Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: March, 2016

The Hole in the Heart of God

Good Friday, 2014

There is a hole in the heart of God.

In the beginning, the rabbis say, God
the Infinite One resolves to create the finite.
So, it is said, the Infinite One contracts,
accommodates in infinity all
that is not infinite.
Tzimsum, they call it. The hole in the heart of God.
God makes a hole in the very being of God,
so that all that is not God can come into being.
Galaxies and gastropods, oaks and otters, parrots and paramecia—
every thing exists because the God of every thing
chooses to make room for any thing.
Even things like us.
God makes a hole in the heart of God.
The hole is grace,
love for those who know
hardly how to love ourselves,
let alone to love the God who is Love.
The hole is safe, beautiful, a joyful place, where
order holds back the surge of chaos
and light pierces the black maw
of primordial darkness.
In the beginning, it was a small hole—just large enough
for a sun and a moon,
a sea and a dry land,
a garden and a tree,
for a man and a woman and a snake.
But the hole has been growing.

There is a hole in the heart of God.

The oldest of stories tells us that, in the course of things,
the man and the woman
think more highly of their own judgment
than of the wisdom of God,
and so the first consequence follows the first sin,
even as darkness follows daylight.
Joy drains from the garden, the entrance barred by flaming sword.
And the hole grows dark,
misanthropic and misunderstanding,
stained with blood on the ground.
The world floods and ebbs, but the waters
do not wash away the birthmark of self-deceit;
once soiled, we do not quite come clean.
We clench our eyelids against the sight of our own nakedness,
stagger toward a place called Wandering,
blind fingers groping along bright walls.
We seem to ourselves imprisoned, too blind to see
that this place we call our prison
is the place God gives us to be free.
And the hole grows larger.

There is a hole in the heart of God.

Here is a marvel: the Infinite One,
never closes the hole,
never fills the grave wherein is buried
so much beauty and so much pain.
Would God not prefer the perfect serenity of solitude
to the irritation of our resistance,
the stone in God’s shoe?
But, no.
God chooses another way,
striking the divine spark in the darkness,
kindling the occasional soul,
and in the unsteady flickering of prophetic phrases
we see the shadows of the shape of God’s intent.
A way higher than our way,
thoughts loftier than our thoughts.
A mountain where lions and lambs lie together,
where ends the endless hungering hurt.
They tell us of their dream of a day
when all shall live in peace.
And we listen—for a while—
while beating plowshares into spears
and enriching uranium for impoverished purposes.
entertaining the faint and fading memory
that the way things are is not
the way things are supposed to be.
But sooner or later, we weary of the dissonance
between their dreams and our reality,
and so we snuff them out, these kindled souls,
preferring our familiar darkness
to the lights of stars and angels.
And the hole keeps growing.

There is a hole in the heart of God.

And so it goes, until in the fullness of things
God makes an end of things
by making a new beginning.
Or so it seems.
But here and there are signs that this has been the plan all along.
In the inscrutable logic of God, God tears God’s very self asunder.
Deep in the divine mystery, Infinite One becomes one of the finite ones.
God becomes one of the not-God ones.
Love decides to be unloved,
so that the unlovely can know Love.
Life decides to die,
so that those who know only how to die can learn to live.
The hole in the heart of God is a self-inflicted wound,
and in the darkness
shines a single eastern star.
And the hole grows large enough for a manger … and a cross.

There is a hole in the heart of God.

We come at length to this place, this good day, this dark hour, where
the hammer pounds the nails through the flesh to the rhythm
of the theocidal pulse in our veins…
the wood is hoisted crudely aloft, rooted in the dirt of the hill,
rough tree to bear such fair fruit.
the cry of the Dying One—he who once, beside the well,
promised us water gushing up to eternal life—
whispers in our arid ears: “I thirst! I thirst!”
God’s grim irony is lost on us.
We have prevailed, have we not?
Have wrested some bloody victory from heaven’s grasp,
have snuffed out the light, made the darkness complete?
Have we not extinguished the Life of God?
Ah, but more is afoot here than we comprehend.
At this final moment, this hill, this cross,
the drama is no longer ours to direct,
if indeed it ever was.

The hammer is taken from our hands, and held in God’s grip.
The wooden cross is not planted on a hilltop, but borne up in God’s hands.
The nails that fix him in place, a butterfly pinned in this ghastly, beautiful diorama of dying,
are forged not in the furnaces of hell but in the purifying fires that burn beneath
the very throne of God.

We do not take this Life. God gives it.

Silence falls—on the crucified and the crucifiers—falls like rain
that sprinkles us, immerses us,
washes us cleaner than mere water has ever made us.

Darkness falls. Not the familiar darkness of the dying day,
but a strange new darkness, nighttime at noon,
the darkness of the inside of God’s womb
before the birth of the world.

Then slowly, the light from before creation’s dawning
breaks over the horizons of our awareness,
until we can see the truth that is older
than creation—as old, in fact, as God:

The hole in the heart of God
has the shape of a cross.
Its upright descends from the heights of God’s throne to the depths of our despair.
Its beam sweeps wide …like the embrace of God, an embrace so unspeakably vast
that it gathers up
all the pride, all the pain,
all the rage, all the despair,
all the dented dreams,
all the chastened hopes,
all the lostness and the loneliness,
all the longing for
what is not and will not be,
all the bitter concoction mixed from
streams of sorrow, sin, shame…
The Dying One gathers us,
takes us in his widespread arms—
sinner and saint,
harried and hopeful,
living and dead—
gathers us at long, long last
into the fellowship of Father and Son,
the fellowship formed of the Spirit’s

It is finished.

There is a hole in the heart of God.


The future is not a result of the present. It is the present, rather, which is made pregnant by the future.

Rubem A. Alves
The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet, p. 81.

Every stalk of wheat contains the loaf
and every grape the wine.

Every stream runs to the font.
Every word bears unimagined truth.

Every meal is spread a banquet
and at every banquet he is host.

This night, gathered at this Table
makes meaning of that one in upstairs room

when he broke the bread, his broken body
poured his blood into the blooded cup;

‘twas our eyes he was looking into
and his words our ears were meant to hear.

Taste the ancient wheat, the long-pressed grape;
they are tomorrow’s loaf, the future’s vintage,

and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
are gathered at this Table on this night.

Absent Moons

Inside our bodies, there dwell the absent moons. And the word has the power to make them visible to the soul.

Rubem A. Alves,
The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet

A finger pointing to an absent moon
on a cloud-enshrouded night
bespeaks precisely nothing
but itself.

A voice says, “moon.” And thereby summons
the silver orb, night’s boon companion
illumining the darkness
in my mind.

Do I bear the moon inside me, wandering
the darkling paths, yearning for
the word it summons
into light?

Do I bear you inside me, wondering
down time’s corridors, if ever
I will have voice to say
your name?

I lose myself inside myself, speak a thousand
words of darkness, yet this phrase
summons light: This is
my body.

The moon, ex nihilo at creation—was it
absent ‘ere summoned by the word,
or is the word eternally alight
in the mind of God?


Gaunt white giants
raise alien heads above
brown Oklahoma hilltops
three spindly-bladed arms
come winnowing through
some invisible crop
come driving before them
the last strays and stragglers
of an unseen herd.

Draw closer now and see
a sudden silent army
marching in staggered phalanx
as far as eye can see
or hope endure
permitting no escape from
their slow-slicing blades’
inexorable rhythmic swath
what one misses
the next mows down.

Closer, see at their feet,
iron heads bowed
reduced to rusted stillness
remnants of mineral might—
oil rigs
humbled frozen beneath
ineluctable whispering death,
and now clear at last
what old enemy these giants
rise from earth to slay.