Friday, July 27, 2007

Your Father Says You're Grounded For Eternity!

The rivers return to the place from whence they flowed, so that they may flow again. --Eccl 1:7

Yesterday we touched on Eckhart's understanding of the ground where the divine and human meet. As McGinn explains, a fruitful way to understand Eckhart's thinking "is through the dynamic reciprocity of the 'flowing forth' of all things from the hidden ground of God, and the 'flowing back,' or 'breaking through,' of the universe into essential identity with this divine source."

This is obviously a different way of looking at reality, but this eternally circular flow is what I was attempting to convey with the abcircularity of my book, which ends in the middle of the sentence it begins with. It is not so much a horizontal circularity as a vertical one, in that it is the essential structure of each now, in which an entire cosmos comes into being and vanishes back into the ground from whence it came.

The river flows,
It flows to the sea
Wherever that river flows
Is where I want to be.
--Ballad of Easy Rider, the Byrds

Eckhart wrote that the "first grace" "consists in a type of flowing out, a departure from God," while "the second consists in a type of flowing back, a return to God himself." This may not be entirely kosher, but he spoke of how the Father is the "Principle," while the Son is the "Principle from the Principle" -- "Principle" referring to the "ideal reason" within God, "in which the essences of all things are precontained in a higher, or virtual way." He wrote that "what is produced or proceeds from anything is precontained in it. This is universally and naturally true, both in the Godhead and in natural and artificial things."

Elsewhere Eckhart speaks of a maternal aspect of the Creator, who is "eternally pregnant in his foreknowledge of creation": "before the foundation of the world, everything in the universe was not a mere nothing, but was in possession of virtual existence." But he draws a sharp distinction between God and Godhead, noting that "God acts, while the Godhead does not act." McGinn adds that "In the Godhead God 'un-becomes,' so that this ground must be described as pure possibility, the unmoving precondition of all activity..." Again, God's becoming is his "flowing out," while our return is his "flowing back," or "unbecoming."

This got me to thinking about the nature of this strange cosmos, which has hatched beings capable of pondering its own strangeness. In his book Mortality and Morality: A Search for God After Auschwitz, Jonas talks about the tendency of nature "beginning from structures of a lower order, to create a higher order such as we know. The hypothesis [is] that at the universe's moment of origin (the so-called 'Big Bang') there had also arisen, apart from the total energy of the cosmos, the information that would lead to further developments." Therefore, the Big Bang already contained a "'cosmogonic logos,' an idea that makes room for the concept of a 'cosmogonic eros'...."

The cosmos begins with the mystery of matter and proceeds to the mystery of subjectivity that has somehow arisen "from" or "through" matter. As such, as Jonas points out, the universe evolves from the outer to the inner: "historically, from the earlier to the later; quantitatively, from the most frequent to the rarest; structurally, from the simplest to the most complex; developmentally from seeing and feeling to thinking. Then from that which is innermost, rarest, and latest we turn back to that which is first of all, which even preceded matter."

As we inquire into the nature of "universal matter," we must ask: "From what principle of progress can its development -- that of the whole cosmos and then especially of the Earth up to the most subtle forms of the organic world -- be explained?" For Jonas, the answer is a kind of "universal information," or "cosmogonic logos." As far as we know, information is something that must be "stored" in a differentiated and stable physical substrate, but the Big Bang had no time to store anything and no place to store it, since time and matter didn't exist.

The ascent of nature might be able to be explained naturalistically if it produced machine-like entities with no "residue," so to speak. But as we know from our own experience, this is far from the case, "for there exists the dimension of the subjective -- inwardness -- which no material evidence by itself allows us to surmise, of whose actual presence no physical model offers the slightest hint." "Nor would the fullest description of the brain, down to its minutest structures and most delicate ways of functioning, provide any clue of the existence of consciousness, if we did not know about it through our own inner experience -- precisely through consciousness itself."

Jonas was one of my inspirations in attempting in my book to analyze the human phenomenon on a cosmological basis -- in particular, subjectivity, or the "interior horizon," as an irreducible ontological fact. As Jonas writes, "it is universal matter itself which, in becoming inward, finds its voice in subjectivity. Matter's most astounding accomplishment may not be denied it in any account of Being." Science proceeds by abstracting certain qualities from matter, by "quantifying" it, but these are only abstractions. They are not the reality, which clearly transcends -- or subtends -- the abstractions.

Therefore, at the very least, "we must grant to matter that developed from the Big Bang... an original endowment with the possibility of eventual inwardness.... matter must have been more than what physicists ascribe to it in their speculation on the beginning of things and what can be derived from that for the development of the cosmos."

Now, the question is, who endowed matter in this way, and did this endowment have anything to do with the manner in which cosmic events unrolled in time? In pondering this question, I suppose it is somewhat bizarre to think that our own thinking could solve the problem, but even more bizarre to think that it couldn't. This is because, as Jonas points out, it is difficult to imagine that our subjectivity is an entirely indifferent and "neutral contingency whose occurrence involved no favoring preferment of any kind."

In short, "since finality -- striving for a goal -- occurs in a certain natural being in a manifestly subjective way and becomes effective there in an objectively causal manner, it cannot be entirely foreign to nature, which brought forth precisely this kind of being.... It follows from this that final causes, but also values and value distinctions, must be included in the (not utterly neutral) concept of the cause of the universe... "

Well, I don't really have time to wrap this up, so I'll have to continue tomorrow. I'll just leave you with a quote from McGinn: "Just as creation, for Eckhart, is a continuous and eternal process, so too the Word taking on flesh is not a past event we look back to in order to attain salvation, but rather is an everpresent hominification of God and deification of humanity and the universe -- an incarnatio coninua."

What in carnation? He expectorated a mirrorcle, now you're the spittin' image! You haven't perceived the hologram to your private particle? Come in, open his presence and report for karmic duty.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Does God Suffer With You? Or Will He Skip this Post?

... Everything that is true, whether in being or in knowing, in scripture or in nature, proceeds from one source and one root of truth.... Therefore, Moses, Christ, and the Philosopher [e.g., Plato] teach the same thing, differing only in the way they teach, namely as worthy of belief, as probable and likely, and as truth. --Meister Eckhart

We had a couple of thoughtful dissenters yesterday with regard to the cosmic evolutionary view envisioned by Teilhard de Chardin, which is perfectly understandable. Few theological issues are of more consequence, and I make no claims to be a theologian, much less a Christian one. I'm just a... a guy with a weird hobby.

One reader wrote that,

"The trouble with Teilhard is that he was thinking and writing when it looked like the 'science' of Darwinian evolution stood on unassailable ground. I believe we're within a couple of decades of that theory finally being recognized for the red herring that it truly is. To the extent that theologians bought into the 'truth' of Darwinistic science, and attempted to mix theology and evolution, it is to that extent that they've tainted their theological thinking with a fairly spurious principle."

Respectfully, I don't see it that way at all. First, you will notice that I do not refer to a "Darwinian cosmos" but to an evolutionary one. For some reason, evolution and natural selection have become synonymous, but they are not. Natural selection is merely a theory that attempts to account for the fact of biological evolution. In my view it is woefully inadequate to account for the whole of it (let alone cosmic evolution), but that doesn't mean that biological evolution has not occurred or that natural selection doesn't play some role in it, which I believe it clearly does.

One reason I believe in cosmic evolution is that in its absence, nothing makes any sense at all. It is a central pillar to everything else we know to be true of the cosmos, something like the foundation of a house. If you remove it, the whole house collapses. Everything from antibiotics to the computer you're staring at is ultimately rooted in an evolutionary cosmos. For example, the same physical forces that are harnessed to operate a computer inform us that the cosmos is approximately 13.7 billion years old, give or take. If the cosmos isn't expanding, then your computer shouldn't work. These physical forces are all tied together in a beautifully harmonious way.

The point is, if one is going to propose an alternate theory of any kind, the new theory must be able to account for the phenomena without "unexplaining" what the old theory explained. For example, there are many conspiracy theories that attempt to explain "who really killed JFK." But each and every one of them unexplains what the Warren Commission report explained so well -- that JFK was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald alone.

It is the same with evolution. You can believe in the "conspiracy theory" that the cosmos is fixed and final, but in order to consistently believe that, you have to throw out 99% of what we know about reality. And would God really create a cosmos that is so fundamentally deceptive that we cannot comprehend it with our reason? Why? What kind of God is that?

The commenter continues, "I do, however, like the emphasis that the Unknown Friend, who also wrote at a time when Darwinism seemed unassailable, placed on the idea that evolution is what we see in a fallen world. He does not, however see God Himself as something evolving to self-realization, as far as I can remember."

First, nowhere did I suggest that "God himself" evolves. Nevertheless, the first thing one must understand about God is that he is both transcendent and immanent; he is both present in all "things" and transcendent of them. Or as Eckhart wrote, "The more He is in things, the more He is out of things; the more in, the more out, the more out, the more in.... God's going out is his going in." And if God is present in all things, then he is ipso facto present in time, because things can only exist in time. Perhaps a less deceptive way to put it is that "nothing is not God." Therefore, to the extent that something is evolving, then God is evolving along with it. However, being that "all is God," it's ultimately just God playing hide and seek with himself -- it is transcendence playing at immanence.

After all, how else are we to even begin to understand the principle of the Word becoming flesh? What can this possibly mean if not the transcendent God becoming immanent in living, breathing humanity? Does anything change within God as a result of this drama? Or is God completely remote from his own activity?

Again, the only way around this paradox is to posit two aspects or "faces" of God. God is genuinely here in the creation, suffering and struggling with the rest of us. Indeed, a Christian must believe that God relinquished -- so to speak -- an aspect of his Godhood in order to do this -- to fully give himself over to his own creation. Christ's passion makes no sense at all if it did not involve a complete self-abandonment to the world. And yet, his transcendence ultimately makes him "victorious" over it. In the words of Eckhart -- which are always easy to misunderstand --

In Christ there was so great a union of the Word and flesh that he communicated his own properties to it, so that God may be said to suffer and a man is the creator of heaven.

The commenter suggests that "this is not to say that evolution did not happen as an unfolding plan of the Creator, who stands in his essential being absolutely outside His creation, and is not Himself subject to evolution or becoming (that is, in His divinity, although Jesus Christ was subject to growth in wisdom and maturity in His humanity)."

Really? I do not believe this is the authentic Christian view. Rather, the Incarnation and Resurrection caused the cosmos to shift on its very axis, equivalent to a second creation within the heart of the old one. Everything changed, for as Eckhart maintained, thanks to Jesus, the second person of the Trinity is always taking on human nature -- the eternal Word of the Father "is now born in time, in human nature." Time was moving in one direction and took a sudden turn that could not have been accomplished in any other way. As a result, time continues to unfold toward the Omega Point that once dwelt among us. That is evolution -- which is to say, growth toward God, or perhaps "the recovery of divinity."

Another commenter writes that "I cannot imagine why the 'exploding God' hypothesis has become so widespread. I have yet to see any sensible argument in its favor. Direct observation inward seems to indicate that timelessness, or eternity, is a natural property of the inner representation of the Absolute. Why then would the cosmic Absolute be bound in time? It makes no sense, unless one is so steeped in hubris as to think mankind is the highest being, or a closet materialist thinking that this visible cosmos is all there is."

No one is suggesting that the "exploding cosmos" -- or big bang -- involves the explosion of God himself. That would represent a form of pantheism or perhaps emanationism. Eckhart preferred the image of an eternal "inner boiling" within God "boiling over" into temporal existence. In metaphysical terms, "the Godhead becomes 'God' in the flowering of creation" (McGinn).

In any event, the point is that the universe is demonstrably expanding, and we can extrapolate from this that it had a beginning in space and time. As it so happens, the name "big bang" was coined by detractors of the theory in order to ridicule it. Up to that time, it had been assumed that the cosmos was eternal, that it had always been here. Common sense would not allow for any other view. Scientists were initially very uncomfortable with the big bang idea, because it clearly suggested that the cosmos was not eternal but that it came into being at a specific point -- just as it says in Genesis.

The commenter writes: "No, God does not need our help to put Himself back together. We need God's help to put ourselves together."

But Meister Eckart might ask: what's the distinction? For as he wrote, God's ground and my ground is the same ground.

If God suffers with us, then he moves and evolves with us, for -- to again quote the paradoxical words of the Meister -- it does not seem to me that God understands because he exists, but rather that he exists because he understands.

"God's desire to suffer is an integral aspect of his eternal will for the Word to become man, and therefore, central to the meaning of creation itself.... Suffering... is not a way to God, but is actually identical with the goal -- if we understand it as our surrender to the God who totally surrenders himself to us -- 'In order to give himself totally, God assumed me totally.'" --Bernard McGinn

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Your Mother's Cookin' Sturgeon, Your Sister's Still a Virgin

Excuse me?

That line is from one of the greatest albums in rock history -- great in the sense that it is so exquisitely bad. Specifically, it is from Sonny Bono's 1967 magnum dopus, Inner Views.

(Read on if you haven't heard this one before. It is an on oldie from about 16 months ago. In fact, if you also want to read the comments, here's the original post. Bear in mind that I realize I am playing fast and loose with official dogma -- just dreaming out loud, as it were.)

You see, after the Beatles released Revolver in 1966, followed by Sgt. Pepper in 1967, they redefined rock music as a serious art form (not as serious as they thought, but that's another story). Up to that time, rock had mainly been a singles medium, and albums were basically marketing tools to sell them. Most albums had a couple of hit singles surrounded by a bunch of unlistenable dreck.

But the Beatles raised the aesthetic bar, so that by 1967 every rock "artist" thought they needed to produce their own Sgt. Pepper. Furthermore, to a man, they all thought themselves capable of doing so. As a result, this era produced some of the most unintentionally hilarious music, as there were only a handful of artists capable of being.... well, artists.

It's a funny thing about language. One would think that it would be easy to write surreal, nonsense poetry capturing the psychedelic experience, as did John Lennon:

Semolina pilchard, climbing up the eiffel tower.
Elementary penguin singing hari krishna,
Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.

Or, to not beat around the bong,

Turn off your mind, relax
and float down stream
It is not dying
It is not dying

Lay down all thought
Surrender to the void
It is shining
It is shining

That you may see
The meaning of within
It is being
It is being....

Or play the game
existence to the end
Of the beginning
Of the beginning
Of the beginning....

Sound advice. But here's Sonny's attempt at profundity:

Backwards forwards which is right
Black is day and white is night
Smell the air it's real up tight

Yeah, I know that smell. Really, really up tight air. Or how about this wigged-out insight:

I wonder why we want to fly
The closer we get to the sky
The less we see with the naked eye
The world looks like a little ball
And people don't exist at all
Oh wow!

Oh wow. He should stick to skiing.

In fact, come to think if it, it's pretty basic -- take the drugs before you sit down at the piano, not before you strap on the skis.

Anyway. I've really digressed here. Like Sonny, I wanted to say something about the Virgin and about language. The decisive role of the Virgin Mary in the Christian spiritual economy is such a... pregnant mystery. It is full of implicit, unsaturated meaning. Remember yesterday, I mentioned that scripture and tradition provide the immobile axes around which we may "reason" about divine things. The Virgin -- which is a way of approaching and thinking about the divine feminine -- is a case in point.

It is interesting that, although there is very little mention of Mary in the New Testament, she found a way to eventually earn the exalted designation of Theokotos, or "Mother of God", in Orthodoxy, or "co-redemptress" by the Catholic Church. Is this just because of the unavoidable sexual polarity we all have as a result of having had a mother and father? In other words, is this notion simply conjured up out of our deepest unconscious infantile recollections? Esotericism would hold the opposite: that our parents -- both mother and father -- are divine deputies that actually partake of spiritual archetypes that are anterior to any personal existence.

One thing the great rabbis noticed is that scripture is like a fractal jewel with all of its parts internally related and reflecting back and forth, so that one part may illuminate another in surprising ways. Take, for example, the parallels between Genesis and the Gospels, how the former presage the latter and the latter are a commentary on the former. The primordial catastrophe of man is said to have involved God, a man, a woman, a serpent, and a tree. Ontologically, man was said to be a creation of God, woman a creation of man. Let's just ignore political correctness for the moment and try to understand what is being suggested here in the text. Apparently man's proper orientation is to God, as planet around sun, while woman has a lunar aspect analogous to moon around planet (and remember, we all carry the male and female archetypes within -- we are talking spirit here, not just biology or even psychology).

The "fall" reverses this arrow (or turns the tree upside-down), so that the woman is oriented to the earth: she is seduced by the serpent (the symbol of earthbound horizontality), the man is seduced by the woman, and now man's consciousness ultimately hews to the earth below rather than revolving around the transcendent sun above.

It is sometimes suggested that Jesus was the "second Adam," brought here on a mission to undo what the first naughty Adam had done, which was to orient himself around the earth (the horizontal below, or maya) rather than sun (the vertical above). Then, finding the daughters of men quite fair indeed -- who could blame them? -- the sons of God dived right in, and the fall was complete. We were hooked. And cooked. Just like a... a sturgeon or something.

Just as Jesus and Adam are linked as antitypes, so too are Eve and the Virgin. Interestingly, Adam is a direct creation of God, while Jesus, the "second Adam," is conceived through the medium of Mary, the "second Eve." Now we have a very different arrow of creation: instead of God-->Adam-->Eve, we have God-->Mary-->Jesus. The first Eve is seduced by the honeyed words of the serpent, while the second Eve hears and obeys the Word of God and gives birth to the son of God. As death entered the world through the first Eve, Life enters through the second -- death is reversed and victory over the serpent is achieved.

It is interesting that maya in Eastern religions is considered a specifically feminine activity, and that the word maya is etymologically linked to the Sanskrit root mata, which means both mother and the phenomenal world of nature. Nature and maya are associated with fascination and charm, specifically, feminine charm. And yet, nature is at the same time considered a theophany. In other words, it both conceals and reveals God, depending on one's point of view.

In the Old Testament, the divine feminine is specifically associated with Sophia, or Wisdom. In the Book of Proverbs, there are numerous passages that emphasize this: "Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you." "My son, if you receive my words / And treasure my commands within you / So that you incline your ear to wisdom / And apply your heart to understanding / [Then you will] find knowledge of God." "Happy is the man who finds wisdom / For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver.... / She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her." "Exalt her, and she will promote you.... / She will place on your head an ornament of grace."

Even more provocatively, this feminine wisdom has been "From the beginning... when there were no depths I was brought forth... / While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields / Or the primeval dust of the world / When He prepared the heavens, I was there / When He drew a circle on the face of the deep..., when He marked out the foundations of the earth / Then I was beside Him, Rejoicing always before him...."

There are many similar passages exalting the beauty of Sophia, the divine feminine. So who is the Virgin? Mary's receptivity to the divine wisdom allowed her to give birth to the Word in womb of her soul. If God became man so that man might become God, Mary-Sophia had first to conceive the word so that the nonlocal word might become flesh in a particular space and time. To be able to realize this mystery within oneself, one must be like the Virgin, and become a pure and humble receptacle for the "immaculate conception."

In the prologue of the Coonifesto I touch on the idea that we are all "conceived in d'light immaculate," and that "every lila son of adwaita (pronounced "a-doy-ta," meaning ultimate truth) is born of a voidgin." In other words, our higher selves are not born of the flesh, but are immaculately conceived by hearing the Word within the purified void of the soul, and then given birth out of the mamamatrix of Spirit.

Or, as Sonny Bono sang,

Your daddy's getting nosey
Your mother's cookin' sturgeon
Your sister's still a virgin
Pretty soon that'll disappear
Good morning sun
A new frontier
Much to my acute surprise
Sunday morning has still survived

Oh wow!


Hmm, what's my favorite slice of dreamy pop psychedelia? Probably the previously unreleased suite from the abandoned Smile project on the latter half of disc 2 of the Beach Boys box set. Pop music probably hasn't advanced beyond that. Other contenders: Odessey and Oracle by the Zombies, Roger the Engineer by the Yardbirds, Younger Than Yesterday and The Notorious Byrd Brothers by the Byrds, pretty much the whole Rascals Anthology, Odessa by the Bee Gees, Forever Changes by Love, and Begin Again by Millennium. Then there is the excellent four-disc overview of the whole era of garage rock and suburban psychedelia that, for better or worse, shaped the Gagdad soul, Nuggets. Sometime I crank it up and play along with the Strat when Mrs. G is out of the house. 'Scuse me while I kiss the sky!