Say, What's God Like, Anyway?
What kind of God is God? What's he like, anyway? I suppose that's an easy enough question to answer in 45 minutes.
But I think I'll evade the question head on, because one can only unswer it by questing indirectly. In this regard, it is very much analogous to psychoanalytic therapy. If you ask, "what is the unconscious like?," the question cannot be answered except in a theoretical way.
Rather, you must begin by free associating in the presence of another person called a "psychoanalyst," and the answer will gradually emerge in the space in between. In other words, you attempt to bypass the ego by saying whatever comes to mind in an uncensored way, through which the ghostly contours of your own unconscious will become apparent. In short, this hidden dimension will not stand out until you stand in it.
And you can never know it in its essence, only in its energies, as a gregory palamine might say. It is never revealed by speech, only reveiled. It's a little strange, because you can see by the shape of the veil what's underneath, but if you strip away the veil, it vanishes.
This is why Bion stopped using the word "unconscious," because it fooled us into believing we knew what it was just because we had a word for it. Rather, he called it "O," standing for the ultimate unknowable reality. In my book, I simply extended this idea to religion and spirituality, since the plain fact of the matter is that we have no idea what existence, life, or consciousness "are" in their essence. If you ask "what is life?," the only real answer is the life you are living. Likewise, if you ask "what is consciousness?," there is no answer outside consciousness itself. Nothing less than consciousness can explain consciousness, just as nothing less than your life can describe it.
In a way, each of my posts is a free association in O. Therefore, if you ask me "what's God like?," you would have to go back and read all of my posts, and who would want to do that? But now that I'm thinking about it, the analogy with psychoanalysis holds up, since I acknowledge up front that I am no theologian or any kind of special person with special knowledge.
Rather, I simply rise each morning and undergo the task of focusing a beam of intense darkness on O -- or, as Joyce put it, to shed a little obscurity on ultimate reality. It's almost like trying to paint an invisible subject, and in fact, I suppose I feel some kinship with the original abstract expressionists such as Kandinsky, who attempted to depict the implicate reality beneath reality -- or out of which -- explicate reality emerges, like the pulse beneath the rhythm.
Meister Eckhart, whom we were discussing yesterday, is among those bifocal visionaries who comes closest to myOpia. Bear in mind that much of what he wrote sounds shocking (it certainly was to the religious authorities of the time), but he is playing with language in a very modern way, trying to provoke an experience in O through such techniques as paradox, oxymoron, hyperbole, word games, puns, and negation.
As McGinn writes [BTW, I see that that book has become rather expensive; much of the same material is summarized here], Eckhart was attempting to use language to overcome language -- or "to confuse in order to enlighten" -- an idea Bion would have endorsed. He saw "the very act of preaching as creation of the word to be heard by others so that they too may find the source from whence the word is formed mirrors the 'event character' of the God-world relation." In short, Eckhart's sermons and writings are the essence of O-->(n), not for the purposes of conveying mere information (k) to the reader, but to simulate the same experience in oneself. [This is also the essence of Orthodox theology as laid down by the thrice great Gregory Palamas, which we will soon be discussing.]
McGinn continues: "But the preacher cannot really convey the message that lies hidden behind all words, and even beyond the Divine Word himself in the hidden depth of deity, unless he himself has participated in this inner speaking, that is, unless he speaks 'out of the ground' of God.... Eckhart invites his audience to hear what he has heard and to become one with him in the one ground -- 'If you could perceive things with my heart,' he once said, 'you would well understand what I say; for it is true and the Truth itself speaks it.'" Eckhart does not appeal to his own authority, but "out of the oneness of Divine Truth": "I will tell you how I think of people: I try to forget myself and everyone and to merge myself, for them, in Unity."
Again I cannot help but notice the analogy with psychoanalysis, which you might say is the study of the "lower vertical," whereas Eckhart's mystical theology is the study of the upper vertical: "[A] person must penetrate and transcend everything created and temporal and all being and go into the ground that has no ground.... If anyone wishes to come into God's ground and his innermost, he must first come into his own ground and his innermost, for no one can know God who does not first know himself."
As McGinn explains, "God unbecomes when the mystic is not content to return to the 'God' who acts, but effects a 'breaking through' to the silent unmoving Godhead, one that brings all creatures back into the hidden source through their union in the deconstructed 'intellect.'" Or, in the words of Eckhart, "When I enter the ground, the bottom, the flood and the source of the Godhead, no one asks me where I come from or where I have been. There no one misses me, and there God 'unbecomes.'"
I would never claim to know God. Nor can anyone know God, for this would imply human containment of what by definition transcends man. Rather, as Eckhart said, the knowing is in the trying, and the trying involves a continuous sort of unknowing, non-doodling, or rank coonfusion: "This not-knowing draws [the soul] into amazement and keeps her on the hunt, for she clearly recognizes 'that he is,' but she does not know 'what' or 'how' he is.... Therefore, the unknown-knowing keeps the soul constant and still on the hunt.... [T]his unknowing lures and draws you from all that is known, and also from yourself." McGinn calls it a "simultaneous eating and hungering after God."
Eckhart distinguishes between "mere ignorance and learned ignorance," or what Raccoons call the Higher Bewilderness: "One must here come to a transformed knowing, and this unknowing must not come from ignorance; rather from knowing one must come into an unknowing. Then, we will become knowing with divine knowing and then our unknowing will be ennobled and clothed with supernatural knowing. And here, in that we are in a state of receiving, we are more perfect than if we were active."
Eckhart said that we are held back or "estranged" from God by three primary conditions, time, multiplicity and matter. As a result, one again cannot "know" God per se. Rather, one can only undergo him. Or, in Raccoon terms, one must sopher God. Bion would have oppreciated this observation, for he recognized that if one cannot suffer pain, one cannot suffer pleasure, and knowledge is rooted in the pain of separation -- separation from O. Unknowing this separation is the highest form of knowledge, but it can only happen if you exert enough passivity or strive with all the effortlessness you can meister.
Me? I've obviously given up completely, as this post proves.