The wanderings and homecoming of the Shekinah of God

Someone read me this quote by Jürgen Moltmann from his book The Spirit of Life. It really struck me and luckily I have access to a theological library, so I found it so that I could share it.

First a note on the word Shekinah: It originally meant God’s ‘tabernacle’ or tent. Later it came to mean God’s particular presence (as opposed to his omnipresence). It is often translated as ‘glory’. As Moltmann put it:

The Shekinah is not a divine attribute. It is the presence of God himself. But it is not God in his essential omnipresence. It is his special, willed and promised presence in the world. The Shekinah is God himself, present at a particular place and at a particular time.

And the actual quote:

God loves his creation. God is bound to every one of his creatures in passionate affirmation. God loves with creative love. That is why he himself dwells emphatically in every created being, feeling himself into them be virtue of his love. The love draws him out of himself, so to speak, carrying him wholly into the created beings whom he loves. Because he is ‘the lover of life’, his eternal Spirit is ‘in all things’ as their vital force. In the self-distinction and self-giving of love, God is present in all his creatures and is himself their innermost mystery.

The moment a created being turns away from this divine love from which it nevertheless lives, it becomes anxious, aggressive and destructive, because it becomes self-seeking. Its will cuts it off from God’s will, and its life turns away from the love of God, to self-hate. The whole misery of men and women comes from a love for God that has miscarried. And the result is on God’s side what Martin Buber called a ‘de-selfing’ (Entselbung) – a kind of self-emptying of God. His Shekinah indwells every one of his creatures; but this Shekinah is now alienated from God himself. It is grieved and hurt, but it does not leave these lost beings to themselves. It suffers in the victims and is tormented in the perpetrators. It goes with sinners on the wanderings of their estrangement. The Shekinah does not leave us. Even in our most frightful errors, it accompanies us with its great yearnings for God, its homesickness to be one with God. We sense its pain in the ‘drawing’ of the Spirit.

With every bit of self-seeking and self-contradiction which we surrender to the will of the Creator who loves us, the Shekinah comes close to God. If we live entirely in the prayer ‘Thy will be done’, the Shekinah in us is united with God himself. We live again wholly, and can undivided affirm life. The wanderings are overs. The goal has been reached. We are conscious of God’s happiness in us, and are conscious of ourselves in God’s bliss.

When does this happen? It happens when we encounter overwhelming joy: we become selflessly happy and come wholly to ourselves. It happens when we encounter bitter suffering: we experience ourselves in the pain, and trust ourselves wholly to God. It need not happen once and for all. It can also happen briefly, for a time. When we once more break asunder and become inwardly disunited, the Shekinah sets off with us again on our odyssey. If we become one with ourselves, the Shekinah comes to rest. But the intense approaches to God himself of the Shekinah which is our driving force are linked with indescribable joy. We become sensitive to the Shekinah in us, and equally sensitive to the Shekinah in other people and in all other creatures. We expect the mystical union of the Shekinah with God in every true encounter. That is why we long for the love in which we forget ourselves. We encounter every created being in the expectation of meeting God. For we have discovered that in these other people and these other creatures God waits for our love, and for the homecoming of the Shekinah: ‘As you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matt. 25:40).

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