Eckhart starts with a fundamental distinction between the oneness of God and the multiplicity of the world (check out my blog on divine simplicity if that makes your head boggle – link below). The closer to God things are, the simpler they are; the further away, the more multiple. In line with lots of other people who espouse divine simplicity, Eckhart tends to see physical, external things as more multiple than spiritual and intellectual internal things, so he tends to privilege minds over bodies and what we want and choose over what we actually do. It's not that external actions don't matter; it's just that they're less important than what's going on inside us. In addition, we can control what goes on inside us more easily than we can what goes on externally: we can't stop our annoying friends coming round and being annoying, but we can make sure that our minds are fixed on God at all times so we're able to love them even when they're idiots. We can't feed all the hungry people in the world, but we can get ourselves to the point where if we could, we would: and Eckhart thinks that for God, that's as good as actually doing it. We can't ignore what goes on around us, and we have to get involved with it, if only because we need to eat and drink and wear clothes just to not die; but the more we care about God, the more we'll be preoccupied with what's going on inside us, because that's the part of us that's most like God, and the less we'll care about whether our food is tasty or has maggots in. But at the same time, Eckhart does realise that external things can reveal God to us - an amazing steak can speak to us of the goodness of God - so we need to both let go of external things and also grasp God in and through them.
It really comes down to this: that everything comes from God, and if we want God more than anything else then our relationship to all of those other things will fall into place naturally: we'll see everything in terms of its relationship to God. But if those things are more important to us than God is, our whole way of seeing the world gets snarled up, and the good things God made becomes dangerous temptations into sinfulness and idolatry.
Creation, for Eckhart, is about God giving of himself; and our response to his generosity should be to give ourselves in return. We are most ourselves when we're totally given over to God, when we're so united with God that God acts and wills through us, when we have chosen God so profoundly that God chooses God in us. We get so given over to God, in the end, that it becomes difficult to tell where we end and God begins (this is the bit that got Eckhart in trouble for sounding a bit heretical), and our relationship with God should, eventually, resemble the relationships of the Trinity, where God is one but also three. Getting to this place of perfect relationship with God isn't easy, at least at first. Eckhart says it's like learning how to write: when you start, it's really difficult; you have to concentrate really hard and it still looks like some drunken spiders vomited all over the page. But if we keep persevering, slowly training ourselves, then eventually be able to write beautifully without even thinking about it (That's perhaps a less comforting analogy for those who, like me, have always had dreadful handwriting). If we discipline ourselves to want God above all else, then choosing God will, eventually, become second nature, and we won't even need to think about how we relate to the physical things around us because with God at the centre of our lives, everything else will naturally assume its rightful place.
Slightly harsh post on Eckhart here.
Divine simplicity made simple here.
Photo: Eckhart extract.