Archives For Grace over the Abyss

Stumbling through some images yesterday, I came across an ‘old’ e-formatted copy of Leo Tolstoy’s 1879 work – ‘A Confession’. I had originally been looking for humorous pictures about coffee, power etc. Instead, I found myself navigating my way through this book.

As I made my advance into Tolstoy’s world,  I found it difficult to put down.

There are free versions of this available from Christian Classics (Link: A Confession CCEL).

In short, Tolstoy’s documented struggle with theology, science, life, faith, the Greek Orthodox church, severe depression and mental illness, is ripe for contemporary reflection. Which is saying a lot for a 134 year old academically astute work of art.

Karl Barth was aware of Tolstoy’s work. However based on the indexing in his Church Dogmatics I could only find a loose connection to the imagery of being ”held over the abyss by the infinite” (CD, IV:I:411), which Tolstoy uses in the abridged quote below.

Considering that Barth was born in 1886, there is a strong possibility here that Tolstoy had a big influence on Barth’s thought and theology. I am keen to confirm this link, so if anyone can point me in the right direction with this, I would appreciate it.

For me, among the highlights of this journey was this postscript (Some of which I hope to write and post about this week. After I pray and mine it some more):

I had a dream.

Leo Tolstoy

The dream was this:
I saw that I was lying on a bed. I was neither comfortable nor uncomfortable: I was lying on my back.
I looked down and did not believe my eyes. I was not only at a height comparable to the height of the highest towers or mountains, but at a height such as I could never have imagined. I could not even make out whether I saw anything there below, in that bottomless abyss over which I was hanging and which I was being drawn.
My heart contracted, and I experienced horror. To look thither was terrible. If I looked thither I felt that I should at once slip from the last support and perish. And I did not look. But not to look was still worse, for I thought of what would happen to me directly I fell from the last support. And I felt that from fear I was losing my last supports, and that my back was slowly slipping lower and lower.
Another moment and I should drop off. And then it occurred to me that this cannot be real. It is a dream. Wake up!
I try to arouse myself but cannot do so. What am I to do? What am I to do? I ask myself, and look upwards.
Above, there is also an infinite space. I look into the immensity of sky and try to forget about the immensity below, and I really do forget it. The immensity below repels and frightens me; the immensity above attracts and strengthens me.
I am still supported above the abyss by the last supports that have not yet slipped from under me; I know that I am hanging, but I look only upwards and my fear passes. As happens in dreams, a voice says: “Notice this, this is it!” And I look more and more into the infinite above me and feel that I am becoming calm.
I remember all that has happened, and remember how it all happened; how I moved my legs, how I hung down, how frightened I was, and how I was saved from fear by looking upwards.
I ask myself how am I held: I feel about, look round, and see that under me, under the middle of my body, there is one support, and that when I look upwards I lie on it in the position of secured balance, and that it alone gave me support before. And then, as happens in dreams, I imagined the mechanism by means of which I was held; a very natural intelligible, and sure means, though to one awake that mechanism has no sense. I was even surprised in my dream that I had not understood it sooner.
It appeared that at my head there was a pillar, and the security of that slender pillar was undoubted though there was nothing to support it. From the pillar a loop hung very ingeniously and yet simply, and if one lay with the middle of one’s body in that loop and looked up, there could be no question of falling. This was all clear to me, and I was glad and tranquil. And it seemed as if someone said to me:
“See that you remember.”
And I awoke.


Leo Tolstoy 1879 A Confession  Kindle for PC. (Loc. 962).

Image credit: Tolstoy, Wikipedia

(Originally posted 7th July 2013)

The Lord has not forsaken those who seek Him.

Give thanks

Advent days 17 & 18: Hearing and Seeing.


I took this photo last night. It is of some solar baubles. Though cheap, there appears nothing cheap about the image reflected back. Reading my way through what is Karl Barth’s second book in the Church Dogmatics series, I was stopped by the phrase: ‘the Gospel is a light in an otherwise dark place’ (1938:55).  Not being completely content with just rushing through the text, and being cautious of overlooking, overstating or missing out completely on some insight. Sometimes when reading Barth, I wonder in awe at the concepts before me, which effectively slows my reading down to a complete stop. This happens to be one of those moments.

Barth writes: ‘the time of Jesus Christ takes the place of our time, coming to us as a glad message presented to us as a promise, to be seized and lived by us’ (Ibid, p.55). In Jesus Christ, God shows us ‘that he has time for us, a time which is right, genuine and real’ (Ibid, p.55).

Writing on some of the strengths of advent this week, it occurred to me that another one of Advent’s strengths is that it is not only a recollection of this fact, it is the declaration of it. God makes time for us. Like the shepherds we find ourselves bewildered by the message, fearful of the what, the who and curious about the where to. The declaration first made by an Angel must have been like and explosion of light. Perceptible by ear and visual by sight. Luke informs us that the shepherds followed. In faith and by way of reason, these shepherds confirmed what they had been told with what they would hear and see – they sensed, in real time, the God advent in the Christ event.

It is by no small, cheap, sun powered glow that God has time for you or me. It is by His son, given, vindicated and victorious. Mother Julian of Norwich(c.1342-c.1416) in ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, wrote:

‘out of love for us he wraps us around, fastens the clasp, and enfolds us in his love, so that he will never leave us. I saw that he is everything that is good for us…creation exists now and always because God loves it, made it, and looks after it’ (1987:13)

We are indeed graciously held above the abyss because of the fact that in Jesus Christ, God exhibited his love, care and creativity, making time to be for us and with us.

Gospel is a light_Barth_RL2013