Excerpted from “Out Of The Depths Have I Cried: Thoughts on Incarnational Theology in the Eastern Christian Experience,” by Metropolitan Philip Saliba and Fr. Joseph Allen, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1979
What can we say of Jesus and our depths? What is needed to let his presence flow forth? To touch the Christ that lives in our depths, we must experience like the child and the poet. These are the ones who live with their hearts, who will see the kingdom. “Lest ye be like the children.”
Why do we now emphasize the need for childlike and poetic qualities? A child is a poet who has not been taught. A poet is a child who has not been spoiled. St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man most fully alive!” But life is never lived – never really lived – until we can experience the beauty of the cosmos.
We have referred to experience, good and bad. A child and a poet are sensitive to experience in the valuable sense. It is how they relate to life. Experience is the most immediate consciousness of reality; it tells us exactly what is happening to us when we and reality touch.
Experience is the memory, the record, the impression of life on a person. Experience happens when a child runs freely into the world and is confronted with pain and joy. Experience happens when the poet beholds the sea and the mountains and allows the words which capture them to mysteriously pour forth. Experience is not learned as such; it is lived, if we let it. As we have said, it can be misused. But then, so can the name of God, faith, scripture, sex. In spite of that, experience, like that of the child and poet, is how we best locate Jesus flowing from our depths.
And of the poet? What can we say of him? No poet is bound to an age, confined to a country, living in one dimension. He sees life in colors. He hears the world singing a song, and he sings his response. He is open to transcendence, and he expresses it in rhythm, tears, and laughter. The poet strains for mystery and light.
We must be children and poets if we would experience Christ incarnate in our lives, because we must touch the immediacy of life again, as at Creation itself. We must no longer be strangers to our depths, to all that is there, our emotions, tears, grace, tenderness. If we have lost touch with these qualities of our depths, with the nearness of God, it is because we have ceased being the child and the poet. If we have lost touch, it is because we have come to value efficiency rather than tenderness, to manage life rather than to feel it, to surrender devotion rather than to develop it.
But it is the only way to truly see: with the devotion of the child and the poet. When we live after Jesus, the air is full of the smell of such true devotion. Devotion was Jesus! Likewise, we know that God is three persons because of this inner expression of devotion, one to another, in such a love relationship.
This is the greatness of Jesus. With devotion he gives himself to those who need him, rather than to those who have all they need. He was concerned with a few loaves and fish, with dreams and Fatherhood, with hopes and flowers. He sought these realities because they revealed life’s deepest meanings, meanings that are alive to child and poet, alive in the depths of our lives.
With devotion came touch, which is the incarnation of devotion. Jesus touched life when he touched the blind and lepers, John the beloved and Judas the traitor. He let life touch him. Mary of Magdala touched him. Thomas the doubter touched him. The soldier with the spear and Joseph of Arimethea with the spice touched him.
With devotion – as child and poet – Jesus saw life rather than things, mystery rather than possession, something to serve rather than to sell.
Because Jesus’ heart is a poetic one, one who follows him sees rightly with his heart, a heart that in devotion seeks to die for that which it loves. The heart of such devotion seeks to surrender, to be open, even to search out that to which it presents itself as a gift. Jesus is in our depths because he shared the same human experience as us. He ran along the dusty roads of Nazareth, sailed the Sea of Galilee, prayed in the mountains, wept for Jerusalem, promised eternity to his disciples. With devotion he came to us.
And with devotion – as the child and the poet in us can engender – we must continually incarnate his life in our own lives. Then, and only then, will we become Christian.
We shall become Christian on that day when, like the child and the poet, sunshine means more than acquisition. We shall become Christian on that day when the poor call us to action before the parliament. We shall become Christian on that day when we use our hearts to measure the worth of a human being, when pride surrenders to openness, when possession surrenders to emptiness, when greed surrenders to forgiveness.
We shall become Christian when we are joyful because we have discovered love rather than success, when we make poetry and music, when we make Christ human again in our humanity. We shall become Christian when we allow Jesus to come to us and through us – from our depths.
We shall become Christian when we are able to cry like the psalmist, “Out of the depths have I cried.”
This excerpt provided courtesy of Fr. Joseph Allen.
The text of the 1979 book “Out of the Depths Have I Cried” is available as part of the book “Meeting the Incarnate God,” which is available for purchase here from the Antiochian Village Bookstore.