part of us that is like an open window through which the illuminating rays of God’s own Word enters us and floods our whole being, body and soul, with light. But we need to empty ourselves of little selves, our false selves, of all that blocks the light in order to let that light shine through us, through our souls, through our minds, even through our bodies, so much so that that word makes a home in our heart. And, while we say we are waiting the coming of our Lord, remember that the Word is actually already in our heart. Paul says, (Rom 10:8, quoting Deut 30:14)––The word is near us on your lips and in our hearts; and Jeremiah has God say I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel; I will write it on their hearts, (31:31) as primal reason, primal spirit, primal life; and we only truly live and grow when we are in a dynamic personal relationship with that Logos, when we are in dynamic relationship with the image of God at the fundament of our being, that is the ground of our being. And we want it to take such deep roots in our being that it becomes something in us: it becomes flesh, and we give birth to Christ anew. We want the Logos to make a home in our whole being.
That’s the rock we build on, the Lord who is a rock, the rock that is Christ, the rock that is the logos, but the Rock that also is the image of God in us, the rock that is our own I AM, the ground of our own being.