I am getting ready to teach a class on Job. We are at that place in the first chapter when Job begins to lose everything dear to him. At one point he say the famous line, “Naked, I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return.”
It is sometimes thought that the “mother” Job refers to here is the earth since he speaks of returning to her, but then, I never take scripture at face value. I believe scripture is always intended to awaken us to life, not to besot us with beliefs and rules. Our verse today is a kind of initiation. Instead of adding beliefs to our already confused minds, the author instead strips our away our assumptions, leaving us in naked shivering awareness.
The process of shutting down the mind’s banter is sometimes called “negative theology.” Negative theology has a rich history in the East, but is largely ignored in the West. When Buddha spoke of “emptiness” it was a negative description of a very wonderful sense of dissolving into everything. The “nothingness” here is “no-thingness,” not vacuum.
In the East, the experience is suggested by riddles of broken mirrors, severed fingers, or asking what your face looked like before you were born. In the West, the same wonderful sense of terrifying unity can be found in works like “Cloud of Unknowing” or “Dark Night of the Soul” or the works of Meister Eckhart.
Today we find that negative theology in Job’s little song. Our human condition is that we are born naked from the earth, and we return to it naked. Negative theology is a reminder that our life does not consist in our possessions, our achievements, or even our beliefs. Negative theology strips away everything and leaves us only with a question. But that one question is a homing beacon to our source. “If my life does not consist of what I can have and hold, of what then does it consist?”