St. Augustine wrote his autobiography, his Confessions, as one long prayer. Rather than talking about God he spoke to God, making his readers into eavesdroppers on a mental stage. In Bk. 10 he tells how he converted to Christianity in middle age, after a youth of philosophical searching, longing for sacred power, and various sexual loves and losses. He says, “Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you. You were within me, and I was outside, and there I sought for you . . . in the beauties you have made. You were with me, and I was not with you. . . . You flashed, you shone, you scattered my blindness. You breathed perfume, and I drew in breath, and I pant for you. I tasted, and I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burn for your peace.”
The beauty both ancient and new–or as a seventeenth-century woman poet put it “so fair and yet so old”–can come to people’s awareness either early or late in life. For myself I would say, “Long have I loved you, Beauty yet so new. You were in me, and with the end of childhood I knew you.” An eight-year-old on my way to piano lesson, walking and singing a hymn, I stopped dead still, God-haunted. You were with ‘me.’ Yet that ‘I’ was not the I who speak now. I look back as if distantly remembering some other person.
Maybe between us two also stretch something like layers of logia–a mind’s and body’s own ‘sayings’ of itself. Mine are bits of hymns and verses that resonated in youth and still do: “I come to the garden alone.” “There is therefore now no condemnation.” “He does all things well.” Their trajectories go back, blip by blip, through body time, with the layers having been made of charges fed in from days and ways, nights and loves, as those played off the chora loved into me the baby by a full-hearted mother and grandparents, while my father was away at war. And the pain of disjunctions–anyone’s starts and bumps and hurts–made gaps of non-meaning that always had to be recrossed, with the energies of bodies, at every stage of the remaking of those inner logia.
For the forging of communion in church, when Christ moves down onto the cross, into the chalice, and the mind moves upward in love, likewise a gap is crossed, as if across a phase-change (gas to liquid, or ice to water). Or, as in the connecting of new-forming neurons in the brain, a synapse emerges–across from the desiring one into a fund of love, ready to flow, with brokenness being the impetus of love’s moving. It is just as the ovary breaks open its outer layer or epithelium, tears it open, in order to release an egg down into the womb (that tissue must then heal again and again). Desire calls from the one waiting with thirst, and desire of the many who have lifted the chalice before, on back to a storied Jesus, cradled in the minds of earliest lovers of his sacramental body, and still further back to a village rabbi who taught non-violent claiming of dignity, in a God-haunted malkuth or ‘kingly reign’ of lived out struggle–and was executed for his pains. The light from shiny surfaces of the chalice may go to a neural center coded in early childhood, when we went through a mirror stage, according to the shrinks. The stage of first learning to think “I” and “myself” by recognizing a piece of our body in a shiny surface. And that left us broken, cut off from our mother–the thinking “I” is even cut off from the self-image (the me-myself seen in the shine). So we were launched into knowing and words. The glistening from the chalice take us back close to home.
From the other angle, from the future of sacred time, the rabbi Jesus is always out ahead, drawing, shining, beckoning. Whether a moment sorts for someone as early or late, it can take on all the fullness of Christ, “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”