Today’s poem, for me, draws out the paradoxical relationship between knowing God and not-knowing God. The one who is closer to us than our own breath is also the one who is always beyond the limits of our human language and experience. Millenia of Christian traditions exist around this paradox, and the quest to know (and not-know) God, including the ‘unsaying’, the ‘via negativa’, which Carys Walsh mentions in today’s chapter. All of these traditions can draw us further knowing God, even as all of them are, necessarily, inadequate, fallible ways of approaching the divine.
Thomas seems, in this poem as elsewhere, to draw on two traditions which may seem to be in tension with each other. The apophatic (‘without words’) tradition approaches God in silence, and awareness of the limitations of our knowledge and our language. The kataphatic (‘many words’) tradition, by contrast, approaches God with a multiplicity of images, titles, names and words, layering them over one another in acknowledgement of the inadequacy of any human language to capture the fullness of God. Both these traditions are, I think, helpful, and when they are used together as in Thomas’ poetry, the tension between them itself reveals something of who God is. Our awareness of the un-knowable nature of God draws us deeper into knowledge of God.
This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading “Frequencies of God: walking through Advent with R.S. Thomas” by Carys Walsh. Join the conversation on Twitter using #AdventBookClub or on Facebook by searching for the group ‘Advent Book Club’.