Recently in a blog I borrowed a line from one of Donovan’s songs from the ‘sixties (First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.) and translated it into, “First there is a God, then there is no God, then there is.” I was addressing the need to recognize that we learn a conceptual god early in our life, and must lose that god if we are to know God. Someone has actually written a book about this subject, Anatheism: Returning to God after God.
Richard Kearney delved into religion, philosophy, and literature to address the need of undergoing loss at some point in one’s spiritual development. This loss, known in theology as kenosis (or self emptying) is articulated elegantly by Etty Hillesum, and quoted by Kearney:
One has to free oneself inwardly of everything, of all existing representations, of all slogans, of all comforts. One has to have the courage to let go of everything of all standards and all conventional certainties. One has to dare taking the giant leap…then life will be endlessly overflowing, even amidst the deepest suffering.
And Hillesum knew what she was talking about. This was not an armchair hermeneutics exercise for her—she suffered persecution in Germany for being Jewish and eventually died in Auschwitz in 1942 at the age of 29.
T.S. Eliot wrote in The Four Quartets that we must be willing to “live in the breakage, in the collapse of what was believed in as most certain, and therefore the fittest for renunciation.” The thing most certain for some—god—often needs to be discarded so that—God—might surface.
It is only in loss that we come to know our Source intimately.