Monday, January 30, 2023

Burning Questions and Shining Answers

The darkness alluded to in yesterday’s post is like the silence needed in order to speak and be heard. There is message, there is noise, and there is silence. 

As it pertains to us, there is the light and the mirror that reflects it (AKA intellect) and various accidents that interfere with the clarity of the latter, ranging from our fallenness at one end to our own peculiarities, passions, and mind parasites at the other. 

Now, our mirror also reflects the world, here again, more or less adequately. The point is, we are situated at the crossroads of vertical and horizontal, with one mirror pointing up, the other out. But there is only one mirror, or rather, One Cosmos transluminously mirrored in us. At least potentially, depending on the purity of the mirror.  

In the past I’ve used the analogy of a lampshade with any number of pinprick holes. Viewed from outside it will look like that many independent points of light, when there is actually only the one source of light at the center. Now, technically there are three bulbs and one light, but don’t worry about that for now.

The lampshade is not the actual “perimeter” of reality; rather, man is a two-faced bastard, meaning again that one side faces O, the other “the world.” We are always in between these two extremes.

Another way of thinking about this structure is to imagine pure colorless light passing through a prism and producing the spectrum of color. None of the individual colors are the pure light, but nor are they not-light. And every man is his own color.

Now, there’s a persistent voice in my head that tells me “revelation is the poetry of metaphysics.” I can’t say with certainty that this is true, but it’s too good to check. If it is true, then we can take the most metaphysical of the gospels -- this being John -- which should be fungible into metaphysics per se, or be a pretty clear reflection of what goes on up there (bearing in mind the analogy of light and mirror, or central bulb and holey lampshade).

If man isn’t a mirror of truth, then to hell with it. The mirror is like the inverse image of God: it is purely passive and receptive, whereas God is said to be  pure act. The mirror is at once image of God, but of everything and anything else, high or low.

But first of all, a hermeneutic skeleton key: for our Jewish friends the OT is itself a sufficient reflection of G-d, which is true enough and more than true enough. 

For the Christian it is also a reflection, except a more specific reflection of God as revealed in the NT -- ultimately of the Trinity. Thus, we read the OT in the light of the NT, the latter being the “telos” of the former, so to speak.  

For our purposes this morning, all I’m trying to say is that the prologue of John is an obvious reflection or parallel commentary on the prologue of Genesis. Both begin with In the beginning; in truth In the beginning is the beginning which is always now

And this now is at once temporal and spatial, which goes to origin and center, respectively.  

In Genesis the beginning focuses more on God’s end and with his creative activity, and the first thing he does is separate darkness from light; if John is a reflection of this, then this same light that is created in the beginning -- and without which nothing is created -- becomes flesh and dwells among us.  

It is as if the central bulb becomes one of the holes. But let’s deconstruct this analogy into something more purely metaphysical. I mean, if we can. Without language disintegrating again, for that bulb is bright but also hot. A metaphor is like an oven mitt that allows us to reach toward the bulb without getting burned. I hope.

Caution: objects in mirror are closer and hotter than they appear.

I’m reaching around in the dark looking for a little help, and Steinsaltz’s Thirteen Petalled Rose falls into my hands, so let's go with it:
The use of plastic imagery and symbols is so characteristic of language that it is hard to find a sentence in the Scriptures that is not the basis of metaphorical description rather than that of abstract conceptualization. Imagery-bound concepts are to be found everywhere, in almost every paragraph…
Do we dare attempt to grasp the naked concept? Maybe, but I’m wearing these metaphorical mitts just in case.
Precisely because of this prevalence of metaphorical statement, and the widespread use of figures of speech drawn from the human image, it becomes all the more necessary to emphasize that they are allegorical truths and not actual descriptions of reality.
Hmm. Looks like there is danger in either direction: on the one mitt, of falling into “a crude material apprehension of the divine essence and of the higher reality,” but on the other mitt, of the need to maintain a healthy respect for the infinite distance between man and God. Apparently we can see his face, but this is the last thing we'll see.  

Unless, of course, the Incarnation takes care of this problem for us, or in other words, spans that infinite distance like God’s own oven mitt.  

Let’s climb out of that rabbi hole and return to where we left off yesterday, to The Roots of Christian Mysticism, and we can take that word -- “root” -- in a number of ways, beginning with a Christological sense. For the horizontal roots extend back to the desert fathers, and then up vertically to Christ, who rains back down on our own personal desert. 

Let me first repeat the passage from yesterday: the divine darkness
is the symbol and the experience of a presence that cannot be grasped, a night in which the Inaccessible presents himself and eludes us at the same time. It is the nocturnal communion of the hidden God with the person who is hidden in God.
Continuing from there, Clement says that
This darkness does not deny the glory that flows from it. It is not the absence of light: rather, it is “more than luminous.
Again, it is also hot to the touch, so let’s proceed cautiously so our words don't melt like they did on Saturday. 

The word “glory” has a specific meaning, going to the overwhelming beauty of the divine light, for example, vis-a-vis the transfiguration. 

Note that in this event, Christ’s clothes become “as white as light” -- “shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them” -- which goes back to what was said above about the pure light before it passes through the prism: yes, the apostles are looking directly at the bulb and witnessing a theophany. They fall to the ground and are “greatly afraid," for they have neither mitts nor visors.


julie said...

A metaphor is like an oven mitt that allows us to reach toward the bulb without getting burned.

I like that way of expressing it. We can't really describe the indescribable, but a metaphor at least allows us to get some idea.

Imagery-bound concepts are to be found everywhere, in almost every paragraph…

It is super saturated.

Let me first repeat the passage from yesterday: the divine darkness
is the symbol and the experience of a presence that cannot be grasped, a night in which the Inaccessible presents himself and eludes us at the same time. It is the nocturnal communion of the hidden God with the person who is hidden in God.

Brings to mind the myth of Cupid & Psyche. The ancient Greeks may have been confused about many things, but they also understood a great many things.

Gagdad Bob said...

This whole subject reminds me of what Weaver says in Ideas Have Consequences, about the barbarian urge to tear away the symbol in order to grasp at the reality beneath, when the two -- form and substance -- are always together. One way leads to iconoclasm, the other to idolatry.

Also, it reminds me of how every new schism is an attempt to find a more pure religious experience beneath or behind symbols, dogmas, and hierarchies. Which works for awhile, then rinse & repeat.

julie said...

Indeed; in the myth, when Psyche lights the candle and reveals the face of her beloved, he immediately either flees or is taken away from her, ending up farther away than any person could reach unaided and leaving her desolate. In other words, the harder we try to grasp, the more likely the reality will squirt through our fingers.

Gagdad Bob said...

Or like Icarus, who flies too close to the bulb, which melts the wax holding the feathers. Mitts aren't enough. Gonna need some firefighter apparel.

Gagdad Bob said...

Flame-resistant words. Now there's a thought...

Gagdad Bob said...

They say the Torah is black flames written on white fire, or something.

julie said...


Perhaps an asbestos font would help.

Gagdad Bob said...

"My words will not pass away." I wonder what font he used?

julie said...

I was going to say "something carved in stone," but akshully as we saw with the Commandments that wouldn't be enough. Rather, it must be a font encoded into the very molecular structure of existence, yet readable by anyone with eyes to see.

Gagdad Bob said...

Reminds me of an aphorism: "If God weren't a person, he would have died some time ago."

julie said...

Oven mitts, or hardened armor?

julie said...

Going back to Psyche, Eve & throwing in Pandora as well, I can't help wondering how things would work out had they only had the forbearance to wait until the time was right. That is, there seems to be a sense that given the fullness of time, Cupid's face would have been shown, the forbears would have ripened enough to eat the fruit, and Pandora might have opened the box in such a way that the demons could have been neutralized. Or maybe that's all just a flight of fancy, since we're never given the version where things went right and patience was rewarded with revelation.

There's a difference between grasping and being granted.

Anonymous said...

The UN WHO and Amnesty International who from behind a front of house bedecked with corporal works of mercy long agitated for satanic expression can now see the fruit of their efforts with only the Muslim world holding out. Even the Catholic Church has now broadened it's definition of inclusiveness to include the Devil.

Van Harvey said...

"A metaphor is like an oven mitt that allows us to reach toward the bulb without getting burned. I hope."

"Ooh... I like that. Yep, yep, yep.