Unless we start out with a feeling of awe and astonishment – with what is often called a sense of the numinous – we shall make little progress on the Way. When Samuel Palmer first visited William Blake, the old man asked him how he approached the work of painting. “With fear and trembling,” Palmer replied. “Then you’ll do,” said Blake.
The Greek Fathers liken man’s encounter with God to the experience of someone walking over the mountains in the mist: he takes a step forward and suddenly finds that he is on the edge of a precipice, with no solid ground beneath his foot but only a bottomless abyss. Or else they use the example of a man standing at night in a darkened room: he opens the shutter over a window, and as he looks out there is a sudden flash of lightning, causing him to stagger backwards, momentarily blinded. Such is the effect of coming face to face with the living mystery of God: we are assailed by dizziness; all the familiar footholds vanish, and there seems nothing for us to grasp; our inward eyes are blilnd, our normal assumptions shattered.
From Met. Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Way.
There are several forms of mystery, particularly spiritual mystery, in our culture. One of them enjoys speaking of God in mysterious terms, for so long as God remains mysterious then nothing certain can be said about Him, nor can anything certain be said to us. Thus, such a mysterious God is very comfortable, for we are left only with our spirituality, and only a very vague God.
Another form of mystery is closer to the “whodunit.” It is the mystery of simply not knowing. If left at this point our relationship with God, like the previous form described, simply becomes another means of hiding from God.
Then there is Bishop Kallistos’ Mystery “[like a] sudden flash of lightning, causing [us]to stagger backwards, momentarily blinded.” As His Beatitude notes, “such is the effect of coming face to face with the living mystery of God.” This is not an encounter that leads us to a spirituality or to an agnosticism – but rather to a true knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Such an encounter is that of creature before His Creator – such an experience never leaves us unchanged.
Our Creator has revealed to us a Way of Life – a Way that allows us not only to know Him, but also to be slowly conformed to His image by grace. Our relationship with God does not exist to meet our religious needs (there are no such things). It exists to make us truly human – and as a truly human person – to conform us to the image of His beloved Son. Nothing less.
Metropolitan Kallistos tells the story of his own conversion – how he dropped accidentally into the Russian Cathedral in London on a rainy day and found himself in Paradise. What a fortuitous flash of lightening. May God bless all those who stumble into His path and grant them saving knowledge of the living mystery of God.