Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year's Meditation: Edges, Endings, and Eternal Beginnings

As we mentioned yesterday, human beings, unique among the animals, live in the relative world but can participate in eternity by aligning themselves with what Schuon calls the "relatively absolute" Truth of revelation, which reflects the Real. On superficial consideration, "relatively absolute" seems like a contradiction of terms, but it is the only designocean that adequately floats our skiffuation. Since the absolute is absolute, in order to know it, we must rely upon "reflections" of it in the relative.

Due to the law of analogy (as above, so below), these reflections are everywhere, but we must learn how to detect them. Hints of God are in literally everything, in the most mundane objects and activities, something that modern man has gradually forgotten, much to his spiritual detriment. Pre-Enlightenment man perhaps lived at the other extreme, a completely enchanted world in which nothing was merely what it was. Rather, everything -- mountains, rivers, trees, stars, etc. -- was an occasion for recollection of God. The universe was a theophany -- a garment, so to speak, that both concealed and revealed the naked God.

Now this "ground floor" of the human psyche still exists. We can pretend to ignore it, but it will be at our peril and to our spiritual detriment. For in reality, just as no person can actually successfully repress his unconscious, even the most devout materialistic atheist cannot actually treat the cosmos as a mere object. Look at Carl Sagan, for example. One of the reasons he was such a popular figure is that -- his doctrinaire atheism notwithstanding -- he successfully inspired a sense of wonder in science geeks about the cosmos. One would be wrong to conclude that this wonderment was simply a logical response to the objective science. Rather, this sense of wonder is what inspired Sagan to become a scientist to begin with, and it was infectious for billions and billions of nerds -- perhaps even increasing their reproductive fitness by making them slightly more appealing to women.

Here again we see that the roots of science extend into thoroughly alogical (not illogical) cognitive modalities. The true man of science confronts our numinous cosmos with the same awe and wonderment as the ancients, but simply takes it in a different direction. But in the end, wonder is both science's sufficient cause and its necessary end, for, despite a scientific revolution that has now been going on for well over 300 years, the cosmos is vastly more mysterious and wonderful than even the most imaginative ancient could have conceived. Wonders will never cease, even if our capacity for wonderment continues to be blunted by some of the other deleterious effects of modernity -- it's ugliness, its obsession with the transient and trivial, its elevation of our animal nature to an end rather than a means, etc.

But why a sense of wonder? On the one hand, animals -- and many animal-human hybrids -- have no sense of wonder. They have appetites, desires and impulses, but are essentially content when these are temporarily satiated. But the higher we ascend, the more preoccupied we are with this heightened sense of wonder. I am at the point in my life when I would be satisfied to spend my entire day in a state of contemplative wonder, just patiently waiting for my daily bread -- which always comes, if you wonder long enough.

For the functional aspect of wonder is to clear a space so that one may be shocked by the familiar. It seems that evolution built us in such a way that we can get used to anything. For you menfolk out there, never forget that in a bar somewhere, Billy Bob Thornton is saying, "Angelina? You find her attractive? That annoying drama queen?" And Brad Pitt is saying, "Jennifer? That clinging dolt? I couldn't look at her for another second." Yes, there is nothing we cannot get used to -- which is why we must counter this tendency by cultivating our sense of wonder (and its sister, gratitude). It is what allows us to recognize and escape through the numberless inscapes that dot the horizon.

Me? I am very happily married. Why? Because it never ceases to amaze me that any earth woman would have me. It's something I wonder about all the time. But I didn't intend to get tastelessy personal here, like Col. Beaglehole and Dame Edith.

The celebration of the New Year is a ritual we retain because it allows us to brush up against the eternal. Again, religions are languages of the absolute -- you might say that religious language is suffused with the light of the eternal, allowing us to recognize the "afterglow" from above. It is like a meteor shot down from heaven. Like the wind, we don't know where it comes from, but we can detect it as it whizzes by. By meditating on it, we may "prolong" eternity into time.

But there are "natural" ways to think about the eternal, and the New Year is one of them. How is that? Since I am running out of time, I will mostly quote from a very interesting (and now expensive) book called The Symmetry of God by Rodney Bomford, which does the best job of integrating sophisticated theology and modern psychoanalysis I have ever encountered.

Bomford notes that we cannot actually conceve of eternity, since it is both timeless and changeless, whereas thought naturally takes place in time. But we can grasp it through various analogies in the herebelow, for example, the "everlasting," which "provides the closest image of the timeless within time." Therefore, we gain a sense of timeless in proximity to things that are very old, like a European cathedral, or the Pyramids, or Wrigley Field -- anything "whose beginning is lost in the mists of time, the ancient and the ageless, for these approximate in feeling to the everlasting."

At the same time, at the other end of the extreme, we may also glimpse the eternal in the passing moment, "for such a thing is simultaneously whole and unchanging -- it has no time in which to change.... It is there in its fullness -- and it is gone again." Thus, a mystic such as William Blake could see eternity in a flower or grain of sand

Eternity can also be suggested "by the last event of a series." Bomford cites the example of an aging travel-writer "who had long before visited many places for the first time, and returned often, found a renewed significance in returning once more deliberately for the last time. Places regained the freshness of the first visit." Similarly, "the last words of the dying may be seen as a key to an understanding of a whole life. The last of the series completes the picture, ends the story, and thus hints at the instantaneous wholeness of eternity."

Think "it is accomlished." What was? Oh, I don't know, maybe a little bridge between time and eternity in the heart of the cosmos, making each moment an eternal new year where death touches Life and the former is tranfsigured by the latter.

Today we stand at the edge of time, and therefore, the edge of eternity, as we approach the "end" of one year and the "beginning" of another -- the uniting of old and new, as they touch tomorrow at midnight. The Book of Revelation captures this quality, when the enthroned Christ "announces himself as The First and the Last and the Lord God himself is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end. Similarly, St. Augustine "addressed God as 'Thou Beauty, both so ancient and so new,' an expression of eternity which plucks at a deep unconscious chord in us."

O first and last truth of Self
Knowing without knowledge all that can be unKnown:
Existence to the end of the beginning.*
Unborn body of the bodiless one,
Dark rays shining from a midnight sun,
Your phase before you were bearthed and begaialed,
Empty tomb of a deathlaz child.
I am? That!
O me ga!
I can explain everything.
I know this place.
Been here before.
Where we started.
No it this time.
The word made fresh.
Telos when it's over.
Now. It is accomplished.
--Petey, with *HT to John Lennon and Jesus


Anonymous said...

"and it was infectious for billions and billions of nerds. "


Okay, back to reading the post.

NoMo said...

And there you have it. The reason a Bible believer like me keeps returning to this fold. I love the beauty of mystery!

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."
(Ecclesiates 3:11 TNIV)

Thanks once again, Bob.

Anonymous said...

Bob, that was Wonderful.

Posts like these are why I hang around here.

I like answering folks who casually and politely ask, "how are you?" with my standard, "better than I deserve." With today's New Age pablum being everywhere, folks think it is a statement of self-denigration. Very few immediately understand the wonder and gratitude that it truly conveys.

It's just my way of jarring the sleepwalkers into another dimension they didn't expect.

River Cocytus said...

I feel compelled to comment.

I agree entirely with the 'How could an Earth Woman be interested?' its an eternal mystery that can't be explained by saying 'someone's gotta have kids'.

Then again, my experience has been limited in that area, so it might make the mystery seem deeper than it is.

Anonymous said...

Also, those occasional moments when we experience "synchronicity" - a sense of wonder comes, an intuition that something other than coincidence is involved.

Synchronicity suggests that there exists a divine choreography, a living music, a living tapestry that includes *us*, validates us as players in Eternity.

This may not be the best example, but wasn't it something of a synchronicity that this Beaglehole and Dame Edith Waterwhatever "re-found" each other on OC? And right at New Year, too. I suppose if one looks deeply there is something magical about it. You do have to look deeply though.

Anonymous said...

Here, Bob:

I don't know why, but I had a very intense (?!) moment watching this.

Anonymous said...

This is a very poignant post. You wrote,
" I am at the point in my life when I would be satisfied to spend my entire day in a state of contemplative wonder, just patiently waiting for my daily bread". I happen to be in that ever-so-rare position of having the opportunity to do just that. But owing to those animal-human hybrid qualities you mentioned, I don't seem to have much "capacity" for it i.e. can't seem to con-tain nor re-tain the sense and significance of this wondrous opprtunity. You mention 'cultivation' and 'gratitude' as keys, and I agree. At one point, Jesus' disciples asked how to pray; I believe he described them as "perverse and faithless" (perverse in Greek meaning "unfocused"), so I suppose this is not a new problem. But I wonder, if you had the opportunity for long-term contemplative wonder, how would you handle it? (Pardon me if that's "too personal" a question....)

Anonymous said...

Uncle Bob said,

[Today we stand at the edge of time, and therefore, the edge of eternity, as we approach the "end" of one year and the "beginning" of another -- the uniting of old and new, as they touch tomorrow at midnight]

An interesting thought, that we are on the bleeding edge of advancing time, and thereby upon the boundary of eternity.


This will have to sift across my knowledge of Astrophysics and God / the Bible for a time, I suspect.


PS -Bob you are missin' a chance here. I think you need to do a video once in a while and put yourself up on YouTube.

Make sure Savanna and Gagboy are included from time to time. And occasional visits by your earth woman.


Lisa said...

Here's a coincidence:

This morning my doorbell rings and a man hands me a slip of paper from his church called The Door-New Destiny Church and invites me to attend a service. I smile and thank him. I usually throw the paper away without looking at it but today I decided to read it. Much to my suprise it said, "Jesus said: Seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop; thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times what was sown. Mark. 4.20 "

I had no idea Jesus was into the "herb" and encouraged it's proliferation. But it is starting to make sense now. The more I get to know the guy the more I like him! ;)

Anonymous said...


If you mean "stinkronicity," but without the nicety, then I believe I can align myself with your sentiment. Alternatively, if you mean "synchronoosity" -- i.e., being verbally hanged by an expert exectutioner at the roughly same time as Saddam -- I would agree. Or perhaps you mean synchrosausea, which is to be surprised and nauseated to find oneself face to face with dyspepsia in human form.

ximeze said...

Bob said:
"suffused with the light of the eternal, allowing us to recognize the "afterglow" from above"

"By meditating on it, we may "prolong" eternity into time"

"everlasting," which "provides the closest image of the timeless within time"

"glimpse the eternal in the passing moment, "for such a thing is simultaneously whole and unchanging -- it has no time in which to change.... It is there in its fullness -- and it is gone again"

Oh, oh, oh! Bob you have just cleared up for me the powerful transcendence of masterfully crafted Japanese gardens, why they work on so many levels, why they are so beautiful, nourishing & satifying.

Rock and sand gardens, like Ryoanji (600 yrs old), are raked with the same pattern every day, yet are fresh every time you see them. It's Absolutely breathtaking the first time & just keeps getting better on every visit.

It's the "same" & "different" each "time", at the same time.

Oh my.

And then there's also the whole Zen in Motion thing, when you actually get into the raking itself: evidence of Man, joined with/part of the Transcendence.

Even tiny J."housegardens" can be a marvel. So perfect, yet everchanging, a reflection of the Eternal, caught fleetingly in Time.

Some think they are "overmanicured", too rigid & static, but when they are done "right", they have an unspeakable Beauty. Quiet comes over one, to just sit & take in as much as possible. Gnosis of the Concrete/Eternal.

Truely a Wonder

Anonymous said...

Beaglehole and Dame Edith were unable to make things new again. And suffering the ravages of time, passion becomes petty bickering.
Tune in next week when Keith Richards..........

Anonymous said...

Col Beaglehole -

>>face to face with dyspepsia in human form<<

Umm, being a bit tough on the old bird, aren't we? Forgive me, but, given your tone, I think that dyspepsia appellation might as well be applied to you.

Anonymous said...

Oh, balls, Jerome. No one is fooled by your loftier-than-thou, Olympian preening. Readers of One Cosmos, this very same Col Beaglehole, this pretender to the throne of all that is gentlemanly is he who once devised a game, an obscene variation of peek-a-boo, which he uncharmingly termed "Beagie-boo". I was constantly treated to this "game" in the halls of Waterfowl Manor, most often, it seemed, when I was carrying a tea tray. Beaglehole would suddenly spring from a closet and . . . well, the ensuing I must leave to your American imaginations, as I am too much of a lady to describe it.

And Will, dearest, let me be plain with you on one thing: Whereas I may castigate the old sack of chimney soot to my heart's content, YOU MAY NOT. This is a "British thing", as you might describe it.

Anonymous said...

Will --

My dear boy -- to employ a colloquialism of the American negro -- "don't even go there." I can assure you that there isn't enough Pepto Bismol -- no, not even at the Walmart across the street from your trailer park.

Egad, now look what you've conjured!

Anonymous said...

>>Whereas I may castigate the old sack of chimney soot to my heart's content, YOU MAY NOT. This is a "British thing", as you might describe it<<

Like I said, magic.

Anonymous said...

Edith, this will not do. You embarass me in the presence of my new friends with these -- what did Herr Freud call them? "Recovered memories?" Why these memories can somehow only be recovered after a fifth of Scotland's best is perhaps something I might put before Dr. Godwin as fodder for a future post.

Your lofty Madame Flipoutsky may be correct that "the spirits don't lie," but I think we can agree that she wasn't referring to the 80 proof kind, no?

Lisa said...

Hee Hee!! Will, you kill me!

robinstarfish said...

aye & i & eye
alpha last omega first
fibonacci god

Gecko said...

Nothing like a reat laugh to verticalize.
One Cosmonauts, you're the best! Knowing you're out there has restored my faith on ever so many levels!

Van Harvey said...

Joan of Argghh! said...
"Bob, that was Wonderful. Posts like these are why I hang around here."

I didn't want to repeat myself, so I figured I'd just repeat Joan.

Van Harvey said...

Will said "...Synchronicity suggests that there exists a divine choreography, a living music, a living tapestry that includes *us*, validates us as players in Eternity. ..."

As another perhaps not too tasteful example, did anyone notice the polar opposite ends, a life lived with wonder and a life spent on dust - the almost too holywood imagery of juxtaposing the deaths of two very different Presidents.

President Gerald Ford's memorial in the capital rotunda, of family, friends, colleagues and a Nation honoring a life lived well, of service given and gratefully received.

And on the other side of the world, the other side of life's 'possibilities' as president Saddam Hussein took the short drop with a sudden stop.

A clear instance of the application of a single word 'President' - with one its usage is full of meaning and a life having resonanated through it, the other shown to be gutted and fradulent, mere sound marking mere existence.

Holy and unholy at Years End and New Years beginning.


USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

A timeless post, just in time!

I say! The Colonel and the Dame are a smashing sucess, bringing British comedy to new (and old) heights!

PrincessSpirit said...

And Will said I journaled here?? LOL! Waterfowl and Beaglehole seem to far outdo me in their update to us, their audience, of their play by play story. Let's see, who are the Storytellers here? You will find within the author(s) of the Saga of Beaglehole & Waterfowl.

- PsychoPrincess -

PrincessSpirit said...

Excellent post, again, Bob! Thank you for it.

- PsychoPrincess -



Anonymous said...

My dear "Ben", you will understand of course that I am disposed by experience to take the cultural observations of military officers as being of more import than a drunken barge pilot's ramblings.

However, I do suspect that your military rank was earned for somewhat more than having helped to provide mosquito netting for our embassy personnel in the Bahamas. This is a suspicion I am quite unable to cast on Col Beaglehole, the obvious reason being that is precisely the deed upon which he connived to obtain his rank. In a horribly perverse way, one actually admires the audacity.

Anonymous said...

That was of course me addressing you, Ben. Forgive my absence of signiture.