De-mask Us On the Road to God
(As always, I have no idea if what follows is kosher Christianity. It's just one Coon's vision.)
As a matter of fact, I was thinking about this subject just yesterday. For in a certain way, the story of SaulPaul is as central to the Bible -- and to the arc of salvation -- as several other scriptural "centers," or "axes," all of which seem to parallel or reflect back and forth on each other. For example, one obvious center is in Genesis 1:1, with the creation of the cosmos -- or, to be perfectly accurate, the "withdrawal" of God and the polarization of beyond-being -- the Absolute -- into being and existence, or "heaven and earth." (In Vedanta, one would say "purusha" and "prakriti," or witness and activity; or saguna brahman [i.e., God as subject of the world] and maya [appearances].)
This scriptural center is deliberately paralleled in John 1:1, which even begins with the same three words, "In The Beginning." In both instances, "beginning" superficially refers to the "horizontal" beginning, as in the beginning of a sequence. But the deeper sense of the word has to do with the "vertical" beginning, which equates to the existential center. This center is not in space or time per se; rather, space and time are reflections of the center. "In the beginning was the Word" does not (just) mean "a long time ago," but in the center of each now. It is the "light that shines in the darkness," since light is precisely that which radiates from the center to the periphery.
Now, a man was sent by God -- i.e., the center -- "to bear witness of the Light" -- i.e., the radiation from the divine center. His name was John. He was required because, although the light shines in the dark, the dorks don't get it, so they need a pretty in-your-face kind of guy to point it out to them. John was just that man. As such, he represents another important center, a sort of "reflected center" who was not the light but who could see the light.
Jesus obviously represents the full embodiment of the center at the periphery. A couple of days ago we spoke of black holes, and how they pull everything into their vortex, so that nothing escapes. In a certain sense, Jesus might be thought of as the opposite, as a sort of "white hole" as it were, that pulls all of creation into its wake. You have heard of the esoteric tenet, "as above, so below," or, to be precise, "That which is below corresponds to that which is above, and that which is above corresponds to that which is below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing."
Another fundamental axiom is the greater the cause, the greater the effect. Thus, if Jesus is who he says he was, then it should be no surprise whatsoever that his effect continues to ripple through existence down through the centuries, like a depth charge dropped from heaven into the ocean of existence. It is not "speaking poetically" to say that we are surfing one of those little waves right now, no? If not, what are we doing? Just sitting here making s*** up at 5:00 in the morning? Er, I don't think so.
The Mystery of Golgotha represents an exact analogue of the mystery of creation itself. For if creation is God's kenosis, or self-emptying (and spontaneous self-giving) , then Jesus' work on the cross represents another central kenosis, a complete self-emptying, even into the "negative existence" of death. For Jesus does not merely die, but takes on the mantle of death in order to join ranks with the great "brotherhood of the dead." As Balthasar has written, when it is said that Jesus descended into hell on Holy Saturday, "descend" should not be understood in its active sense, but the strictly passive sense. He fell and fell and fell, just like humans, to the very periphery of existence, the furthest point from the light of the radiant cosmic center. Only when he hit rock bottom could the "fall" be reversed, the rock bottom nihil of dark death being "relatively absolute" separation from God.
Now this is all well and good for God, Son's of God, Light, Logoi, hand-selected apostles, and the like. Where do we fit in -- regular guys and gals, ordinary stumblebums, rank and foul earthlings?
Here I think that Saul serves as an archetypal illustration of the divine center as it manifests in fallen man. For just as Jesus represents the center crashing into the periphery, Saul ultimately represents the perpiphery making its way back to the center. In fact, Saul is not just an ordinary peripheral man who is ignorant of the Light. Rather, he is like the ACLU or the MSM or the Democrat party. He is specifically at war with the light. He is "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord," perhaps sometimes even threatening lawsuits. He is the envy of the ACLU, since he didn't have to be a sneaky weasel with a brief case, but could directly make "havoc of the church, entering every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison."
Thus, Saul represents another kind of center, a perverse center, even the "center of perversity." He is the "center of (not at) the periphery," so to speak, at war with the true center. Paradoxically, he must obviously be quite full of himself, the opposite of the self-emptying, radiant center. But his fullness does not bring peace but persecution, just like anyone with too much self esteem.
As we have been reading lately, psychologists are finally catching up to the self-evident truth that "self esteem" is neutral at best, but usually destructive. Most of the problems in the world are caused by people with too much self esteem -- dictators, criminals, newspaper editors, etc. Because they are so full of themselves, there is no space for God, which requires self emptying of one's own (false) center. As Paul would later say -- I'm paraphrasing here from memory, "It is not I who live any longer, but Christ in me" -- i.e., the real center at his center, rather than the bogus center of the hypertrophied ego. One or the other must go.
Since the false center of the ego represents an ontological nothingness, its resultant darkness envies the light. This envy is the dreary joy of the joyless, who simply spend their petty lives grinding away at truth, beauty, and virtue, as do so many lie-roasted academia nuts. Nowadays they might call it "speaking truth to power" in order to elevate themselves in their own eyes. Or they might give each other academy awards, or Pulitzers, or Nobel prizes, or even Daytime Emmys. These external supports are all necessary to prop up peripheral man and disenable his consciousness of guilt. No doubt if Saul were alive today, he would have been given a Nobel Peace Prize for his important work in combating extreme Christianism. He would join the ranks of other recent winners -- men and institutions at war with the center such as Yasser Arafat, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Mohamed El Baradei, the U.N., etc.
But then, on the "road to Damascus," as the cliche goes, Paul has a profound experience that pulls him from the periphery to the center. In its own way, this event is as principial as its reverse, when the center emptied out to the periphery in Genesis I and on Holy Saturday. For suddenly, in an instance of "quantum change," someone who had been at war with the center snaps like a rubber band into its opposite. If you can imagine the big bang as an infinite point radiating outward to the periphery, this would represent the opposite of that movement: perhaps the gnab gib.
The first and last step on the spiritual path is "repentence," which actually comes from the Greek metanoia which is simply to "turn around." Instead of turning our back to the central sun, we look around and see it face-to-face. Instead of running away from it, or struggling against it, we embrace it, like flowers that naturally orient themselves to the sun and open up in its presence.
Saul "opened up." At once he was in the presence of the central light which "shone all around him" (for how could it not, if one's eyes are open?), and fell down, Saul t' the earth. 'Efall and 'ego boom! In fact, we all fall what seems like a long distance. But in reality, it's just back to the ground, the same ground you were crawling on to begin with.
"Saul, why are you persecuting me? You're acting like a freaking ACLU goon. What's up with that?"
"Homena-homena-homena.... I was scared about the imminent Christo-fascist takeover, like I read about on dailykos... But w-what do you want with me?
"Before getting into that, why don't you just assimilate what's happened so far? Go have a little clubhouse meeting with yourself. Walking on water wasn't built in a day."
"Mmmmm, but I'm blind. I can't see anything."
"Yes, I know that. This is not in the book I've been working on, so you'll have to read between the lines. The point is not that you are blind. Rather, the point is that you can no longer "see" your previous world. It no longer exists because it never really existed. You are now in the land of the Real, but you do not yet have the sensory organs to see it. You are like unto someone who is snow blind. The problem is not darkness, but too much light. Now get lost for a few days, unplug, chill, relux and call it a deity. And turn off your cell phone! If any Romans call, you're not home, got it?"
We are then told that Saul spent the subsequent three days without sight, without food, and without liquid, simply shut up in his existential darkness.
This, of course, parallels the Jews' 40 years of wandering in the desert, Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the bewilderness, and ultimately the three days of the passion. In each case, "emptiness" at the periphery (i.e., "wilderness," "desert") is a prelude to "fullness" or "resurrection" at the center. Specifically, Saul's emptiness is filled with the Holy Spirit. He is charged with a mission, for if Jesus took care of the R & D, then Paul shall be the marketing department. He is to spread the good news of the center to the periphery, to "bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel."
Paul has a new name and new vocation (which means "calling"). His earth name is gone, as is his secular mission. Now he has a divine name and a divine mission. His sight is restored, but it's not like the old sight. Rather, he is granted his Coon Vision, as "the scales fall from his eyes." Then he arises back from the ground and stands as a truly Upright Man, an I-amissary of the center instead of a bipedal beast at the periphery.
Probably my favorite song is In the Garden by Van Morrison. I suppose if one must have a funeral, then I'd like it played at mine. Like Bob Dylan, he fools around with the pronouns, but I'm guessing it's autobiographical:
You wiped the teardrops from your eye in sorrow
As we watched the petals fall down to the ground
And as I sat beside you I felt the
Great sadness that day in the garden
And then one day you came back home
You were a creature all in rapture
You had the key to your soul
And you did open that day you came back to the garden
The olden summer breeze was blowin' on your face
The light of God was shinin' on your countenance divine
And you were a violet colour as you
Sat beside your father and your mother in the garden
The summer breeze was blowin' on your face
Within your violet you treasure your summery words
And as the shiver from my neck down to my spine
Ignited me in daylight and nature in the garden
And you went into a trance
Your childlike vision became so fine
And we heard the bells inside the church
We loved so much
And felt the presence of the youth of
Eternal summers in the garden
And as it touched your cheeks so lightly
Born again you were and blushed and we touched each other lightly
And we felt the presence of the Christ
And I turned to you and I said
No Guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature
And the father in the garden
No Guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature
And the Father and the
Son and the Holy Ghost
In the garden wet with rain