Miserere Mei, Deus


Botticelli - Madonna del Magnificat
Miserere Mei, Deus
Extract from a letter to a personal correspondent

In respect of religion, there seems to have grown within me, this past year, a feeling regarding prayer, especially contemplative prayer, or rather that quiet way of being when – with no expectation of or belief in God – no words are desired or required and one is aware of the numinous in such an unaffected way that there is a calmness emanating not from within – not caused by our knowing or feeling of self – but from that ineffable vastness beyond which includes us and all the life that seeps into us, there in our stillness: emanations, of not only the dreams, the hopes, the love, the sadness, the sorrow, the grief, the pain, the joy, the tragedy, felt, known, experienced by we humans millennia after millennia, but also of the being, the essence, of the other life around us, here as Nature, and elsewhere, which, as we, ‘hath but a short time to live’.

A feeling, an intimation, of perhaps in some small way now understanding the Latin Opus Dei – Officium Divinum – as a needful daily reminder of our needful humility, as the plaintive cry Miserere Mei, Deus so reminds, and as the Namaz of Islam also so reminds with its Ruku, Sajdah, and recitation of Subhana Rabbiyal a’la. A needful daily reminder that we are transient beings, prone to dishonour, selfishness, and hubris, but who can be loving and kind, and beings prone to the charisma, the temptation, of words, either our own or those spoken or written by others. A reminder that we can so easily forget, have so often forgotten, “that gentleness, that modest demeanour, that understanding, which derives from an appreciation of the numinous and also from one’s own admitted uncertainty of knowing and one’s acknowledgement of past mistakes. An uncertainty of knowing, an acknowledgement of mistakes, that often derive from πάθει μάθος.” [1]

A feeling, thus, of again understanding the necessitude we humans seem to have for prayer and for God, for Allah, for the gods, for the divine; and why this need, and its varied expression over millennia, should be respected and not profaned by that hubriatic personal certitude-of-knowing which enthrals, and has enthralled, so many especially in more recent times, making many of them prejudiced against organized religions and often against other expressions of spirituality.

Personally, I have – fully knowing my past hubris, the suffering I have caused, and aware of my manifold errors and mistakes over four decades – a great respect for other religions and spiritual ways, and aware as I am how they each in their own manner, express, have expressed, or are intimations of, the numinous. For instance, I have come to appreciate, more and more over the past few years, the numinosity of the sacred music of the Christian Church (especially Catholicism), from before Gregorian chant to composers such as Byrd, Dowland, Lassus, to Palestrina, to Phillipe de Monte, and beyond. So much so that such sacred music is now the only music I can listen to, out of choice, redolent as it is, has become, for me, of the beautiful, of humility, of tragedy, of a sacred suprapersonal joy, of what is or can be divined through contemplative prayer. A remarkable treasure of culture, of pathei-mathos…

Without such religious, such spiritual, such organized, reminders, daily or weekly – that is, without prayer and without what is perhaps the best that religions and spirituality manifest – how do we balance another need of ours? That need to cause suffering and cry havoc, and a need whose genesis, perhaps, resides in our desire to be, to express, to re-affirm the separation-of-otherness, manifest as this is and has been in our own self-importance, our egoism, our greed; and in our belief that ‘we’, our assumed or our assigned category, are better than, superior to, ‘them’, the others: that ‘we’ are ‘right’ or have right on our side while ‘they’ do not and are wrong, leading as such belief so often does and so often has done to conflict and war and to us treating ‘the others’ in a dishonourable, uncompassionate, way because we, or those we follow and obey, have dehumanized ‘them’. For I now incline toward the view that without such categorization, such assumptions – such a prejudice, such a belief – about ‘us’ and ‘them’, without such greed, such self-interest, and such a need to express, to manifest, importance, then war and suffering-causing armed conflict are not possible.

Is humility, therefore and as most religions and spiritual ways inform us, a necessity for us, as human beings? And if so, then how to manifest such humility, to be reminded of such a need, if we, as I now, personally have no expectation of or belief in God, or in Allah – in Heaven or Jannah – or in gods, or even in mechanisms such as rebirth and karma? Such questions have greatly occupied me for the past three years.

Given what I have intuited about our human nature – what many others have intuited or discovered over millennia – and what I believe I may have learned from my own pathei-mathos, I feel humility is indeed a necessity for us, as a means of guiding us toward avoiding causing suffering; as a means of placing our own life in the cosmic perspective of Life. That is, as a means of appreciating our nature as fallible, error-prone, beings who have the ability, the character, to not only refrain from committing the error of hubris but to also rationally understand why hubris is an error and what the numinous may be, beyond ideations and beyond the myths, the allegories, the spiritualities, the words, that we have used and do use in order to try and express it.

As to how to manifest humility – sans religions, sans prayer to a deity or deities, (etcetera) – I admit I do not know, although my Recuyle Of The Philosophy Of Pathei-Mathos is my attempt to find, and to try and express, some answers [2]. Fallible answers such as the importance, the numinosity, of personal love; fallible answers such as empathy, and the knowing, the understanding, of others (and of ourselves) that empathy provides and of how such empathy and such empathic knowing is and can only be personal. Fallible answers such as an appreciation of – and the presumption of – innocence, understood as innocence is as an attribute of those who, being personally unknown to us – of whom we have have no empathic knowledge – are therefore unjudged by us and who thus are given the benefit of the doubt until direct personal experience and individual and empathic knowing of them prove otherwise; and fallible answers such as appreciating how the separation-of-otherness leads to, is the genesis of, hubris.

Which leads me, and has led me, to other related questions. Without religions or some form or forms of social spirituality – without a belief in Heaven or Jannah or in a promised afterlife, or in rebirth and karma – how can humans change and so avoid the rotten behaviour, the hubris, that causes or contributes to suffering, and should we, as individuals or collectively, even try to change others, or should we concern ourselves only with our own inner and outer reformation? Has The State [3] assumed such a moral rôle by means of laws, punishments, and other mechanisms of authority or persuasion, and should The State assume or be allowed to assume such a moral rôle?

My own answers, fallible and such as they are [4], are that our change, our reformation, are personal; consequences of pathei-mathos, a balanced judgement, and of empathy, and thus involve an appreciation of the numinous; and that the only non-suffering, non-hubriatic, way to change or try to change, to reform, others is by personal, direct, example and by valourous deeds in the immediacy of the moment. These answers are thus spiritual, apolitical, and imply that

“…what matters [is] our own moral character, our interior life, our appreciation of the numinous, and the individual human beings we interact with on the personal level; so that our horizon is to refine ourselves into cultured beings who are civil, reasoned, empathic, non-judgemental, unbiased, and who will, in the words of one guide to what is moral, Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ.” [5]

David Myatt
December 2nd, 2012

Notes, Post Scriptum

[1] Toward Humility – A Brief Personal View, included in Pathei-Mathos: A Path to Humility (2012)

[2] In addition to that recueil, the text Conspectus of The Philosophy of Pathei-Mathos provides a reasonable overview of such answers.

[3] As mentioned in Politics, Society, Social Reform, and Pathei-Mathos, The State is defined as:

The concept of both (1) organizing and controlling – over a particular and large geographical area – land (and resources); and (2) organizing and controlling individuals over that same geographical particular and large geographical area by: (a) the use of physical force or the threat of force and/or by influencing or persuading or manipulating a sufficient number of people to accept some leader/clique/minority/representatives as the legitimate authority; (b) by means of the central administration and centralization of resources (especially fiscal and military); and (c) by the mandatory taxation of personal income.

[4] Outlined in Recuyle Of The Philosophy Of Pathei-Mathos and Conspectus of The Philosophy of Pathei-Mathos.

[5] The quotation is from my Prejudice, Extremism, Islamophobia, and Culture.


Image credit: Botticelli – Madonna del Magnificat