Friday, December 28, 2018

Loving Old Leaves


 I’m loving these leaves that, although their more appreciated summer appearance and work has faded away, are now simply gathering winter sunlight into gold. This treasure of the leaves’ summer-to-winter transformation perhaps hints at the potential of changing values that is made available when a person moves from workplace into retirement. The promise of transformation draws from and draws us into the imaginal world. Where else can the gold hidden in dried leaves be envisioned? 
        The conception of an imaginal world presages riches through its capacity to compose a between-space, a zone of transformational meaning-making, even a new world where qualities feel more tangible, ones like love, beauty, and peace. This is not a world of escape but instead it’s the way for mediating heaven and earth.
     The “imaginal world” of Ibn al-‘Arabi’s age may at first sound strange, but perhaps it’s only because the stage/screen/page space of our contemporary world provides such meagre spiritual nurturance. Ten centuries or so ago, the vision of world-makers such as the Brethren of Purity guided eyes to contemplate the transmission between the beyond and the below.
… the Ikhwan al-Safa [Brethren of Purity] apply different names to the fundamental cosmic duality depending upon the qualitative relationship in view. . . they explain the principle involved in shifting perspectives: ‘Know that all these words are titles and marks. Through them allusion is made to forms, so that distinction can be drawn in ascriptions that are made among them. Thus one form is sometimes called material, sometimes substantial, … sometimes spiritual, sometimes corporeal, sometimes cause, sometimes effect, and so on’” (Tao of Islam, pp. 161-2).
     Sachiko Murata helps to open up this teaching by applying the yin/yang construct so that we can better comprehend the perspective shift involved in looking toward the Divine and turning to engage the creation. Her account reminds me of a stairway descending from God to First Intellect to Universal Soul and so on down to earth. Even the shifts in perspective seem to me to be participation in a creative act, in transmission. Murata describes the double role happening through the shifting in an imaginal world in the movement on the stairway, looking up and down:
“The Ikhwan say, for example, that the Soul is an accident (yin) in relation to the Intellect, but a substance (yang) in relation to things below itself…what is matter in one respect is form in another. . . the Intellect and Soul are each in turn a source of light and activity. The Intellect is God’s radiance, while the Soul is the Intellect’s reflection. The Soul is bright in relation to the corporeal world, but dark in relation to the Intellect. . . the Universal Soul is a spiritual being, born directly from the First Intellect, it is light. But it represents a movement in the direction of Nature, so it embraces the properties of darkness as well. Like any barzakh, it brings together the properties of the two sides.” (Tao of Islam, pp. 162-3).
     This teaching and explication are valuable to me as they pertain to the possibilities of living with the Imaginal World, a barzakh, a bringing together of Heaven and Earth, a living into the Kingdom of Heaven while on earth (cf. Luke 17:21 , “the kingdom of God is in your midst”). We look toward God so that the radiance we absorb can reflect into our vision of life below. While the earth seems unlikely ever to hold the fullness of Divine Justice or Love or Peace, by moving through the Imaginal World, we may be able to sustain good work. While God remains Beyond, my dealings with darkness in the world (e.g., involving injustice, hatred, and suffering) may be lightened by turning into the barzakh.
“Ibn al-‘Arabi and his followers … were concerned to find the roots of all qualities present in the cosmos in the divine reality, as that reality is described by God’s own Word. These qualities depend upon the relationships that exist between God and the creatures. . . these relationships are precisely God’s attributes or names.” Tao of Islam, p. 162
     If we are to find the treasure of the imaginal world, we may wish to retreat into a time that  believes in spirit. Now is a good time for such retreats, especially as it’s the only time we are given and therein time can be malleable. The “now” may have to be re-created by letting go of the false security of fact and the shallow fascination with busy-ness and material possession. The contemporary imaginal world of celebrities and superstars can be substantially surrendered to an imaginal world devoted to spiritual realization. We can allow words and images to reshape by shifting focus from one world to another. 
     Perhaps we can practice by seeing in our imagination (with the help of mixing photographic images) the presence of one season within another. The play shown above with the golden leaves remembers the lush summer even in the almost leafless winter. In the image shown here

 when I look at the iris garden in snowfall, I can also move into the gorgeous shape and color of springtime.
     Murata draws from Ch 11 of Ibn al-‘Arabi’s Futuhat when she says: 
“Among created things, spirits are the most closely akin to the divine. They are more or less identical with the ‘divine breath’ blown into Adam. For Ibn al-‘Arabi and many others, the qualities of spirits stand at the antipodes of bodily qualities. Between bodies and spirits stand the souls (nufus), which partake of the characteristics of both sides. Hence souls are ‘imaginal,’ since they are both luminous and dark, intelligent and ignorant, high and low, and so on. . .The soul is, as it were, simply the face of the spirit turned toward the world of lowness and density. If the soul turns back upon itself it will see its own identity with the spirit. This is the path of spiritual realization and human perfection.” Tao of Islam, p. 144.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Winter Solstice & the Imaginal World

December 21, 2018
Knowing, in this world, needs opposites to build meaning; and yet:
“If we look at the attributes of God’s Essence, such as life and knowledge we see that their opposites—death and ignorance—do not exist as such” (p. 131, Murata in Tao of Islam).
Today marks the winter solstice. This world’s extension of darkness offers an opportunity to reach further for the opposite, to strive toward the essence of light. Rumi gives a marvelous fable teaching the crazy difficulty humans have in finding the true light and in escaping the illusion of color. He illustrates with a rabbit tricking a lion. Nicholson’s commentary tells:
“…the whole fable is an allegory of the Divine Reason (manifested in the Hare) inspiring men to triumph over illusion and realise that essentially they are one with the Logos which knows all things as forms of itself and itself as the hidden ground of all” (pp. 88-89, Commentary on Book I, Mathnawi, lines 1111- ).
In order to further emphasize how susceptible humans are to confusion, Rumi brings in another figure (one close to my heart). Nicholson comments: “Reason or Spirit, the Divine element in Man, is compared to a horse which its rider cannot see, so that he thinks he has lost it” (p. 89). Rumi’s lines are translated by Alan Williams:

     “A man thinks he has lost his horse and yet
         perversely speeds his horse upon the road. . .
     That silly man, in panic and in seeking,
       goes searching on all sides from door to door:
     ‘Who is the one who stole my horse, where is he?’
       ‘Sir, what’s this one you have between your legs?’…
     The soul’s so visible and near, it’s lost,
       lips dry as dust and belly full of water.
     How can you see the red and green and brown
       unless you see the light before these three?”  (p. 109, Spiritual Verses)

As the Solstice pushes us to long for light and as we laugh at the silly rider (who is lost due to human presumption to know beyond human capacity), we might open to the teaching about Life and thus be better equipped to cope with our experiences involving death. Murata continues from the opening quotation about death not existing:
“If we look at the attributes of God’s Essence, such as life and knowledge we see that their opposites—death and ignorance—do not exist as such. What we call death and ignorance are relative lacks of life and knowledge. Only absolute nonexistence—which, of course, does not exist—could possess absolute death and absolute ignorance.” (p. 131, Murata in Tao of Islam).
And yet we are placed in this world where “there are no absolutes within creation” and therefore:
“things can be understood only in their relationships with God or with other things. There are two extreme poles, represented by spirit and body, light and darkness, heaven and earth, subtlety and density. Between the two poles stands a spectrum of created things that are in some ways qualitatively ambivalent” (p. 132)
One source for help in dealing with the inescapable confusion when caught between the poles comes through engaging an “imaginal world.”
“The middle world is ‘imaginal’ because, like an image in a mirror or a dream, it combines attributes of both sides and cannot be discussed in isolation without distorting its reality. It is neither a spirit nor a body, but it has certain attributes that are spiritual and certain that are bodily” (p. 132).
Here and now, this material is helpful to me because I need the imaginal world that helps me hold the invisible horsepower capable of dealing with the longest nights and with the loss of loved ones. By working and playing in this imaginal world, I move closer to the passage:
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” I Cor 15:55 which references Isaiah 25:8 Hosea 13:14.
Dec 21, "normal" setting for photo
same as above but perhaps into the "imaginal"



Sunday, December 16, 2018

Awe & Intimacy: Moved by Beauty

Our woodlands, Dec 13, 2018
Continuing the study of Ibn ‘Arabi, Sachiko Murata follows up on the Majesty/Beauty pairing with attention to two terms, awe and intimacy. She translates a passage from Ibn ‘Arabi:
“God described Himself as manifest and nonmanifest. He brought the cosmos into existence as a world of the unseen and a world of the visible, so that we might perceive the nonmanifest through our unseen dimension and the manifest through our visible dimension. He described Himself through good pleasure and wrath, so He brought the cosmos into existence possessing fear and hope: We fear His wrath and we hope for His good pleasure. He described Himself as beautiful and possessing majesty, so He brought us into existence having awe and intimacy.” [See note at end.]
In a footnote, Murata elaborates that Ibn ‘Arabi and the commentators on his work usually connect beauty with intimacy and majesty with awe, but sometimes it’s the other way. 
        Just now as I’m writing with my document on the right side of the computer screen, the image shown above fills the rest, and this reflected beauty from our woods stirs that feeling of awe at the wonder of creation. So I’m drawn to Murata’s text because it’s guiding me in the field of beauty, not just in the appreciation of the creation stirred by the magnificent oaks and maples as they breath beauty and inspire awe at this very moment (also visible through the window over my desk) as I write and wonder; but in addition, the teaching on and images of beauty bring nourishing light into the inner heart, arousing a feeling of the presence of intimacy, of caring provided by the Creator Who always extends far beyond the known. So that we don’t lose contact due to our distance from the Absolute, the Intimate holds closer than one’s jugular vein (c.f., Quran 50:16).
     Paradox can be mind-numbing (perhaps for purposes discussed below) and so I want-to/need-to know beyond my thinking and to trust full-bodied experiential knowing. My experience gains texture (perhaps authority and/or lasting power) through the reflection on and wording of these engagements with beauty. Even though I read over and again the warnings that tell me not to limit knowing to cognition, I’m continually at risk of being controlled by the socialized dominance of thinking as if the mind is the only trustworthy way of gaining knowledge. Ibn ‘Arabi’s says early in the chapter on Adam: “An intellect [‘aql ] cannot know this [reality of all things] through the explorations of thought, for this kind of perception depends solely upon unveiling, from which one knows the principle of the world’s forms which receive His spirits.”  [From pp. 5-6 in Dagli’s translation. Dagli’s commentary in footnote 12 helpfully elaborates on other ways of knowing and on unveiling.]
     So human intellect comes as an amazing gift and also as a danger for falling into presumption. The impetus toward continuing revelation, especially with respect to the great Unknown, has crucial need for the reins of humility; otherwise our thinking function overpowers other modes of knowing. I believe that one way to deal with thinking’s dominating tendency comes through increasing devotion to beauty as well as to other expressions of art and creativity. In this line, the tenuous sense of something numinous feels strengthened as it’s being consciously connected with awe and intimacy. Perhaps through this we’re being prepared to extend even further toward Majesty and Beauty.
     Something now wants me to take off following an association that's flitting by, but shouldn't I resist? My training remembers the writer's handbooks that insist on staying with the topic. In other words, my imagination wants to wander away while my logical mind warns against it. The latter demands, “Beware digressions!” while another sense responds, “Might the wandering be more important than the most direct route?” 
The path of beauty seldom forces a straight road but instead meanders in its own milieu. The openness to wonder connects with increased living in the immediate, “in the moment,” in the present (e.g., beauty this moment in the winter woodlands). Also this pathway nurtures a consciousness that bows toward the always-beyond (e.g., Beauty as a manifestation of the Divine). Finding one’s way across the worlds perhaps depends on “seeing” them as separate and together.
“Thus, reality is arrayed according to various levels of being invisible and being visible. The world of sense perception is the world of visibility in an absolute way, and the divine presence is the realm of invisibility in an absolute way, and the degrees in between are combinations of the two extremes. As technical terms they are not confined to visual experience, but comprise all modes of perception.” (from Dagli, pp. 12-13, in footnote 44)

The digression, if it is such, wants to follow the association from Beauty to other qualities such as Love and into the quest for happiness. How does this exploration of appreciating beauty in nature extend to other gifts from God? Probably an increased understanding of the dimensionality between the divine (e.g., Beauty) and the created (e.g., a beauty such as the shutter catching a second of the woodland) provides help in dealing with other life experiences. 
The flittering association brings up a feeling from far back, twenty or more years ago. I remember particularly some bothersome struggles with claiming to be happy. I’d inwardly wince when someone wanted me to answer, “Yes, I’m happy,” because I felt saying it would not hold integrity with a powerful deep feeling that “Happy” meant much more. To say, “I’m content/contented” felt true enough but left me a bit dissatisfied. Why couldn’t/shouldn’t I be leaping further for happiness! This frustration moved far too close to dangerous questioning about love: Were my primary relationships enough? Should I go for more while there was still time? What about Rilke’s poem of the man walking away instead of being caught in the supper dish!
Those questions no longer drive me as they used to do, but still I sense a relief from their pressures as I extend the Beauty/beauty dimensionality to other qualities such as Love/love and Joy/joy. The Absolute, the Essence, the Reality is not to be fully accomplished here. The longing for more does not have to be felt as frustrating, but instead the yearning can be accepted as connection with the Divine, with the Beloved. It’s a taste that is not to be satisfied but to be appreciated. It’s a gift of the other world and serves as a draw, an invaluable sign of walking on the path of Love.
The divine touch gets desecrated when the human fails to appreciate the “invisible” and instead selfishly insists on finding complete satisfaction of his/her response to it at the human level (e.g., in sexual experiences, material possessions, status accomplishments, etc.). All those religious commands that I used to hear as anti-body and anti-world can instead be understood as invitations to bridge the worlds, not as denial of pleasure but as tasting ecstasy. Perhaps a certain aging is required to accept Truth of this nature. For example, I now feel joy in the realization that while Beauty exceeds my grasp I love the awe and intimacy resonating from the Divine breath manifest in these trees.

* From page 91 in The Tao of Islam. The passage comes from Ibn ‘Arabi’s first chapter “Ringstone of the Divine Wisdom in the Word of Adam” in his Fusus al-hikam.  Full translations of the Fusus include: R.W.J. Austin, Ibn al-‘Arabi: The Bezels of Wisdom, 1980; and Caner Dagli, Ibn al-‘Arabi: The Ringstones of Wisdom, 2004.   Murata has a footnote (p. 339) to the quoted passage: “As pointed out in the previous chapter, intimacy is the human response to God’s beauty, while awe responds to His majesty. The major commentators on the Fusus such as Jandi, Kashani, and Qaysari read the present passage as making this connection. But in doing so they ignore the reversed word order here and the fact that in some of his works, Ibn al-‘Arabi provides a different analysis of the nature of these attributes by reversing the usual relationships.”

Her point about the usual pairing is evident in the Austin translation which adds the bracketed material: “He has also described Himself as being possessed of beauty and majesty, having created us as combining awe [of His majesty] and intimacy, and so on with all His attributes and Names” (p. 55).
Dagli translates this sentence: “He also described Himself as being the Beautiful and the Possessor of Majesty, and so existentiated us to experience awe and intimacy” (p. 13).

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Majesty & Beauty


Sunrise, Dec 8, 2018
The Mercy and Generosity of God offer access into the Unknowable—limited access but as much as humans can contain—offered through complementary opposites. In this season, the pairing of Majesty&Beauty especially stands out. As we’re experiencing the edge of winter, with the loss of fruit, flowers, even leaves, finding beauty seems harder than it was in the lovely spring, in the abundant summer, and in autumnal color. My camera has to search into a different dimension of majesty, into the power that moves through loss. 
I’m learning to play with special effects. They force the questions around truth and reality. How might creativity and imagination lead into in-sight and under-standing of the Eternal Essence of Life. Perhaps the Severe guides toward a sense that more can be known than is reflected in the “realistic” image. Perhaps imaginative play with special effects can still ask for truth but for Truth that passes understanding and that still guards the heart-mind (cf. Phil. 4:7). 
Certain readings are providing strong guidance. Many of the passages that discuss this Beauty/Majesty dynamic contain “unsayings,” a concept developed very helpfully by Michael Sells in Mystical Languages of Unsaying. So we can expect to feel, even to be reassured by the presence of paradox. It’s like the hunter in Iron John who recognizes the track by the mark of trouble in the deep forest: the dogs have gone in and have not returned.
In Chapter 2, “Divine Duality,” Sachiko Murata includes a section on Majesty and Beauty (pp. 69-74, The Tao of Islam). In it, she cites, quotes, and elaborates several classic texts on the Majesty-Beauty dynamic. For background, she references Annemarie Schimmel and Rumi. Schimmel situates the pair in a special kind of spiritual knowing: 
“Rumi’s favourite idea is that things can be known only through their opposites—if a bird has tasted sweet water he will understand the brackish taste of the water in his native brooklet.God’s twofold aspects are revealed in everything on earth: He is the Merciful and the Wrathful; His is jamal, Beauty beyond all beauties, and jalal, Majesty transcending all majesties (twentieth century Western history of religion invented the juxtaposition of the mysterium tremendum and the mysterium fascinans to come closer to God’s attributes).” From pp. 230-1, The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi. Schimmel also footnotes Rudolf Otto’s Idea of the Holy “which couches in scientific terms—tremendum and fascinans—the two aspects of the Experience of the Holy, as they had been known to the Sufis for centuries” (p. 448).
In addition to Rumi (d. 1273), Murata cites Ruzbihan Baqli (d. 1209) in order to show the nature of vision felt in the Majesty-Beauty dynamic: 
“The unveiling of beauty is the place where spirits are plundered through passionate affection, yearning, and love. Through it the gnostic is given the ability to travel through the attributes and to remain constant in the vision of eternity and subsistence. The gnostic says, ‘The station of the witnessing of beauty demands intoxication, ecstasy, and turmoil.’ 
The vision of majesty is the station in which the elect are overcome by fear, dread, veneration, and reverence. The gnostic says, ‘The vision of majesty distracts the spirits and upsets the bodies.’” (quoted on p. 73, Tao of Islam)
As hinted at the beginning with the focus on finding beauty in winter, our vision may need further development if we are to progress on the path of beauty, of love, of God. This development moves into the remaking of meaning that surrenders attachment to pleasure, to indifference, to self. To elaborate this, Murata references Chittick’s Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi where Chittick translates a passage from the Mathnawi:
“Pain is an alchemy that renovates—where is indifference when pain intervenes? 
Beware, do not sigh coldly in your indifference! Seek pain! Seek pain, pain, pain!”   (lines 4304-4, Book VI, quoted on p. 72 in Tao of Islam and p. 208 in Sufi Path of Love)
Chittick quotes these lines in a section, “Love and Beauty: True and Derivative” which is in Part 3, Attainment to God. He also explicates the lines:
“In the present context Rumi explains the nature of beauty clearly and succinctly: It is a drop of spray from the infinite Ocean, or a ray of light shining upon a wall. All beauty derives from the other world, so here it is borrowed and ephemeral. True Beauty pertains only to God” (p. 201).

Chittick again cites the line and elaborates in a later section on Separation and Union: 
“Rumi considers this awareness of pain (dard) as the doorway to the path of Love, and he advises us, ‘Seek pain! Seek pain! pain, pain!’ Man cannot truly understand the meaning of pain and ‘suffering’ (rani) until he becomes aware of his state of separation” (p. 237)
As noted, Rumi’s “seek-pain” line comes from the sixth and concluding book of the Mathnawi. Nicholson’s translation has the lines this way:
“Passion is the elixir that makes (things) new: how (can there be) weariness where passion has arisen?Oh, do not sigh heavily from weariness: seek passion, seek passion, passion, passion!
The passage comes all mixed-up, Rumi-style (Alan Williams describes seven interwoven types of discourse in the Mathnawi's narratives), in a story beginning a hundred lines earlier about a man of Baghdad who has squandered his rich inheritance and who then dreams that his hopes of opulence could be fulfilled in Cairo. After traveling there, he’s reduced to begging for food and is assaulted as a robber by the night patrol. As he tells his story from the heart, the patrolman is touched and assists the treasure-seeker toward the revelation that the great treasure, the Water of Life, can only be found back in his own home. The unveiling of the treasure, the Beauty, the Beloved, apparently cannot be gained without Majesty. Through the hard journey comes the revelation. It seems that the growth of eyes-to-see depends on passion and is often experienced as severity and suffering.
A compelling theme for civilization, wisdom literature, and spirituality teaches the Hidden Treasure, the archetypal pearl of great price. In summarizing her chapter on Divine Duality, Murata says:
God created the cosmos to make the Hidden Treasure manifest. Only after that can He be known by the creatures, who themselves are part of the Hidden Treasure. . . Once God creates the cosmos out of love and mercy, He is concerned to nurture knowledge of Himself in the others, since all reality and bliss lie in the Real, the Blissful. (p. 77)


Sunday, December 2, 2018

Golden Snowflakes


I recently dreamed of two men, probably one young and the other old, with each “purviewing" (see note at end) his map for moving forward in life’s journey; and either in the dream or in the liminal edge toward wakening, I considered the young man’s roadmap as the exoteric pathway while the older one viewed an inner mapping of the esoteric journey, that of his heart/soul. S.H. Nasr explains “the basic distinction” between these pathways, the outer/exoteric and the inner/esoteric: “Religion has an outward aspect concerning everyone destined to accept its teachings, but it also possesses an inner dimension accessible to the few who are able to penetrate from the realm of outwardness to the inward” (pp. 15-6, Religion and the Order of Nature). He continues by noting the interdependence of these two and affirms the importance of honoring the exoteric forms required in following the teachings of traditional religions alongside the personal esoteric movement into inner meanings. This connection keys the hope for “religious harmony” among religions:
“The insistence upon the esoteric as the only means of penetrating beyond the veil of distinct formal worlds of various religions to the inner meaning or transcendent unity—binding them together, and wherein alone can religious harmony be found in the deepest sense—has in fact been one of the major impediments for a wider appreciation of the approach of the perennial philosophy to the study of religion in academic circles. Esotericism, traditionally understood, does not negate the significance of the exoteric. . . On the contrary, it [esotericism] insists upon its [exotericism’s] importance, for it is only through forms that one can transcend the formal plane, and one cannot surely throw away what one does not possess.” (From the section,“The Outward and the Inward in the Cosmos and in Religion,” pp. 15-17 in Religion and the Order of Nature.)
While there’s value in exploring exoteric and esoteric separately, in the fuller picture they overlap and perhaps in an absolute frame do so almost completely.
The dream did not, unfortunately and yet not surprisingly, reveal the mapquest details on either of these pathways, but I suspect it’s affirming the direction I’ve been taking that honors the sacred in nature and art. As evident in recent postings, my reading and photography show devotion to spending time walking more slowly and with more gratitude among woodlands while also reflecting upon the beauty with more creative attempts. The collage of images at the top suggests the exoteric-esoteric play as witnessed through the window above my desk. In Light on the Ancient Worlds, Schuon offers guidance for choosing the pathways to walk and for the destination to strive for: “The mission of man is to introduce the Absolute into the relative” (p. 82). 
The “relative” in the collage comes from approaching nature with reverence and with an expectation of revelation at any moment, even in a landscape of muted tones.

Perhaps in the small steps of my personal walking, I’m making a gesture toward “the resacralization” of nature. Nasr’s opening of his final chapter in Religion and Order of Nature addresses this:
“Nature needs to be resacralized not by man who has no power to bestow the quality of sacredness upon anything, but through the remembrance of what nature is as theater of Divine Creativity and Presence. Nature has been already sacralized by the Sacred Itself, and its resacralization means more than anything else a transformation within man, who has himself lost his Sacred Center, so as to be able to rediscover the Sacred and consequently to behold again nature’s sacred quality. And this remembrance and rediscovery can only be achieved through religion in its traditional forms as the repositories of the Sacred and the means of access to it.” (pp. 270-1)
The second image, taken with a special effect available with the camera, might suggest an attempt “to introduce the Absolute into the relative.” 

As I edit the images, I’m caught by the notion that these remaining autumn leaves appear as golden snowflakes, and I’m touched by the Love manifesting in nature. I believe the time spent in nature looking, appreciating, and playing in a creative manner can be a form of remembrance and contemplation in the tradition of spiritual contemplatives. Many writers emphasize the importance of contemplation to our bridging the exoteric with the esoteric. Schuon offers crucial insight regarding the terrible risks and the possible Gold marking our human journey: 
“… it is impossible to contemplate a nearby object and at the same time the distant landscape behind it, so it is impossible—in this connection alone—to contemplate and act at the same time.” Footnote 21 which states: “This is what the tragedy of Hamlet expresses: there were facts and actions, and demands of action, but the Shakespearean hero, seeing through it all, saw only principles or ideas; he sank into things as into a morass; their very vanity or unreality prevented him from acting, dissolved his action; he had before him, not this or that evil, but evil as such, and this inconsistency, absurdity, and incomprehensibility of the world thwarted everything he wished to do. Contemplation either removes one from action by causing the objects of action to disappear, or it renders action perfect by making God appear in the agent; now the contemplativity of Hamlet had unmasked the world, but it was not yet fixed in God; it was as it were suspended between two planes of reality…the drama of the contemplative who is forced to action but has no vocation for it… (p. 39, Light on the Ancient Worlds).

Note on "purviewing": I’m playing with the word “purview” as the dream might suggest a person’s reach across the two worlds, the inner and outer, with the purpose indicated in the meaning of “purview: “the range or limit of authority, competence, responsibility, concern, or intention.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Convergence in the Timeless


Sunrise, Nov 27, 2018. Sky and Earth.

I’m in an almost bizarre convergence among three currents flowing from reading Iris Murdoch, Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered, and S.H. Nasr/Frithjoff Schuon. There’s no beginning; no end. So maybe the place to continue is in the timeless, the Reality that Nasr/Schuon and Sufi mystics assert is the only way to make sufficient sense of being today (or any other day). For example, Schuon warns against the peril of splitting the ideal and real:
“Nothing is more false than the conventional opposition between ‘idealism’ and ‘realism,’ which amounts to insinuating that the ‘ideal’ is not ‘real,’ and conversely as if an ideal situated outside reality had the smallest value and as if reality were always situated on a lower level than what may be called an ‘ideal’; to believe this is to think in a quantitative, not a qualitative, mode.” (Light on the Ancient Worlds, p. 15, footnote 14).
True Reality resides in the absolute, that which transcends our mundane experience, best known in this world in the qualities God sends down, lent for humans to manifest. Trouble comes in when our knowing gets too limited by human restrictions such as those set by behaviorists presuming to be the sole proprietor of the true. The essence gets lost in ideologies of facts, data, cogito ergo sum, philosophy reduced to existentialism... And equally by religion stripped of mysticism when faith is dominated by the scientific mind and when theologians succumb to status as in the academy. Of course, educators already sold out in order to sit alongside physics, to get the grants, and to publish in journals that count. Who among us has clean hands?
Kingsolver splendidly explores today’s terrain by looking back a hundred years to when the theory of evolution struggled to find a place in culture dominated by religious fundamentalists as well as consumerism blindly eating up the environment. Alongside this, she weaves a contemporary and prescient collage of traumatic family life; although I wince at saying “life” because she portrays dramatically how distressingly distant today’s home may be from Life, from the Alive, the Loving. 
The poignancy of these streams’ convergence builds also from Murdoch’s portrayals of dysfunctional abuses of Power and Love. Her novels roam about over most of the 20th-century-world disheartened by war, environmental wreckage, abusive partners, and varied desiccations of culture (across arts and sciences). Much of this broken-down, broken-hearted condition seems occasioned through allowing the personal and social orders to be ruled by the pronouncement “God is dead.” The destruction comes whether players are conscious or not that their lives have strayed far from devotion to Truth, Beauty, Justice, and the other qualities necessary to approach the depths of love and the responsibilities of power.
Although Nasr and Schuon expose the catastrophe of science, particularly evolutionary theory, masquerading as God, they also argue that scientific knowing has a vital role in a proper ecology of epistemology and ontology.
“The religious view of the order of nature must be reasserted on the metaphysical, philosophical, cosmological, and scientific levels as legitimate knowledge without necessarily denying modern scientific knowledge, as long as it is remembered that this latter science is the result of very particular questions posed to nature” (Religion and the Order of Nature, p. 6).
Interestingly, Kingsolver’s gift includes the compelling drama evident when religion gets big-headed and heart-short. In this convergence of currents, the arrogant man of science looks scarily like unto the preacher man/woman blinded by God-less religion. 
I’m now in the midst of Kingsolver’s novel, having just been struck with a wash of empathy for the bigot I’d previously found impossible to like. I don’t expect to ever like this character, but I feel some compassion, some sadness for how he gave his life for the fake “American dream.” He’s the person who long ago dried up inside, who suffers greatly from a failing body, and yet clings to dead faith. Perhaps his bitterness is all that sustains his breath.
I’ve become pretty sure that any hope we have for moving ahead in this country depends on developing empathy that reaches across the political chasm. Instead of blasting at the “other” in Facebook-ish social media as well as in our intimate family spaces, humans who would be god-like just have to live a deeper level into Love and Power… Peace, Justice, Truth …
Sunset. Sky, Earth, Sea.