GOD IS THE GROUND OF OUR BEING
God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction. —Meister Eckhart, sermon on Romans 8:18
In his writings and sermons, medieval mystic Meister Eckhart (1260–1327) counseled detachment from anything that would separate us from God, whom he understood as the very ground of our being. James Finley shares his understanding of Eckhart’s teachings:
The guidance that Meister Eckhart offers us in his sermons attempts to help us deepen our experiential understanding of the depths of God’s presence in our lives. A foundational way that he helps us with this deepening is with his metaphor of the ground. The ground of God is the deepest depths of God. And in the generosity of God, the deepest depths of God are given to us as the deepest depths of ourselves, in our nothingness without God. Our ground and God’s ground is one ground. And hidden down in the depths of ourselves is a union that’s already present, waiting to be realized, lived, and shared.
What is this path along which we can actually, experientially abide in the oneness of the ground? The path cannot be a path of attaining because nothing’s missing. The ground is this infinite generosity of God completely being given to us as this depth of ourselves. Therefore, the path has to be one of becoming detached from what hinders us from realizing it.
Eckhart is saying we can choose to live this way: in a kind of empty-handed, open process of constantly letting go of everything as having the final say in who we are. We acknowledge it [the trait, the preference, the condition], but we know it doesn’t have the final say in who we are. The more we continue in that way, we are in this Gelassenheit, which means being released from everything that hinders. A key phase of this is what Eckhart calls “the birth of the Word in the soul.” What comes welling up out of the ordinariness of everything is the divinity of everything. What Eckhart is looking for is a habitual underlying state of this releasing, of this birthing.
He gives some practical strategies so that we can practice finding our way to the ground in day-by-day consciousness by being sensitive to certain tendencies in our heart.
Every time we catch ourselves getting reactive, every time we catch ourselves acting as if the outcome of the situation has the authority to name who we are, we are to take a deep breath and remind ourselves that it’s not true. That there’s this hidden, unfelt, deep, abyss-like center in which we’re being unexplainably sustained in the midst of the circumstances.
SPIRITUAL PRACTICE: Let Go and Return
Writer and spiritual director Caroline Oakes perceives contemplative practice at the heart of Jesus’ rhythm of ministry. His example teaches us to detach from our judgments and expectations so that we can return to Divine presence:
Gospel accounts show us that Jesus himself lived this contemplative, prayer-beyond-words, “inner room” practice as he often ventures out alone … sometimes being in prayer through the night….
The gospel writers’ first-century audience would immediately understand that Jesus was intentionally and consistently making time to be “in” the powerful and formative Divine Presence as a way to become aware of, and attune to, the movement of the Divine within and all around.…
When we notice Jesus’ times of spiritual renewal interspersed as they are throughout the arc of his ministry—from his teaching, healing, and feeding of the four and five thousand followers, to his last words at the Last Supper, in Gethsemane, and on the cross—we begin to notice the definitive pattern in Jesus’ practice as a kind of flowing back-and-forth rhythm.
There is a continual pausing to let go (what scholars call kenosis, or emptying) of egoic attachments, fear, judgment, or expectations and then a returning to the Divine Presence again and again.
And the Divine is the one-pointed focus to which Jesus returns ceaselessly in this prayer rhythm of pause and release and return. This is Jesus’ formula for waking up—his formula for himself and for his followers.… It is Jesus’ practice for deepening the soul’s awareness of and attunement with our innermost essence, the Divine within.
Caroline Oakes, Practice the Pause: Jesus’ Contemplative Practice, New Brain Science, and What It Means to Be Fully Human (Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2023), 33, 34.