Saturday, August 08, 2009

He is Transcendent and Immanent

I remember when I first learned about this idea -- that God is both transcendent (or above and beyond us, far beyond our grasp) and immanent (right here with us, next to us, running in and through us.)

As an atheist, I used to examine the concept of God and think that if God is so far beyond us that we can't even grasp what He's all about, what is the point of a "relationship" with Him? Relationships are supposed to be two-way streets, right?

Conversely, if all God amounted to was a spiritually squishy "He's in my heart" kind of feeling, then what sort of objective Supreme Being could He be? Not enough of one for my skeptical soul. If I were going to follow someone for the rest of my life, He had better be worth following. I've got some pretty great friends, but I wouldn't change my entire way of being for them. 

The idea that God is fully and completely both transcendent and immanent finally brought it into focus for me. Grasping His simultaneous Transcendence and Immanence explained more not only about who God is, but about how He works. It explains the sacraments brilliantly ... through material things, God's Transcendence is brought into our world, used for our good and our salvation. His presence is immanent in water and oil, through vows and words and in what used to be bread and wine. He is both with us and beyond us.

And, it answers questions about prayer, too -- for me, it explains the strange way in which we can talk to a Being who is so far beyond our grasp that we can't fully conceive of who or what He is, but at the same time, feel Him right next to us and even within us.

But it also explains another thing about prayer, and that is how we can swing back and forth between those two extremes. The ideal is to have them both come together all the time in contemplative prayer, but most of us don't live with an ideal prayer life every day. Personally, I'm grateful for the times when it all comes together, and I hang on to them for dear life, because much of the time those consolations are all we've got.

But, I'm digressing, as usual. I wanted to mention a homily that a wonderful priest delivered yesterday. He talked about how familiar we can become with God -- we get into habits, we go to daily Mass, we go about our religious business, but soon we realize that we've been forgetting about God's glory and His majesty. We've been so focused on the immanence, the relationship, that we take His transcendence for granted, or we ignore it completely. Father exhorted us, in those times, to remember His glory -- to call on it ... remember Who He is.

This was such a beautiful and timely reminder, because I think anyone who's honest about her prayer life will admit that the pendulum swings. Sometimes I am fully focused on God's majesty and power -- I am overcome with awe and with gratitude (and, sometimes, tears). Other times, I am chatty and chummy with God -- and there's nothing wrong with that, in its way.  If we don't embrace an intimate relationship with God, something may be lacking. I think it all comes together when we're fully focused on both sides of the coin -- basking in the bliss of God's immanence (though the analogy of lover/beloved is much more accurate than any sort of friendship analogy) while simultaneously grasping His Transcendent Glory is, I think,  a little foretaste of heaven.

The problem comes when my familiar chattiness begins to take center stage, when I start thinking that I can call all the shots in this relationship.

It gets sticky and it's time for re-examination when I begin to take this stupendously, generously immanent God for granted, or take Him to task for the things I think He's not doing well enough in my life. Then it's time to step back and think about Who He really is. He's God, remember Karen? His transcendent, inexplicable, powerful, stunning grandeur is capable of calling all the shots in the end, and He knows far better than I what I need.

Think about Who He really is

When I remember and cling to His Transcendence, and simultaneously ask for and cling to His Immanence, He'll be faithful. He always is.

I'm the one I have to watch out for.


Colleen said...

What a beautiful reminder, Karen! A wonderful and timely post.

Julie said...

Wow, what a fabulous post. I have a lot of people I need to share this message with.

Margaret Mary Myers said...

I've been a Christian all my life and a Catholic for 38 years of those years, and never have I read anything so profound and helpful. This explains so much!

Thank you for sharing, Karen.

Karen E. said...

Thanks, all of you, for your very kind words!

Beth said...

I'm Anglican, not Catholic (well, I consider myself "small c" catholic!) but wanted to thank you for this amazing post. So beautiful and true.
I too remember when the truth of God's transcendence/immanence really hit me for the first time, and how God soaked that reality into my heart and prayer life (as He is so good about doing).I think He is continuing to soak my heart with the truth about who He is, more and more each day.

Daniel Cox said...

I think, Karen, God's immanent presence and the majesty of His presence immanent has the effect of finding myself lost in presence and found in the look in His eyes. He both fills me with trembling and and utter peace.

This has the effect of feeling like I'm drowning and swimming in His grace.

It's refreshing to see I'm not alone...