Friday, January 30, 2009

Faith in Wholeness, Wholeness in Faith

Whoever is not capable of seeing and 'reading' the form will, by the same token, fail to perceive the content. Whoever is not illuminated by the form will see no light in the content either. --Balthasar

Beauty is always a totality, or a radiant harmony between the parts and whole. So first of all, beauty presupposes the ontological category wholeness, which is a very special mode that the rank and foul generally take for granted. But as I explained in chapter two of the Coonifesto, wholeness is also a prerequisite for any kind of science, or material truth.

For example, natural selection presupposes wholeness, specifically, the wholeness of the organism. Neither evolution nor organisms would be possible in a cosmos of parts only. In fact, the very idea is absurd, because to say "cosmos" is to say "whole" -- not an "additive" or "exterior" whole, but an intrinsic one that discloses interior relations and therefore interiority. The cosmos has a deep interiority complex, to say the least.

The cosmos is not an agglomeration of parts, the ultimate pile of disjointed stuff. Nor could this interior wholeness ever somehow emerge in a cosmos that wasn't already whole, any more than intellect could appear in a cosmos that didn't already inhere in intelligence.

Rather, the cosmos is truly One, at least on its own level. Furthermore, -- and this hardly needs to be said -- we can only know this oneness because we ourselves are one, except on a higher level than the physical cosmos. Suffice it to say that other animals do not live in the "cosmos" but only in their own neurology, from which they can never break free.

Obviously, it is not necessary for us to travel the 14 billion light years of the cosmos to "prove" its spatial and temporal unity. That would be stupid. Not to mention a waste of eternity. Even materialists unconsciously know that the cosmos is one (since the statement is a tautology), even though, ironically, this oneness is proof that the cosmos transcends matter and that the materialist transcends his brain.

But no one ever accused atheists of metaphysical consistency. I mean, as soon as the atheist opens his piehole to say "I...," he should stop right there and think about the extraordinary metaphysical implications of this unified interior subject, which is the prior ground of making any true statement at all.

In other words, not only does science presuppose objective wholeness; it also a fortiori presupposes subjective wholeness. Unless you say that "one part of me knows that atheism is true, while another part knows that it's bullshit." No. If the whole of you can (potentially) know the whole of realty -- which is a fundamental assumption underlying science -- then you are simply a latecomer to what the mystic not only knows, but realizes.

Now, let us say, for the sake of argument, that the oneness of reality is an unavoidable side effect of the intrinsic oneness of the Creator. In fact, let's take this down a couple of notches, to the level of the human creator.

For example, when I wrote my book, I was attempting to explicate in linear form my own apprehension of the oneness of reality, i.e., to compose and play the Cosmic Suite. And as I pointed out in the introduction to the book, there are an infinite number of pathways through the great cosmic chords, some of which are "complete" and musically satisfying, others banal, predictable, and unable to explicate the musical potential implicit in the chords.

So, this journey to the one is not just guided by truth, but beauty, or aesthetics. If I am not mistaken, this is one of the points Walt was trying to make in his most excellent comment yesterday, when he spoke of sifting the data of his own spiritual experiences through a newly discovered "aesthetic sense" which "seemed to act like a guidance system when I paid attention to it."

Just as God is beyond-being, he is equally "beauty beyond beauty." How does this beyond-beauty disclose itself within time? This is one of the key ideas Balthasar explicates in his seven-volume theological aesthetics. The fact that it required seven volumes -- and some 3,500+ pages -- for him to write something adequate to this divine beauty, tells you something about its inexhaustible effulgence.

For example, even Christ does not just appear "out of nowhere," like an alien dropped from on high, with no context to understand him. Rather, he is situated within a temporal stream that manifests its own impossibly deep interior wholeness, radiating from the alpha of Genesis to the omega of Revelation.

Or, one could day that his appearance is the revelation of that much deeper unity, i.e., the unity of the old and new covenants, of God and man, of time and eternity, etc. Only after his appearance were some extraordinarily profound (and grace-infused) thinkers able to apprehend this vastly deeper atemporal unity -- i.e., the arc of salvation -- conditioning the events of time. As Balthasar writes, "Christ's existence and his teaching would not be a comprehensible form if it were not for his rootedness in a salvation-history that leads up to him."

So while scripture "points to" Christ, even more so does Christ point to scripture, since he is its organizing principle, so to speak -- its atemporal "center."

How does one begin to "see" such truth and beauty? Balthasar says that "only through form can the lightning-bolt of eternal beauty flash. There is a moment in which the bursting light of spirit as it makes its appearance completely drenches external form in its rays."

From this, we know in an instant that we are not in the presence of a "sensual," but spiritual beauty. And the apprehension of this spiritual beauty seems always to provoke the instinct of adoration, because it is to know that man could not have made this form.

Or, this is when a fellow knows he is a spirit who blazes through and shatters the constraining letters of physics, biology, and history. And the full realization of this earth-shattering faith in the beauty of truth and truth of beauty is "the theological act of perception," or the faith that moves mountains of BS.

It is not as if one could, by means of rational inquiry and argument, recognize [Jesus] to be a (perfect? religious? inspired?) man and then, following the pointers provided by this rational knowledge, move to the conclusion that he is God's Son and himself God.... Jesus' form can be seen for what it is only when it is grasped and accepted as the appearance of a divine depth transcending all worldly nature. --Balthasar

11 Comments:

Blogger walt said...

I recall in one of your early posts you mentioned that scientists and mathematicians would strive to prove a theory, but even if it could be shown to be "true," they would continue to question it if the proof was not elegant.

When I was younger, I had no aesthetic sense, other than "I like this" or "I don't like that." But as I aged, I found myself gravitating toward beauty or elegance -- partly because, as I got older, I realized I had "less time" and wanted to get the good stuff while I still had a chance. But as I mentioned yesterday, my own perception of "beauty" became a kind of guiding light.

I recall a conversation with the Starfish, in which it was said that, to the extent that I experience God, the entry has been through Beauty, in one form or another. He said he understood, so I suppose certain "types" of people travel that route, or are supported by it.

Of course, none of this means a thing to someone who is satisfied, or basically well-adjusted to ordinary life. Truly, where there is no "need" there is no "reason."
Without some sort of fundamental questioning, little will develop, other than more of the same.

1/30/2009 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

This post is so bright, I gotta wear shades!

Bringin' it back down to NoMo town - for me it is a paean to the Bible. Which leads me to recommend my latest reading - "The Chronological Study Bible" (Thomas Nelson). Although a bit of a controversial approach to scripture, very insightful and inspiring none-the-less.

"Faith in Wholeness, Wholeness in Faith" - I'll need to really let that sink in for awhile.

1/30/2009 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger QP said...

"From this, we know in an instant that we are not in the presence of a "sensual," but spiritual beauty. And the apprehension of this spiritual beauty seems always to provoke the instinct of adoration, because it is to know that man could not have made this form. "

AMEN.

This post is, like your book was, like an archangel's strike on the gong of the world, pointing us back to the experiential roots of our souls, from which so many have alienated themselves. For this I will be eternally grateful.

wv: Use your nossess Raccoons!

1/30/2009 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Sean said...

All so very elegant and well said!

thank you all,

Sean

1/30/2009 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Where is everybody? Dupree? Lafayette?
wv is saying something about "sapho," and what is that aroma? Ambrosia?

Obviously, all this talk of beauty and wholeness is rendering everybody agape and slack-fingered ;)

1/31/2009 06:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Northern Bandit said...

Julie:

All out embracing the beauty of a crisp January morning, I suspect. White snow everywhere and crisp, oh-so-clean air where I am today.

1/31/2009 07:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Northern Bandit said...

I believe Bob wrote not long ago about how natural scenes just seem right -- that "random" little pile of rocks could not be aesthetically "improved" -- that tree is just so, effortlessly.

So I wasn't surprised at a study not long ago which indicates that time spent in a natural setting has profoundly positive effects on the psyche, and measurable benefits to our physical well-being. One of the authors commented: Manhattan requires Central Park...

1/31/2009 07:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Northern Bandit said...

Musing further, I wonder what the urban/rural split is among 'coons?

I adore city life, but according to aforementioned study it does a real number on our contemplative faculties. A periodic ramble over the countryside confers a deeper, broader set of benefits similar to those we experience upon a good night's sleep.

The Coonifesto etc. certainly flow into me more evenly in a little green park full of chattering birds and squirrels, than in a little cafe full of ringing cellphones and adjacent 100 vehicle-per-minute boulevard traffic.

1/31/2009 07:39:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"... The cosmos has a deep interiority complex, to say the least.
The cosmos is not an agglomeration of parts, the ultimate pile of disjointed stuff. Nor could this interior wholeness ever somehow emerge in a cosmos that wasn't already whole, any more than intellect could appear in a cosmos that didn't already inhere in intelligence.
Rather, the cosmos is truly One, at least on its own level.... "

What the atheist's claim "I see nothing, therefore it doesn't exist", sometimes reminds me of patiently trying to explain a principle, say property rights, to a reasonably smart person who isn't used to thinking in principles. Even when you think you've been making progress "...yes, it's wrong to steal, sure...", as they attempt to pull further back from the perceptual act of stealing, they become lost in a wash of 'wants' and 'needs' and 'we must take care of's, "...but who will take care of ...".

Even those who seem to grasp the basics, republicans for instance, will go along with the principle of property rights, and that gov't shouldn't intervene in the economy, but then will come up with something like "... but we need to protect peoples jobs and our steel industry with tariff's on imports...", and you can patiently show them that while it may enable them to keep their high prices, those who use their steel at those artificially high prices, will lose out to other mfg's who have access to lower priced materials, and for every 1,000 jobs you preserved, 10,000 will be lost, and the they original 1,000 will be lost as well. "Oh... ok, I see that...", but then they'll come right back without blinking, with "but of course we have to do something about healthcare...".

They don't see the Form of Rights, the the more unprincipled (on principle!) they are, the more they will accuse you of imaging things, and "Oh... that's so old fashioned, no one believes in that stuff anymore...", as if that assertion alone, changes the nature of man and the world, and absolves them of any responsibility.

You can show them all the examples you want, but if they aren't willing to see the One principle behind the many examples, then they won't see it. And if they aren't a person accustomed to thinking in principles, if they aren't actually looking for something to guide their thinking... they won't see it, which of course allows them to think whatever they want to.

Which is probably the point of their not seeing what they won't see in the first place.

It takes a willingness, as Walt "... spoke of sifting the data of his own spiritual experiences through a newly discovered "aesthetic sense" which "seemed to act like a guidance system when I paid attention to it."", it takes a willingness to see the One in the many, to begin to glimpse it. Once that is done, it is amazing how many places you begin to see it - everywhere.

1/31/2009 07:47:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

NB said "indicates that time spent in a natural setting has profoundly positive effects on the psyche, and measurable benefits to our physical well-being. One of the authors commented: Manhattan requires Central Park..."

Oh don't you know it! Order, principle, beauty, are hard to miss, when there is nothing but that surrounding you.

1/31/2009 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Matthew Arnold had an essay (may try to find a link later), written after his trip across America, where despite all of America's obvious strengths, he predicted bad things to come, primarily because of the paucity of beauty in the communities... he didn't see how what he called "Sweetness and Light" could endure, without beauty meeting peoples eyes on a daily basis.

1/31/2009 08:02:00 AM  

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