When the sky turns a purple gradient and the lands are dominated by dark green and cones of yellow streetlight reveal a shadow cat or rat or roach in the periphery, I stumble through the same analyses of where I am and what went wrong and flex in claustrophobic agony that I wander onward in this way.
I gotta get outta here; I gotta get outta here.
I look into the speckled night and sense the earth revolving. I sense the larger dance beyond this lucent dome, how the galaxies entwist and soar away, but my wandering cannot break free. The round earth curves my restless energy upon itself, while the vast Mind of God expands indifferent to my wandering in circles.
I’ve wandered long enough to notice that my waking life is lost to God’s Attention, that this ultramodern world is mostly trapped in God’s Subconscious. Even when it looks like such a triumph – on the narrow streets of New York’s financial district, where every shape and shade of humanity are liberated and well dressed, out mingling in the sun for lunch under the bright, clean towers, and each with pocket computers plugged into the whole nervous system of the half-lit globe – a moment comes when I feel the modern miracle’s inner angst. I remember what is missing. I sense the absent ray of meaning, the darkness that we share: our show of fruitless efforts to catch the blissful glow of God’s Attention.
Paul Tillich, twentieth century theologian and philosopher of anxiety, remarked that in this era “the God we know is the absent God. But in knowing God as the absent God, we know of Him; we feel His absence as the empty space that is left by something or someone that once belonged to us and has now vanished from our view.” (The Eternal Now)
Those who suffer from spiritual anxiety are aware that there is absence in our world where there could and should be presence. Like a neuron in God’s Brain that isn’t firing, our world is somehow disconnected, an orb unto itself, a darkened node that’s lost to God’s Attention. While popular discourse funnels this anxiety into diametric concerns over God’s existence or nonexistence, God’s rightful or wrongful messengers, or lifestyles sacred or profane, our spiritual anxiety that flows into these categories is more universal than most of us have realized.
Spiritual anxiety is compounded by a feeling of being trapped in this state, of being powerless to break into a new reality. It is doubly compounded by a sensation of the absolute importance of this breakthrough. Universally, the spiritually anxious have experienced this insight: The cause and aim of life, on which everything depends, is the breaking through of God’s Awareness. As the Jewish mystic Abraham Joshua Heschel finally wrote, “The world’s reality is contingent upon compatibility with God.” (The Prophets) In this light, the spiritually anxious glimpse our turbulent world anew. Our inner and outer tumult, our flagrant and creeping disasters do not reflect the chaotic nature of all reality. This is the nature of a world at the edge of all reality, a world that has slipped into God’s Subconscious wild.
Spiritual anxiety alerts us to the edge and counteracts the danger that we slip too far. When our spiritual anxiety reaches a crescendo, when our fleeting sense of absence becomes our unbearable concern, when we’ve wandered long enough to realize we’re getting nowhere, when we collapse in surrender, when the slightest touch completely breaks us a tipping point is crossed. Broken, we are joined by a power not our own, the world that we had figured and discerned is washed away, everything is new and there is wonder in it all.
As I walk toward the corner of an island, gusts of wind from behind me clap my clothes. Dusk impends on the warm teal sea, and the short turquoise sandbar in front of me dips into the darker teal. Balanced on a log, one foot in front of the other, the wind howls in my ear. As I look into the warm, flurried orb, the sense that I am lost to God’s Attention is transformed. My sensation of God’s absence is God’s Own Subconscious rumbling, God’s Own Awareness dawning of a wanderer on earth. I look into the gusty divide, and the heart of all reality is re-centered in my reality, the fact of all existence is re-centered in my existence. The broad winds of the island clap my clothes as my waking life recedes into a dream, when out of God’s Subconscious bursts the blissful glow of God’s Attention.
Nick Astraeus received his M.A. in theology from Union Theological Seminary. He is a freelance writer. You can reach him for queries at Nick.Astraeus@gmail.com.