Daily Meditations

The Mystery of the Person

Individuals can be classified or grouped. But the person is always unique. It breaks groups apart; it is itself a breach in the universe.

To begin to discern the mystery of the person, we must push further the parallel between negative theology and negative anthropology. God is ‘greater than God’, beyond all affirmation, even beyond all negation. The Depth is revealed as the Lover who transcends his own transcendence and comes to seek for the ‘lost sheep’ – the whole of humanity and every single one of us – and to become for us the ‘bread of life’.

The true name of the living God is the one he took for himself when on the cross he revealed himself as Love. Negative theology leads us to the paradox of the crucified God, the unapproachable God who while giving himself totally yet remains veiled by the very brilliance of his light. The more we find God, and the more we seek him, the more deeply we are brought into the inexhaustible mutual exchange of the One in Three.

And as, through Christ, this life of the Trinity is shed abroad, we find the same thing happening in the way we know our neighbor. The person, set by its very brilliance beyond the reach of rational analysis, is revealed in love. This disclosure surpasses all other ways of knowing a human being; it requires prayer, attentiveness, even to the point of dying to oneself; knowing a person is unknowing, the darkness of night made luminous by love.

Then, momentarily at first, we see the open face, that place where nature most readily allows the person to show through, first by the transparency of the eyes. For a moment, the face is seen, not weighed down by nature, but in God. Then we see everything from the opposite side. The person, far from deriving its meaning from the world in which it is immersed, suddenly illuminates the world by its presence and interprets it to us. The frets of time and pain on our flesh, the weariness which drags it down, the wrinkles which wither it, all become a miraculous sign of a personal existence. Our capacity for astonishment is renewed and refreshed.

‘The tree was almost covered in snow; its twigs and berries were half iced over. Two snow-laden boughs reaching out to him in welcome reminded him of Lara’s long white arms, their beautiful generous curve. He clung to them, pulling the tree towards him. As if in answer the rowan tree let fall a shower of snow which covered him from head to foot. Not knowing what he said, he muttered, “I’ll find you, my beauty, my princess, my rowan tree, my treasure, my love'” (Boris Pasternak. Doctor Zhivago Ch.12).

It is always tempting to judge rather than to accept. We are always labeling other people. If we are labeling them we are no longer seeing them. By knowledge, especially knowledge of other people, we achieve self-assurance, or the justification of our desires. Every form of sadism has been justified by collective hatred. The torturer and the perverted lover have this in common, that they wish to possess a person. But one can only possess corpses. True knowledge of someone else that is unknowing, demands at the same time risk and respect. God has not truly known the human race except on the cross.

An infinite vulnerability is the condition of this unknowing, where the more the known is known, the more it is revealed as unknown.

From Olivier Clement, On Human Being: A Spiritual Anthropology