Monday, December 08, 2014

Jews, Clues, and Good News

Not much time this morning, perhaps just enough to follow up on the great tsimtsum controversy.

Which is what now? It is the idea of "divine withdrawal" in order to create a space for existence, including human freedom. I have no particular attachment to the word, but the underlying principle seems sound -- or at least it is answering a valid question, the question of God's absence.

God is obviously absent in some sense, or at least not present in the same way other things are. How to account for this if God is by definition omnipresent? And why do we need revelation if there is nothing concealed?

I'm just going to rifle through Honey From the Rock to look for clues. My recollection is that Kushner is very similar to Eckhart, and therefore resonates with Raccoon orthoparadoxy.

For example, -- and this is not a tautology -- "The first mystery is that there is a mystery."

Right? For animals there is no mystery. There are things they don't understand, but they don't know they don't understand, nor do they wonder about them. It must be the case that "mystery" and man co-arise. Man, by virtue of being one, awakens into a cosmic mystery, and that's that. We absolutely cannot make it go away under our own powers. To think otherwise (e.g., scientism) is to turn away from What Is.

Which makes for a curious What Is, because this Is is again characterized by an absence. This almost sounds like we are being silly, or just playing word games, but that is not the case: a mystery is a present absence.

Pure absence would pose no mystery at all, because we wouldn't know about it. Conversely, even pure presence is somewhat (or even very) mysterious if you think about it, because, for starters, how did it get here, and how can we know about it?

In other words, the most rudimentary intelligence and the simplest intelligible both point to something not present. In short, existence itself implies something beyond or behind or beneath existence, and probably all three.

"Nothing is obvious. Everything conceals something else. / The Hebrew word for universe Olam / Comes from the word for hidden. / Something of the Holy One is hidden within" (ibid).

It seems to me that this accounts for the infinitude of existence, in the sense that, no matter how much we know about it, there is always more hidden away. The latter is "absent," and yet it must be present in some sense, or we could never dis-cover it.

"Religion is a more or less organized way of remembering that every mystery points to a higher reality" (ibid.).

Which is interesting, because for the secularized mind, a mystery can only point to a lower reality, i.e., ignorance or stupidity: if something is mysterious, it is not intrinsically so, rather, only because of human limitation. We'll eventually figure it out.

But "Spiritual awareness is born of encounters with the mystery." Here again, this is quite distinct from intellectual awareness born of solving problems. An encounter with the mystery is an encounter with the present-absence, which has a real "heft," unlike the mere problem, which is just an irritating hole in one's cognition.

"Eve bore both Cain and Abel. / Abraham fathered both Isaac and Ishmael. / And Rebecca bore both Jacob and Esau. / Two nations are in your womb" (emphasis mine).

Now, womb is the quintessential space, or receptacle, or matrix of development. We could even say that the cosmos is the womb of becoming. And who but the tenured would deny that it contains two nations? (Nation and nativity are even cognates.)

But "how much space is there separating them?... The rabbis say that they are right next to one another" -- you know, in the same way that the White House is directly adjacent to the United States.

"Entrances to holiness are everywhere. / The possibility of ascent is all the time... / There is no place on earth without the Presence."

And "There are places children go that grown-ups can only observe from afar." So close yet so far! For children, what we call "the world" is absent (or at least we try to shield them from its harshest features), thus, it doesn't occlude the presence of the Mystery. There is always a vicarious sense of joy in watching our children run around inside it. Conversely, watching a child play a video game is depressing.

Sometimes -- oftentimes -- an absence in us becomes a vital presence for someone else: "Everyone carries with them at least one and probably / Many pieces to someone else's puzzle. / Sometimes they know it. Sometime they don't know it.

"And when you present your piece / Which is worthless to you, / To another, whether you know it or not, / Whether they know it or not, / You are a messenger from the Most High."

Holy anonymity, b'atman, angels everywhere!

BTW, this all started with a discussion of Maximus' cosmic pneumography, and with that little quote by Voegelin in my comment box. And so it will finagain:

"And of course it is really only one circle. And the circle is actually a sphere.... The first man and the last man, they are present now" (ibid).

18 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

And "There are places children go that grown-ups can only observe from afar." So close yet so far! For children, what we call "the world" is absent (or at least we try to shield them from its harshest features), thus, it doesn't occlude the presence of the Mystery. There is always a vicarious sense of joy in watching our children running around inside it.

Yes, just so. And in a mirroring sort of way, it seems as though being a parent reveals a lot about the nature of God that might otherwise remain hidden.

12/08/2014 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

So say the rabbis.

12/08/2014 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Sometimes -- oftentimes -- an absence in us becomes a vital presence for someone else

Funny how that works. And how often we aren't aware that there was an absence or a presence until it becomes absent once again.

That book is one of my favorites, I think.

12/08/2014 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Conversely, watching a child play a video game is depressing.

That is true.

Something we were talking about the other day reminded me of Kushner. I've gone through a long cycle from initially understanding what he was saying in relation to free will to rejecting it for a "God is in control" near-Calvinism to realizing Kushner was a lot more subtle and insightful than I was able to grasp at the start of the cycle.

12/08/2014 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Great, now I have two Kushner books incoming. Last time with Steinsaltz, Amazon tried to convert me to Judaism for like two months.

12/08/2014 01:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Just the other day I was wondering if you were still out there. MERRY CHRISTMAS YOU MAGNIFICENT NORWEGIAN BASTARD!

12/08/2014 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hi Magnus!

Now that's funny. Amazon, profiling. It's often funny how often they are so far off-base it's ridiculous.

12/08/2014 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Time out for music:

tiny desk concert

12/08/2014 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

For example, -- and this is not a tautology -- "The first mystery is that there is a mystery.""

I thank God for the mystery. It would be absolutely boring if there wasn't mystery, and there would be no surprises.

12/08/2014 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Without mystery their would be no humor either. It would also reduce joy because there would be no transcendence withouy mystery.

12/08/2014 07:39:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Magnus, we have missed you. Merry Christmas! We hope you are doing well.

12/08/2014 08:18:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I watched the boys on Joan's link. Not bad for NPR.

Did I tell you guys I sighted an actual live hipster over the weekend up in the Holy City? I mean he had the beard, receding hairline, the skinny jeans, the funky little booties. All he was missing was a PBR, because we were in a department store.

12/08/2014 08:28:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

There's a true and aging hipster that hangs out at a trendy coffee shop. He's pushing 35, attired as mushroom describes but with a natty vest, hornrim glasses and tweed hat. It is to laugh. But I'll say this for the hipsters, they're way more fun to talk to than hippies ever were. ;)

Hello Magnus! So nice to see you again!

12/09/2014 03:22:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

I'm a tsimtsum guy.

Not sure why it's a controversy.

It also helps to understand that our bodies provide insulation as well.

I figured that out a few years ago.

12/09/2014 07:39:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

"Yes, just so. And in a mirroring sort of way, it seems as though being a parent reveals a lot about the nature of God that might otherwise remain hidden."

The actual experience of living through something is quite educational.

In fact, some things have to be lived to be *known*.

Like the time I triggered a so-called "vision quest" on my own.

12/09/2014 07:45:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I had a beard before it was uncool.

12/09/2014 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I borrowed that joke from Moses.

12/09/2014 08:50:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

If I had a nickel for every time Moses said, "these kids today..."

12/09/2014 08:52:00 AM  

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