I have a strong desire to express myself. If I’m walking down a road above the ocean and I have an idea, I want to share that idea, and the road, and the waves. That’s where God is for me, in the moments, and by writing them down or talking about them I become more aware of them, I begin to pray them, and maybe if someone else hears about them or reads about them they too might feel God’s presence.
But there’s a counterforce in the spiritual life: the need for “hiddenness.” For “secrecy.” This keeps coming up in the scriptures, again and again
Indeed you love truth in the heart,
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom. Psalm 51
When you pray, go into your room
and pray, and God who is hidden, will reward you. Matthew 6:6
For I have died, and I am hidden now in Christ. Colossians 3:3
I find this both frightening and deeply attractive.
Keeping secrets can be a bad thing, of course. It often is. But this is something else. This has to do with the danger of spiritual pride. We don’t want to be in relation with God—we want other people to see us being in relation with God. We want to be admired.
This has to do with the danger of not really believing in God and so it’s as if we’re speaking into a void, emptying ourselves out for nothing.
In this sense to let go of our need for recognition is an act of faith, it’s a spiritual practice, and it’s not even letting go of recognition finally. It’s believing that God knows us and sees us. God loves our poems. God loves our journal entries. Imagine how freeing that would be, to really believe that God is with us!
But there’s something even deeper. We all accept that there’s a subconscious, a realm where psychological forces determine our actions in ways we are never aware of. That’s why they call it the subconscious: it’s below our awareness. But lately I’ve started to realize that there’s also something like a spiritual subconscious, a level deep inside of us where God is operating and shaping and transforming us even if on the surface we feel flat and dry and even desolate. How can there not be? God is a mystery, beyond all language, and that mystery includes us, too, inside and out. We are made in his own mysterious image.
It’s not just that God’s action in our hearts is hidden from the world: it’s hidden from us. Even we don’t know our own secret.
St. Augustine talks about the great “cavern of memory,” which he imagines as bottomless.
Gerard Manley Hopkins says the mind has “cliffs of fall, sheer, no-man-fathomed.”
Thomas Merton says “without a secret there is no contemplation.”
We are the secret. You are. I am.
And the road, and the waves. The memory. The idea.