"O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
— Collect for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Book of Common Prayer
This collect exposes profound paradox and ambiguity in the Christian life. In it we come face to face with the complex interplay between prayer and belief, between “the law of praying, [and] the law of believing” — in Latin, lex orandi, lex credendi. In other words, when we truly pray this collect we wrestle with praying what we believe and believing what we pray.
Two significant and fundamental structures of Christian existence in this world then derive from the moral and existential paradox and ambiguity of the Incarnation. These structures of Christian being pertain to (1) knowledge or experience of divine realities in this existence and (2) to our attachment to mundane realities in this life.
A first essential to grasping and faithfully embodying true Christian existence is realizing that in this life we know those transcendent realities only fragmentarily and obscurely. Inasmuch as the Incarnation is a painful or complex affirmation of this world, wherein we recognize this world as home and as the locus of divine activity, we expect to know God’s presence in this life. Yet experience of divine realities is not a seamless continuum of rapture and radiance. Nor does such experience always yield manifest clarity and certainty about divine activity in quotidian matters. Although the Incarnation truly signifies and incorporates the revelation of God’s love and activity, yet there remains a hidden quality about this disclosure, about this love and activity, and about our resultant life in Christ. As with a church’s stained glass window, light at times illuminates and conveys storied graces in form and color. At other times, absent of light, the window recedes into a shadowed obscurity of flat form and senseless color.
A second essential of faithfully acknowledging and persevering in this life while yet anticipating the next is understanding that in all our grasping of this life must also be our letting go of this life. That is, the very animus and character of Christian existence consist in the dynamic of ever laboring to sustain that which we must let go. Unless we were to give up on this life and resign ourselves to destitution and death, we must grasp at this life in love and desire, but in the very act of grasping we must apprehend the passing of the objects of love and desire. Our attachments in this life—which we must make—must finally be provisional, partly because death will come, but even more because we must not idolize created objects. Hence, the imperative in the attaching and in the loosing is both existential and moral. So we Christians spend our earthly existence laboring for and making attachments to those things—family, friends, denomination, country, land, and more—that we must finally detach ourselves from; and we must even now will the loosing of those attachments.
From the Incarnation then we take into our hearts the truths of creation and redemption, of judgment and affirmation in divine love. We find that our translation into the sphere of God’s grace is real here and now, yet it does not effect our immediate exemption from this world of great sorrow and great beauty. Thus we learn most sharply and profoundly the paradox and ambiguity of Christian existence in this life.
Paradox: because we who are most enjoined to seek and embrace the next world are at the same time those who are most enjoined to embrace this world.
Ambiguity: because in all we experience in this existence there is an ineluctable admixture of mundane and transcendent realities, of depths of sin and heights of glory.
Therefore, in but not of this world, we work out our faith in true Christian existence, ever praying that we may love and desire divine realities in all things and above all things.