07 September 2008


In about 1971, I think it may have been, Susan and I were friends with a young couple in the church we attended then - I think his name was Dennis; I can't remember hers. One day sitting in his lounge, he showed me a little card and said there was a picture hidden in it; to me it just looked like a lot of black splotches on a white background. Susan (naturally!) saw what it was immediately, and was about to blurt it out, but Dennis said "wait!" For the next several times I was in his lounge, I would stare at the picture - still just black blotches. Finally he took pity on me and said that it was a picture of Jesus - supposed to be a photograph of melting snow on a footpath that miraculously showed a picture of the Lord (I do not vouch for the truth of the story :-)). I still couldn't see it. Well, he and Susan became frustrated. He pointed to this and that feature on it. Well, now I could see how they could decide that was what it was - like someone seeing a cloud and saying that it looked like a horse or whatever. But - really - it still looked like black patches on a white background. One day we were talking about something else. I glanced at it. Flash! I could see it, and - of course - I could never thereafter not see it. No doubt you have seen it before:

This week-end Susan and I were at a retreat given by Father Dominique Faure (I may have his last name spelt incorrectly - I have only heard it pronounced, not seen it spelt) of the Community of St John (http://www.stjean.com/EN/Jeu_accueil.php). He spoke on the book of the Apocalypse ('Revelation') - but what he spoke of was what he called the purification of the intelligence.

When we use the word 'intelligence' in English, we tend to mean what the philosopher sometimes call 'discursive reason' - the ability to 'connect the dots,' as it were, in a notion, to 'think things through to a conclusion.'

What Father Dominique is referring to is the ability to see - to take in an external reality directly. We know this and that about a person, for instance. We can tell you the colour of his eyes and hair, what he likes to eat for dinner, the sort of books he reads.

But knowing the person is something else. The sort of 'seeing' that I finally managed with that little picture is that sort of seeing. It is sometimes called, in philosophy, 'contemplation.' It means knowing a thing directly, as it is in itself, not just as it has impressed us.

This is very difficult. It is quite easy to miss this in our own experience. We often fail to know the persons we love because we are often in love with an image in our own mind, one we have created out of bits and pieces from our experience with that person, but often with material we have made up out of our own self-interest.

And we often know God in just this way. We often are directing our attention to God to just such a created idol. In fact, it is, I suspect, inevitable in this life that we should do so. We are always struggling more or less to free ourselves from such idolatry, to remind ourselves that God is not the same as our idea of Him.

It will not always be so. One day we shall know even as we are known. We shall see Him as He is - for we shall be - God grant it! - like Him. Then we shall not fail to know every other thing as it really is, for we shall know every other thing - and ever other person - as they are, in Him.

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