O, My Lovely Bewilderness!
I'm going to shift seers for a moment, because it will probably take less effort or more non-doodling on my part. I wanted to discuss the first book Balthasar wrote under von Speyr's influence, Heart of the World. It's an extraordinary work, and quite different from his usual fare, the latter of which is so loaded down with erudition, scholarship, and rationalism.
But this book is pure poetic-mystical flight into the heart of the Christian mystery. It has the feel of having been produced quite spontaneously, thus showing Adrienne's influence, not just in terms of the content, but the form; it feels as if it wasn't so much conceived as received.
Here again, as we have discussed in the past, he is simultaneously demonstrating what he is elucidating, which is what great art does. It's not as if you can abstract the meaning of Beethoven's Fifth and hand it to someone, as if that will replace the experience of hearing it.
By the way, the publisher describes the book as "A great Catholic theologian speaks from the heart about the Heart of Christ, in a profound and lyrical meditation on Our Lord's love for his Bride the Church," which hardly seems sufficient. Yes, that's part of it, but this is really a poetical flight into the higher reaches of intellection, i.e., the use of words to vault the mind past the limitation of words.
I'm going to proceed straight to the final chapter, because my recollection is that that was the most breathtaking one. From there, we'll just wing it. It's entitled Love -- A Wilderness.
HvB begins with a a kind of ecstatic ode to the adventure God grants us into his sacred bewilderness: "O the blessed wilderness that is your love! No one will ever be able to subdue you, no one explore you. The roads they rashly began to lay do not penetrate very far. They suddenly break off and the disillusionment of the pioneers still floats in the air.... Other paths have again grown over. The grass of the virgin forest presses in from both sides. Tall trunks have fallen across them. Again the wilderness hums and blossoms, boundless."
This reminds me of why the spiritual life must be a constant... I don't want to say "struggle," because that has such negative connotations. But it's somewhat analogous to exercise, which must be done every day. It must become a way of life, for if you start backsliding, your body will quickly revert to its former state.
It works the same way with religion, except that it's not your body that reverts to its former state. Rather, as HvB implies, the territory itself becomes overgrown and impassible. This is why I say that spiritual progress really is a "colonization" of this space. And just as in the worldly kind, you have to maintain a supply line between your forward movement and the world down below. This requires a kind of constant effort to clear the brush.
Again, it's easy enough to merely "ascend" into this space and say goodbye to the world. But then you won't be of much help to others. Rather, you will be like, say Krishanmurti. Leaving aside the question of whether he was a fraud, he spoke as if from a solitary mountaintop, and told his listeners that all they had to do was forget everything else and instantly transport themselves to the mountaintop. Which is pretty much identical to Steve Martin's rules for becoming a millionaire: first, get a million dollars. Next....
These people who claim to have "arrived" in God are usually the worst offenders, because there is no arriving in God. These folks are usually just practicing a glorified form of self-hypnosis. It's like "arriving in music," as if that would be the end of composing. In reality, there is only the blessed journey. If these people had truly "arrived in God," the last thing they would do is charge big bucks to tell you the secret of how they did it, or form a cult of personality around themselves. Furthermore, they wouldn't be so simultaneously pompous and shallow. Please. Humility is always the mark of the saint.
HvB writes that "When I was still young, I thought one could come into the clear with you. I saw a steep road ahead of me and I felt my courage swell. So I fastened my knapsack and began to climb." I can totally relate to this sentiment. When you start out, you're down here and the mountain is up there. All you have to do is scale the mountain, hand the blue flower to Ra's al Ghul, and you're in: you're B'atman. Or shabbatman. Now you can rest.
From a distance, a complex topology can appear to consist of straight lines. But the closer you get, the more you see of the actual pneumography of the place. In reality, it's fractally organized, so that it is infinite at every point. For example, it's easy enough to produce a map of Tonga by drawing a kind of circle around it. But a coastline is actually infinite if you were to try to describe it in all of its detail. Indeed, the very idea of a coast "line" is just a crude approximation. As Benoit Mandelbrot said, "mountains are not triangles and clouds are not spheres."
So HvB says that "for a time it even seemed to me I was rising higher. But today, after all these years, when lift up my eyes, I see your dazzling pinnacles towering over me higher and more unreachable than ever. And I have long since stopped talking about a road."
Do you see the point? As "close" to God as Balthasar was, the proximity only served to emphasize the distance. This is one of those "tests" for discerning spirits that we were talking about yesterday. When Deepak writes a book called "How to Know God," you can be sure that it is all about spherical clouds and other gaseous and vaporous forms that only block the sun.
In order to ascend the mountain, Balthasar took along what he thought he needed, various "regional maps and measuring devices." Once on the journey, he found that there were indeed well-mapped areas, perhaps like the groomed parts of the mountain. But don't try to ski outside the boundaries, or you're on your own.
So, "On many a mountain peak I saw little flags and signals set up, and on the boulders red and blue markings let me know that many a climber had already gone there. Certain camping spots were littered with 'Instructions for the Blessed Life,' as if with tinfoil or empty cans of sardines."
You could say that big-box churchianity involves weekly field trips to these well-lit areas. But what if you want to go a little further, into those areas that haven't been cleared and reduced to picnic tables and parking spaces for RVs with all the conveniences of flatland? That's what HvB did, and as he proceeded, he found fewer signs of human life, i.e., less litter and other human artifacts:
"It only struck me that they became more and more sparse, and they appeared old and rusty and on the verge of becoming a part of the wilderness themselves, lost as they were in the thicket of the virgin forest and in the tangle of branches."
Here I have a feeling he's talking about the early church fathers, upon whose rediscovery his own faith was so enlivened. He felt that the Church (at least for the trained theologians) had become somewhat suffocated in rationalism, with an under-emphasis on the mystical/aesthetic side of things. Thus, shortly after meeting von Speyr, he actually quit the Jesuit order, which represented the rather radical decision to "throw away the trail guides," so to speak, and ski in the Forbidden Areas.
Consider the very next sentence: "All of those who tried to domesticate you and rob you of your magic seemed to me to be childish and silly. And I felt anger towards them rising up in me because they were misleading the souls of those who could have grasped your magic, O my wilderness."
Can I get an amen?
So what did he do? "One day I threw everything in the bushes -- knapsack, provisions and map -- and I consecrated myself to you alone, O virginal landscape, and I became free for you."
Or, as the Man says,
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 --Van Morrison
... leave our alter egos on the ego altar and surrender three forms of identification: I me mine. Just follow your nous and you'll make amends meet in the muddle of the mount. --The Coonifesto