Sunday, April 09, 2006

Face to Face With Reality

As a prelude to our ongoing discussion of friendly nonlocal operators, I'm starting off with some revised material from a five or six months back. Probably worth reviewing even if you've read it before, but it ends below with the asterisks.

Ever since the scientific revolution, we have tended to divide the world into a public sphere of objective, measurable reality and a private sphere of ephemeral, subjective perceptions. In this view, the external world is considered the fundamental reality, while consciousness is reduced to an epiphenomenon, so that all our perceptions of the world--its colors, sounds, and textures--are meaningless, revealing nothing intrinsic to the cosmos. All subjective qualities are reduced to quantities--for example, our perception of the redness of an apple is reduced to a particular frequency of light, or music is reduced to vibrating air molecules striking against our ear drums.

As I wrote in One Cosmos Under God, "science begins with the one world we experience with our senses (where else could it begin?), but quickly saws off that familiar limb by 'excluding everything that can be imagined or conceived, except in abstract mathematical terms,' consequently relegating everything outside mathematical description--the very world it started with--to 'an ontological limbo.'" Only this second, abstract world is considered to disclose valid information about the universe, whereas all of our initial impressions of color, sound, texture, beauty, and meaning supposedly reveal nothing real about the universe, only about our own nervous systems.

But one of the fundamental teachings of any spiritual view is that the universe has a within that is accessible to humans. In other words, the universe is not simply an exterior, made up of discrete parts that are external to one another. Rather, by looking at the parts in a certain way, we may discover a wholeness in the world that in turn reveals its interior dimension. Parts show us only the exterior of the cosmos, while wholeness shows us the great within (and vice versa).

The human face is undoubtedly the original within. As infants, our whole world is oriented toward the mother's face. Obviously, in looking at a face, we don't first attend to a nose here, an eye there, and and a mouth there, and inductively leap to the conclusion that a face exists. Rather, without even knowing it, we attend to the face as a whole, and can instantaneously distinguish one face from another and one expression from another.

In attending to the mother's face, the baby knows that the mother has an interior, and through her changing expressions, only gradually begins to discover his own interior. Autistic children, for example, do not see whole "faces," but only a collection of parts, so that they are never ushered into the intersubjective Withinness of the cosmos. Instead, they are condemned to a bizarre and frightening existence of living death--immersed in a sea of things that move and have independent existence, but reveal no meaning. In the strict scientific view, one would have to say that people with autism are more in touch with reality than anyone else, since they live in the world of meaningless objects described by science.

Just as the face allows us to access the within of the person behind it, the wholeness of the cosmos allows us to see within it. (One of the central points of my book is that modern physics reveals the cosmos to be an internally related whole, not just a collection of exterior parts.) Paradoxically, we can know the interior only by focusing on the exterior. Just as the face is the meaning of its features, the meaning of existence can be discovered by dwelling in its features.

Poets, for example, have always understood that by indwelling in nature we can intuit what dwells within nature--we are drowning in a sea of clues that point beyond themselves to a hidden reality to which the clues point. By attending to things and events in a certain way, we allow them to "speak" to us, and this in turn informs us about their nature.

The English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins coined the term "inscape" to refer to this more intense experience of observing things in such a way that their intrinsic qualities emerge. He believed that by allowing one's attention to be drawn to a bird in flight, a tree, or a landscape, we allow their character to act upon us through a union of the inner and outer worlds. Similarly, Goethe argued that we discover the true nature of things through a contemplative kind of looking he called "seeing with exactitude." By doing this, we can open ourselves to what the cosmos is telling us about itself.

This has obvious theological implications. For example, what is scripture but an exterior narrative that tells us of the within--the inner nature--of God? Just as it is a mistake to view nature as an object, one makes the same mistake in viewing scripture only as a historical narrative of external events. Rather, those events have a within which is their true teaching. As a matter of fact, this is probably the simplest definition of esotericism: inner religion.

It can also be argued that the figure of Jesus answers the deepest human longing to "see the face of God," and thereby know his within most intimately. Again, the whole point of the gospels, if you are a Christian, is that their external narrative reveals the interior God. You cannot dismantle or deconstruct the gospel stories, for this would be like disassembling a human face to try to understand its expression. We see by a sort of interior light when we dwell in faith, for faith is actually a holistic foreknowledge of as yet undiscovered truths--knowledge of approaching discoveries on the interior plane of things.

As the poet Novalis put it, "The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet." If you are feeling boxed in by the materialistic paradigm of modernity, know that you may escape it any time through the many inscapes that surround us.


A reader was taken by my comment that "I actually enjoy sitting in a chair in the dark at 4:00 AM staring at a candle illuminating the face of one of my inspirations." He asked me to elaborate on just what I mean by "face."

Good question!

He further noted that religions in general advise against idolatry. This is true. However, in my view, idolatry is the exact opposite of what I am talking about. For idolatry involves reducing the Absolute Subject of God to a a mere object in the relative world. An icon is the opposite of an idol: it is a membrane through which the transcendent, unseen energies of the divine penetrate and cast their luster into this world. Truly, the icon is situated at the frontier between the immanent and transcendent God.

Those who do not countenance the countenance are missing the point. For it was long ago decided--after a theological battle known as the Iconoclast Controversy--that the use of icons is not only appropriate but fundamental to Orthodox Christianity, which is, after all, original Christianity. According to Bishop Kallistos Ware, the seventh ecumenical council in 787 proclaimed that "since Christ became true man, it is legitimate to depict his face upon the holy icons; and, that since Christ is one person and not two, these icons do not just show us his humanity in separation from his divinity, but they show us the one person of the eternal Logos incarnate."

Among my darshan images is a traditional icon of Jesus hanging right above my desk. One of my friendly nonlocal operators, or what I like to call "I-amissaries" from across the great divide.

Interestingly, the anti-icon forces were probably influenced by contemporary Islamic and earlier Jewish ideas regarding the depiction of God. But icons are not worshipped. Rather, they are revered in the same way a Jew reveres the Torah, not as an "idol" but as a reflection of God. Easy for Jews to say, because they have always been more literate than the rest of humanity. One of the purposes of icons was to provide "opened books to remind us of God," especially for the toiling masses who lacked the leisure or literacy to crack a real book. This is one great advantage Christianity had over Judaism in spreading the idea of monotheism--the whole story could be presented to the pagan mind in the form of a pop-up book.

But we're getting far afield. I didn't mean for this to become a history lesson.

Ever since he was young, this reader had an affinity--an attraction, in the sense we have been using the term--toward the being he understood to be Jesus. This mysterious attraction occurred whenever he consciously thought of Jesus. In my opinion, the attraction was probably mutual without him realizing it, but that's another matter.

The reader pointed out that there have been countless depictions of the "face" of Jesus, probably none actually being an exact or even a close likeness. Nevertheless, "at the risk of becoming an idolator," he imagined the face of Jesus in his mind's eye.

Now why, my dear bobbleheads, why should this little experiment have brought real tears to his eyes, along with a wholly unexpected flood of feeling and emotion? The feelings clearly weren't rehearsed or "affected." Feelings of being an "unworthy sinner," feelings of regret, a desire for reparation, a profound sense of gratitude, thankfulness at having an unseen mentor and invisible but often sadly ignored influence in his life.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that in Judaism, tears--especially this particular type of tears that we don't seem to have a word for--are considered a gift of God. For example, the narrators of the Zohar--the mystical text underlying kabbalah--weep whenever they grasp a profound spiritual truth. Or think of the "wailing wall."

These purifying tears signify many things. For example, they reveal the primordial wound through which vertical energies intrude into our enclosed little world of illusory self-sufficiency. The heart must be "wounded" in order to allow God's energies to flow, while penitential tears are a kind of transpersonal "blood." (What did Leonard Cohen sing? "There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.")

Furthermore, it is said that the gift of tears is a form of transpersonal touch, specifically, of contact between image and likeness. Again, we are born in the image of God, but spiritual work involves the never-ending task of becoming the likeness. When image meets likeness--when we are "touched" from above--there is often a spontaneous production of tears. The flow of these vivifying tears is mysteriously associated with "life"--the higher Life, not mere biological life.

For these tears ultimately represent a "crucifixion" of the heart, life emerging out of death, a mingling of sorrow and joy, burial and resurrection, a rose blooming on the cross of the heart. Jesus actually sweats real blood when face to face with God in Gethsemane. And what happened when his heart was pierced by the Roman centurian? Blood and water flow.

Our reader asked, "does God send these people to earth so that we can relate as humans to the mystery of the vertical through them, [and need they] be present physically to take advantage of this doorway?"

To be continued.

Good for a Sunday Morning

Speaking of icons, this is the most shockingly great gospel music I have ever heard:

If Ms. Coates and her Gospel Harmonettes don't speak to you directly from another world, you'd better check yourself. You might be dead.

As one reviewer expressed it, "put your shouting shoes on." Amen.


will said...

goodmorningBobandfriends -

>>Poets, for example, have always understood that by indwelling in nature we can intuit what dwells within nature--we are drowning in a sea of clues that point beyond themselves to a hidden reality to which the clues point.<<

Yes, as is said, God hides Himself in the world.

Yeats is not really my favorite poet but he was very "concrete" in his explaining of the esoteric at play in his own poetry, in his perspective of life. He understood metaphor not merely as a way of drawing attention to similarities between natural objects and things, but as a way of underscoring sameness between the World of Spirit and the world we dwell in. When Yeats contemplated a lake, for example, he didn't see the lake water as just a symbol for Spirit, he saw it as literally being Spirit made material - in a sense, a corrupted manifestation of Spirit, but still Spirit.

Thus, where ever we go, we walk the stations of the Spirit. All those lakes, and rivers - to what aspect of Spirit do rivers speak? And oceans and rain. And trees, grasses, meadows, valleys, mountains? All must speak to a particular mode and activity of Spirit.

I think even in the indwelling, there is an outdwelling. There is a "withoutness" within the "within-ness". The material universe is miracle enough, but if we should see it from "within", that is, should we see it in its higher dimensional levels (infinite in number, I would think) we would see, I believe, that all those cold, black, seemingly empty parsecs of space between suns and planets, are not empty at all but filled, occupied, with all manner of things radiant.

Gagdad Bob said...

As above, so below. As within, so without. The whole is in the part, the ocean within the drop. Or as Joyce, said, "when a part so ptee does duty for the holos, we soon grow to use of an allforabit."

For who is the master but a human allforabit sent here for a spell?

LiquidLifeHacker said...

WOW! I loved this one!
You know, it's amazing what simple things can bring tears to my eyes! I can not produce tears on cue even at times when I should perhaps, but just let me see a child walk up and hand a mother a dandelion or watch a bird feed it's young or watch the sky with the finger of God paint a sunset or let me hear a beautiful piece of music...I bawl! When we get moved from the inside it burns! Thats when I understood what it meant when Jesus talked that men's hearts burned! It's powerful!

"Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" Luke 24:32

I remember one Easter, sitting in church listening to a sermon about the crucifixion and how suddenly my whole internal body burned. I remember how I couldn't hold back the tears that ran down my face. People kept passing me tissues and it seemed none could sop up what was flowing out of me. I was so moved. It wasn't the first time I had heard Easter sermons like's just on this particular Sunday I ached inside at knowing how much suffering and blood had purchased my soul and that Jesus did it all willingly out of love because He didn't want to live eternally without us! I remember after the sermon was over I had to stand up and walk out with the others and I looked like Alice Cooper since my eye makeup was all over the place! I learned that day to not get too carried away with the mascara in the furture unless I wanted to end up with Tammy Faye eyes because you never know when those "tears" will come!

Thank you so much for sharing this today has me thinking about alot of times that I have tried to hold back such emotion and perhaps I will just start letting it fall out from now on. It's a good thing!

BTW...I hope you don't mind me sharing this is one of my favorite pictures of Jesus and the story of how it was painted is really neat too, since it was the first time this artist ever painted a person. Anyone interested, since seems to be hard to access today, I will share a bit of Bruce's words on his struggle to paint this and you can see the actual painting HERE

Bruce Summerfield: "Some time ago, a friend asked me to do a painting of the Crucifixion. After nine months and several unsuccessful attempts, I called my friend to say, "It's impossible, I just can't do it. I've never painted people before, much less the Lord. I just can't get it right." I then threw the painting away. Quite a while went by when I decided to try again to work on the painting of Jesus. I went down to my studio to start the second attempt. I thought to myself, "Lord, if you want this to happen, you're going to have to help me because I can't do it by myself." To my disbelief, the painting started to take shape right before my eyes. Although I had never worked in oils before I chose them for this painting because the original request was for an oil painting. Oils are very slow to dry, sometimes taking several days or even weeks, but that day, the paint was drying almost as fast as it touched the board. I was crying, laughing and singing all at the same time! After six hours, the painting was 95% finished. Keep in mind that for me a major painting sometimes takes two to three months to complete. I could not believe it. The painting that I thought was impossible for me became possible, with God's help. "For You" is truly a gift from above. When Jesus appeared to "Doubting Thomas", He said, "Come and look at my hands.” Thomas then believed. I wanted the light at the wound to be the brightest part of the painting, with the light filtering through the fingers to slightly illuminate bits of the cross, so you might get a better perspective that He is lying down on the cross. But then, you go past his hand to his eye where He is looking at YOU. You see, Jesus didn't come to this world to do this for US. He came to do this "For You". The caption reads, "It was not the nails that held Jesus to the cross, but his love 'For You'"."

Gagdad Bob said...

A note to trolls--

Beginning today, I am exercising a stronger arm in instantly deleting comments that exceed the stupidity limit or take the discussion off course. Not dissent, mind you, so long as it is intelligently and politely expressed and presumes knowledge of the issues we discuss here.

But most of the people who come here just to argue frankly have no understanding of what we're even talking about here, and no real capacity to develop that understanding, so it is fruitless to engage them in dialogue. It's like arguing with a child.

I can determine within an instant the developmental level and the intent of the person writing, so don't even try.

By the way, this is not to discourage people from asking simple or basic questions. It's the mentality behind the question, not the question, that counts.

Lisa said...

Good morning.

That was a quite beautiful post today and brought out nice comments so far. Tears do seem to be special reflections of God. My mother once told me freckles are angel kisses.

There is a beautiful exhibit at the nomadic museum on the Santa Monica pier right now, that will be of interest to many readers here. It is called Ashes and Snow. It is an ongoing project that weaves together photographic works, film, art installations, and a novel in letters of unscripted interactions between man and nature's living masterpieces. I am hoping to go on Wednesday afternoon. It would be lovely to meet up with some local friendly Bobbleheads! The show will be running until May 14. Besides being the consigliore, I don't mind taking on social chair/events planner! ha ha.

Glad to hear you are feeling better, LLH.

Lisa said...

So, I was thinking about faces and tears. I happen to be using a salt scrub in the shower and a bit got in my mouth. I thought how tears taste salty to remind us of the not always so fair things that happen to us in life but always influence who we ultimately are and how we react. I also remembered how salt was a major commodity and treat in the ancient world. It made/makes all things taste better. People may differ on what that amount is though! ;0) Salt is also present in sweat that can symbolize the importance of work, creation, and energy. Salt is a unique taste that is not necessarily sweet nor bitter, more like an enhancer.

I just thought of sharing my little "aha" with all of you because these posts have helped me synthesize certain things very well. Thanks...

LiquidLifeHacker said...

Lisa, I know what ya mean....
I like the verses Matthew 5:13-16
They talk about salt too.

Even in Job 6:6 there is that question,
Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?

will said...

Lisa, that was good lil essay re salt.

"Salt of the earth" - I think in the ancient world salt was a preservative. Also was used as currency. Valuable stuff, which maybe sheds some light on the meaning of Jesus's saying.

jwm said...

On tears-
When I was around nineteen years old I took an interest in classical music.
That is, I somehow arrived at the conclusion that a fellow of my intellectual acumen should take an interest in such things. This was at a time in my life when I had decided as well, that a thorough contempt for religion was also important to my intellectual development.

What I did not realize was that you couldn't just throw on a symphony, and hear it the way you can with a piano rag, or a pop tune. You have to study it. I tried to like classical, but in truth most of it still sounded like elevator music to me. So I used to put it on the headphones and let it lull me to sleep at night.

Web of coincidence at work: I read an interview with Timothy Leary in Playboy magazine. He recommended Mozart's Requiem as good trippin' music. (yeah,I know...)I bought the record. It was seconal on vinyl.
I had also read a novel in which one of the characters was listening to some unnamed piece by Mozart that made her cry. "He was dying and he knew it," she explained.

I remember putting the record on one evening. (I wasn't trippin' by the way.) I had heard it a bunch of times by then. So I thought.
But that line from the novel flashed though my head during the opening bars of the first movement. It was like hitting a spring loaded catch that caused the whole piece to jump open and come alive. By the Kyrie Eleison fugue I was in tears. When the mass reached its mid point climax in the Rex Tremende chorus, and then impossibly ascends even higher to the ethereal Recodare for the soloists I was a basket case. The music just opened a gateway into a depth I never knew existed. After that I bought Bach's Mass in B minor, and found that after several hearings it had the same effect on me. Then I started in on the Cantatas.
This put me in a peculiar spot, intellectually. I still had to hate religion, but I found myself in love with religious music. Fortunately, no one ever asked me to explain.
But now, I realize that I am poking at religion in much the same way I was poking around Mozart and Bach. I have a feeling that if I'm not careful (or maybe if I am careful)that I'm going to hit that spring loaded catch again. We'll see.

BTW, Lisa- thanks for that link!WOW!


ben USN (ret) said...

Truly, a touching post.
I was reminded of Merton while reading part of your post.
Particularly when you spoke of pain.
It has been awhile since I read any of Mertons deep writings, and your illuminating words (and thoughts) have inspired me to read them again.
Thank you.

LiquidLifeHacker said...

I feel that way alot jwm when I read the bible...even if I have read certain parts again and again, I seem to discover something new sometimes that can make me cry. Sometimes its just such sorrow of the past things that are so horrible to revisit when you are not "that person" anymore that makes one so humble in the communion of His word. I guess it's also a kind of realization that you are walking in a path that others have walked. Alot of people get that vibe when they are in Israel too. I guess "going back" is cleansing that way. We always walk away in awe! But I have been driving and listening to a new song before and literally have to pull out of traffic because I can't stop crying. That's how much music can move picks me literally up out of myself and makes me surrender to it.

LiquidLifeHacker said...

Lisa, thanks for that online exhibition of art...let us know about your experience after you attend it. You know, I love elephants and to me baby elephants are just adorable! I loved that one photo of the flying elephant!

How are you today Ben? Are you feeling pretty good? Having a good day?

Sal said...

Man, step away for an evening and miss all the hoo-hah...

Thanks, all, for the housekeeping info. Was just wondering if there was some super-secret posting shortcut.

"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame,
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells, stones ring -"
That's a good one - about how God sees the Christ in men's faces.

Back in the day, I used to tape poems to the kitchen window and memorize them while I washed dishes. (Today I would concentrate on doing the dishes mindfully, instead.) This was one of my favorites and speaks to the discussion: "Ars Poetica"

ben usn (ret) said...

Thank you for your concern. I am well, spiritually.
Physically is virtually always filled with pain.
I have learned to ignore or embrace it.
Embracing it is more difficult, but therein I am refined.
Bob's writing has helped me to focus on a contemplative mind/spirit path I haven't ventured into in awhile.
Your comments, and the others are also quite helpful and moving. :^)
How are you today?

LiquidLifeHacker said...

I am good ben...was suffering with sleep deprivation this past week, so trying to overcome that!

I am sure that you have tried so many things...but did neurontin ever help you? Was that something that you and your physicians ever tried?

ben USN (ret) said...

Aye, neurotin (gabapentin) helps sometimes.
I'm maxed out on them though.
It would be a lie, if I said it never bothers me, but I really do try to use it to grow.
Pain is a blessing
for me, though there are times when I certainly don't feel that way.
Sleep deprivation can be debilitating. I hope and pray you get some good sleep, soon.