Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cosmic Theophany and Natural Religion

Theophany. I didn't make that one up. It's a real word, and an important and underutilized one, too. It refers to a visible manifestation of the divine. But looked at in a certain way, everything is a manifestation of the divine, however distant, so is this a tautology?

No, because it has more to do with the development of our vision -- our cʘʘnvision. What you see is what you beget, and some of us just live in a more fertile cosmos. It's similar to what Magnus said in a comment yesterday about how love ultimately trickles down from the one source, winding its way through all the cosmic arteries and capillaries by which we are spiritually nourished, and thus maintain contact with the Real.

In an entry from his diary, Abhishiktananda (SA) implies that this state of being is the very goal of the universe, which is to say, "the consciousness of being, the final unveiling of the intuition that constitutes the human being." Of the Cosmic Covanant, he says that it "does not emerge only at one particular stage of man's civilization or cultural development. Rather, it is written into the very nature of things and is embedded in the consciousness of mankind."

Note that specific religiosity would be strictly impossible in the absence of this more general religiosity, or without our intrinsic theomorphism -- just as we must have the general capacity for language in order to learn any particular one. We may only know of God because we first sense God.

Thus, there is is a kind of "natural religion" accessible to most anyone, those few cynical doubtliars notwithstanding. And even then, they're usually just hawking their own private religion in another deusguise. In other words, physics too is a theophany par excellence.

SA agrees that "every man discovers something of it, even if confusedly, the moment he awakes to and becomes present to himself, to the world, and so to God."

But just as in any other human activity, from physics to basketball, some men are "endowed with a greater capacity for spiritual things," and, with the assistance of divine grace, may "penetrate more deeply into the mystery and unveil its secret to their brothers" (ibid).

But none of these wise guys "has ever received or taught anything substantially new. All was given from the beginning." Rather, "the task is only to recognize that which is and to decipher more and more of its mystery." (Again, we are speaking of the Cosmic Covenant, not of any particular contract with the divinity.) Another name for this ground floor of religion is the sanatana dharma, or eternal law.

Oldmeadow (heretofore HO) has a chapter entitled The Cosmic Theophany. Let's see what he has to say about it.

He -- HO -- ha! -- defines the cosmic theophany as "the revelation of the Divine in that tissue of time-space relativities which make up the whole cosmos." He cites Coleridge, who wrote of "the transcendence of the Eternal through and in the temporal," and Eliade, who observed that "nature always expresses something that transcends it."

How very true! It is simply an unavoidable fact that nature herself is supernatural, or she could never be, let alone be intelligible.

How is this not obvious? "Intelligibility" is not some concrete fact, but a necessary condition for knowing anything of our cosmos. And to say "intelligible" is to immediately say "knower," so this transcendent dialectic is woven into the very fabric of reality. You are free to disagree, but anything you say (assuming it makes sense) simply confirms it.

You could say that intelligibilty is the residue of God's immanence, while understanding is grounded in God's transcendence. Thus, "to imagine one without the other would be akin to envisaging a circle with no center" (HO). To paraphrase a rabbinical formula cited in the book, God is not in the universe so much as the universe is in God.

Note also that we could not be here without a physical form. But more importantly, matter could not be here without the divine substance that infuses it: "the world of phenomena is held together by a numinous spiritual presence," without which "the world of 'matter' would vanish instantly and utterly" (ibid). It is impossible to imagine or conceive of an unknowable world -- and again, knowability is transcendent in its immanence.

For HO, one of the purposes of myth and ritual is not just to remind us of this ontological fact, but to allow us to participate in it. But the same reality can be revealed in those random moments we call (?!), "where the membrane, as it were, between the worlds of matter and of spirit is especially permeable" (ibid). It matters not whether we break on through to spirit (↑) or spirit breaks on through to us (↓), for the result is the same, whether it is the guffah ha! experience, the holy smoke!, or the sacred WTF!

Hereagain this speaks to man's function as cosmic mediator in the herebelow. Please note that, since we are in the image of the Creator, it can truly be said that we too contain the cosmos, for to know something is to contain it. Being that there is no such thing as an unknowable cosmos, and there is nothing knowable that man may not potentially know, it is literally true that man contains the cosmos, just as God contains man (i.e., he knows us all right down to the last harebrain).

This is good: HO cites St. Paul, who says in Romans that "the invisible things of him" may be "clearly seen" and "understood by the things that are made." Thus, "Nature is a teaching, a primordial Scripture" (HO). Elsewhere, I remember Schuon saying that the exterior world was one kind of revelation, while the human subject was another. Really, they are two inseparable sides of the same revelation -- like God himself, in whom there may be distinction but no division.

So, where does this cosmic tree leaf us? We've grown as high as our naturally supernatural reason may take us, but we're still in the terrestrial arbor, well short of the celestial sonflower planted in the father shore.

What? How's that?

Yes, Abhishiktananda would like to remind us that Christ in his function as cosmic mediator is a "Column of Light and Fire" that has "one pole penetrating the heavens and the other plunged into the earth..."

And I would add that he contains us that we may contain him.

*****

Children are one of the more obvious theophanies, are they not?

45 Comments:

Anonymous t-b said...

I am curious: how much of your time do you spend in contended joy? And I mean this honestly. It seems you use your skills for a never ending process of slicing and dicing the world with every imaginable sort of cognitive-linguistic scalpel you can find and end up with a pile of mush. There are those few, basic truths which we need to continually be aware of, but other than that just stay in the center of the circle. As the Tao Te Ching says:

He who would inflict death in the room of him who so presides over it may be
described as hewing wood instead of a great carpenter. Seldom is it
that he who undertakes the hewing, instead of the great carpenter,
does not cut his own hands."

9/16/2010 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

"I am curious: how much of your time do you spend in contended joy?"

One does have to sleep, no? And last night Deepak Chopra actually made a cameo in one of my dreams. So there's that.

9/16/2010 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Seriously, I try to bring joy and humor into theology, mysticism and metaphysics, where it is so often absent. I am the first to admit that my approach is not for everyone. I'm only surprised you stayed this long.

9/16/2010 08:32:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

When your writings at OC look like a pile of mush to me, I assume it is just reflecting the condition of my own mind.

Today, au contraire, it seemed that each paragraph was punctuated by ideas that could be *exploded* into a full post. Example:
...some men are "endowed with a greater capacity for spiritual things..."

Seems to me that the idea 'capacity', properly understood, would go a long ways toward answering your original question of a few days ago, as to why Revelation touches some men and not others.

9/16/2010 08:50:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

t-b says:

"It seems you use your skills for a never ending process of slicing and dicing the world with every imaginable sort of cognitive-linguistic scalpel you can find and end up with a pile of mush."

One person's mush is another person's book reviews.

I think he just wakes up in the morning and types what he types because he wants to do so.

Plus, he spends a lot of his time interviewing people for psycholgical reports.

I personally find my interviews with psychologically unusual people rather stressful at times.

There's nothing quite like interviewing someone in the theroes of a mania.

9/16/2010 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Walt says:

"When your writings at OC look like a pile of mush to me, I assume it is just reflecting the condition of my own mind."

Some of it is mush. But I'm not sure what else you can expect when you write 2,000 blog posts or however many it is he has written.

Everyone writes some mush. Much of legal writing is mush and I can get paid a lot of money to write that.

Plus, he interatively rewrites some of his posts, which presumably makes them less mushier.

9/16/2010 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Apologies. If it reads like mush, I have no one to blame but yourself.

9/16/2010 09:11:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Capacity indeed. A person with a small capacity should of course stick with the few, basic truths. And I mean that in the least insulting way imaginable. The size of your spirit is orthogonal, at best, to the purity of it.

Of the people I have known who have come at least close to sainthood, I would say that a majority had relatively small souls, much smaller than my own. But they had been that much more picky about what they let in, and what they let out, and what they did with what was inside them. So they had a small, beautiful, brightly shining soul. Like a wonderful spiritual bonsai garden, I guess you could say.

But this path is not available for everyone, because in some it would leave them with a bonsai garden and a huge empty space. Which is a completely different and less desirable thing.

We could say that a person's spiritual volume can be extensive in width or in depth, neither, or both. To a certain degree, EACH of these is beyond our control. Certainly at the outset, but to some degree I would say even over the duration of a lifetime.

9/16/2010 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Great pic of your best bud, Bob. He waves just like his old meadow.

9/16/2010 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"...it is written into the very nature of things and is embedded in the consciousness of mankind."

and..

"the world of phenomena is held together by a numinous spiritual presence," without which "the world of 'matter' would vanish instantly and utterly"

RE the mention of the Nameless Dread yesterday, and remembering the other part of it that used to scare the P out of mep just before wetting my bed, was this crazy notion that if I were to think just a little bit more about this paradox I'd solve it and then the jig would be up, just like "poof".

Where in heaven's name did my inner child get such an idea? Well, according to SA, it wasn't me. To which, I answer, "I knew it!"

9/16/2010 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Bob says:

"Apologies. If it reads like mush, I have no one to blame but yourself."

You don't have to apologize for something that I did.

I suppose I could apologize to myself.

9/16/2010 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Rick says:

"the world of phenomena is held together by a numinous spiritual presence," without which "the world of 'matter' would vanish instantly and utterly"

This is certainly true. The world of matter is inherently fragile and requires sustaining grace from God.

However, the corolary, that God loves the world and will sustain it forever is also true.

I actually remember a sermon on that one once about an 8th century Christian mystic who had a vision about that.

Anyway, back to my own personal namelss, or not so nameless, dreads.

Another of my experiences as a small child was that I got to watch a cartoon animation of the effects of the explosion of the nuclear bomb over hiroshima or nagasaki, whichever city it was supposed to illustrate.

I still remember the video of people's flesh melting off of their bodies and their bodies being liquified.

So, I also got to achieve the total terror of nuclear war as a small child. At least that wasn't nameless. I knew that the Soviet Union had them pointed at us and I could be vaporized by them at any time should they choose to do so.

Parents: You really need to make sure your kids aren't terrified by what they see on TV!

Note: I apparently scare my own daughter by watching old reruns of "Without a Trace".

9/16/2010 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

It matters not whether we break on through to spirit (↑) or spirit breaks on through to us (↓), for the result is the same, whether it is the guffah ha! experience, the holy smoke!, or the sacred WTF!

Speaking of which, another thing that has occurred to me lately is the severe limitation of language - perhaps even particularly modern American English - to even begin to express (!?) without immediately putting it in terms most profane...

9/16/2010 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

I recall from somewhere [was it 'Gnosis and Hermeticism from Antiquity to Modern Times'?]
a kinda useful general differentiation between the 2 terms: Gnosticism is tinged with a world-negative POV while Hermeticism sees creation as a heel-clicking Theophany by golly

9/16/2010 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Magnus said: Capacity indeed. A person with a small capacity should of course stick with the few, basic truths. And I mean that in the least insulting way imaginable. The size of your spirit is orthogonal, at best, to the purity of it.

There is hope, possibly, for the most 'fundamental' of us. This would imply that the most literal fundamentalist who is true to what he believes and pure in heart will get to walk on streets of gold.

9/16/2010 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"No, because it has more to do with the development of our vision -- our cʘʘnvision. What you see is what you beget, and some of us just live in a more fertile cosmos."

Note picture perfect proof at bottom of post.

;-)

9/16/2010 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Mushroom,
I am convinced that many "fundamentalists" will go before me into the Kingdom of Heaven, people who believe that the earth is less than 6000 years old, men who pray to God to protect them from the malice of witches, women who warn the angels to look away before they undress for their bath. I hope for the prayers of these men and women to help carry me toward our common goal. But I could not possibly be one of them, even were I to try. Nor could they be me.

9/16/2010 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Beautifully put, Magnus, as always. Thank you.

9/16/2010 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger f/zero said...

Well will ya look at that? The little man is coming into focus. There's some deep eyes on that one.

9/16/2010 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"How is this not obvious? "Intelligibility" is not some concrete fact, but a necessary condition for knowing anything of our cosmos. And to say "intelligible" is to immediately say "knower," so this transcendent dialectic is woven into the very fabric of reality. You are free to disagree, but anything you say (assuming it makes sense) simply confirms it."

It is Axiʘmatic. Not to mention that to say "intelligible", is to also at the same Time to say "knower" as well as that there is a means by which what is intelligible, becomes known, to the knower.

Our senses sense what can be known, and because they do, we know it.

All of modernity... Descartes, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, Marx... in one way or another, exist only to deny this... but still it persists.

Reality exists.
To exists is to exist as something, to have identity.
Through our awareness of what exists, we become conscious of ourselves.

"Nature is a teaching, a primordial Scripture"

This has been running through my noggin for some while now... round and round... like an O.

Through our awareness of the identity of what that which exists, exists as, we become conscious of ourselves... and learn to identify who, and what, we are, I am, and ?!

wv:extesan
c!

9/16/2010 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

JP,
For the record, I did not say that.
I "lifted" it. From Bob.

And..

"However, the corolary, that God loves the world and will sustain it forever is also true."

That's not what I heard, the "sustain it forever". Then again, it depends on which world we're talking about..
I read somewhere, I think it was some Gil Bailie, something like, "Christianity is the only religion that foretells its own destruction." And by "its", I take to mean "the World".

9/16/2010 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Rick, I have to wonder if "sustain" is even the right word. It reminds me too much of the Islamic idea that god recreates the universe moment to moment.

9/16/2010 01:42:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

I'm talking about Creation, generally. Not the fact that this world (and this universe) is going to pass away.

Perhaps more along the lines of what I recall from UF about "The World" as opposed to "the world"?

In any event, I still assume that I have a beginning, but no end, until proven otherwise. I also assume that my personality can be represented by a distinct unique geometric form, until proven otherwise.

9/16/2010 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Actually, "sustain" always reminds me of the green meanies.

9/16/2010 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Heh - yep, that too. If ever a word were supersaturated...

9/16/2010 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

JP,
Funny about the geometry.

RE things I still believe, there is much we can know about God (thank God) but nothing compared to what we can't know. I mean, I even get a little uncomfortable when the very holy among us make some far out statements as to what God can or won't do. He loves us, that's for certain. In how many mysterious ways?

9/16/2010 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Julie said "... another thing that has occurred to me lately is the severe limitation of language - perhaps even particularly modern American English - to even begin to express (!?) without immediately putting it in terms most profane..."

Yes, if I'm following you, the reflexive need to chuckle, wince, roll the eye, or restate something in a way that is sanitized of any conviction of Goodness. Not so much the language - it is still there - but the habit of using it, the winked at fashion of it, or maybe as Will would say, the Glamour of it.

Watch a typical movie from the 1930's, 40's... even into the 50's, with someone of our time, and watch their reactions when a character says something - almost anything - with earnestness, happiness or belief.

There's a measurement, an apetite even, of capacity there that has been lost.

9/16/2010 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"sustain"

I mentally feel my finger holding the string to the fretboard in such a way so that the note will sustain out to the utmost limit....

wv:indholou
hmmm... probably cursing at me in Hawaiian.

9/16/2010 03:35:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Van, I like that description much better. Context makes such a difference.

Re. language, indeed. Or just think of how the meaning of the word "gay" has shifted. And for what it once described, there is no comparable modern word that comes to mind. Anything even approaching it tends still to smack of, well, gayness - think "festive," for instance - as euphemisms for the euphemism, until all we are safely left with is "happy" to describe a range of emotion, personality and being that cannot possibly be properly conveyed by so vague a term. And as for genuine gaiety in the original sense, does such an innocent lightheartedness even exist in our culture anymore, with no way to conceptualize it?

9/16/2010 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

God won't interfere with the exercise of our free will.

There's a certainty about God to start with.

9/16/2010 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9/16/2010 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I've heard He might make you an offer you can't refuse.

9/16/2010 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Julie said "Or just think of how the meaning of the word "gay" has shifted. And for what it once described, there is no comparable modern word that comes to mind. "

I was going to go for the easy ref, like something with Fred Astaire, but you can even see it with James Cagney 'walking' down a flight of stairs or when he's doing his tough guy roles.

What's interesting, and going to be more interesting, is that we're raising the first generation in the history of the world, that not only has access to the ideas & learning materials that previous fabled generations had access to without having to go through the elites filtering them out to them, but they will be the first ever generation to be able to see what those previous generations looked, sounded and acted like.

It'll be interesting to see what they might think when given the chance to compare between, say, John Wayne in a John Ford Western, and some woe is me dude in a 'dances with wolves' type offering.

I don't know that they'll choose 'rightly'... but it'll at the very least be interesting to see what they think of the choices that have been made before them.

9/16/2010 07:33:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

If I had staircase like that, I'd at least have to skip down it. Impossible to step down for that long and merely walk, anyway. Of course, sooner or later I'd probably end up tumbling down it, too...

9/16/2010 11:00:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

Recording technology means that we will collectively have more access to the akashic record.

More access to both thoughs and memory.

Of course, you can only really get the feel of an age by living throug it.

We might have the books of the Romans and Greeks but we have lost the feel of what it was like to live there.

9/17/2010 06:05:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I recently read a book about what day-to-day life was like for the typical person in the middle ages. Despite its detail -- or perhaps because of it -- I found it as impossible to truly imagine as trying to imagine what it would be like to have the consciousness of a bat or lion. To cite just one area: imagine what it would be like to have no awareness of animal suffering, or to take pleasure in watching someone being drawn and quartered. Ever see the end of Braveheart? The level of sadism is so extreme as to become almost a Pythonesque parody:

"Following the trial, on 23 August 1305, Wallace was taken from the hall, stripped naked and dragged through the city at the heels of a horse to the Elms at Smithfield. He was hanged, drawn and quartered — strangled by hanging but released while he was still alive, eviscerated and his bowels burnt before him, beheaded, then cut into four parts. His preserved head (dipped in tar) was placed on a pike atop London Bridge. It was later joined by the heads of the brothers, John and Simon Fraser. His limbs were displayed, separately, in Newcastle upon Tyne, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Stirling, and Aberdeen."

9/17/2010 06:19:00 AM  
Anonymous A.N. Islamist said...

Your point being?

9/17/2010 06:20:00 AM  
Anonymous The Black Knight said...

It's just a flesh wound!

9/17/2010 06:25:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Sir Bedevere: What makes you think she's a witch?
Peasant: Well, she turned me into a newt!
Sir Bedevere: A newt?
Peasant: [meekly after a long pause] ... I got better.
Crowd: [shouts] Burn her anyway!

9/17/2010 06:29:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

I read a series of books on the middle ages.

Life in a Mideveal City
Life in a Mideveal Castle
Life in a Mideveal Village

The best one was Life in a Mideveal City, which was the first one that husband and wife team wrote. A lot of it was a pretty dry read.

Basically, what I got from those books was the following:

1) It was a real pain being a villager. Life was often nasty brutish, and short. Although you had some holidays and feast days that were kind of fun.

2) If you wanted anything resembling a decent life, you had to live in a city. Even though life was still hard, it was basically liveable.

3) Castles at the end of the high middle ages were developing some neat techniques like indoor plumbing.

4) Being a knight was fun only if you liked to fight and kill people. Knights in general were somewhat sociopathic.

9/17/2010 06:45:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

If you wanted a really good shave you just grabbed a couple of empty clam shells and plucked a bumblebee outside your bathroom window.

That may have been the Flintstones.

9/17/2010 06:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Kip said...

..but I still love technology...

9/17/2010 06:54:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Well, according to Yahoo, the Seattle Mohammad cartoonist has gone into hiding and changed her identiy.

9/17/2010 07:18:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

*sigh*
A religion? It's certainly enough to make me want to bang my head against the wall repeatedly until a dent forms in my forehead. I wonder if that would qualify me for membership?

9/17/2010 07:40:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Mushroom said...

"I've heard He might make you an offer you can't refuse."

Well, He is the original God Father.

Technically, you CAN refuse, however, nothin' good ever results from turnin' down the God Father.
Waking up next to a disembodied horse head would be the least of your worries. :^)

9/18/2010 01:30:00 AM  

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