Cosmic Sunday Sermon: Dude, Where Are You?
So, in the Book of Genesis, after Adam devours the apple and becomes the prototype of fallen, alienated, and egoic man, he goes into hiding. First, he knows deep down that he is naked, with all that word implies. Next, he tries to hide from God among the trees. As if.
The very first thing God says to the newly naked, self-sufficient and fugitive man is, "Where are you?" Evidently Adam has entered a new psycho-spiritual space that is not even familiar to God. Why would it be, if this was his first crack at creating a being with free will? To capture the emotional tone of the situation, it is more like, "Dude -- where are you?" Remember, just a moment ago they were intimate pals who could gambol about the garden together in the cool of the day. But not now. Somebody changed.
The spirit of the primordial lie has been transferred from the serpent, to the woman, to Adam. It has already taken root, to such an extent that Adam seems incapable of telling the truth. Instead -- like most humans since -- he just uses the gift of speech to "plug holes," to paper over, and to confabulate, like a child who is caught red-handed doing something wrong.
Emotion no doubt interfering with the clarity of his diction, Adam momentarily resembles that other archetype of prideful but insecure grandiosity, Ralph Kramden: "Homena-homena-homena.... I was, ah, afraid because I was, er, naked... Yeah, that's it. Naked! Nobody wants to be seen walking around naked in public."
I remember my first big lie. I was about four or five years old, and discovered a bucket of used motor oil in the garage. Not too far away was a paint brush. It was the work of an instant to decide that it would be a good idea to slap a coat of oil on the outside of the house.
Not too long thereafter, I heard the sound of my father's car arriving home from work in the cool of the evening. "Gagboy! Where are you?"
Hiding in a tree in the back yard, of course. There are times that the best course of action is to preserve a tactful silence. It's something I still do at times.
Come to think of it, a reader recently requested that I write something about spirituality and married life. Jot that one down in your notebook -- better yet, tattoo it on the inside of your eyelids: Preserve a tactful silence. It will serve you well in perilous times. No promises, but you may well be able to avoid the old "conversation with the flying plates."
Anyway, there was something about the tone of my father's voice, don't you know. Something that said "discretion is the better part of valor," but of course I wouldn't have expressed it that way as a young gagboy. I just thought it best to make myself scarce until the whole thing blew over in a couple of years.
Upon discovering my whereabouts, my father asked me -- rhetorically, of course -- if I possessed any knowledge of the oil job on the house. Having no familiarity with the concept of "rhetorical," I responded in the negatory. "Ahh, why no. Nothing at all. Never heard of it. Good day at the office, what?"
My son is only 20 months old. Other parents have informed me that it's a bit of a jolt the first time you catch your child in a brazen lie. We can well imagine the somewhat flustered mindset of the Creator, caught off guard in this way.
Hieromonk Damascene asks, "How can the human ego, immersed in its own gratification, hide from the ever-present reality of God and the spirit? How else than by a constant state of distraction into sensual pleasures, thoughts, memories and fantasies?"
Thus, man's fall was at once "a fall into distraction, and that is how his consciousness started to become as compounded and fragmented as it is today." Naked and on the run, we seek ever greater props and distractions -- food, drugs, debased entertainment, meaningless sex, popularity, recognition, glory, power, group status.
But that primordial question, "Where are you?," continues to ring out from the depths of eternity. It is not heard by the ego, but by the spirit: Self calling out to self. It is experienced as an unnamed suffering. On a spiritual level, it is analogous to our ability to sense physical pain. Without any sense of pain, we'd soon injure ourselves beyond repair.
Which some people do, for it is the same way with the spirit. There are people who fall so far from the source that they no longer hear the "Where are you?" These people are either difficult to be around, or they are downright scary. The scary ones are the people who have extinguished the still small voice of vertical conscience.
You will know these folks by a mild shudder or revulsion you feel in their presence. Either that, or the hair stands up on the back of your neck (apparently, that's why it's there--sort of a personal demon detector). In truth, these are not humans, nor are they beasts. They are monsters -- big ones, like Stalin, Yasser Arafat, Hitler -- but petty ones as well, which I will refrain from naming. You know who they are.
In Orthodox Christianity, "metanoia" is the word used to describe what happens when we acknowledge the suffering that lies underneath all of the distraction and self-deception. It is translated as "repent," which means literally to humbly "turn around" and face what we have been running from -- to change the spirit, purify the eye of the soul, and realign ourselves around that from which we had been fleeing.
Now, instead of being an open system that seeks "nourishment" only from the fallen world, we turn to another source of vitality, and begin the process of becoming an open system in dynamic rapport with a nonlocal source. It is, as Paul said, to be "transformed by the renewing of your nous," for renewal can only occur in an open system, not a static one.
To embrace the lie -- any lie -- is to enter a parallel universe and a spiritually closed system, alienated from the "really real," as Gregory of Nyssa called it. A closed system is equivalent to death, as all living things are open systems in a state of dynamic equilibrium. Much depends on what you are open to. You are what you eat -- both physically and spiritually.
Mmmmm, medicine of immortality....
According to Hieromonk Damascene, "we know that our metanoia is genuine -- that is, that a Divine change has really occurred in us," when we have a spontaneous revulsion for many of the things that previously appeared "sweet" or alluring to us.
I personally have seen this gradual change in myself. No, it is not complete. But I have seen chain after chain "drop away," not necessarily big things, but just little annoyances that bind you to the ephemeral. Denied nutrients, they just start to whither and die. Every once in a while one might cry out, "Where are you?," but it is increasingly easy to ignore it. "Go away. If you must know, I'm walking around with Petey in the cool of the evening."
Oh, and since we have a specific request from a reader to toss some Sri Aurobindo into the mix, here's how he describes the psycho-cosmic situation alluded to above in his poem Savitri:
A Nature that denied the eternal Truth
In the vain braggart freedom of its thought
Hoped to abolish God and reign alone.
There was no sovereign Guest, no witness Light;
Unhelped it would create its own bleak world....
It's huge misguided fancy took vast shapes,
It's mindless sentience quivered with fierce conceits....
Leaders of the cosmic ignorance and unrest
And sponsors of sorrow and mortality
Embodied the dark ideas of the Abyss.
A shadow substance into emptiness came,
Dim forms were born in unthinking Void...
Accustomed to the unnatural dark, they saw
Unreality made real and conscious Night.
A violent, fierce and formidable world,
An ancient womb of huge calamitous dreams....
It was the gate of a false Infinite,
An eternity of disastrous absolutes,
An immense negation of spiritual things....
Being collpased into a pointless void
That yet was a parent of the worlds;
Inconscience swallowing up the cosmic Mind
Produced a universe from its lethal sleep....
Maybe I will name names. Nah... let's just reflect on what we can personally do to wake from the lethal sleep that dreams this bleak world.
Fitness and unfitness are only a way of speaking; man is unfit and a misfit (so far as spiritual things are concerned) -- in his outward nature. But within there is a soul and above there is a Grace. This is all you know or need to know... --Sri Aurobindo
Paul the Apostle knew this well; and, being possessed of a very clear understanding of the matter, he wrote in his letters more plainly and with greater lucidity that there are in fact two men in every single man. He says for instance: 'For if our outward man is corrupted, yet the inward man is renewed day by day'.... Of these two men he tells us that the one, namely, the inner man, is renewed from day to day; but the other, that is, the outer, he declares to be corrupted and weakened... --Origen