Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Drama Within the Drama and the Brains Behind Pa

At the moment, it's a little difficult to for me get back into the Theo-Drama, because my particular character in the drama has been distracted by one of its many sub-plots. I've begun to delve into Balthasar's main influence, who turns out to be just your typical friendly neighborhood sigmata-bearing, trinity-channeling, mystic-visionary physician, Adrienne von Speyr.

Specifically, I'm reading Balthasar's First Glance at Adrienne von Speyr, which is his relatively brief introduction to her vast body of work, most of which it seems was "dictated" to him in trance. It is definitely a drama within the drama, and anyone sophering from traces of reductionosis or materialitis will be severely tested. It's pretty much of an either/or: either you accept her as the real deal, or reject her as some kind of fringe kook.

Having personally witnessed the phenomena over some 27 years, Balthasar was 100% certain of her authenticity, although, at the same time, he left it to the church to make the final determination as to whether or not her teachings were kosher. But he says that he "never had the least doubt about the authentic mission that was hers, nor about the unpretentious integrity with which she lived it and communicated it to me." (And I'm assuming she must have known Pope Benedict -- then Big Joe Ratzinger -- being that Balthasar and Ratzinger started a journal together.)

First, Balthsar makes it clear that his work cannot be separated from hers, and that any attempt to do so does violence to his project. The whole relationship very much reminds me of that between Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual collaborator, known as the Mother (Mira Richard). In fact, I don't think I've seen anything that so closely parallels it. Sri Aurobindo also had to caution his reluctant disciples that his work could not be understood apart from the Mother, and that they were even "one consciousness in two bodies," so to speak.

In any event, whatever else you think about these people, you have to admit that something very strange was going on with them. How strange? I've mentioned in the past that one of the things that struck me about Aurobindo was how he could work on seven or eight massive volumes of theology, mysticism, scriptural commentary, philosophy, political science, and poetry, all at the same time. He completed most of his major works in a relatively short space of time.

Now, first of all, he had no training in any of the above subjects with the exception of poetry. Furthermore, he claimed to engage in "overmental writing," in which you could say that he was basically a stenographer for forces higher than himself.

The same thing is true of von Speyr. She was a physician by trade, with no theological training whatsoever. In fact, she didn't even become a Catholic until the age of 38, shortly after meeting Balthasar (she was born in 1902, he in 1905). He became her spiritual director, confessor and confidante, and they eventually shared a house until her death in 1965.

At the time of von Speyr's death, 37 of her books were in print, and yet, even today, few people have "taken serious notice of her writings." And those 37 are truly just the tip of the iceberg. There is apparently so much unpublished material that it dwarfs Balthasar's, even though he was obviously about as prolific as you can imagine.

And yet, as with Aurobindo, von Speyr's work is not the product of "thought" or cogitation. However, at the same time, she had a kind of implicit knowledge of deep spiritual truths, almost like an idiot savant who can solve complex mathematical problems with no formal understanding of math (except that she was no idiot, having been an outstanding physician).

In 1940, Balthasar began instructing her in the Catholic faith. On the one hand "she plainly did not know the things I told her," and yet, "immediately and directly recognized them as valid and true for her." She also realized that she had been seeking these truths her whole life (she was raised a protestant and had only heard vaguely negative things about Catholicism).

Balthasar has a vivid description of what this was like: "the outline of Catholic truth was, as it were, hollowed out in her like the interior of a mold. A slight indication was all she needed in order to understand and accept with all her heart and in exuberant joy."

I have to say, I know exactly how this feels, as it has been happening to me on a smaller scale, what with our ongoing adventures in Christianity. In fact, this is why it has been such slow-going in blogging about the Theo-Drama. More often than not, a single sentence by Balthasar blossoms into a whole post.

At first, the two were somewhat disappointed at the world's indifference to her remarkable gifts (her books were rarely even reviewed). But eventually, "she came to understand that during her lifetime it was her lot to talk into thin air, to work without any evident effect." Suffice it to say that there was absolutely no ego involved in any of this. Rather, she lived a life total surrender to the divine. Higher than her own power was the renunciation of personal power and her submission "in silence to the will of God."

Immediately after her conversion in 1940, "a veritable cataract of mystical graces poured over Adrienne in a seemingly chaotic storm that whirled her in all directions at once." It was as if she were transported "above" in prayer, only to come back down to earth "with new understanding, new love and new resolutions." In fact, on one occasion she heard a voice that provided a certain key to her gift: you shall live in heaven and on earth, like a sort of vertical bridge that spans the worlds.

But at the same time, this was no picnic. For example, she was given direct insight into "the interior sufferings of Jesus in all their fullness and diversity -- whole maps of suffering were filled in precisely there where no more than a blank space or vague idea seemed to exist." One part of her would be undergoing the experience -- stigmata and all -- while another part "was able to to describe in her own clear and penetrating words what she was experiencing."

Importantly, unlike free-lance mystics whose visions are of dubious value at best, hers were never unorthodox, but always wholly rooted in revelation. Again, she was fully surrendered to this divine reality, and didn't mix in her own idiosyncratic ideas. There is nothing "occult" about her, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. She practiced a form of "self-forgetfulness," a "virginal readiness for the Word of God," in which the personal self would only get in the way. She loved the anonymity of of letting herself "be absorbed namelessly in the universal," or of simply making herself "available" to God. In this regard, her model was Mary (her first published work, Handmaid of the Lord, was a Marian one).

At the same time, despite the anonymity, surrender, and absorption in God, she was definitely a distinct person in her own right. As Balthsar puts it, "the supernatural dimension in no way effaced her natural individuality: rather, it underlined it." He describes her as fundamentally joyous, cheerful and humorous, despite her suffering. Like a child, she had a "love of surprises," and was always guileless and innocent, "with the idea that only in this way can the true meaning of life, the wild adventure of existence be properly portrayed." She was the very opposite of the modern jadedness and cynicism that stifles the adventure of life.

Indeed, one of her most prominent characteristics was "that all her life she was and remained a child.... Moreover, she was and remained nothing but a child before God, the Church, and her confessor, with a trust that had nothing to conceal.... This guileless openness of heart is probably the key to all doors of her nature and writing."

As for the content of that opened heart, I guess that will have to wait until tomorrow. Long day ahead.

Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law.
Everybody says
She's the brains behind pa.
--Bob Dylan


julie said...

Google books version available here, for anyone who wants to play along at home.

Apparently, the HvB books don't work with mobile devices, though.

Warren said...

"either you accept her as the real deal, or reject her as some kind of fringe kook"

Just like Jesus.

Very interesting post - I had not heard of von Speyr before.

Jill said...

For the past month or so, I've been dipping into Von Speyr's Book of All Saints.

I am interested i learning more about the world of prayer and why it's considered the lifeblood of spirituality.

Von Speyr had visions of various saints in prayer and dictated them to HVB, showing how each individual saint approached God, what their inner attitudes were, how their understanding shaped the way they approached God, the obstacles they encountered and the problems they brought to prayer, the conversations they had with God and the graces they they received. It's like listening into the hearts of the saints as they talked to God.

There is absolutely nothing else like it.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, it's quite remarkable. I've read excerpts and just ordered a copy yesterday. The weird thing is that she had no conscious knowledge of many of them, and yet, Balthasar could later confirm some of the details she would disclose.

Gagdad Bob said...

And yet, it should go without saying that one must back away from any impulse to "sensationalize" her gift.

julie said...

Speaking of reading excerpts, I'd just like to note that the google book versions are grossly incomplete. They put in more than enough to get you well and truly hooked on the text, then casually omit a couple hundred pages.

Which is probably just as well, because I do actually have things to do today...

Van said...

"Balthasar has a vivid description of what this was like: "the outline of Catholic truth was, as it were, hollowed out in her like the interior of a mold. A slight indication was all she needed in order to understand and accept with all her heart and in exuberant joy.""

I've always been fascinated by the Savant type experiences and abilities. And not to take away from any spiritual authenticity that is or may be involved, there must be a physical structure within the brain/mind, which facilitates those Savant abilities, whether they be mathematical, musical, memory or spiritual in its flavor.

Seems to me that any physiological/psychological concept of the brain/mind operation that doesn't account for them as unusual, but normal, abilities, is probably fundamentally flawed in its understanding of how the mind & brain work. Labeling Savants as 'Defects' or freak anomalies seems an error at best, with a lot of evasive spin behind it.

Do you think I'm off base there?

Seems as though, whether by chance, or more likely, through deliberate thoughts and interests though along seemingly unrelated paths, they manage to unintentionally line up and reinforce the development of some sort of an unobstructed conceptual channel for processing that field of thought, be it Music, Math, perfect memory or Spiritual understanding.

Fascinating stuff.

Van said...

Jill said "I am interested i learning more about the world of prayer and why it's considered the lifeblood of spirituality."

My bet is that until psychology and philosophy can understand how prayer in particular, or art, poetry and music in general, access and even shape our knowledge and ideas and more, our considering them to be 'mature' fields will be viewed by future generations who do understand them, in the same way as a parent views "But Dahhhddd! I'm ELEVEN years old!"

Until then... if it works....

Anonymous said...

If ever I was to write a book -- which I won't -- I could name it The Cosmic Resonance Project Of Soulfull Proportions.
High-vibing mind-to-mind trans-information happens on the soul level when both brain hemispheres are 'bridged'... when the heart chakra is open and when the seventh chakra is 'viable'.

It is interesting what Aurobindo said about Mira's and his consciousness as being 'the same'. I never read that, but makes tot. sense. . .

It's stuff-material for my blog, but here will mention only that first time I saw Hildegrd of Bingen's painting on one of Bernadette Robert's book cover, I went week at the knees because of what I was 'relate-seeing'. . .

Painstakingly -- with my kid's Crayola crayons -- I drew an exact replica of that painting before returning the book to the library. I never heard of Hildegard, never knew anything about her but because of that art piece I library-ordered her book.

There is 'conceptual' truth and there is the 'living truth', and the two disclose the whole wv sez "comegend".


Anonymous said...

I scanned the net for Bernadette Robert's books and none of the new publications have the original (Hildegard) book art cover I mention above. It was a tree-winged profile whose wingspan went beyond the frame. It was like a picture within a picture. What else? from memory now -- a blue in color, the top end of 'climbing' castle wall. Wish I took the time to look for the durn drawing.

From Wikipedia just jutted down Bernadette's description of her experiencing "...intense and outward leap of the "living flame" within."

Living flame -- exactly -- same as "living truth" (alive) within ones being.


julie said...

Still on my final sprint through HvB, this passage takes on an extra dimension after reading the beginning of First Glance (excuse the length):

... through all this self-deprecation on the part of man there can be detected no impulse of self-destruction, what one would expect, for instance, if, by a disintegration of his being along the 'nether road', man attempted to attain what he could not reach by self-exaltation. What we encounter, rather, is the constant awareness of the inevitability of being human, a consciousness of the only possibility granted and left open to man by which he can become whole which is the willing act of letting God dispose over one. Man is not thereby diminished; he is flooded by a sober light, visible nowhere else in the world; the light of a physician in which every contour, every gradation of value emerges with inexorable precision, without, however, there being any discernable bitter existentialist will to self-unmasking. On the contrary, a superior and wise gentleness runs through this millennial cure which is a kind of weaning, a treatment for addiction.

will said...

>>The whole relationship very much reminds me of that between Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual collaborator, known as the Mother<<

Parallels a bit with the relationship between poet WB Yeats and his wife Georgie who "channeled" Yeats's meta-schematic book, A Vision, along with various metaphors and themes for Yeats's poetry. Georgie, said to be very intelligent and competent, was very private and eschewed publicity all together.

>>"she came to understand that during her lifetime it was her lot to talk into thin air, to work without any evident effect."<<

"Evident" the operative word here, I think. As I have been maintaining in my 37 years of posting comments in OC (ask anybody), there are those who serve righteously who are completely out of radar range, whose words and deeds are virtually unknown save for a few - and still the spiritual resonance of their accomplishments, say, their unread poetry/books, helps anchor the Light on earth. In any event, the sky and its inhabitants can read.

Anonymous said...

I shouldn't even be posting here because I haven't read any of the books Bob discuses here. Haven't read (and not planning to) any of of the books listed in the sidebar.
Having said that I will comment on Julie's HvB's quote .
To say only that being "flooded by sober light" (of knowing) is not same as feeling in one's every cell (24/7) the Light's 'workings of salvation'.


Anonymous said...

From Wikipedia quote to illumine what Bernadette Roberts (and moi) say -- We "must go beyond the unity with God into a terrain where both the experience of God and the experience of self would fall away. This final event reveals that the human journey goes beyond self. It is a journey that follows Christ's own journey to the very end."
And, yes it is a duty work like no other this "24/7 Light's 'workings of salvation'" Duty.


ximeze said...

Completely OT, but I'm pet-sitting for some Moonbatty friends & found something here that's just too perfect not to share:

[ya can't make this sh*t up]

* Improves LISTENING SKILLS as attention is focused on each player.
* Enables people to spend QUALITY TIME with each other.
* Helps people CONNECT as they discover things in common.
* Promotes FAIRNESS so that even the shy have a chance to speak.
* Gives permission to EXPRESS feeling, ideas and beliefs.
* Creates a SAFE PLACE for honesty because players refrain from criticizing or commentating.
* Encourages SELF DISCOVERY as players ponder on a variety of topics.
* Offers an opportunity for SELF EXPRESSION since all questions pertain to you.
* Enhances SELF ESTEEM as players experience respect and acceptance.
* Fosters UNDERSTANDING as players listen to another's point of view.
* Introduces more than 140 TOPICS unlikely to come up in ordinary conversation.
* Discourages CRITICISM, SARCASM, and JUDGMENTS that often thwart good communication.

# Eliminates COMPETITION so everyone feels like a winner.
# Creates a LOVING, CARING environment.


OMG, no wonder kids these days need mega-meds to keep them from exploding. If it were me, I'd be tempted to spit on my hands, hoist the black flag & begin slitting throats.

QP said...

--} Higher than her own power was the renunciation of personal power and her submission "in silence to the will of God." {--

From today's email meditation:

If we would indeed know God in growing intimacy, we must go this way of renunciation. And if we are set upon the pursuit of God He will sooner or later bring us to this test.

Abraham's testing was, at the time, not known to him as such, yet if he had taken some course other than the one he did, the whole
history of the Old Testament would have been different. God would have found His man, no doubt, but the loss to Abraham would have been tragic beyond the telling.

So will we be brought one by one to the testing place, and we may never know when we are there. At that testing place there will be no dozen possible choices for us; just one and an alternative, but our whole future will be conditioned by the choice we make.

~ A. W. Tozer (1897-1963), The Pursuit of God

Something apropos said...

A vision of future generations:

WAITER: Good evening! Uhh, would you care for something to... talk about?

MR. HENDY: Oh, that would be wonderful.

WAITER: Our special tonight is minorities!

MR. HENDY: Ohh, that sounds real interesting.

MRS. HENDY: Um, what's this conversation here?

WAITER: Uh, that's, uh, 'football'. There you can talk about the Steelers- Bears game this Saturday, or you could, uh, reminisce about really great World Series.

MRS. HENDY: No, no, no, no.

MR. HENDY: What is this one here?

WAITER: Uhh, that's 'philosophy'.

MR. HENDY: Oh, that sounds wonderful. Would you like to talk about the meaning of life, darling?

MRS. HENDY: Sure. Why not?

WAITER: Philosophy for two?

MR. HENDY: Right.

MR. HENDY: Yup. Uhh,-- uh, h-- how do we--

WAITER: Oh, uhh, you folks want me to start you off?

MR. HENDY: Oh, really, we'd appreciate that.


MR. HENDY: Yeah.

WAITER: Well, ehh,...

MR. HENDY: Mhmm.

WAITER: ...look. Have you ever wondered... just why you're here?

MR. HENDY: Well, we went to Miami last year and California the year before that, and we've--

WAITER: No, no, no. I mean, uh, w-- why we're here... on this planet.

MR. HENDY: Hmmm. No.

WAITER: Right! Aaah, you ever wanted to know what it's all about?

MR. HENDY: Nope.


WAITER: Right-o! Aah, well, uh, see, throughout history,...

MR. HENDY: M-hmm.

WAITER: ...there have been certain men and women who have tried to find the solution to the mysteries of existence,...

MRS. HENDY: G-reat.

WAITER: ...and we call these guys 'philosophers'!


MRS. HENDY: And that's what we're talking about.

WAITER: Right!

MR. HENDY: Yeah.

MRS. HENDY: Ohh, that's neat!

WAITER: Well, you look like you're getting the idea, so why don't I give you these, uh, conversation cards? They'll tell you a little about philosophical method,...


WAITER: ...names of famous philosophers,-- Uh, there you are. Uhh, have a nice conversation!

MR. HENDY: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.

MRS. HENDY: He's cute.

MR. HENDY: Yeah, real--


MR. HENDY: Real understanding. Mmm.

MRS. HENDY: Oh! I never knew Schopenhauer was a philosopher!

MR. HENDY: Oh, yeah! He's the one that begins with an 'S'.


MR. HENDY: Umm, like, uh, 'Nietzsche'.

MRS. HENDY: Does 'Nietzsche' begin with an 'S'?

MR. HENDY: Uh, there's an 's' in 'Nietzsche'.

MRS. HENDY: Oh, wow. Yes, there is. Do all philosophers have an 's' in them?

MR. HENDY: Uh, yeah! I think most of 'em do.

MRS. HENDY: Oh. Does that mean Selina Jones is a philosopher?

MR. HENDY: Yeah! Right! She could be! She sings about the meaning of life.

MRS. HENDY: Yeah. That's right, but I don't think she writes her own material.

MR. HENDY: No. Oh, maybe Schopenhauer writes her material.

MRS. HENDY: No. Burt Bacharach writes it.

MR. HENDY: But there's no 's' in 'Burt Bacharach'.

MRS. HENDY: Or in 'Hal David'.

MR. HENDY: Who's Hal David?

MRS. HENDY: He writes the lyrics. Burt just writes the tunes, only now, he's married to Carole Bayer Sager.

MR. HENDY: Oh, waiter. This conversation isn't very good.

WAITER: Oh, I'm sorry, sir! Uhh, we do have one today that's not on the menu. It's sort of a specialty of the house, you know.

MR. HENDY: Oh, yes.

WAITER: 'Live Organ Transplants'.

MRS. HENDY: 'Live Organ Transplants'? What's that?

MRS. HENDY: Is that a sport?

WAITER: Aah, no, it's more of an attempt to, uh, construct a viable hypothesis to, uh, explain the meaning of life.

Magnus Itland said...

I can't say I envy the people who carry great revelation to the world. They are invariably balanced by great suffering: whether physical pain, anguish of the soul, or not having time to play "The Sims 3".

Susannah said...

In reading through the first part of the Google book, I find myself weeding through the Catholic theology and hearing things that resonate with me. I have a hard time agreeing with Marian theology, Holy Saturday theology, and also with the issue of revelation and confession mediated through Church authorities...but I'm not sure if that's mostly because of my American individualistic culture, my Protestant individualistic leanings, or a genuinely different understanding of Scripture. I *believe* that it's mostly the last, for I do interpret the scriptures cited in the book quite differently on those issues... but I know the first two also are influential. (As a matter of fact, I feel the absence of opportunity for confession to other believers quite painfully.) Nevertheless, this really spoke to me right in an area I am struggling to understand right now: "Mary’s consent is the archetype of Christian fruitfulness. Only with man’s yes can God begin something of Christian, supernatural meaning. Only in this yes can the Son of God become man: at that time in Mary, and now, anew in each one who attempts to join in her consent. (“Attempt” is a favorite word of Adrienne’s. A Christian can do no more than “attempt”.) If this idea is taken seriously, then the truly contemplative life—as an attempt to remain entirely open for the Word of God—is not only as fruitful as the active life but is for all Christians, contemplative as well as active, the indispensible basis of all Christian action in the world. The concept of fruitfulness is central; it expresses much greater depth than the concept of “apostolate” or, certainly, of “success.” Success is sought for and attained in finite undertakings, but only the infinity of the consent which, as response to God, neither anticipates anything nor knows anything in advance, is fruitful."

Van said...

Ximeze, the most depressing line on that page?

"Availability: OUT OF STOCK"

Probably selling like hotcakes.

Do I need to say it? If we don't remove our kids from the influence of the educationistas, we're doomed.

Nothing else will help.

julie said...

Also completely off topic, but I wish this guy was on our side of the pond, doing something important. Or barring that, I wish that more people in governmental positions were as awake as he.

julie said...

Now that's a beautiful picture!

Yoda said...

Adrienne - Attempt? Do, or do not. There is no attempt.

ge said...

Sacre merde, it's Bataille!
..."I've spoken of inner experience: my intention was to make known an object. But by proposing this vague title, I didn't want to confine myself sheerly to inner facts of that experience. It's an arbitrary procedure to reduce knowledge to what we get from our intuitions as subjects. This is something only a newborn can do. And we ourselves (who write) can only know something about this newborn by observing it from outside (the child is only our object).

A separation experience, related to a vital continuum (our conception and our birth) and to a return to that continuum (in our first sexual feelings and our first laughter), leaves us without any clear recollections, and only in objective operations do we reach the core of the being we are. A phenomenology of the developed mind assumes a coincidence of subjective and objective aspects and at the same time a fusion of subject and object. This means an isolated operation is admissible only because of fatigue (so, the explanation I gave of laughter, because I was unable to develop a whole movement in tandem with a conjugation of the modalities of laughter would be left suspended -- since every theory of laughter is integrally a philosophy and, similarly, every integral philosophy is a theory of laughter...). But that is the point -- though I set forth these principles, at the same time I must renounce following them.

Thought is produced in me as uncoordinated flashes, withdrawing endlessly from a term to which its movement pushes it. I can't tell if I'm expressing human helplessness this way, or my own... I don't know, though I'm not hopeful of even some outwardly satisfying outcome. Isn't there an advantage in creating philosophy as I do? A flash in the night -- a language belonging to a brief moment... Perhaps in this respect this latest moment contains a simple truth.

In order to will knowledge, by an indirect expedient I tend to become the whole universe. But in this movement I can't be a whole human being, since I submit to a particular goal, becoming the whole. Granted, if I could become it, I would thus be a whole human being. But in my effort, don't I distance myself from exactly that? And how can I become the whole without becoming a whole human being? I can't be this whole human being except when I let go. I can't be this through willpower: my will necessarily has to will outcomes! But if misfortune (or chance) wills me to let go, then I know I am an integral, whole humanness, subordinate to nothing.

In other words, the moment of revolt inherent in willing a knowledge beyond practical ends can't be indefinitely continued. And in order to be the whole universe, humankind has to let go and abandon its principle, accepting as the sole criterion of what it is the tendency to go beyond what it is. This existence that I am is a revolt against existence and is indefinite desire. For this existence God was simply a stage -- and now here he is, looming large, grown from unfathomable experience, comically perched on the stake used for impalement."

Whom was you expecting, Catherine Emmerich?