Sunday, June 04, 2006

Disposable Bobservations with an Eye on the Eternal

Well, I’m sitting here waiting for my mind to come online this morning, but it’s not happening. Bad innernaut connection or something. It happens. Usually sleep reboots me, but not always. I think my sugar may have gotten a little low in the middle of the night, which can cause a sort of hangover the next day.

So, I’ll just keep applying my fingers to the keyboard, hoping for something to happen. If not, I’ll just close up shop early. Whatever. It’s Sunday. Shouldn’t be doing anything anyway.

Speaking of typing, if I have any obessive-compulsive readers out there, don’t be shy about informing me of embarassing typos. Although I’m a good speller--oddly, aside from PE it was probably the only “subject” I was good at in school--I’m a terrible typist. Plus, since my computer died a few months ago I’ve been using the lap top, which I can’t get used to. Totally different feel. Many atypigraphical 'orrors result.

The only bad thing about blogging is that I have to put things out there before they’re really ready. As I go through the day, not only do I correct little spelling or grammatical errors, but I tend to make more major changes in my posts, even though I doubt that anyone knows or cares. It’s weird. It’s like my aesthetic conscience won’t allow me to leave certain awkward, infelicitous, or unclear passages to stand. Why? What’s the point?

Perhaps because God can see them. In Europe, many of the cathedrals have gargoyles hidden on the roof that no one will ever see, unless you make a special point of it. I am told that the artisans of the middle ages were so serious about their work that these gargoyles are just as perfect as the visible ones. It’s not as if they stuck the flawed or chipped ones up there where no one could see them. These artisans consciously worked with their minds focussed on eternity, not within the field of time. Therefore, there was no point whatsoever in covering up mistakes and just getting by. They were not working in order to please others or even please themselves or Rick Nelson, but to please God. They were true karma yogis--the yoga of selfless work for the Divine.

Over the months, people have occasionally asked me for explicit advice about a spiritual practice. That is somewhat difficult to do, because it presumes tinkering at the margins of your life or simply adding something to it. But the truth of the matter is that, as I have mentioned before, you have to turn your entire life upside down and inside out. If you are serious about your quest--and even the seriousness of your search is not something you have full conscious control over--you have to change everything, not merely the “content” of your life, but the context. Like those medieval artisans, you begin living your life with a constant sense of the eternal in everything you do.

Again, a good part of this is apparently out of our conscious control. In some mysterious way, we do not choose God, but he chooses us. I would like to take the credit for turning out the way I have, but it was really more a matter of gradually removing layers of cultural, educational and familial accretions to reveal this very odd bird underneath. You don’t have to take astrology literally to understand that we all possess both a genetic and a celestial blue print, a vertical and a horizontal one. Our lives are woven out of the warp and weft of these horizontal and vertical influences as they create unique patterns in time.

This is why, by the way, even Jesus could say that “there is no one good but God,” for only God entirely transcends the horizontal (even though he is, at the same time, fully immanent within it). And it would also explain the inevitable blind spots of the most holy of holy men, whether Shankara, Saint Paul, Sri Aurobindo, or the Pope. Just the fact of being embodied means that your knowledge of anything is going to have some relativity mixed in with the absolute. One more good reason for stable scripture and dogma which is not subject to relativistic decay.

(Which reminds me--I saw a wonderful movie the other night, one I hadn’t seen since film school some 25 years ago, The Talk of the Town, starring Cary Grant, Ronald Colman and Jean Arthur and directed by George Stevens. It’s a very multifaceted work, but one of its central themes is the dialectic between the vertical, purely abstract rule of law, vs. embodied, flesh-and-blood human relations--between the Platonic and the Aristotelian, you might say. Wonderful film that works on many levels.)

Anyway, back to one’s spiritual practice. One is either serious about it or one is not. If you are serious about it and pursue it with all your mind and heart, then something eventually happens. You sort of “snap,” and there is a reversal of figure and ground. It’s somewhat like any other skill, like skiing. I remember the feeling of trying to ski, then suddenly effortlessly skiing. You fall into a sort of natural rhythm that effortlessly navigates over the contour of the mountain. You are a "born again" skier.

This goes to the question of how you find God. You don’t. Not really, any more than the scientist finds the world. Rather, you just learn how to look. Now it’s as if I can’t help looking for God in everything I write. It’s very automatic--it is the context of everything I think and write about. You might think that it’s repressive or restrictive, but it feels like the opposite--very expansive and liberating. I don’t know what I would do if I felt imprisoned within the walls of the merely horizontal. This is why we must be so grateful to those dedicated pneumanauts that preceded us and showed us the way out of the closed circle of mere animal, material existence.

For man was made for transcendence. He is the only animal who becomes less than himself if he doesn’t perpetually surpass himself, even though you never fully arrive at your deustination in this life.

Oh well, time to stop. Just when the spirit was starting to come online. Whatever you do, don’t let that happen to your life, for the night is coming when no man can work.

Or so we have heard from the wise. Not from just any old 9-5 Johnny or jnani-come-lately.


Sal said...

The musicians will concur, re: skill. Or like knitting: one minute you're painstakingly forming stitch...after stitch...after stitch, and then suddenly stitches are flowing off your needle like water downhill. After that, it's just variations on a theme.

have several observations on spiritual practice, but must hit the garden before it's 100.

Gagdad Bob said...

Okay, just watch for serpents.

jwm said...

"Boris, dahling why do you wearing clown costume?"

"Eez secret plan to get Gagdad Bob, Natasha."

"But Boris, we supposed to get Moose and Squirrel."

"We get Moose and Squirrel later. Now we get Gagdad Bob. Watch secret plan! We show up on Gagdad Bob site web. He think we are circus clown and train bear. We offer bag of circus popcorn to Gagdad Bob. What he don't know is that is special TNT popcorn! One bite and KABLOOEY! No more Gagdad Bob! Then we take over site web for secret dirty plan. People send us boxtops and discount coupons in exchange for special spirit advice. Soon we have all boxtops and discount coupons in America. We own all money in America! Soon we rule whole internet!"

"But Boris, what if Gagdad Bob isn't fool by clown suit disguise?"


"Yes, Boris..."

"Sharrup you mouf!"

Gagdad Bob said...

Heh heh. One Cosmos is diabolical plot of Moose and Squirrel.

mrp said...

GB -

Plus, since my computer died a few months ago I’ve been using the lap top, which I can’t get used to. Totally different feel.

If your laptop has a USB port, you can purchase a USB-PS/2 cable that will allow you to use your PC's keyboard and mouse with your portable machine. No additional software required. The cable is available online or at any major office supply store.

Gagdad Bob said...

O, the things I don't know about the world, the childlike awe I have for people who possess such practical know-how....

will said...

Re hidden gargoyles and such - it took a long time to build a cathedral, long time, long time. Generations came and went. The populations of whole towns and villages took part in cathedral construction, with many wholeheartedly dedicating themselves to the project, knowing that they would never live to see its completion. And yet their dedication was fulfillingly, joyously 100%.

Not exactly a sound-byte culture.

Hmm, hidden gargoyles - that's the way I feel about

will said...

Come to think of it, are we not all hidden gargoyles?

. . . what d'ya mean, "speak for myself"?

OK fine, *I'm* a hidden gargoyle.

Connecticut Yankee said...

I don't think that spiritual practice is a purely individual do-it-yourself project. I do think that spiritual friendships are one way that God draws (in Jesus' words) people to himself. In my experience, individuals need some kind of community of fellow pilgrims, even if it is only an informal--or nowadays--virtual fellowship. It doesn't have to be large. I'm reminded of C. S. Lewis's observations about the close friendships that he made in the course of his life; prior to his conversion, he assumed that his initial encounters with these people were coincidence-- they "just happened" to be students in the same college he had been assigned to or soldiers in the same army regiment. After his conversion, he saw (in his words) that "a secret Master of the Ceremonies had been at work."
I have always been struck by Jesus' words to his disciples in the Fourth Gospel, in which he says that he calls them "no longer servants but friends." There has been a tradition of the "soul friend" ever since the patristic period in which it is understood that God or Jesus is always an unseen third party in the human friendship. St. Aelred of Rievaulx's treatise on spiritual friendship (12th century) opens with the words, "Here we are together, thou and I; and I pray that between us Christ is a third." Some of the Greek Fathers even spoke of the Trinity as a community of three friends.
I don't know enough about Jewish mysticism to state definitely, but it seems to me very likely that there is a comparable understanding of friendship as an aid to and a dimension of the human soul's journey to God.
It seems to me, too, that spiritual friendship is a necessary corrective to some of Petey's gender stereotypes, which I found bothersome for several reasons-- not least because they can be taken to imply that the unmarried (or unpartnered) person is at best only a partial human being. One of the things that impressed me about the spiritual friendships I read about in my historical research is the complete absence of concern about gender prior to the nineteenth century. In my own life I've been blessed with male as well as female soul friends. I don't think the gender distinction is nearly as significant as the friend's general spiritual maturity and relationship to God. In addition, it is possible for a spiritual friendship to include more than two people, as the patristic model of the Trinity suggests; thus gender dualism isn't always relevant.
This is a long windup to the pitch, I know, but for any readers of Bob's blog who are sincerely spiritual seekers, it may help to look around your circle of friends and acquaintances for those who may have been brought into your life by the "secret Master of the Ceremonies."

Gagdad Bob said...


There is a Talmudic saying to the effect that God spends most of his time arranging meetings and marriages.

You are absolutely right about the "spiritual third." It is why I have an instant rapport, even intimacy, with a serious seeker from any true path, much more so than with any secular person, even ones I have known for a long time.

You become one with the other in that thirdness.

Connecticut Yankee said...


Thanks for the Talmudic reference-- it's particularly delightful because two of my soul friends are observant (Conservative) Jews, a husband and wife.

Sal said...

CY -
Christianity is full of such famous friendships - Sts. Francis and Clare, Jerome and Paula, Teresa and John of the Cross, Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marrilac, etc.

Out of the creative complementarity of these friendships, great things were accomplished.

On being serious about spiritual practice - this is why serious seekers need a rule of life and usually realize that early on. It can be as simple or as complicated as needed or is appropriate. There can be great freedom of detail within the basic framework, which will vary from tradition to tradition.

(Okay - does anyone else have every sentient being in their house show up while they're trying to post to Bob and distract them? Do our brain waves change or something?)

Will - "Saints of the Shadows"? Wonderful, love it.

will said...

Sal, thank you.

HV said...

Hi Bob,
I recently discovered your blog, and would like to say how much I enjoy it. I guess I am one of those odd folks who agrees with you on both religion and politics. I seem to have hit the same waypoints as you in my long spiritual quest, including Vendanta and orthodox Christianity, except perhaps in somewhat reversed order. I was introduced to the early Christian father Dionysius the Areopagite at age 14 by my parents, so I grew up thinking that mysticism and esoteric truth was a normal part of religion.

I am not sure how much I will comment here, but if I do, it will be to ask questions, not so much for guidance but to get someone else's perspective on things that puzzle me. I promise I will not be questioning how someone so spiritually attuned as you are cannot be a leftist. I understand perfectly why you are not a leftist. I have been studying leftists for probably 40 years and have given up on finding anything that makes sense in that religion. I will also not be trying to convince you that your soul is in peril for not believing exactly as I do.

Connecticut Yankee said...


The three resident felines INVARIABLY come around to beg for food, head skritches, or some other form of attention when I'm composing a post to Bob. They will often perform what I can only call cat yoga on the floor near my desk to catch my eye. Bob must be able to send some kind of vibrational catnip through the ether!

Apropos of male/female friendships in Christian history, I would add Jonathan and Sarah Edwards (J's wife; he considered her far more spiritually advanced than he was) and Jacques and Raissa Maritain. But there are also good examples of spiritually fruitful friendships between two (or three) men (John Henry Newman, John Keble, and Edward Pusey; Basil of Caesarea and Gregory Nazianzen; Martin Luther and Johann von Staupitz) or between two women (Melania the Younger and the Empress Eudokia). Whatever form it takes, it's always a gift to treasure!

Gagdad Bob said...

Let's not forget Paul and Jan Crouch.

Michael Andreyakovich said...

Even men from different sects can join in the search for the Truth: I offer you the Inklings, with particular emphasis on the friendships between Charles Williams, Jack Lewis, and John Ronald Tolkien.

(I just realized that that first clause does not quite equate to what I wanted to say - it sounds more like what the Unitarian Universalists used to say before they went all political - but I can't really phrase it much better.)

jwm said...

Hooo, it's almost 7:30, and finally I'm sitting down to drop my two cents worth. And one of the two points of discussion is exactly why. I don't like when it happens, but once again I let my anger get the better of me earlier on today. I have a hard time shifting gears after letting it fly. Before I could adequately decopmress, my wife came back from her morning meeting. We were both up late last night, and we both needed to crash for a bit. I got up, and before my fingers could hit the keyboard she wanted to go see DaVinci Code. :P (C-)
Fortunately it's too hot for Booger the Cat to want to jump in my lap.
The second theme of discussion hits the target for me. Step by step I have come a great distance from the time I started hanging out here. I have changed, but it's hard to tell quite how. I have moved, but from where to where is equally hard to define. I have felt spurts of- for lack of a better word- growth, but for weeks now I've had a sense of being stalled, of not moving. Today's post by C.Y. caused me to stumble on the obvious. I really don't have anyone in my life whom I can sit down with and talk at length. I can talk to my wife, but only so much and so far. I've started a couple on-line discussions but they've kind of fizzled. So I continue with morning and evening prayer. I make a point of going over Bob's postings a couple or three times before adding anything here. I check over at Bible Gateway read something from the Old, and New Testaments. And then OK- Now what? Well, for one thing, Booger the Cat has decided to sit on the keyboard, and I need my after movie motrin.


Lisa said...

Evening All- I had to laugh when I read through all the comments about animals interrupting posts on the Cosmos. The same thing happens to me.

An exciting thing happened to me this week. I went outside to check out my pond and there was a turtle hanging out on a lily pad. The pond has a new resident. Will have to do some research on symbology of turtles.

I would also like to thank Bob for usually putting in at least one word I have to google, unsure if it's real or a bobism. You have helped with the accretion of my vocabulary and knowledge.

Gagdad Bob said...


There's been a psycho-cosmic flu going around for the past six weeks or so. The fact that you caught it is actually a sign of progress, of being more "tapped in" to the spiritual dimension. If you don't believe me, ask the Deputy.

In any event, I believe it's just starting to pass, at least in my case.

Sal said...

JWM - I, too, really miss old cyber-friendships of a religious nature. The mail-list I hung out with for years was agenda-based, rather than general, so when my views changed, there was not much point in lingering.
I read a few blogs and occasionally comment, but that's not the same as a spirited chatroom discussion.

I love OC, though not in its target audience, for Bob's abilities to 'splain it and the wit and erudition of the commentors.

DerImpresario said...

Hmm... curious. The trolls are active whenever you mention their hotbuttons... coincidence?

Probably not. I think the last time one of them engaged you on a purely spiritual level they were rather badly trounced.

Hopefully this is the last time I post while sleep-deprived.