I grew up near the coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean about 10 minutes from the beach. It was mesmerizing to stand on the shoreline shading my eyes, when as a child I’d gaze at the vastness of her beauty. Years later, I would make an Ignatian Long Retreat (the experience of the Spiritual Exercises over a silent, immersive, consecutive 30 day period) at the same beach; what a gift to behold what the moon and tide do to a shoreline over the span of a month! I watched this living, breathing entity model for me what it means to fully surrender to the Creator.
Karl Rahner, a Jesuit German theologian, and one of the most influential minds of the 20th century, was also captivated by the sea. Perhaps it was as an effective, fluid balance to his rigorous approach to life, faith, and church.
Rahner spent much time explaining to others what God was not, in a concerted effort to get his students out of their heads. As humans, we seek to acquire knowledge of God the way we acquire knowledge about everything else in our lives. We learn the boundaries and the shapes of things in order to categorize the information. Thus, many of our ideas of life, people, and the Divine have historic, situational parameters. Rahner once said, ‘Knowing God is more important than knowing about God.’
Ignatius pushes us to consider God in a similar way…using the intellect, but not as the end to the exercise, but as the means. Imaginative contemplation becomes the bridge from the mind to the heart, prying our fingers off our heady ideas by offering a rich alternative.
Like Ignatius, Rahner helps me use my imagination to paint a picture. He offers me a living metaphor that resonates so completely it remains a recurring image for me of how I visualize my journey toward and within the Divine. In one of his efforts not to define God, Rahner famously mused that God is mysterious, like an Infinite Horizon.
At this point in my life, the Divine presents less like a Rock upon which to build than as Rahner’s metaphor of the open sea…an ocean with an endless horizon.
Taking the long view, I picture my spiritual progression as climbing into a small rowboat and paddling out on warmly familiar waters, full of anticipation of what I already know I will find on the horizon. Logically, an infinite horizon is endless. Thus, I keep paddling and paddling. The horizon seems to move forward. Why does the God I love feel just beyond my grasp?
This has been a personal experience at critical times in my life. Situations that groan for intimate connections with the Divine and yet seem, when I can’t imagine how, that God invites me to move forward without the consolation of a sense of Presence. The more I work to get to the horizon, the more ocean there is, and the farther away God feels.
Why then, should we consider this powerful image when it may simply feel like a horrible tease? Two things come to mind. One, imagine if I could actually row to the horizon and cascade over the edge. What exists there? Pause with this thought. This would mean that ‘the earth is indeed flat’ and that all I had previously known to be true and steadfast was questionable
The second consideration builds on the first. If I decide to commit to this journey of what I think I know but likely don’t have a clue, the magnetic nature of the Infinite Horizon necessitates the surrender of my oars and the map I have made for myself, demanding that I relinquish control over projected moorings and destinations. I am called to the deepest kind of faith.
Perhaps it is only in rowing over the edge of my knowing that I allow God to be for me what I never dared to consider before; what I was afraid to hope possible. Here, I surrender to the beckoning of a God who has eternal knowledge of me and seeks to draw me further and further ‘out to sea.’ At sea, there is only God. God is all there is.
The image of God as Infinite Horizon becomes for me an occasion to ponder what I first experienced on the Long Retreat. What can I learn from the sea and the way the tide erodes the beach upon which I build my realities? The sand beneath my feet shifts as my life and relationship with God ebbs and flows, but the model of the ocean sustains my imagining of God as one who is alive, vibrant, and full of surprises. A God who caresses the shore upon which I stand and invites my total trust to wade into the infinite deep.
- Pray Psalm 139, especially verses 1 – 18, as a foundation for your deeper reflection today.
- Allow yourself to be led into the deep through Becky’s SoundCloud Ocean Meditation
- Lift your heart with the gentleness and warmth of composer Dan Schutte’s voice as he makes his song, You Are Near, his prayer.
- The British Jesuit website and APP, Pray As You Go, offers a simple exercise on how to lead yourself in Imaginative Ignatian Prayer. Use the image of God as Infinite Horizon.
- Learn a little more about Karl Rahner’s spirituality by spending 13 minutes with Paul Schutz in his Fordham TEDx talk.
- As mentioned in the blog, read more about Karl Rahner’s view of God as mysterious, like an Infinite Horizon.
Photo by Monique Jacobs