The Great Inscape: On Using Language to Scale the Walls of Language
We intuitively and routinely use language in such a way as to imply that the mind is a space. But what kind of space is it? Is it a birthquake or merely a crock?
For if it is holographic and multidimensional -- which it is -- then we need a language that parallels that fact, or else it will simply mislead, as the mind will appear to take on reified properties of the language used to describe it. It will be like trying to represent a three-dimensional cube on a two-dimensional piece of paper. Something vital will be lost. One thing lost will be the dimension of "depth."
What does it mean to say that something is "deep" on the human plane? That it partakes of multiple dimensions, even if -- as in primitive mythology -- we are not consciously aware of all of them. Authentic scripture is a kind of language that is deep and resonant. Inexhaustibly so. It can never be fully explicated, since it partakes of the Absolute. Therefore, as Origen knew, it is fine to treat scripture as literal, but never only literal, for to do so is to deny oneself access to a multitude of other humanly critical dimensions.
The problem with much religious language is not so much the literal/symbolic divide as the question of whether or not language is being used in a generative or a static way. If it is static, then it is not really about religion, but simply about language, about saturated words pointing to each other. It is like a glorified case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which amounts to a circular nervous system chasing its own tenure.
The last thing you want is to be tied up in such a tight neural knotwork, because it will not only leave you on this side of the cosmic veil, but transform the veil into a wall. Then, all your theologizing is just a nice painting on the prison wall or a fanciful story about life outside the prison gates. But a human being is not deserving of the name if he isn't always plotting his great inscape from this gloomy cage. Spherical man was not made to live in a cubicle, no matter how much you pound on him.
Properly understood, a religion is very much like a scientific paradigm, in that it is a "frame of reference" that allows us to “see" the religious facts it iluminates. Otherwise this inexhaustible bounty of transnatural facts goes unseen. Astute scientists understand that "percept follows concept," i.e, "Never trust a fact without a good theory to support it." Neither scientific nor spiritual facts "speak for themselves." For example, it took hundreds of years to develop a coherent theology around the "fact" of Jesus.
A fact is a relation between two events. We are one of the events. God is the other. Thus, in order to think about God, we must move from epistemology to mystepistemology, toward the unKnown source of Truth that in-forms our knowledge. For if your ontology is not planted in a fertile field, your epistemology will surely fallow.
When spiritual communication is generative, something quasi-magical is taking place, as it becomes the translating function that renders the translinguistic "religious object" (O) present in the form of subtle energies of various kinds. To a large extent, the "purification" that is always preluminary to the religious quest is a means of eliminating the dross, the contingencies, or "noise" that compete with and drown out the energies.
Religious words are never just words, but words + music. To speak religiously -- to use language in such a way that it actually mirrors and partakes of the the domain of spirit -- there is a certain rhythm and a certain felicity of phrasing that must be achieved (or at least a-spired to): not to merge with the ocean but to use language to gather it in. Language must be unsaturated enough to either "bite" into spirit or "lure" spirit into it. Yes, grace "blows where it will," but it's always better if you don't use language in such a way that you're voiding into the wind.
To speak of Spirit, one must have one foot firmly planted in reality. But not both feet. One foot must be equally planted in trans-reality, in the world that is prior to the material. You have to catch it before it quickens and congeals into the illusion of solidity. As I get older -- especially now with a child -- I am more deeply entangled in the world than ever. But at the same time, I am more deeply rooted in the other realm as well. Put the two together, and you have a man who passes his timelessness in a dialectical space between now and forever.
It reminds me of looking into a placid lake with a tall tree on the other side. On the lake there will be a mirror image of the tree, going in the opposite direction, one up, one down -- or, in the case of the cosmic Tree of Life, one exterior, one interior, meeting at the Crossrood where life must be lived. Similarly, when I look into my son's eyes, it is like gazing into an eternity that extends infinitely in two directions -- into him and into me (and beyond). Growth is growing in both directions, not one or the other; the soul penetrates God just as God penetrates the soul.
Reality is logos, absolute Word and infinite speech. But language is always communication. It is to someone. It is from someOne. Why spend your life decoding the message but never ask who is speaking?
Sufficient language for speaking of God has yet to be perfected. I take that back. The language has been perfected, but few remember how to speak it any longer. We've run out of competent trancelighters who are able to demonstrate it while speaking it. An evolving logos will evolve the consciousness of the person who contemplates it -- it will not only in-form but trans-form, not just push in but draw out.
The logos itself does not evolve, but causes evolution upon contact with mind, so to speak. This is why religious doctrine "has an aspect of system and an aspect of indeterminacy," for if it didn't, it would simply be God, and no communication would be possible between the Absolute and his middling relativities, or between God and man.
How to speak of the Omninameable One? It is not that we can say so little about it, but so much. As Schuon writes, the problem is "not through a lack, but through a superabundance of light." Language does not contain it, but It contains language, absorbing words like a sponge or shedding them like water off a duck's back. It cannot be done without paradox, symbolism, wordplay, myth -- all the linguistic tools available to half-awake language-bearing primates.
To be able to combine the religious symbolism of Heaven with the astronomical fact of the stellar galaxies in a single consciousness, an intelligence is needed which is more than just rational.... The tragic impasse reached by the modern mind results from the fact that most men are incapable of grasping a priori the compatibility between the symbolic expressions of tradition and the material discoveries established by science.... Man, when he trusts his reason alone, only ends by unleashing the dark and dissolving forces of the irrational --F. Schuon, Stations of Wisdom