The Ravello Dialogues - Part 5

MAUDE ON THE TRINITY THE WAY OF NEGATION

(This seems to have taken place later that evening. The sun was setting. We walked close to the house. Someone was playing the guitar in one of the cloister rooms. Was it the girl whom I had noticed amongst the tumblers in an earlier afternoon?)

MAUDE

The process of composition is a means of meditating on the creative spirit in the world. It makes no difference whether the music is attempting to convey an experience or describe an object, or whether the music is purely music, following its own nature. Music is part of the same world, and it is drawn towards its form in the same way as natural things or lives are drawn to their forms.

Music is an exemplar of the creative process in nature. Though the artist is seemingly the creator he can only follow the same creative spirit which works in everything.

I

I certainly feel that anything good that I do is not my own work. I could even say that thats a way I can judge whether the thing was worth doing. If it doesnt feel like my own work it probably has value. So I have no qualms about ascribing anything of value to an outside agent.

MAUDE

I am very pleased to hear it. All artistic creation should come from a state of humility. Even if it is not a completely sincere one.

I

Well, I can easily feel humble at the same time as enjoying a little pride in my work sometimes. Im no saint. If I were I might be humble enough to do nothing. Perhaps all art comes from our itching at flaws, like the pearl in the oyster shell.

MAUDE

The process of composition is a meditation on the nature of the process and a participation in the work of the creative spirit. It can also, of course, be a meditation on the experiences which may have "inspired" the work. Perhaps that isn't an appropriate word. I should say "the experiences which suggest the work."

I

Do you allow inspiration in this working of the creative spirit?

MAUDE

Indeed, but I reserve the term to mean those moments of knowledge or energy when the spirit works at its clearest or most open in the soul.

I

When it all seems to come naturally.

MAUDE

Yes, exactly meaning the moments when the artist is most aware that he is acting with the spirit. Could this inspiration be the real reason why people are driven by a desire to work so hard? These moments of delight in the work itself, or found in the subject on which the artist is meditating in his work?

I

Yes, I think so. The desire to do all this painful and exhausting work (which it certainly is) must be driven by something very powerful these sparks of delight when the thing comes together, when there is a touch of inspiration, in the genuine sense.

MAUDE

Is this delight found in the work the same as the mystery you sense in the world that sparks the desire to work?

I

You can sense mystery in beauty, or in a sense of hidden meaning in the world. Yes. Its the sense of that creative spirit at work, or of a form or meaning in things.

MAUDE

The same mystery, the source of delight, is in the spirit, the active working energy, and in the form, or meaning?

I

Yes.

MAUDE

This is your experience?

I

A very real experience.

MAUDE

I am very pleased to hear it. Could this be, then, an experience of what I would call the Word in nature and the Spirit working towards form?

I

I see, you are thinking of the Holy Trinity or two of its three "persons". Not an easy idea to grasp.

MAUDE

But you have grasped it and everything you do is driven by it.

I

The Word being?

MAUDE

What you think of as the form or meaning in things. You have already said that all the infinite forms seem to work towards unity. They are parts of one unity. This form or meaning is, to me, the Word that was made flesh in Jesus Christ. Whether you accept our gospel literally or not the meaning can be understood. This Word is in the world, as the form and meaning.

I

I tend to think of the second person of the trinity as the Son, as the man Jesus.

MAUDE

Perhaps it is more helpful to think of it as "Word," which may mean God's law or meaning. Jesus is that Word made Flesh. The Trinity existed before Jesus was born of Mary and the Holy Spirit on earth. He is the Word, and the Word is Jesus Christ.

I

I find the Word easier to believe in than the man.

MAUDE

I can understand that but you have no problem believing in, and experiencing, the Trinity?

I

No. Strange. What of God?

MAUDE

God is Being, the source of everything. God is the easiest to believe in. If things have being, then being must exist. If things are good then Good exists.

I

That's a very abstract kind of God.

MAUDE

Are the trees, your landscapes, your symphonies, your loves abstract?

I

No.

MAUDE

Yet you experience God in those things. Is Jesus Christ abstract?

I

Is Jesus Christ is simply a way of thinking of God in human terms?

MAUDE

Simply? Perhaps Jesus Christ is simply God being in human terms.

I

We have arrived at a point at which I can see that the Platonic view of creativity has actually been refined by the Christian. A possibly nave theory in Plato, of ideas, a way of explaining why things have form, has been developed by later Platonists and perfected by theologians. This idea of the Trinity seems to be far closer to actual experience.

MAUDE

I am not against your Platonic ideas. The Countesss dear friend Marsilio worked hard to show that they were consistent with his Dominican theology. The Ideas seem to be a way of understanding this sense that everything grows towards a preconceived design a design in the Mind of God. Thats how experience presents the process.

Dionysius, Pseudo-Dionysius, in the 5th century suggested that all Ideas, all the infinite variety of possibilities, grow from one source, the Word.

I

That seems like a very good way of understanding it. Everything is unique and varied, and yet shares a common origin. All meanings hold one meaning in their core. Yes, I think that idea is very good.

MAUDE

Not all Dionysius's ideas (whoever he was) are quite as helpful. He defines the simplicity of God, in the Divine Names, but is unnecessarily baroque in his hierarchies of angels. These things are ways of understanding. Always provisional. I know of a Jewish scholar who wisely said that "God is amorphous." We can never define God, only attempt to find words that help us understand him.

I

Or she? Or it, or them?

MAUDE

Always one, Sir! We may amuse ourselves with personifications of aspects of God, or of natural qualities but there is, surely, by definition, only one Unity. Anthropomorphic terms for God are purely a way of understanding - and are often the cause of confusion. As you can clearly understand the persons of the Trinity are ways in which we experience one God who is ultimately simple, but infintely creative. God's love is also God, and the Word is God's image that love flows too, but infitelt diffusive love must also flow generously outward, and that is the cause of Creation. Fundamentally we, as Christians, think of God as infinitely diffusive and creative, not a static "Good" as the Platonists may see the "One".

I

Yes, I understand. I am very impressed by the concept that all Forms or Ideas are infinitely varied forms of one Idea, which you call the Word. I can look through the music to its individual form and sense that one Form beyond it, as its source and the thing that drives variety to create infinite expressions of Unity.

MAUDE

Each individual thing, when it is truly itself, participates in Unity. Each individual thing is a reflection of that one Word, as each individual person is a reflection, or perhaps a projection, of Christ. You see we know God as human when we are truly human ourselves. We are not remote creations but part of this wonderful working and showing of God through love.

I

I think we used the phrase (it was actually Maude's phrase.)

"Love draws all things to their form in the mind of God." Ultimately they are drawn to be images of God, through the Word. The Spirit draws them. Love draws them.

It seems a pity to abandon the idea that the ideas or forms of everything exist in God's Mind. We seem to be saying that it's not as if the form of individual things somewhow pre-exist but more the general principles of how things should grow towards unity, or truth.

MAUDE

All these ideas are merely ways of looking at it. To Bonaventure the vestiges of God in things are reflections of God's Goodness, Beauty, or Truth - but things only have Goodness or Beauty or Truth when they have become something which is true to itself. By becoming an individual thing, or work, things reflect God's qualities. So all things, by being drawn to become themselves, are drawn to these divine Ideas.

I

And yet, in a way, when an individual thing becomes what it should be it feel as if it has always existed in God's Mind.

MAUDE

This is merely playing with words. If you like to think of the forms of all things existing you can. But we mustn't think that everything we do is pre-ordained. We have the freedom to work towards these forms if we wish - and though all forms which reflect God are alive with the desire for unity there is a infinite variety of possibilities.

I

We are all driven by this powerful desire to create, or live, which may be the same thing, but we can very easily fail.

MAUDE

But how often is that failure, which I would call Sin, the cause of a greater good? Without the freedom and variety there would be no life. Can you imagine any world which was free of all darkness? Surely there would be no life or creativity. It would be a monstrous and dead image of the Word, whereas we know that the Word involves death and pain in its wonderful creativity. I would say that complete freedom is an essential part of the working of the Trinity. Things have freedom to evolve.

I

Indeed?

MAUDE

Surely creation is continuous. If you can follow a vocation, so may a species. Your symphony may grow to a seemingly pre-existent Idea in the Mind of God and yet be constantly revised. So may all things. God is eternal so all beginnings end endings are eternally present to him. And with what joy and love He must watch his garden grow! Everything is constantly forming new works with n ew expressions of unity in infinite diversity. Or so it should be if we are not too destructive. Ultimately God's Judgment, which may be an artistic judgment, may produce a new world where everything is at unity in itself.

I

I understand. I like the idea that the Last Judgment may be a matter of artistic selection! But even now, when we walk in this world and hear that hidden music, the meaning in the world, we find we are walking in paradise here on earth. I am not sure whether we have rediscovered Eden, in which we know the true names of things (all derived from the one Name) or whether we are living already in the New Jerusalem, heavenly kingdom. These are the delights that keep us travelling and fire our desire. Sterrys pilgrim was travelling too.

MAUDE

That hidden music is delight?

I

It carries those sparks of delight that illuminate the world in a new way.

MAUDE

These sparks may create in you a desire to compose, but they are also treasures that you can dwell on in prayer. To me they are more precious than the world. These intimations of God can be remembered and meditated upon. This is the first stage of Bonaventures Journey of the Soul into God. This is the start of the negative way of prayer. We meditate on those signs or vestiges of God. We find those same signs, that same music is in our soul. We try to bring our whole mind into the pure love that those glimmers remind us of and we peel away everything from our memories and souls that is not that simple love until all we know is God and meditation becomes silent contemplation.

This is a hard way, but wonderful. We are inspired by experience of God in the world to reach to nothing but God. Some touch that simplicity of pure love for a moment, some touch eternity.

I

I can appreciate that but I worry that its abandoning the world, or devaluing the world, and the world needs us.

MAUDE

How can it be when it is dwelling on the very essence of the world?

I

This can sound very, if you dont mind me saying so, airy-fairy.

MAUDE

I apologise. This ascent, the negative way affirms the reality of the world because we can only climb the ladder by being what we are. Also this enlightenment, or joy, that we touch is something we bring back with us.

I

Oh I don't like the idea of people going round enraptured and wearing inane grins.

MAUDE

If they do it is because they are deluded. Its one of the sure tests of the truly spiritual. The truly spiritual person descends to the world with absolutely clear love, seeing all clearly and one can always know that it is genuine enlightenment because it is open to everyone, its an infectious joy.

You should read the Cloud of Unknowing. All the dangers of delusion are there. The worst danger of the negative way is that they peel away only the things they dont like dwell on the God they want to see rather than strip away everything. In the same way the followers of the Affirmative way think God is only in the easy things, the superficially beautiful when they should see the whole.

I

Light and shadow, concord and discord. Yes. I feel the Affirmative way is for me, at the moment at least, though there are times when I feel that truth or rightness in what Ive done or in life and that perhaps nothing else is necessary.

GO, IF YOU WISH, TO PART 6