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Realization: A Christian Point of View


Dorothea Deed

Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Autumn, 1971). © World Wisdom, Inc.

REALIZATION is a word often used but not always, I believe, understood. At one extreme the word, written with a small "r", often means no more than a logical appreciation of something quite trivial or ordinary, as when we say “I realize that I missed a good opportunity” or “I realize that I am no longer a child”. At the opposite extreme the word is written or printed with a capital "R" and conveys to many people the notion of a strange and unattainable state of being which they can never hope to reach; it is altogether beyond the capacity of any normal, ordinary person.

Both these ideas are, I believe, wrong. Realization, in the sense of what might be called, somewhat inaccurately, spiritual realization is often a long process which takes us step by step from one realization to the next, each step leading us to a greater, deeper and fuller experience as we go forward. It is both an illumination and an experience of discovery. I will try and explain.

There are moments when we suddenly perceive something new or a new meaning to something we have known in an external way, perhaps for years, and which we now see as it were internally with completely new eyes. These moments are very hard to describe or to communicate to others unless they have had a similar experience. It seems as though a wonderful new light has radiated in and around us and yet, when we try to say what happened, the only description we seem able to give appears totally inadequate and a long way below the actual happening. This new perception can happen for no apparent reason or it can occur as the result of some phrase heard or read, or as the result of an unexpected event or meeting in our lives. Outwardly nothing happens but inwardly a real new vision is born and it is because to the one who experiences it, it is such a very personal experience that it is so hard to convey in words to anyone else. This experience or realization may be a relatively minor one or it may be of very far reaching consequence and penetrate deeply and ineradicably into one's whole life. It can, I believe, happen to anyone, even to a child.

I can very clearly remember an occasion when I could not have been more than four or five years old, when the sun was shining on an early spring day. Winter was hardly over and there were as yet no real signs of spring in the trees or in the fields. And then, suddenly, I came on a large patch of celandines in full flower, each flower with its brilliant, shining, yellow petals opened towards the sun and reflecting the brilliance of its light. To me it was no longer just a patch of celandines, it was a glory, an intense joy, such as I had never previously experienced. It belonged to a world which had nothing in common with my everyday world and I experienced a feeling which I couldn't express at all at the time but which I would now try to describe as a realization of a new world bringing with it an inner joy which corresponded in some strange way to the external divine glory which I had seen and which shone round me. The external vision has faded a little just as the flowers themselves have faded long ago, but the interior experience has remained as a certainty which has never lessened and which cannot be taken from me.

This may be a very primitive example of realization, but, because it is simple, it may be easy to see some of the characteristic features of a realization however partial this may have been. It is always a personal experience, a taking or receiving into oneself of a truth, a meaning, which up to that moment had been unperceived, unknown, or only known in a completely superficial way. But even though it is taken into oneself one cannot speak of possessing it. It is more true to say that it possesses us. When it comes it does so with such overwhelming force that it is an absolute certainty that cannot be denied, and we wonder why a truth which now seems so self evident has not occurred to us before. It has a quality of transfiguration and is both divine and human. The illumination that brings this new vision is surely a divine revelation but it is also our human discovery. On the one hand God is always revealing to us what we can receive but it is only when we are open to Him and have made the effort necessary to listen, to be attentive, to be undistracted and to be aware, that we come to any realization of it, and then it is for us a great new discovery which we have made; and it is indeed our discovery because it is we who have found what it was that God was waiting to give us and which was always there for us to discover.

There are a number of New Testament sayings which are especially relevant to the process of realization. Quite often Christ spoke to people in a parable and then he said, "if any man hath ears to hear let him hear". Some would only hear the literal words of the story which would mean little to them, others would listen attentively and hear further, but there would be some, those who truly had an ear, who would penetrate into the fullest meaning of the parable and to these would come, not only the full realization of the meaningfulness of the story which had been told, but of much more besides. A new light, a new way of looking at everything, a new understanding of life would have been born in them.

Christ also said, "to him that hath shall be given and to him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath". This is true of realization. Only to those who already have some awareness of what might be discovered can more be revealed. Those who think they already know all that they need to know, but have not realized even this in their lives, will never have the joy of further discoveries, and they will find one day that even what they think they know will fail them because of its inadequacy. There is another saying of the Lord Christ which is very relevant here; it is the first Beatitude, "blessed are the poor in spirit for their's is the Kingdom of Heaven"; blessed are they who know the poverty of their spiritual awareness at each stage of their lives, because before them lie the immense possibilities of further discoveries and greater realization leading ultimately into the Kingdom of God, and only if they know their poverty will they take the next step towards a fuller knowledge and deeper experience.

Another example of realization from the New Testament, vastly different from the childhood experience of the glory of the celandines, yet still an analogous experience of discovery and revelation, is that of St. Peter who, when he saw the miraculous draft of fishes and the net full to breaking point after a night of unrewarded toil, fell at the feet of Jesus and said, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord". He had come suddenly to a realization not only of the power and lordship of Christ but also of his own inadequacy. This illustrates another aspect of realization which can be a painful one. Inevitably a realization of anything that pertains to God contrasts with the sinfulness of the profane world. The illumination shines into the dark corners as well as on the bright patches and our own shortcomings are brought into the light and seen clearly for what they are. So that like St. Peter we also say, "this is too much for me to perceive for I am a sinful man"; and there may be suffering and pain in this vision.

There are of course many other examples in the Old and the New Testaments through all the tremendous visions of the prophets and the illumination of the Wisdom Literature. I should like to quote from the Wisdom of Solomon. The writer says, "I myself also am a mortal man, like to all, and the offspring of him that was first made of the earth and in my mother's womb was fashioned to be flesh". And this mortal man, no different as he says from others, experienced something which he describes thus; "I called upon God and the spirit of wisdom came to me". There follows a wonderful description of the wisdom which was given, is given, and realized; "For she is the breath of the power of God and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty: therefore can no defiled thing fall into her. For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of His goodness. And being but one she can do all things: and remaining in herself, she maketh all things new; and in all ages entering into holy souls, she maketh them friends of God and prophets. For God loveth none but him that dwelleth with wisdom. For she is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of stars: being compared with the light she is found before it. For after this cometh night: but vice shall not prevail against Wisdom". (Chapter 7, Wisdom of Solomon).

I said in the beginning of this article that moments when we perceive everything anew and all is flooded with new light are hard to describe; but here in the Book of Wisdom is a matchless description which surely conveys in superb language this strange happening which can be called the coming of realization.

There are other names which might be given to it but few underline so clearly its nature as a personal experience, one which is indelible and which leaves with us a certainty which cannot be taken away. Nevertheless some of these names are worth consideration because they emphasize different aspects of an experience which is so many sided. Discernment, for instance, is one such word. It is an experience which enables us to discern between the Real and the unreal, between the eternal and abiding on the one hand and the temporal and evanescent on the other. Illumination is a word I have used several times. It emphasizes God's part in giving us new light but makes less reference to man's potentiality or to the fact that he also has a role to fulfill. It is not only God who gives, it is also man who participates and who does so at every phase of the experience; first by his readiness and openness to receive, then by his search for wisdom, and finally by his own discovery of what he is able to receive and realize in his own experience, out of all that God is revealing. Vision is another possible word. We are usually blind to a whole world of reality, cosmic reality, God's reality. In this context the experience becomes one of emerging from blindness to sight, from darkness to light. A thought that has been repeatedly brought before us, perhaps from the Old Testament, from the Gospels or from some other source acquires a deep meaning and the words become significant. We are no longer deaf and blind to them. This suggests that though the vision may be given it is we who must learn to open our eyes wide enough to see. Intelligent thinking about such texts in the analytical way of so much modern thinking will not achieve this vision. It is much more likely that this deepened awareness of meaningfulness will come if we follow the example of Mary who "pondered all these things in her heart". Not only do the words we have heard often take on a new and deeper meaning but they become so vividly alive that they lead us to other and even greater discoveries. They become words of life, life giving words. Another word which has sometimes been used is that of an awakening and one is reminded of the saying in the Song of Songs (chapter 5 v. 2), "I sleep but my heart waketh" for it is the heart rather than the brain that makes such discoveries. I would like to quote the following passage from Traherne: "Your enjoyment of the world is never right till every morning you awake in Heaven... You never enjoy the world aright until the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars; and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more so, because men are in it who are, everyone, sole heirs as well as you". Here is another attempt to explain, to describe an experience which cannot fully be put into words. It emphasizes another aspect. Although the experience of realization seems to each one so unique and personal that we feel ourselves "sole heirs" yet we share it with all other men who are equally unique and equally "sole heirs".

The great joy of all this lies not only in the immediate fruits of any realization, immensely valuable as these may be, but still more in the certainty that there are many more discoveries to be made, infinite possibilities of further revelations, because the divine riches are inexhaustible and there is no end to the process of realization save God Himself.

Another reason why I like the word realization to describe this experience of revelation, of discovery, of disclosure, is because it is rooted in the word real. The importance of this is twofold. First it helps us to concentrate on what is real and progressively to leave aside all that is unreal, and in most lives one finds as one goes forward that there is a good deal of unreal rubbish which can be discarded. Secondly it brings us "down to earth,", and saves us from a view of God and the world which has no roots, no stability and which was very aptly referred to by Bernard Shaw who wrote, "beware of the man whose god is in the skies". The kind of attitude this suggests is not compatible with true realization which is based on truth and which obeys the Gospel command to be "in the world" yet "not of the world".

Realization transforms and transfigures the world so that we see it more nearly as God sees it but it does not mean that we have no view of the world, nor does it transport us out of the world, though each realization that we experience may help us to understand more and more that, in spite of all that man has done, it is still God's world. It was for this reason that I chose the quotation from Traherne because he speaks not of our enjoyment of a hypothetical heaven but of our enjoyment of the world, seen as a world transfigured, a world in all the glory with which God created it.

Finally, realization is a privilege accorded to man; given to him at the time when, in the words of Genesis, God made man in His own image and gave him the freedom to reject this primordial likeness or to realize it in his own life. Eckhart understood the meaning of this gift when he wrote, "God is nearer to me than I am to myself; He is just as near to wood and stone, but they do not know it".

I would like to close by referring again to Mary, the Mother of God, who "pondered all these things in her heart" and to suggest that she pondered much because she loved much. This must always be the Christian approach to a greater understanding of the mystery of man's relationship to God and the way in which he can come to realize the Kingdom of Heaven which "is within you".

Original editorial inclusion that followed the essay in Studies:
At last we have been brought face to face with Amida and his Original Vow, and are like men longing to cross a stream who have found a ferry. As, however, we reflect upon the passing of the days and nights, and how quickly we are drawing near to the land of shadows, we must make haste and seek deliverance with all our hearts, and, forsaking everything else, earnestly lift up our voices and invoke the sacred name, otherwise our golden opportunity will have passed and nothing be left us but remorse
Honen (Ed. Note: The correct author may have been Yokwan)

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