Jane KOPAS, Seeking the Hidden God. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005. p 183. $18.00 ppb. ISBN 1-57075-624-4.
Reviewed by Kathleen M. FISHER, Assumption College, Worcester, MA 01609

The title of Dr. Kopas’ book caught my attention immediately because I am in the midst of developing a new course in spirituality for our Theology curriculum. The literature in this field has grown rapidly and substantially, and what strikes me as distinctive about Dr. Kopas’ contribution is her focus on the “disappearance of God.” As she notes, Thomas Merton believed that modernity fostered in people a deeper sense of isolation from God and a resulting incapacity to pray. Though modern skepticism about the existence of anything Divine is ground well-trod since Merton, Seeking the Hidden God offers a new path by showing that God’s hiddenness is not the real problem.

Part I, “Recovering the Tradition of a Hidden God,” lays out a brief, but wide ranging glance over Western theology and spirituality in which Dr. Kopas explains that God’s nature has always had a hidden side to it, even for our spiritual ancestors. Their approaches to this characteristic are helpful, but not sufficient for the challenges of our times. We tend to dismiss mystery more quickly in the face of a scientific and technological world view that thrives on rapid change and a skeptical stance. We need new ways of apprehending God in a culture that is consequently fragmented and over-stimulated. So, in Part II, “Exploring the Images of God,” she offers three paradoxical and multi-dimensional images that “stretch the imagination” — God as a challenging companion, a compassionate adversary, and a fertile emptiness. These metaphors combine both the affirmation and negation that are classic characteristics of the medieval mystical experience in images more suited to modern spiritual needs.

The last part of the book, “Cultivating Spiritual Skills,” describes the “skills of living a threshold life, a life on the brink.” Here is where I find her book most enlightening and challenging. Unlike many who suggest we need somehow to return to simpler times and bedrock values to “restore” something that’s been lost, Dr. Kopas argues that we must cultivate a radical faith— the “rock-bottom conviction that God is.” Then, we must learn to live with the spiritual characteristics of our times—multiple truths, the ambiguity they can create, and the mystery to which they direct our attention. Furthermore, we must learn to act freely without regard for results or success, what the Buddhist tradition calls “detachment.”

This radical faith, however, only “puts us in the path of God’s light,” a light so intense it can blind us. Once there, we must make ourselves receptive to the paradoxical forms God takes. We must acquire a “contemplative attitude” toward life and a deep self-knowledge, qualities she sees in the life experiences of people like Jane Kenyon, Simone Weil, and Dorothy Day. Not without struggle, she says, they awakened to a hidden God by practicing the virtues of wonder, simplicity, generosity, honesty, and the relinquishing of ego. From them we can learn that:

Waiting at the edge of infinity requires nothing of us but to be present and to witness in wonder. At this brink where we dwell on the boundary between the visible and the invisible, between the utterable and the unutterable, wonder resolves the tension between speech and silence. Wonder respects the secrets at the depths of the ocean, which if visible would no longer be ocean, as God, without a hidden life would no longer be God.” Seeking the Hidden God draws from a variety of literary sources (Biblical, poetic, autobiographical, fictional, and historical) to explore both the intellectual and the pastoral dimensions of the modern struggle between being “religious” and being “spiritual.” Jane Kopas’ book reframes this struggle as a search for the hidden God, a view that honors the variety of ways, past and present, in which people seek union with the Divine. I expect to use this short and accessible book in my undergraduate course in spirituality, pairing its theological and historical sketch of spirituality with some classic texts and examining their lessons for the modern world.


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