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Lately, my classes are all running together, intersecting at the point of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32 and Dionysius. Discussing the Golden calf is fitting in our current political climate—the way we all adhere to our political and cultural ideologies, taking God captive as we pontificate about issues of abortion, racism, and immigration. “These are your gods. O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” So we make work of building the kingdom of God, brick by brick, institution by institution, never stopping to notice the golden residue it leaves on our hands.
Meanwhile, the medieval mystics confront us with the divine darkness—the “no-thingness” of God that breaks apart every attempt to say something theological. The kataphatic nature of Protestantism means we fill the silence with words and concepts. We name the world, name God, pragmatically explaining how the kingdom of God is supposed to work. We frantically run away from every bit of confusion, every form of depressive sadness, unable to recognize the way to God takes us into the darkness of the cross, the sheer silence of negation, into apophatic encounter with non-experience. In a desperate attempt to give voice to what we firmly believe God wants from us, we fail to fall silent in order to receive the revelation of God that breaks down all of our pithy attempt to say anything at all. Here, the suffering and sickness of St. Julian of Norwich, and the “dark night” of St. John of the Cross break open our conceptual towers, demolish our golden statues, so we might receive our lives in this world as a gracious gift of love.
Manifestly, then, none of these ideas can serve the intellect as a proximate means leading to God. In order to draw nearer the divine ray the intellect must advance by unknowing rather than by the desire to know, and by blinding itself and remaining in darkness rather than by opening its eyes. St. John of the Cross