New Year's Meditation: Edges, Endings, and Eternal Beginnings
Due to the law of analogy (as above, so below), these reflections are everywhere, but we must learn how to detect them. Hints of God are in literally everything, in the most mundane objects and activities, something that modern man has gradually forgotten, much to his spiritual detriment. Pre-Enlightenment man perhaps lived at the other extreme, a completely enchanted world in which nothing was merely what it was. Rather, everything -- mountains, rivers, trees, stars, etc. -- was an occasion for recollection of God. The universe was a theophany -- a garment, so to speak, that both concealed and revealed the naked God.
Now this "ground floor" of the human psyche still exists. We can pretend to ignore it, but it will be at our peril and to our spiritual detriment. For in reality, just as no person can actually successfully repress his unconscious, even the most devout materialistic atheist cannot actually treat the cosmos as a mere object. Look at Carl Sagan, for example. One of the reasons he was such a popular figure is that -- his doctrinaire atheism notwithstanding -- he successfully inspired a sense of wonder in science geeks about the cosmos. One would be wrong to conclude that this wonderment was simply a logical response to the objective science. Rather, this sense of wonder is what inspired Sagan to become a scientist to begin with, and it was infectious for billions and billions of nerds -- perhaps even increasing their reproductive fitness by making them slightly more appealing to women.
Here again we see that the roots of science extend into thoroughly alogical (not illogical) cognitive modalities. The true man of science confronts our numinous cosmos with the same awe and wonderment as the ancients, but simply takes it in a different direction. But in the end, wonder is both science's sufficient cause and its necessary end, for, despite a scientific revolution that has now been going on for well over 300 years, the cosmos is vastly more mysterious and wonderful than even the most imaginative ancient could have conceived. Wonders will never cease, even if our capacity for wonderment continues to be blunted by some of the other deleterious effects of modernity -- it's ugliness, its obsession with the transient and trivial, its elevation of our animal nature to an end rather than a means, etc.
But why a sense of wonder? On the one hand, animals -- and many animal-human hybrids -- have no sense of wonder. They have appetites, desires and impulses, but are essentially content when these are temporarily satiated. But the higher we ascend, the more preoccupied we are with this heightened sense of wonder. I am at the point in my life when I would be satisfied to spend my entire day in a state of contemplative wonder, just patiently waiting for my daily bread -- which always comes, if you wonder long enough.
For the functional aspect of wonder is to clear a space so that one may be shocked by the familiar. It seems that evolution built us in such a way that we can get used to anything. For you menfolk out there, never forget that in a bar somewhere, Billy Bob Thornton is saying, "Angelina? You find her attractive? That annoying drama queen?" And Brad Pitt is saying, "Jennifer? That clinging dolt? I couldn't look at her for another second." Yes, there is nothing we cannot get used to -- which is why we must counter this tendency by cultivating our sense of wonder (and its sister, gratitude). It is what allows us to recognize and escape through the numberless inscapes that dot the horizon.
Me? I am very happily married. Why? Because it never ceases to amaze me that any earth woman would have me. It's something I wonder about all the time. But I didn't intend to get tastelessy personal here, like Col. Beaglehole and Dame Edith.
The celebration of the New Year is a ritual we retain because it allows us to brush up against the eternal. Again, religions are languages of the absolute -- you might say that religious language is suffused with the light of the eternal, allowing us to recognize the "afterglow" from above. It is like a meteor shot down from heaven. Like the wind, we don't know where it comes from, but we can detect it as it whizzes by. By meditating on it, we may "prolong" eternity into time.
But there are "natural" ways to think about the eternal, and the New Year is one of them. How is that? Since I am running out of time, I will mostly quote from a very interesting (and now expensive) book called The Symmetry of God by Rodney Bomford, which does the best job of integrating sophisticated theology and modern psychoanalysis I have ever encountered.
Bomford notes that we cannot actually conceve of eternity, since it is both timeless and changeless, whereas thought naturally takes place in time. But we can grasp it through various analogies in the herebelow, for example, the "everlasting," which "provides the closest image of the timeless within time." Therefore, we gain a sense of timeless in proximity to things that are very old, like a European cathedral, or the Pyramids, or Wrigley Field -- anything "whose beginning is lost in the mists of time, the ancient and the ageless, for these approximate in feeling to the everlasting."
At the same time, at the other end of the extreme, we may also glimpse the eternal in the passing moment, "for such a thing is simultaneously whole and unchanging -- it has no time in which to change.... It is there in its fullness -- and it is gone again." Thus, a mystic such as William Blake could see eternity in a flower or grain of sand
Eternity can also be suggested "by the last event of a series." Bomford cites the example of an aging travel-writer "who had long before visited many places for the first time, and returned often, found a renewed significance in returning once more deliberately for the last time. Places regained the freshness of the first visit." Similarly, "the last words of the dying may be seen as a key to an understanding of a whole life. The last of the series completes the picture, ends the story, and thus hints at the instantaneous wholeness of eternity."
Think "it is accomlished." What was? Oh, I don't know, maybe a little bridge between time and eternity in the heart of the cosmos, making each moment an eternal new year where death touches Life and the former is tranfsigured by the latter.
Today we stand at the edge of time, and therefore, the edge of eternity, as we approach the "end" of one year and the "beginning" of another -- the uniting of old and new, as they touch tomorrow at midnight. The Book of Revelation captures this quality, when the enthroned Christ "announces himself as The First and the Last and the Lord God himself is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end. Similarly, St. Augustine "addressed God as 'Thou Beauty, both so ancient and so new,' an expression of eternity which plucks at a deep unconscious chord in us."
O first and last truth of Self
Knowing without knowledge all that can be unKnown:
Existence to the end of the beginning.*
Unborn body of the bodiless one,
Dark rays shining from a midnight sun,
Your phase before you were bearthed and begaialed,
Empty tomb of a deathlaz child.
I am? That!
O me ga!
I can explain everything.
I know this place.
Been here before.
Where we started.
No it this time.
The word made fresh.
Telos when it's over.
Now. It is accomplished. --Petey, with *HT to John Lennon and Jesus