There is a lot of talk in contemporary theology and philosophy about what a “self” is. One wonders how much of it Paul would have been able to follow, or care about for that matter. But he does have something evocative to contribute: your life, your “self,” who you truly are, is something that is “hidden with Christ in God.” Whatever there is about human identity that can be objectively known, measured, predicted, observed, whether by the Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, the tax man, or the omniscient squint of your most insightful aunt, there is a foundational core of what we might as well call identity that remains hidden from scrutiny’s grip and somehow utterly caught up in God, “in whom we live and move and have our being,” in whom our very self is immersed.

Precisely because our deepest identity, grounding the personality, is hidden with Christ in God and beyond the grasp of comprehension, the experience of this ground-identity that is one with God will register in our perception, if indeed it does register, as an experience of no particular thing, a great, flowing abyss, a depthless depth. To those who know only the discursive mind, this may seem a death-dealing terror or spinning vertigo. But for those whose thinking mind has expanded into heart-mind, it is an encounter brimming over with the flow of vast, open emptiness that is the ground of all. This “no thing,” this “emptiness” is not an absence but a superabundance. It is the fringe of love’s cloak (Matt 9:20). “Where can I run from your love; where can I flee from your presence. If I climb to the heavens you are there, there too if I lie in Sheol” (Ps 138:7-8).

Martin Laird. Into the Silent Land. A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, Oxford University Press, 2006. 13-14.

I started reading this book while on retreat. It is not long (154 pages) and accessibly written and could be read in one sitting although that hardly seems appropriate for the type of material that it deals with. It comes with glowing recommendations, among others from Rowan Williams, and was highly recommended to me from someone whose judgement I respect, although someone else whose judgement I also respect was rather disappointed with it. At the moment I am reserving judgement and shall attempt to formulate my reaction and the issues that it raises for me in a later post. I was particularly interested in it as I have questions about the place of wordless, imageless prayer in the Christian tradition and am not really aware of a work that addresses this in any deeply probing way. Laird has a background in Patristics (he has written a book on Gregory of Nyssa) and I was hoping that he would do so, but I’m not sure if he really does. I shall write about it more fully when I’ve finished it, but I’d also be interested to know if anyone else has read this book, and, if so, what your reactions are.