From Psalm 42:
Deep calleth out to deep.
Abyssus abyssum invocat.
The Book of Psalms was put together about twenty-five hundred years ago. Contained within it are songs and poems, some of which are nearly three thousand years old. For many of them it is quite easy to identify the situation which gave rise to the poetry, for the psalm itself tells you. For instance:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept.
When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, then were we like
unto them that dream.
The first: easy. A lament written during Israel’s exile in Babylon. The second: no problem. A shout of joy and praise at her return. Other psalms, however, are less clear. The reason behind their writing has been so long forgotten that it is hard even to guess just exactly what they mean.
This, it seems, is not as great a problem in the twenty-first century as it was in the twentieth, when scholars tried hard to figure out what various psalms meant, where they came from, and when they were written. Nowadays,
“Post-modernism,” whatever that is, has declared that a “text,” whatever that is, can have no intrinsic meaning, so – calm down – why worry. Stop thinking.
Strangely enough, St. Augustine in the fourth century would have felt somewhat the same way. A text from the Bible, as Augustine saw it, always had many meanings on many levels. Often, the literal meaning was the least important. So if you can’t figure it out – calm down – why worry. But don’t stop thinking.
One deep calleth another in the noise of the water floods.
St. Augustine and many others who followed him over the centuries had a great deal to say about this line from one of the most beautiful and often-quoted Psalms in the Psalter. It is obvious that the Psalmist is referring to a waterfall or a cataract – probably the headwaters of the River Jordan, which are quite spectacular – but this literal meaning is of little interest to Augustine.
One deep calleth to another.
Augustine sees this on another mystical level as a description of the yearning, of the infinite desire of the human heart for God.
One deep calleth to another.
The depth within you and me, our created grandeur – made in the image of God – our depth calls out, yearns for, can only be satisfied by the depth of God. Our small infinity is itself a desire which can only be answered and completed by the large infinity of God. “Our hearts are restless,” says Augustine as he prays, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
Deep calls out to deep.
Desire is the dynamic of human life. Our depth is a desire for God’s depth . . . . a desire for the infinite, a desire for the eternal, a desire for that which transcends; a desire for the good, the beautiful, and the true – that which animates and is real. Desire is built into us. It is part of our being. And if there is a problem with desire, it is not that we desire too much, but rather that we desire too little. Too often we are seduced by things in life which promise satisfaction but can’t deliver it. You know what I’m talking about: money, power, sex, security, fame, possession – how often are we seduced by these things, and then they fail us. They offer a taste, perhaps, a glimpse, a hint, an intimation of that which is transcendent and which may fulfill us. And we fall for them. And again they fail us, for what is glimpse, when you’re yearning to see? What is a taste, when you hunger for a meal? And indeed, to a man dying of thirst in the desert, a single drop of water is a torment.
Deep calls out to deep.
Abyssos abyssum invocat.
But how to find that depth? How to find the object of desire? How to locate that which by its very nature transcends our world? The timeless: can it be in time? The infinite: where to look? Is not then the depth within us forever doomed to futility and frustration? Will our hearts ever find their rest?
Unless God comes to us – unless God comes to us – we cannot find Him. Unless God makes Himself available, we cannot grasp Him. Unless God translates Himself into terms (human terms) we understand, we cannot know Him.
God created us as a desire and a yearning. Within us there is a question and there is a quest. Unless God gives us Himself, there is no answer, there is no goal, there is no rest.
Behold, a virgin shall conceive
and bear a son,
And shall call his name Emmanuel,
For unto is a child is born,
unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called
The mighty God,
The everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.
This is what we celebrate this day, dear people. In the manger, in that stable, in an insignificant town, in an insignificant country – there lay the end of desire, there lay the depth of God, the infinite and transcendent – now made man – a Savior and the Sabbath rest of our hearts – newly born, sleeping in the hay.
The Word was made flesh. Alleluia. God in His Son Jesus made Himself available to humanity. We can grasp Him. God’s depth answered the call and question of our depth, and He came to us. God translated Himself into human terms. In Jesus we can understand Him … and … in Jesus we can understand ourselves. God’s desire for us met the desire within us (which is us) for Him.
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
In that manger, in that stable, in that town, in that country, at that time, lay sleeping in the hay or in His mother’s arms, at her breast, the Infinite High God, come down for all mankind.
And on this day, and at that Altar, He comes to us again: God’s depth. The object of desire and the yearning of our hearts.
Fall down, good people, and worship Him.