Thursday, June 11, 2009

O, My Lovely Bewilderness!

I have to admit, I'm getting a little weary of this pattern of me waking up at 6:00 and Future Leader waking up at 6:15. It's really putting a crimp in the blogging. I mean, I can do it, but I can't really blog from the Silence -- that still, empty and silent womb with a pew we were talking about yesterday. True, I can usually pull something out of the fire in the allotted time, but I don't like to reduce this to a stupid human trick. It's just not right to have Hans von Big Brain in one ear and Sponge Bob Squarepants in the other.

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

16 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

As "close" to God as Balthasar was, the proximity only served to emphasize the distance.

Ah, just so.

And Amen.

Is it possible to OD on certain authors? Because there are so many of their books that I want to read, right now, that I'm really tempted to start scouring local bookstores for whatever I can find. This could become an expensive addiction.

But that's probably only because the fragments I've read so far this week are simultaneously so new and so familiar, it's like finding a pristine stream of living water that helps me to re-member fragments of things I've been trying to think forever.

If I keep this up, pretty soon I'm going to know nothing at all...

6/11/2009 08:38:00 AM  
Anonymous The Penguin Press said...

Hello,

We are interested in sending you a book for review. The title is "Defenders of the Faith" by James Reston Jr. If you are interested, please email us back at elizabeth.yeh@us.penguingroup.com and we will send you a copy.

Thank You,
Elizabeth Yeh

6/11/2009 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Julie - wv wonders if you might be in danger of "inging".

From Thomas Howard's book Christ the Tiger:

"... [Jesus Christ as Immanuel (God with us)] was a figure who, appearing so inauspiciously among us, broke up our secularist and our religious categories, and beckoned us and judged us and damned us and saved us, and exhibited to us a kind of life that participates in the indestructible..."

"But we experience the announcement as life-giving because it was an announcement that... Joy and not Havoc is the last word. It announced to us what we could not hope. It saw limitation and contingency and disparity and irrevocability and mutability and decay and death, and it said yes, yes, yes, you are quite right: terror and horror and despair are the only eventually realistic responses... if this is all there is to it. But it is not."

And yet we seem bent on protecting and rebuilding our destructible lives...over and over and...

That is what I so want to stop doing.

6/11/2009 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger robinstarfish said...

Can I get an amen?

the sound of music
julie on the mountaintop
chorus of amens

6/11/2009 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger sehoy said...

Amen.

Hello, Adrienne von Speyer.

6/11/2009 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

"It's just not right to have Hans von Big Brain in one ear and Sponge Bob Squarepants in the other."

Or, it is exactly right. Or, you need a third ear.

B^]

6/11/2009 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Gazriel said...

Bob said, "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."

This is a very interesting topic to me. What is the process by which one goes from a state of mystical unity back into a state "ordinary" consciousness, or even a negative state of unconsciousness? I have a fairly regular practice which aligns me with the Holy Ghost and the transcendent Space of God. If I am diligent with the practice (meditation, prayer, yoga, emotional writing, etc.) typical experiences are feelings of sovereignty, peace, silence, harmony, visions of Light, gratitude, wonder, and an incredible desire to help others experience that miraculous state.

Recently I witnessed within myself the reversion back into a state of perceived isolation as it occurs on an energetic level. It was as if the energy Flow which I am on a subtle plane literally stopped flowing and congealed around a point of "nothingness" that exists in my center. This "nothingness" is a force very similar to tamas of the three gunas in Hinduism, an infinitesimal speck of absolute inertia.

I learned several startling things by witnessing this phenomenon: First, that this point of "nothingness" isn't evil in anyway, it is just a subtle aspect of my impermanent nature as a form. It is a point in which to recognize the reality that this body is death. Secondly, it is around this point that my unconscious thought patterns swirl. If left too long without bringing in the Light of Consciousness, the energy becomes thick and murky, stagnating to a point where my mental clarity begins to diminish.

Now, what fascinated me was the prospect of not doing spiritual practices yet staying keenly aware of the effects. I have done this and it is no surprise the I felt listless, sad, petty, shameful, and so on. I wanted to know if I had become attached to practices themselves, if I could stabilize my witnessing awareness even in the darkness of a negative emotional state. See, even though I was wasn't feeling connected to God, I knew on a rational level that that wasn't the case. Truth exists even if I am in a state of delusion.

So, I sat in my room for days on end doing nothing. I mean nothing. No meditating, no bathing, no television. I did eat just to keep myself from fasting, which would have began clearing the negative state. Other than an occasional song on my headphones, I just laid there in a depressive state watching myself be nothingness. I won't go into details, but I will say that this is a nice practice for experiencing the intimacy of God and the Holy Spirit, specifically in the act dying.

Regardless, I still think that practicing daily is a much healthier and happier way to exist!

6/11/2009 10:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Gazriel said...

Error correction in the third to last paragraph:

"See, even though I wasn't feeling connected to God, I knew on a rational level that that wasn't the case. Truth exists even if I am in a state of delusion."

6/11/2009 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>> . . the spiritual life must be a constant (effort) . . <<

I think there does come a certain point at which one's spiritual progress suddenly accelerates. You finally get the sails in place, they fill with wind, and off you go. Let's just say that bio-spiritual energies are activated - and I'm fairly sure they can't be de-activated. Ever. When that genie escapes the bottle, there's no returning.

This doesn't mean one can't fail, however. But now the price for failure isn't a return to the old materialistic status quo, but is rather a descent into a limbo of not-belonging - one simply "knows too much" to ever be able to return to the realm of maya and spiritual ignorance. At the same time, one is frozen out of the higher reaches. There's your classic hell of alienation.

Spiritual progress certainly involves constant effort, but I think the focus of the effort changes as one ascends. Some of that which previously required conscious effort becomes automatic, effortless. Meanwhile, as one enters spiritual realms that were once literally unimaginable, new efforts are required.

On the spiritual path, there is literally never a dull moment. Why? Because even the dull moments become so excruciatingly, spectacularly, Samuel Beckett-like barren, they break the bounds of their own dullness. If that makes sense.

6/11/2009 10:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Gazriel said...

Will said, "This doesn't mean one can't fail, however. But now the price for failure isn't a return to the old materialistic status quo, but is rather a descent into a limbo of not-belonging - one simply "knows too much" to ever be able to return to the realm of maya and spiritual ignorance. At the same time, one is frozen out of the higher reaches. There's your classic hell of alienation. "

Will, I understand your point, but really how can one ever really be alienated? Alonesess is a state of Peace, the eternal Subject in which all things arise. The Miracle is that this state alternates with intensity, manifesting as feelings of Bliss, Contact, Unity, Fullness. Now, there are many variatons upon the types of relationships that manifest as a duality; body to body, ego to ego, angel to angel, servent of Good to Good itself, finite being to Infinite Treasure.

Ultmately, though, solitary objects always change, disolve, or evolve, which is why identification with the eternal I Am is so incredibly important. There are two states that are always taking place: agency or communion. When looked at from this perspective aloneness become Aloneness and alienation becomes Freedom. Then, all one needs to do is be in a state of surrender to Love, offering the Heart in all situations, and others of a worldly and other-worldly nature will be drawn into communion with you like Obama to a photo-op.

6/11/2009 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"...a poetical flight into the higher reaches of intellection, i.e., the use of words to vault the mind past the limitation of words."

Ho! Sounds like he's playing my tune!

"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.""

Though I feel like I brought a harmonica to a symphany orchestra fight. So to speak....

Wo.

6/11/2009 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Sometimes, wv gives me the creeps. For instance, just now when I came to the comments page it said "demon." Then when the page refreshed itself to sign me in, it switched to "crowers."

demon crowers.

Just seems a bit ominous, like a black splotch lobbed into the midst of a bright conversation.

Anyway...

6/11/2009 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Gazriel -

>>how can one ever really be alienated?<<

By choosing to be. There are a few - very few, I like to think - who do choose to alienate themselves from God and Creation. Cast into the outer darkness, etc.

Now, this is entirely different from the solitude/alienation one may experience during the Dark Night when all graces are withdrawn, and it's certainly different from the grace of solitude, which is a requirement for true communion with God.

6/11/2009 02:27:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Julie -

My wv: malasy.

Without getting too paranoid about such little beeps, I think it does serve to pay some attention. Higher nature has its ways of communication.

Even without the beeps, I think most of us can feel something dark threading its way through the collective mind. Again, I think this current cycle began to pick up steam on the day Brocko met with Bibi.

6/11/2009 02:36:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

You may well be right, Will.

On a lighter note, but also to do with the ways of higher nature's communication (and with apologies for bringing it back to me. Or my family this time, anyway), today I finally, after a two year break, got back to a family blog project, partly involving sharing some letters from my great-grandmother to her husband while she visited my grandmother, back in 1955. Today's letter was apropos:

There was the biggest picnic tables there, made out of boards cut from those big trees. And seats around in the park made out of hallowed out logs. We had the stove going and the table set, all ready to eat and it was so cold we moved inside. There was a building there with a huge coal stove in one end and a fireplace at the other end and 8 big picnic tables in it, and 2 sinks and drain boards to wash the dishes, hot and cold running water. We left there about six and came over Deception Pass bridge, it’s about 3 or 400 feet above the water. We stopped, got out and walked on the bridge and watched the boats. They looked like toys.

6/11/2009 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Googling around, there's an interesting article about HvB, AvS and Mozart,here.

6/11/2009 06:36:00 PM  

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