Vertical Living
February 1, 2022

After all these months pondering integration, I have come to the point of believing that the dynamic of integration just is the real at its heart. Everything that is real or comes to be real is a dynamo of integrative coherence. I also believe it is true that the real is interpersoned love at its heart. These are integrally linked, since integrative putting together is a distinctively person-enacted dynamic.

Every knowing is an integrative feat. Every thing is an integrative whole irreducible to its parts. Every thing is personally covenanted and creatively “seen” into being. Being “has a personal face,” as David Schindler says, welcomed somehow to being, coherently integrated, in the loving gaze of another personal face.

There’s a “verticality,” as I think of it, to all this—to integration, to the real, and to my knowing it. In my 2011 Loving to Know I presented James Loder’s “four dimensions of humanness.”[1] Loder offers it as the lively dynamic which undergirds our knowing and our being. These dimensions develop as we grow to full personhood. The four dimensions are: the world, the ego, the Void, and the Holy. Picture these laid out on two crossed lines, one horizontal and the other vertical.

Place the first dimension, the world, at the left end of the horizontal line. Place the second dimension, the ego, at the right end of the horizontal line. As we “come to” as persons, in a way our surroundings come to us first; then we come to locate ourselves distinctively within our surroundings. These two dimensions, without the third and fourth, amount to a two-dimensional, “horizontal” life. It’s about me coping with the world—which of course you and I do a lot of! But quite commonly we measure success merely horizontally. We’re on top of things. Or we need to get on top of things. Our skewed and damaging modernist epistemology and metaphysics is . . . mere horizontality.

However! Let me tell you about the Void. (I always say that this notion is worth the sadly horrendous price of my book.) Place the Void at the bottom of the vertical line. Our two dimensional coping with the world is from time to time undercut and outrun by the Void. Loder defines the Void as “the threat of nonbeing.” Any crisis, from overdrawing your checking account to the surprise divorce of your parents, is an experience of the Void. And let me add that I don’t believe this implies that evil is necessary to our humanness. What is necessary—a third dimension of our humanness—is a “might not be.” I might not be. And in light of the fact that you are, that was meant to be a thing of wonder.

I’ve gleaned from others over the years that there are two wrong things and one right thing to do with the Void.[2] One wrong thing is to deny it, to try to keep living two dimensionally, horizontally. The other wrong thing is to make your bed in it, in despair and cynicism. Even as I say these things, I feel sure you recognize them!

The one right thing is to cry out for help. This alone is the first response that is authentic and truthful. It is a first responsible response. It is a moment of a first tiny glimmer of hope. It is an acknowledgement that what you need must come from beyond you. It is to open yourself to that.

Place the fourth dimension, the Holy, at the top end of the vertical line. Loder defines the Holy, clearly in tandem with his definition of the Void, as the graciously inbreaking possibility of new being. Into the Void, and only into the Void, the Holy comes.

Here’s a simple and quick example of a Void-Holy experience: you find yourself penniless. Your cry out. Or you pray. Out of the blue your mother sends you some funds. The cry of help may be something we utter for a long long time. Therapist Dan Allender’s book, The Healing Path, chronicles the lengthy process of recovering from abuse.

My friend Donald tells his own horrific story of being mugged and locked in his own car trunk! The car was used, then abandoned. That is the Void! I have forgotten the details of his miraculous escape. I will never forget, thought, Dan’s resulting sense of the precious wholeness of his life, filled with the presence of God. That is the Holy.

It’s important to remember that the Holy doesn’t eliminate the Void, so much as sanctify it. In the wonderful words of the hymn: “and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.” After all, Loder offers these as four essential dimensions of humanness. Together they produce what he calls, the self able to give love.

The whole point of James Loder offering this in his book, The Transforming Moment, is to say that four-dimensional humanness undergirds and drives the act of coming to know.[3] The transforming moment of insight is the inbreaking of the Holy, of the gracious possibility of new being—a new world, a new you—that is never reducible to whatever you brought to it.

I believe that we are called, not to mere horizontal living, but to vertical living—to verticality. In my work I talk about living the Void-Holy dynamic. Somehow suspended over the abyss of our need or non-existence, we look beyond ourselves for the graced possibility of new being, the integrating wholeness that renders us ourselves and now givers of love. Quite simply this just is what worship is (or ought to be); worship enacts the Void-Holy dynamic. I believe that gratitude does as well: I didn’t have something; you furnished it. This might not be; but it is. “Here you are, standing there, loving me,” sings a wonder-filled Captain von Trapp to Maria. The Holy distinctively arrives in the noticing regard, the dignity conferring gaze of the other.[4]

Integration, the heart of the real, is top-down, Holy into Void, gracious inbreaking new being entering from beyond and catching up and constellating what otherwise are disparate, disconnected, meaningless, fragments. It’s true of me and you; it’s true of things in the primacy of their unity. It’s true of the act of insight. Something beyond us integrates us—in grace. This is the dynamic of love. The promise of new being gives itself generously.

The integrative whole is what it is by being irreducible. No linear adding of items will bring it to be. It takes a visitation from on high—an epiphany (Hats off to the season!) This is the verticality of the real. Integration is the heart of real.

Back to living vertically. What does it look like to live the VH dynamic? I mentioned worship, and gratitude. I think it involves a sense of that Holy presence, a humbly confident, joyous composure that anticipates generosity from beyond, but also in turn becomes a fountain of generosity itself. The man of the Gadarenes sits at Jesus’s feet, composed and in his right mind.

The 4-dimensional human has become, in Loder’s phrase, a self that gives love. The integrated thing or being or person overflows to pass along the gift. Lewis Hyde, writing of the sociology of a gift economy and applying this to art, speaks of our endeavors as “the labor of gratitude.”[5] We humans can’t help but be ourselves by overflowing in being and making to others. May this excessive overflow be pure and true and truly integrative.

And in light of the scattering disintegration we talked of last time, I think it is also important to note that vertical living involves a dancelike overture and response, an integrating, then receding, then reintegrating. In this snowy weather, I imagine this being like gently rocking your car to move beyond a skid. The wisdom of years of living comes to expression in a kind of artistry at this.

The whole dynamic of the real, and our participation in it (itself a gift)—is integration.

Ok, now—I promise!—I’m done with integration! –Although I’m not finished with splashing about in the real. Deep thanks to you who have walked with me through my probing. And prayers for you and me for living the integrative life.

Epiphany 2022
Steubenville, Ohio

[1] Esther Lightcap Meek, Loving to Know (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), chap 10; Meek, Little Manual for Knowing (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014) chap. 3.

[2] Dan Allender, The Healing Path: How the Hurts in Your Past Can Lead You to a More Abundant Life (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 1999), chap. 1; John Stanley, “Volunteer Training for Church Army Ministry”; Uncommongrounds Café, Aliquippa, PA.

[3] James Loder, The Transforming Moment, 2nd ed. (Colorado Springs: Helmers and Howard, 1989); see my diagrams in Little Manual, chap. 3.

[4] In Little Manual, chap. 3, I align the vertical dimension of fourfold humanness with the loving gaze of the other, beginning with that of the infant’s mother.

[5] Lewis Hyde, The Gift

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