Seeking ‘black holes’ of intimacy

by John Wijngaards in the TIMES OF LONDON, 14 March 1997

Contemporary society breeds loneliness. It erodes the traditional buttresses to our self worth: family, parish community, cultural group, the friendly neighbourhood, companionship in the workplace. People starve from a lack ofintimacy and healthy friendships. We are ‘the lonely crowd’. We are like Jean-Paul Sartre’s bus passenger standing in a queue with twenty others whom we donot know and do not speak to.

Personal relationships are necessary for survival. They can only be sustained by creating small clearings in our concrete jungle, clearings in which relationships can flourish. Such protected spaces are our home, our immediate neighbourhood, our circle of friends. Within the ocean of the faceless crowd that sweeps us along, we need to discover ‘black holes’ of intense personal belonging– which requires me to make a small diversion.

‘Black holes’ owe their name to the fact that they are so heavy that even rays of light cannot escape their pull. However, the image misleads. When we think of a ‘hole’, we imagine space that is empty. Just the contrary is true. Blackholes are the densest and weightiest lumps of matter in the universe – so dense, in fact, that they can compress the mass of a sun into the size of inner London.

The heaviest ‘black hole’ in terms of relationship is God, the ultimate source of all that exists, three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Of course, images are just images. They limit as well as expand our thinking. A truly transcendent God differs so much from earthly reality that whenever we speak about God, we have to do so in images which never fit exactly. The belief in there being three ‘Persons’ in God is a case in point.

The use of the term “person” in the context of the Trinity is unique, not to say idiosyncratic. It does not mean “person” in the way in which we use the term today. When we speak of a “person” in our culture, we refer to an individual who can independently think, decide and act. If there were three persons like this in God, there would in fact be three Gods. But Christian doctrine, as laid down inearly Church Councils, firmly holds that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are ‘one’ God.They have one intelligence, one will, and one combined external action, if we may use such human terms about God. Father, Son and Spirit possess one divine nature and “are not distinct in anything else except their mutual relationship to each other”, to quote the 15th-century Council of Florence.

The term “person” derives from Greek theatre. A ‘persona’ was a mask which an actor put on to show which character he portrayed. The Greek Fathers of the Church applied this term to the multiple ‘characters’ found in God. What they were trying to express is that somehow, though God is one, God is not solitary.Within the one God there are mutual relationships, radiant faces as it were that reflect one another. Or to put it in a different way: as God reveals who he/she is,we experience glimpses of enormous depth. God, cosmic Mind and uncreate Love, is so intensely personal that we experience God as caring parent (Father), intimate brother/sister (Son) and inner spark in us (Spirit), all at the same time.

If we reflect on our own lives, we should not be surprised to discover thatGod is so intensely personal. Relationships are central to our human existence. In a manner of speaking we live for them. It is intimacy, genuine love, being known by name, being needed by other human beings, that makes our life worth living. But, if this is the case, if the ‘personal’ aspect of existence means so much to us, why should we regard it as of secondary importance when considering the nature of the universe? Does our experience not rather show that the universe itself must ultimately be personal?

Physics may well describe us as a heap of atoms and molecules, but will that convince us that our experience as a person: the acquisition of knowledge, our awareness of self, our giving and receiving love, are of less account? Are we not right to think that our power of reason and our personality are of higher value than the biological infra-structure that supports us? Are we less a person, because we are made up of atoms? Do we feel human consciousness counts for little because the material earth is so much more bulky than we are?

It makes sense, therefore, to discover God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit– as the personal dimension of all reality. Yes, we experience something of the power of God in the eruption of a volcano or the explosion of a supernova, but we meet God even more in every intimate human embrace. It is because God is the personal depth of reality that, as human beings, we are starved when we are fed on bread alone. We need friendship.

The most profound truth that can be stated about the reality of the world is that it is a personal reality. Relationship, and especially genuine love, are the highest aspects of our life. When we enter genuine friendship we feel the pull of our Origin, our Ground of Being, who is not a nebulous force, no blind impersonal energy.