One who seeks to comprehend God is like someone who finds himself on a mountain ridge. Imagine a sheer, steep crag, of reddish appearance below, extending into eternity; on top there is this ridge which looks down over a projecting rim into a bottomless chasm. Now imagine what a person would probably experience if he put his foot on the edge of this ridge which overlooks the chasm and found no solid footing nor anything to hold on to. This is what I think the soul experiences when it goes beyond its footing in material things, in its quest for that which has no dimension and which exists from all eternity. From here there is nothing it can take hold of, neither place nor time, neither measure nor anything else; it does not allow our minds to approach. And thus the soul, slipping at every point from what cannot be grasped, becomes dizzy and perplexed and returns once again to what is connatural to it, content now to know merely this about the Transcendent, that it is completely different from the nature of the things that the soul knows. — St. Gregory of Nyssa
Today I was, for whatever reason, overcome by an overwhelming sense of God’s immensity, along with a sense that the unthinkable vastness of our cosmic home is but an inkling of that immensity. As you saw in my opening quote, to give voice to this inner intuition I turned to St. Gregory of Nyssa. He always delivers. But whenever I try to articulate a deep intuition like this, I always feel I am somehow carrying out, to use Thomas Merton’s expressive phrase, “raids on the unspeakable.” As if I am doing violence to something that is better left in silence. So what I will do to minimize my act of violence is share three artistic works that seem to get at what I’ve sensed today: (1) a textual selection from the Liturgy of St. Basil, (2) a 7 minute NASA recording of “cosmic music” and (4) Cynthia Clawson’s rendition of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (with lyrics below video).
If you have a few minutes, I hope you can allow all three to sweep over you.
How great is our God.
Master, Lord, God, worshipful Father almighty,
it is truly just and right to the majesty of Your holiness
to praise You, to hymn You, to bless You, to worship You,
to give thanks to You, to glorify You, the only true God,
and to offer to You this our spiritual worship
with a contrite heart and a humble spirit.
For You have given us to know Your truth.
Who is worthy to praise Your mighty acts?
Or to make known all Your praises?
Or tell of all Your wonderful deeds at all times?
Master of all things, Lord of heaven and earth,
and of every creature visible and invisible,
You are seated upon the throne of glory and behold the depths.
You are without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible,
beyond words, unchangeable.
You are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is the great God and Savior of our hope,
the image of Your goodness,
the true seal of revealing in Himself You, the Father.
He is the living Word, the true God, eternal wisdom, life,
sanctification, power, and the true light.
Through Him the Holy Spirit was manifested,
the Spirit of truth, the gift of Sonship, the pledge of our future inheritance,
the first fruits of eternal blessings, the life giving power,
the source of sanctification through whom every
rational and spiritual creature is made capable of worshiping You
and giving You eternal glorification, for all things are subject to You.
For You are praised by the angels, archangels, thrones,
dominions, principalities, authorities, powers,
and the many eyed Cherubim.
Round about You stand the Seraphim, one with six wings
and the other with six wings; with two they cover their faces;
with two they cover their feet; with two they fly,
crying out to one another with unceasing voices and ever-resounding praises…
Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand
Ponder nothing worldly minded
For with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to Earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand
At His feet the six-winged Seraph
Cherubim with watchful eye
Veil their faces to His presence
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Hallelujah, Lord, Most High!”