Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Shock Treatment and Mystical Obliturature

We are still mulling over the meaning of the passage from Monday's post, "Nine out of ten authentic mystics agree that the unKnown God is 'superior' to the known God."

In writing it, I was undoubtedly thinking of Meister Eckhart -- or he of me -- whose sermons I have been reading, for this would clearly be one of his takeaway points. Eckhart wasn't saying anything new, nothing that wasn't previously said by such luminaries as Maximus Confessor or Denys the Areopagite.

He was, however, saying it in a new and more pun-loving way, and saying it to a new audience consisting of regular churchgoers instead of concealing it behind the formal latin and linear logic of scholasticism. Eckhart is always aware of the fact that lived experience is infinitely richer than our ability to articulate it.

What Eckhart is really doing is playing with apophaticism, the latter of which is at the heart of any orthoparadoxical approach to, and formulation of, God, and which prevents us from confusing the divine form with its content (or its energies with its essence). It has a venerable tradition, beginning with the unpronounceable name of JHVH, which comes down to the impossibility of reducing the clearobscuro I AM to any cutandry HE IS.

Regarding Eckhart's freevangelical pundamentalism, McGinn writes that he "deliberately adopted a strategy designed to shock the reader" or listener, and "consciously adapted [a] fluid hermeneutic of multiplication [of meanings] and mischievousness for the good of his students and his lay audience."

In so doing, his linguistic jive-alarmamentarium included paradox, oxymoron, chiasmus, parallelism, antithesis, hyperbole, negation, and the negation of negation (McGinn). These modalities contribute to "the 'shock treatment' of a mystical discourse designed to awaken by challenging traditional modes of speaking and understanding" (ibid).

Shock treatment. Reminds me of a swimming pool. As you pool owners know, in addition to regular chlorination, every once in awhile you have to shock the pool with an extra strong dose of chlorine, in order to neutralize all of the little beastlings that survive the regular dose.

The same applies to theology, only more so. You might say that the usual pneumababble and sanctified blah blah is analogous to regular chlorination. You can get so used to it, that you don't really hear it anymore, or it no longer penetrates to the core. Perhaps it keeps most of the mind parasites at bay and algae off your north face, but everyone recognizes the need for the occasional shock treatment, whether it involves going on retreat, intensifying one's prayer life, or exposing the parasites to a deadly dose of One Cosmos nonsense.

Prior to Joyce, I can't think of anyone who played with the possibilities of language -- the word! -- more than Eckhart. Obviously referring to himself, Joyce writes in Finnegans Wake,

"Shem is as short for Shemus as Jem is joky for Jacob. A few toughnecks are still getatable who pretend that aboriginally he was of respectable stemming [but] every honest to goodness man in the land of the space of today knows that his back life will not stand being written about in black and white. Putting truth and untruth together a shot may be made at what this hybrid actually was like to look at." (I think Joyce is speaking of what happens if we shine too bright -- and too unplayful! -- a rationalizing light on scripture, in this case, the Torah.)

Nevertheless, despite his flaws and failings, the author, the conveyor of the Word, "lifts the lifewand and the dumb speak," meaning that his words have the power of life. (For Eckhart, knowledge is life, and vice versa.)

So, as with Joyce, it's difficult to know when Eckhart is just pulling your leg. And even when he does, he's usually just trying to make the wrong one right, so it goes all the way to the ground.

For Eckhart, the ground -- or perhaps groundless ground -- is the Godhead, which is (vertically) anterior to God. That is, "The Godhead becomes 'God' in the flowing of creation."

This is just the kind of statement that can get a man in trouble if his inquisitors lack a sense of humor. And proportion.

Eckhart explains: "Though it may be called a nescience, an unknowing, yet there is in it more than in all knowing and understanding without it, for this unknowing lures and attracts you from all understood things, and from yourself as well."

This results in a kind of soul-flooding -- since we cannot possibly contain the divine essence -- which "runs over and floods into the powers and into the outward man."

It is not just a "turning around" (metanoia, repentance), but a kind of cosmic inversion whereby the world-current is reversed and we live in the state of what we call O --> (n).

In fact, "no man ever went astray for any other reason than that he first departed from this, and then sought too much to cling to outward things.... [T]here are many who sought light and truth, but only outside where it was not to be found. Finally they go out so far that they never get back home or find their way in again" (M.E.).

This is what we have in the past referred to as the "terminal moraine of the senses." But one could just as well call it a desert or dump or OWS encampment.

Reader Gabe expresses concern that "I cannot help but think that when you try to integrate different ways of knowing, after you have found one you trust, you run a risk of picking and choosing what you like," and "when you admit other sources besides the one that brung ya' where you're at, it messes with your frame of reference."

True enough, but there is another side to that coin. It wasn't too long ago -- just a blink of the world-hisorical eye -- that the religions were separated from each other by geographical, linguistic, and cultural barriers. As Schuon notes, each of them speaks of the "absolute," and designates itself as its guardian. But how can there be more than one absolute?

This question generally leads either to a kind of adamantine literalness or a corrosive cynicism, neither of which is conducive to growth. In the words of Schuon, "Confronted with a relativism that is growing ever more intrusive, it is necessary to restore to the intelligence a sense of the absolute, even to the point of having to underline for this purpose the relativity in which immutable things are clothed."

In other words, in order to preserve the absolute from the ravages of relativism, we must not absolutize that in which it is "clothed."

To put it another way, relativism has its rights. To deny relativism is to foster a totalitarian system, a la Iran or Saudi Arabia, where the absolute absolutely bars relativism, including such first degree relativities as liberty, private property, individualism, democracy, rule of law, meritocracy, and science.

What we need is a balance, or better yet, complementarity, between absolute and relative, not one or the other, each of which results in its own particular hell.

In fact, this book I'm working on, The Great Lie: Classic and Recent Appraisals of Ideology and Totalitarianism, fits right in with today's theme, in that the various political religions of the left "utterly deny the legitimacy of the liberal idea of separate spheres in social life and they replace the liberal distrust of politics with an absolutization of the latter."

This is the loony logic behind the intellectual children's crusade of the OWSers, who tell us that "government is corrupt and not to be trusted, and we need lots more of it!"

23 Comments:

Blogger Open Trench said...

You are bloated on spiritual riches and we demand that you share the wealth. Therefore we occupy your blogsite (Occupy One Cosmos).

Our heavy metal rave ecstacy eating pierced and tatted mall-walking online poker playing chevy pick up four wheel ATV deer blind crossbow bass fishin' plaid shirt line dance Vegas zit-poppin' steak eaters will squat here until we get some 'o what you got.

11/02/2011 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

As Schuon notes, each of them speaks of the "absolute," and designates itself as its guardian. But how can there be more than one absolute?

Yes, just so. The two legs of an arch are opposed, are they not? Yet they both serve to be held up by the keystone.

11/02/2011 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

...it keeps most of the mind parasites at bay and algae off your north face...

The Matterhorn has four faces (not to mention the ridges) but only one summit.

WV says -- humpti is about to fall.

11/02/2011 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Heh

11/02/2011 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

He looks like he's had his shots.

11/02/2011 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

As soon as God is "known", he is boxed, contained...in our terms.

Only when he boxed himself in the god-man Jesus did he provide us the way to know him on his terms.

See Paul's sermon on Mars Hill in which he fills their "unknown god" box with Jesus. (Acts 17:16-34)

11/02/2011 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

As with Eckhart and Joyce, OC is not something you can read -- usually, and get all fired up about the latest Dem/Rep atrocity. The idea is to let the right brain or whatever work through the layers and start to untangle some golden Gordian knot.

At best, at least in my case, I feel almost triumphant if I can verbalize even the tip of the upside-down iceberg of which we catch a glimpse.

11/02/2011 06:14:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Mystical Obliturature is right.

Without the shock treatment and wordplay OC would still be interesting but I wouldn't have travelled very far within, obliturating those old containers one by one.

Or, as Bob so eloquently said:

"It is not just a "turning around" (metanoia, repentance), but a kind of cosmic inversion whereby the world-current is reversed and we live in the state of what we call O --> (n)."

And this:

"For Eckhart, the ground -- or perhaps groundless ground -- is the Godhead, which is (vertically) anterior to God. That is, "The Godhead becomes 'God' in the flowing of creation."

This is just the kind of statement that can get a man in trouble if his inquisitors lack a sense of humor. And proportion."

I have found it suprising how many Christians tend to lack a sense of humor and proportion, particularly where it concerns God.

Or, to be more accurate, I should say it has been my experience that many Christians are afraid God might smite them if they ain't if they pun around too much.

Of course, that's nothing compared to Islam where fun ain't allowed at all, but I have known many Christians that really need to get serious about lightening up. :^)

"Lighten up Francis." Should be a sermon topic every priest or preacher gets around to on a regular basis.
We all need to yoke it up more often.

Meister Eckhart was a brilliant OMedian and waaay ahead of his time, like they all are.
Ever notice how the classics never get old and are always fresh n' relevant?
He certainly fills that bill.

I think perhaps folks new to the OC might be a bit less confused or moreso (but at least less worried) (hopefully) if they read the header at the top of this blog.

I reread it often (along with refreshments at the open side bar) and not only does it help me get in a better perspective, but I'm still learnin' stuff from it.

11/02/2011 11:34:00 PM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

" McGinn writes that he "deliberately adopted a strategy designed to shock the reader" or listener, ..."

No sleeping in the pews when he was speaking... hehehe...

"Eckhart explains: "Though it may be called a nescience, an unknowing, yet there is in it more than in all knowing and understanding without it, for this unknowing lures and attracts you from all understood things, and from yourself as well.""

Hmmm... a "return to innocence". :)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTozCB3cueA

Perhaps this is what the hippies/liberals desire, yet are too... dense... to articulate (let alone practice) such a... dense... topic. As you said at the end of this essay: "This is the loony logic behind the intellectual children's crusade of the OWSers, who tell us that "government is corrupt and not to be trusted, and we need lots more of it!"
". heh.

The supreme irony may be that the very thing they wish to 'unknow' are the very concepts they are actually clinging to most earnestly. Which folds nicely into one of Eckharts most famous says (made famous by the movie "Jacobs Ladder"): If you're frightened of dying and holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. But if you've made your peace then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the Earth".

"Finally they go out so far that they never get back home or find their way in again" (M.E.). "

huh... reminds me of a song by Harry Chapin, Bob. its called Star Tripper:

Star Tripper
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfvzoJptGHQ

"I thought that I was soaring like an eagle
I thought that I was roaring like the wind
I thought that I had surely reached the end now
But I can't remember anywhere I've been


Was I looking for a star or something else behind it?
Whatever I was looking for, I surely dod not find it
And for all my sky high journeys the only thing I know
Is that you almost always lose yourself when you let yourself go"

ha! This was fun. But I better put my crayons back into the box for the night. :)

11/03/2011 12:11:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

See, the problem with us religious people is that we think we know God.

Because we have heard a lot of really good sermons and read the Bible and it mostly made sense, had some pretty specific prayers answered and live a different life from the typical godless, we think: "God? I'm an EXPERT on God."

If only. The closer you come to God, the further away He is.

There is reason to believe that in the Pentateuch, the people honestly believed that God personally, in his totality, was on the mountain and spoke to Moses face to face. But a thousand years or so later they had figured out that God probably wouldn't fit on a mountain or be visible, so they concluded that it was the Angel of the LORD who had been there.

I've had a very similar experience. God has become harder and harder to place in a certain, limited, setting.

11/03/2011 05:23:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Well said, Magnus.

11/03/2011 05:45:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Nevertheless, despite his flaws and failings, the author, the conveyor of the Word, "lifts the lifewand and the dumb speak," meaning that his words have the power of life. (For Eckhart, knowledge is life, and vice versa.)"

Big thrumming Gong there... though of course it matters a great deal whether your knowledge is indeed known, rather than merely recited... but then again, it's only as important as life or death.

11/03/2011 06:02:00 AM  
Blogger nightfly said...

...lived experience is infinitely richer than our ability to articulate it.

As any writer has learned. The more seriously you try, the worse it gets. It's actually one of the biggest confirmations to me of my faith: I understand how God is bigger than all descriptions and theology and rituals and scriptures. I can begin to see how any of us might also be bigger than our own "descriptions," the life we live rooted in time - that there is more and better that is impossible to "write" here but will be lived in His Kingdom. And it also convinces me that we are indeed in His Image, creative and imaginative.

It's all very meta... and difficult to adequately explain in a blogbox.

11/03/2011 07:05:00 AM  
Blogger William said...

Bob,
I wonder if that book " The Great Lie: Classic and Recent Appraisals of Ideology and Totalitarianism" details how Hitler used Christianity to justify his genocide and the elimination of non-Christian freethinking Germans?

Probably not.

11/04/2011 07:31:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

No, so far no cranks or historical illiterates.

11/04/2011 08:12:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

willian, I wonder if you understand the use of the word 'used' in "how Hitler used Christianity"? Such as how Hitler used the 'social justice' theology to take over the churches, and eventually place his smiling face in place of Christ in the churches?

Probably not.

Or were you just using another thought someone else had in order to make a point you didn't understand yourself?

Probably so.

But that's ok, we're used to it.

11/04/2011 08:17:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Shocking! Bad man hides bad behavior behind front of good intentions!

Geez, Will E., is that the best you've got? Be honest - you were afraid we might forget about you, so you popped in with a complete non sequiter about Hitler just to make sure we know you're still alive.

11/04/2011 08:35:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Julie said "...you're still alive..."

Figuratively speaking.

wv:psigh

pshaw, without the gusto. Like willian. Literally.

11/04/2011 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger William said...

This type of rhetoric seems familiar - it could be today's christian conservative Republicans:

“Today Christians … stand at the head of this country… I pledge that I never will tie myself to parties who want to destroy Christianity .. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit … We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press – in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past … (few) years.”

[The Speeches of Adolph Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1 (London, Oxford University Press, 1942), pg. 871-872]

11/04/2011 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Right, ergo Conservatives and Christians are literally warming up the ovens in preparation for the slaughter of millions.

Criminy, you are desperate today. What's wrong, did you lose a race? Your girlfriend dump you? Nobody would let you sit with them at the cool table at lunch?

11/04/2011 08:52:00 AM  
Blogger William said...

Actually, just wondering why GOP members of congress are wasting time with the need to reaffirm "in God we Trust" motto with the country in the sahape it's in.

Cnservatives and their anti-multicultural bent seems about as far away as they could be from E pluribus unum - "Out of many, one", adopted by the Founding Fathers by Act of Congress in 1782.

Ironic, since the GOP is always touting the Founders, God, the constitution, etc... Now you know where the Jonah Goldberg history revisionism school is coming from.

Of course, the Founders would have hated the teabaggers.

11/04/2011 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Actually, since William explained last week that OWS is thoroughly Christian, this proves that the OWSers are Nazis.

11/04/2011 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

Good one, Bob.

Use Williams own 'logic' against himself.

As you know, William is here just to break stuff.

Its his nature. Thats what a 'Loose Cannon' does.

The trouble is that he does not apply his 'Loose Cannon' principles to the 'Liberal' movement, thus the purity of his own self proclaimed title is sadly flawed and his behavior is hypocritical.

Give it a try, William, you may actually learn something.

11/05/2011 03:30:00 AM  

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