Monday, December 28, 2009

Circling the Brain

Eckhart knew that his subtle wisdom would be mis- and disunderstood by the unimaginative trolls of his day, the under- and overeducated rabble without a clue. Thus, "we shall be told that one ought not to talk about or write such teachings to the untaught."

However, "if we are not to teach people who have not been taught, no one will ever be taught, and no one will ever be able to teach and write" -- the result being that we'll all be as dense and reactionary as the trolls, only permanently so. Imagine the nightmare of a progressivism without the possibility of progressing toward conservatism!

According to McGinn, there continues to be controversy in the scholarship as to whether Eckhart was primarily a "philosopher-theologian" or a "master of the spiritual life" -- in contemporary terms (since the word did not exist then), a mystic. But just as there can be no real conflict between religion, theology, and rightly understood science (as opposed to the anti-intellectual ideology of scientism), so too can there be no conflict between these and mysticism.

From my perspective, I simply see mysticism as the empirical or phenomenological confirmation of the truths of religion. One cannot have one in the absence of the other, any more than one can have bones without flesh, or body without soul. As the soul is the form of the body, so too might mysticism be thought of as the form of dogma (and dogma the substance of mysticism).

I think you can well understand the dangers of a breach between these complementary modalities. Yesterday a commenter said that he couldn't discern any difference between me and Matthew Fox, but the difference relates to just this area. In Fox's case, he has detached Eckhart from his orthodox soil and tried to transplant him into a graceless ideology of gaia-worshiping, crapto-Marxist, ovary-tower new-age environmentalist mush. But ideology in any form is the replacement for, and enemy of, Christianity. In Fox's hands, as with Deepak, Truth is reduced to twaddle, inside a hysteria, wrapped in an enema.

That faith and reason cannot be in conflict is standard issue scholasticism. But McGinn notes that Eckhart "went further, claiming that Moses, Aristotle and Christ 'teach the same thing, differing only in the way they teach.'" (By "Moses" and "Aristotle," he means revelation and philosophy in general.)

However, the "way" in which they teach is not insignificant, in that Eckhart "contrasts the 'pagan masters who knew only in a natural light' with 'the words of the sacred masters who knew in a much higher light.'" Natural intelligence alone can only go so far, and is unable "to enter or know the ground of the soul, which is attainable only by unknowing." (However, it should be emphasized that Eckhart did not believe that certain pagan masters such as Plato were devoid of the higher illumination; rather, it's a matter of degree.)

From this we may gather that, to a certain extent, we must overcome the extreme brightness of the natural light in order to clear a kind of "dark space" for the higher illumination to be perceived. In other words, this is where "not-knowing," "learned ignorance," or what the Raccoon calls "higher bewilderness" come into play.

Again, it is very much analogous to the manner in which the central sun blots out perception of the infinite stars, each a sun in its own right. This is a necessarily paradoxical formulation, for man's intellect is (relatively) central, but in so being, also knows that it is (absolutely) peripheral -- or, that it is capable of multiple perspectives (which can be the pretext for the postmodern deconstructionist who erroneously believes that multiple truths = no truth).

In fact, I read a wonderful quote the other day from Emerson, that I wish I had known at the time I wrote my book: "Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning..."

Again, we are center, but a kind of unstable and dynamic center, without which growth would be impossible. Being that we are central, we may know truth; but since we are not God (i.e., the Absolute center), our life is more like a process of "centration," as we metabolize and assimilate more and more of the divine center.

Regarding scripture, Eckhart maintained the classic hull-kernal distinction, which, in a way, mirrors the unavoidable distinction between appearance and reality in science. Science does not -- cannot -- ignore the empirical world as it presents itself to our senses, but it then discovers a deeper world "behind," "above," or "underneath" this (the same can be said for psychoanalysis, which observes the roiling sea of the unconscious beneath the solid ground of the empirical ego).

Here again, the distinction betweeen hull and kernel mirrors the distinction between mind and body, spirit and matter. You might say that scripture is the form of revelation, while revelation is the substance of scripture. As McGinn describes it, this is the complementary space "in which the exegete-preacher and the attentive hearer 'break through' the surface of the biblical word to reach the hidden meaning that negates both ordinary reason and the created self."

In other words, in scripture just as in nature, there is always that "wider circle" we can draw around the existing one, which is none other than growth, as we slowly and gradually contain that which once contained us.

But we can never contain the "all," or we would be God. God is the container that cannot be contained; or, if you want to look at it in a slightly heretical way, perhaps the inner activity of God also mirrors -- or is the very prototype of -- this process, in that the Trinity is, in a sense, eternally "surpassing itself" in love, surrender, and generativity.

This would be consistent with Eckhart's view that "the profundity of the Bible, indeed, of every text in the Bible, means that it contains an inexhaustible fecundity of truths." And "No one can be thought to understand the scriptures who does not know how to find its hidden marrow -- Christ, the Truth."

So even the most solid appearing bone has the waters of spirit invisibly coursing through it. But also, watch for bones in the water. Meanwhile, we'll see you tomarrow!

17 Comments:

Blogger Northern Bandit said...

I've been reflecting on my time at the Vatican recently. Of the many deep impressions, one was that for me personally the great cathedral and timeless devotional art feel adequate as an approach to God. Years ago I thought only the natural world was adequate in this way, but I was some sort of fuzzily-defined emanational pantheist then.

Bob wrote some weeks ago about religious icons which simply are truth -- or which communicate directly to the believer rather than act as pointers or symbols. I experienced this time and again in Italy. Ironically my favorite sculpture -- Michelangelo's La Pieta -- was "interrupted" for me by the presence of protective glass and a good 20 feet distance. Hundreds of other "lesser" works could be experienced directly without this distortion. In short, the timeless direct connection to the Divine provided by these little portals is very real and very powerful; stillness.

This blog also helps to satisfy the need for an adequate intellectual approach to the Divine. For me One Cosmos surfs the edge of what I can comprehend and although the surfer sometimes disappears from sight he always bobs back into view so that I can regain my bearings.

Also I felt better that even Walt occasionally finds it necessary to re-examine basic ideas, as with the recent essence/existence discussion.

Who would have thought that the life of a Christian would be all that it was before (minus many of the mind parasites) plus so very much more? I still am in awe of bona fide science, although today that is becoming harder and harder to find as the Left completes the final phases of the long march through the institutions. The Left well may truly undermine America in this century, but Christ endures.



On an

12/28/2009 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

NB-

Even though Bob does not give us formal "tests," every day at OC is re-examination day for me!

If I had the answers, believe me, I could ask a better class of questions....

12/28/2009 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

"...our life is more like a process of "centration," as we metabolize and assimilate more and more of the divine center."

That hopeful statement implies that we are careful as to what we ingest. The sloppy eating habits of the "gaia-worshiping, crapto-Marxist, ovary-tower new-age environmentalist" don't seem to bother them, but certainly lends a queasiness to my days!

Extra helpings of Eckhart are always welcome!

12/28/2009 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"In other words, in scripture just as in nature, there is always that "wider circle" we can draw around the existing one, which is none other than growth, as we slowly and gradually contain that which once contained us."

Truly. It seems that every known forms the foundation for further unknowns to be discovered.

But far from the leftie prone notion of "the more you know, the more you realize you don't know", this is more a case of "The more you know, the more you realize there is to be known."

The circles encircle infinitely in each direction.

12/28/2009 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

NB, when I was around 3 1/2, my parents took us on vacation to Europe, where my Dad's best friend had been doing quite well as an opera singer. Amazingly I've always remembered huge amounts of the trip, and in particular, holding my Dad's hand as we went through the Sistine Chapel... I didn't know what the Art meant of course, but I remember being awed... partly through the impression of space, artfully enclosed (and that in the almost literal sense of the word 'impression'), and also the sense of it as it passed through my parents expressions and manners and into me. As much as it may get tossed around that kids have mystical experiences in youth... that was one of them.

In one sense, I've always wanted to go back... but in another, nope, don't want to mess with what I've already taken from it.

wv:dieverg
It's getting spooky again

12/28/2009 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Walt said "If I had the answers, believe me, I could ask a better class of questions...."

Hmmm... at the risk of becoming a Descartes joke punch line... I think not.

;-)

12/28/2009 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yesterday a commenter said that he couldn't discern any difference between me and Matthew Fox, but the difference relates to just this area. In Fox's case, he has detached Eckhart from his orthodox soil and tried to transplant him into a graceless ideology of gaia-worshiping, crapto-Marxist, ovary-tower new-age environmentalist mush. But ideology in any form is the replacement for, and enemy of, Christianity. In Fox's hands, as with Deepak, Truth is reduced to twaddle, inside a hysteria, wrapped in an enema."

Indeed, diddo for psychobabble de Chardin toilet paper toting neo-conservative hysterical Aurobindian/Darwinian gaplinking shrinky-dinking heterodoxical "orthodoxy" parading as racoon religion.

12/28/2009 02:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I opine that mysticism is desirable.

The more mystic one can become, the better.

GDB has explained why: scriptures and other learnings are simply records of mystic experiences had by the founding yogins. To enter a religion, one must experience it directly for oneself, as much a possible. To be left high and dry, vicariously sucking in revelation via scripture alone, is not a good spiritual predicament.

The chief obstacles to mystic experiences are other people who want us to remain "normal". This is because mysticism is not directly helpful to human relationships. It puts them in a backseat in relation to the relationship with Mystery. People don't like that. You don't like it either.

To Whit:
Spouses, parents, children, etc. don't cotton to you getting into that mystic stuff.

Any more so than we'd like it if our own parents, children, or spouses went mystic on US.

Therefore, to be a mystic is to be a loner OR to cloak oneself in a cape of conventionality to keep everyone comfy.

And, to look the other way when others close to you enter the mystery in a way that you cannot follow.

It takes a herculean effort to keep one's ego from being hurt by being left behind in this manner.

That being said, I prefer the cloak method to the loner method. Yes, its a little phony, but then again one can keep the relationships intact which are of intense importance.

Human relationships are critical for spiritual growth, at least until the 60th year or unless one is released sooner.

that is all from me today, old gray Tasu who hobbles along with his stick. Be mystic! At all times! So exhorts Tasu.

12/28/2009 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

My impression was that Fox would try to syncretize *anything* with his left-wing version of Christianity. Sloppy eating habits, indeed! I've always avoided mysticism as an end unto itself. Far better to be a lover of God in whatever context He has seen fit to place me. See the first and greatest commandment...

12/28/2009 03:53:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

"Pursue Him and know Him; be found in Him. Count all things loss for Him. Just gain Him, obtain Him; lay hold of Him. It's Christ the central vision. Forgetting the things which are behind, Press on, pursue with this mind. By any means each hour now redeem; Stretch forth, lay hold of Him."

12/28/2009 04:12:00 PM  
Anonymous coonified said...

"Again, we are center, but a kind of unstable and dynamic center, without which growth would be impossible. Being that we are central, we may know truth; but since we are not God (i.e., the Absolute center), our life is more like a process of "centration," as we metabolize and assimilate more and more of the divine center."

This reminds me of how a Euclidean point approximates the answer, but never really exist as an absolute point within space. Rather, the more precise the approximation, the more centralized in regard to the category of radically transcendent space the point becomes, and therefore the more accurate expression of truth that answer is.

I was just corresponding with a girl in town about the dangers of throwing out truth as such just because multiple truths exist. Obviously, some truths are more true than others for the reason that they increasingly contains that which ultimately, and primordially, contains them.

People are pretty hopeless, though. It's like arguing with a false absolute image expressed within time. They have become inverted in a deep way.

12/28/2009 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Search of the day:

psychobabble de Chardin toilet paper toting neo-conservative hysterical Aurobindian/Darwinian gaplinking shrinky-dinking heterodoxical "orthodoxy" parading as racoon religion

12/28/2009 06:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob,

I don't know of anyone else who speaks of these things with the great wit that you have.

Thanks!

12/28/2009 09:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob, what was the name of the Fr. Seraphim Rose book in which he spoke about death that you mentioned a couple of weeks back?

12/29/2009 01:10:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Thesoulafterdeath.

12/29/2009 06:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merci.

12/29/2009 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger PSGInfinity said...

Search of the day:

psychobabble de Chardin toilet paper toting neo-conservative hysterical Aurobindian/Darwinian gaplinking shrinky-dinking heterodoxical "orthodoxy" parading as racoon religion


As of this evening, it still broke the Google machine. :)

WV: colant, what the world needs so much of...

1/03/2010 08:37:00 PM  

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