The Anonymous Author & the Four Dimensions

James Finley, in his Christian Meditation (pp 170ff) quotes the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing:

A [person] who prays [contemplatively, using a word such as “love” or “God” to pull him back to singleness of intention in prayer] prays with all the height and depth and length and breadth of his spirit. His prayer is high, for he prays in full power of his spirit; it is deep for he has gathered all his understanding into this one little word; it is long for if this feeling could endure he would go on crying out forever as he does now; it is wide because with universal concern he desires for everyone what he desires for himself. (italics mine)

As Finley interprets the anonymous author, in this kind of meditation involves us in “nothing less than the heights, depths, length, and breadth of our whole being, now absorbed in a single, naked desire to be one with God.” The anonymous author goes on to say:

It is with this prayer that a person comes to understand with all the saints the length and breadth and height and depth of the eternal, gracious, and almighty God as Saint Paul says, not completely of course, but partially and in that obscure manner characteristic of contemplative knowledge. Length speaks of God’s eternity. Breadth of his love, height of his power, depth of his wisdom. (italics mine)

The anonmymous, author, of course, is alluding to Ephesians 3:18-19.

Finley then points out that, in this writing of the anonymous author, man’s four dimensions are linked up to God’s four dimensions:

– our “length” is the desire, if we could, to go on like this in prayer for ever. God’s “length” is his eternity.

– our “height” is the full “power of spirit”. God’s “height” is God’s power.

– our “depth” is the gathering of all our understanding into this one little word. God’s “depth” is his wisdom.

– our “breadth” is our desire for everyone what we desire for ourselves. God’s “breadth” is his love.

Finley’s point is intriguing for any contemplative and for anyone groping toward, as I hope to be doing, an understanding and participation in what the Eastern Orthodox call “deification.” (Indeed one could compare this four-fold or four-cornered depiction of the human person with St. Maximus’ comparison of the human soul with the four corners of the world, etc.) Finley writes: “and so it is with each dimension of our spiritual nature laid bare in a single burning desire that flows into and merges with God’s own nature. So it is that meditation lays bare our true nature, and in doing so lays bare God’s nature given to us as our own nature.”

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