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Christmas with Rilke


[Τὸ ἴδιο κείμενο στὰ ἑλληνικά]– Instead of wishes for these days and the year to come, let me offer you a poem we can read together. Rilke says, as in a warning: Do not wait, God to come to you and / “I exist” to tell you. The recipient of this warning is not necessarily someone who expects the divine visit, but also one who lost even a scant interest and despises faith because supposedly God, if He existed, would show Himself to eliminate surely and simply any denial or hesitation. Theologians say that God respects our freedom and doesn’t want to impose Himself exhibiting His undeniable power. Faith is not the purpose, but the Union with Him, so that, if this Union is impossible, faith has lost the prospect of any meaning.

Between these two the difference is not small. Respect for human freedom is not an abstract or primary principle of divine ethics, but it arises necessarily out of the absolute priority of meaning. This means that in the absence of faith an atheist is more able to live a meaning.

Meaning can not be complete or even pure if it has not grown to the point of consciousness that exists in love, but even thus it is beneficially existing to some extent, perhaps very small, which would be completely annihilated, if God drove infidelity away by imposing Himself: Meaning kills, the greater the fear is. Such is the explanation of Rilke to the one who expects a divine visitation in order to believe, as well as to those who blame God for His absence, justifying, supposedly, their own disbelief: A God, who manifests His strength, / has no meaning at all.

Such a God destroys the meaning of even a hardly true existence, since, by showing His strength, not only loses His value completely, but He presents the absolutely insignificant as absolutely powerful. But why and when a revelation of His identity turns against His value? Because we know that He manifests and reveals Himself to Saints, and we don’t say then that He loses His value. To put it differently, what is the property of holiness through which God allows Himself to be revealed, when the revelation of His power is not in danger of becoming a sovereignty of the insignificant? You must know, Rilke says, that God is blowing inside you, / from the very beginning.

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1 Comment

  1. Stavros

    Superb post. Thanks for introducing me to Rainer Rilke. Kαλή Χρονιά to you and your family. Best wishes for continued success of your efforts.

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Three Millennia of Greek Literature