It is in our incompleteness that we are close to God. Show me the man or woman who feels complete and I will show you a very shallow person. The Scriptures tell us that "God is close to the broken-hearted." This doesn’t mean that if you want to be close to God you have to be broken-hearted; but you do have to be open-hearted. But to be open is to be incomplete.
   Imagine a completed circle, with no chink in its circumference. Everything on the inside remains sealed inside, and the outside cannot penetrate. The animate creatures we share the world with are like that: their natures are somehow complete. Birds build their nests the same way, century after century; whatever changes we see in animal behaviour are negligible compared to human change. We human beings are like a circle with an incomplete circumference: what is inside can flow out and the whole world can flow in; everything becomes possible. Four centuries before Christ, Aristotle said that the human soul is, "in a way, everything." That chink in our armour, Christian thinkers said, makes us "capable of the infinite." It is therefore to be cherished, it is to be kept clear, however strong the temptation to settle for less and be comfortable like the animals.
    How we crave to close the circle and be complete! We would use anything whatsoever to exclude that draught from beyond, from the infinite. We would fill our lives with things, experiences, travel, distractions, entertainment, loves and friendships (yes, we are capable of using people as draught-excluders!) None of these, we know, not even love, can exclude the draught forever. In the much-quoted words of St Augustine in the 5th century: "Our hearts are restless until they rest in You."
    We have moments when all our draught-exclusion begins to come apart. We feel empty, and it is a painful experience. It is 3 pm and you don’t know what to do with yourself. Everyone else seems to be so busy, but you feel no will to do anything or go anywhere, or read a book or the newspaper or listen to music, and you are tired of TV. So what do you do? You eat! You fill your stomach but your heart remains empty.
    There is no solution. Why is there no solution? Because there was no problem in the first place! You created a problem out of something that was not itself a problem. In trying to flee from the experience of openness (that chink in the armour) you have created a problem for yourself. The real problem is not the openness but your fleeing from it. It is not a solution to find a new way of fleeing. Instead you must stop fleeing and go back.
    To do this is to meditate. It is possible, of course, to turn even meditation into a way of filling the gap, but meditation itself will show you this if you practise it. To meditate in the right spirit is to sit quietly before God in your incompleteness. It is your very incompleteness that is your most original prayer. Don’t try to fill that empty space with words or forced feelings. Leave it as it is. Forget about yourself and your need to feel complete; you do this by focusing your attention on God. I know that this is not a clear instruction, because God is mysterious and beyond our focus. But as we can know about (and sometimes sense) the presence of a person whom we cannot see, we know about (and sometimes sense) the presence of God; this is enough. Don’t be on the lookout for high feelings: that would probably be just another attempt to close the circle - yes, we are capable, as I said, of using even meditation and prayer as ways of fleeing from God.
    After twenty minutes or half an hour of this you may have nothing much to report. It is quite possible that you were just sleeping and moping, but that would not be as bad as insulating yourself in a cocoon of feelings. It is also possible that you were meditating: holding your spirit in its incompleteness before God.


Donagh O'Shea

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.