The Cave Of The Tiger

photograph (c) Madcleric. Used with permission

In his classic book on prayer, Beginning To Pray Anthony Bloom says,

...the Gospel must reach not only the intellect but the whole being. English people often say, 'That's interesting, let's talk about it, let's explore it as an idea,' but actually do nothing about it. To meet God means to enter into 'the cave of the tiger' -it is not a pussycat you meet - it's a tiger. The realm of God is dangerous. You must enter into it and not just seek information about it.

This paragraph (and the book as a whole) informed a retreat I made in 2005. I was revisiting it lately because I was aware of myself intellectualising more than I needed to; I was turning the faith into an exercise in thought. Thinking about things is no great crime of course, except when it becomes a pretext for not doing anything. It is easy to fall for the delusion that because I have nutted something out to my own satisfaction (by which I mean to a level whereby I can use it to bolster my ego by bamboozling folks) I have somehow mastered it or integrated it into my life. Mastered it. That's the tricky phrase, because although I can master some concept of God or other, I can never but never master God. I step into the cave of the Tiger and I am dealing with all that is real; with life and death. I am the one mastered.

Anthony Bloom says, paradoxically, that the beginning of real prayer is a sense of God's absence. This is because prayer is about relationship with God, and as in all real relationships, we cannot mechanistically draw the other into our presence by the performance of some trick or technique. In prayer we enter a relationship with an other and all our clever ideas about who or what this other is must be left at the door. The images of God we have constructed in our minds to comfort ourselves are of no help in this real relationship - they must be dropped. So prayer often begins with this sense of absence.In this empty place the real relationship begins: one which will shape me and change me. One in which I am required to move beyond my comfortable little nest of ideas and open myself to life with the one who can make or unmake me with a thought.


Anonymous said…
The Practice of the Presence of God:third conversation.
Anonymous said…
In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger

In depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering Judas,
To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk
Among whispers; by Mr. Silvero
With caressing hands, at Limoges
Who walked all night in the next room;
By Hakagawa, bowing among the Titians;
By Madame de Tornquist, in the dark room
Shifting the candles; Fraulein von Kulp
Who turned in the hall, one hand on the door....

The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours.

- Eliot, 'Gerontion'. C.S. Lewis had little time for Eliot's poetry (though they were reconciled at the end), and of course, as Mr Beaver reminds us, 'Aslan isn't a safe lion. But he's good.'
Anonymous said…
i sympathise with you in the temptation to intellectualise all things to do with faith.Jesus asks us to leap to his side over a confusing and dangerous torrent with the knowledge that if we fail we are back where we began. If we are successful we have new life.Most who complete the journey would never want to return.It all comes down to our decisions.
Anonymous said…
Many say that it is Christianity that has failed because of its continued strategy of telling people that they are going to miss out, praying on people fears and its ethos of the 'in crowd' and the 'out crowd' and its always that "dangerous torrent" that is the threat - the politics of fear and exclusion - pathetic really - and which Christian truth does one choose? there are now 21,000 competing denominations at the last count.
Christianity is fading in the West big time - its in real crisis, where do we go from here?
Simon said…
This is a lovely post. I particularly identify with this bit: "It is easy to fall for the delusion that because I have nutted something out to my own satisfaction... I have somehow mastered it or integrated it into my life."

Speaking personally, I've got large parts of what Douglas Adams called 'life the universe and everything' mapped out to my satisfaction. I even write about them authoritatively on my blog. All that remains now is the tiny little detail of putting things into practice in my life.
Tillerman said…
For myself prayer and meditation are a sort of communion rather than a shopping list.

There is a very good book called "LETTERS TO MALCOLM, CHIEFLY ON PRAYER " by C S LEWIS which gives one excellent viewpoint on this subject.

One aspect of this subject that is interesting is the efficacy of prayer and meditation. I have read that studies have shown that concentrated meditation can affect the crime rate of a city.

Also I have been in some churches where there is a special atmosphere (not just the stained glass windows and the silence)- I wonder if that atmosphere is a function of the amount of concentrated prayer that has occured?
Katherine said…
I was taking to a friend in education recently and he spoke of 'fierce conversations' - ie REAL ones, that challenge and discomfort. As in out of the 'comfort zone' ...
I guess we can have them with ourself, too.