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Raids on the Unspeakable
By way of introduction, a few words from Thomas Merton—some advice addressed to his Raids, here adopted for our own.
The Unspeakable. What is this? Surely, an eschatological image. It is the void that we encounter, you and I, underlying the announced programs, the good intentions, the unexampled and universal aspirations for the best of all possible worlds. It is the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said; the void that gets into the language of public and official declarations at the very moment when they are pronounced, and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the abyss. … It is the emptiness of the “the end.” Not necessarily the end of the world, but a theological point of no return, a climax of absolute finality in refusal, in equivocation, in disorder, in absurdity, which can be broken open again to truth only by miracle, by the coming of God. Yet nowhere do you despair of this miracle. You seem to say that, for you, this is precisely what it means to be a Christian; for Christian hope begins where every other hope stands frozen stiff before the face of the Unspeakable. I am glad you say this, but you will not find too many agreeing with you, even among Christians.
Returning once again to Berdyaev—perhaps you would concur with this statement of his (from Dream and Reality): “Eschatology is not an invitation to escape into a private heaven: it is a call to transfigure the evil and stricken world. It is a witness to the end of this world of ours with its enslaving objectifications…” Personally, I am not too sure that all “objectifications” are “enslaving” and I know your existentialism is not one of pure subjectivity. As to the world being “evil,” that too needs to be qualified. … The goodness of the world, stricken or not, is incontestable and definitive. If it is stricken, it is also healed in Christ. But nevertheless one of the awful facts of our age is the evidence that it is stricken indeed, stricken to the very core of its being by the presence of the Unspeakable.
Those who are at present so eager to be reconciled with the world at any price must take care not to be reconciled with it under this particular aspect: as the nest of the Unspeakable. This is what too few are willing to see.
Well, we accept that particular statement of Berdyaev’s only with reservations. How about this one: “The practical conclusion derived from this faith [eschatological Christianity] turns into an accusation of the age in which I live and into a command to be human in this most inhuman of ages, to guard the image of man for it is the image of God.”
You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent. You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be the substance of your message? Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God. You agree? Good. Then go with my blessing. But I warn you, do not expect to make many friends. As for the Unspeakable—his implacable presence will not be disturbed by a little fellow like you!
Abbey of Gethsemani