Monday, July 23, 2012

Manchester Talk May 31, 2012

     Here at last is the first post from the Manchester talk, which some of those attending have requested be posted. It was written twenty years after the paper in the previous fifteen posts during which time I finally found, in 2010, the hard evidence, the neuro-psychological evidence, I knew had to be there but had never been able to retrieve in digestible form. Thanks to Iain McGilchrist, that evidence has been gathered into a form available to anyone in his book The Master and His Emmisary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. More recently, early this year I discovered the work of Margaret Barker, which confirmed some of the rest of the evidence for the theological corrections that must be made if Christianity is to survive.
     I have not yet readied this paper for publication so there are footnotes missing and other lacunae, but since I am about to disappear for a week, I beg your indulgence. 
     Once again the typographical style on blogger is acting up so apologies for erratic typeface and spacing. 

NB: The diagram is very small but if you click on it, it will enlarge.

Next Post will be on August 2.

May 31st is the Feast of the Visitation, and I hope that during the past 24 hours you have had good things visited upon you. But by liturgical reckoning it is already Friday, and while breakfast is still a long way off, I'd like to ask you to think—or rather to not think—some impossible things: first, please forget everything you thought you ever knew about theology, religion, and so-called spirituality, and above all, the word mysticism. Although I think this word has become entirely useless and should be dropped, I will attempt a definition later on. The reason for this request is that in the popular mind, and in many scholarly minds, contemplation and so-called mysticism have become linked with the word experience, in spite of the fact that experience is the opposite of contemplation. Contemplation entails relinquishing the interpretive process and all claims to experience; the word experience always, and without exception, entails interpretation, and language is always self-reflexive.
Next, I'd like to point out that everything I will say tonight can be confirmed by anyone who is willing to observe their own mind. Many of the key texts that issue from the ancient, late antique, and medieval worlds concern the findings of such observation and are remarkably consistent. As we shall see, this consistency arises not from what has come to be known as the so-called perennial philosophy, but its opposite: this consistency is the expression of the neuro-psychological foundations of the human person. 
The material I am presenting has developed over the course of six and a half decades. I can't tell you how many drafts of my forthcoming book I have tossed away because I could not find the appropriate presentation of the evidence I knew was out there somewhere. Then in mid-November of 2010, I discovered the work of Iain McGilchrist, with whom I'm sure you're familiar, which provided neuropsychological evidence; and more recently, in January of this year, Ann Loades pointed me to the work of Margaret Barker, whose work exposes antecedents in the First Temple.

First, let's look at the diagram. It's just a sketch and not meant to be comprehensive in any way. The process it symbolises is characterised by continual flow in many permutations; and while this flow may be more or less cut off by the preoccupations of the self-conscious mind, it should not be thought of in terms of stages or steps or stasis or linearity. It is holistic.
Neuro-psychologists tell us that our brains are divided into two unequal parts, with two very different ways of functioning, having two different, often opposing agendas. However, by contrast with the simplistic ideas about the divided brain of the 1970s, both hemispheres are always at work in every situation, one side or the other predominating, depending on the task at hand. It is thought that in general the optimal functioning of the brain will favour the right hemisphere.
         But we must always remember that brain is not the same as mind, though there is a close correspondence between them. Whatever you do with your mind affects the structure of your brain—one of the reasons vigilance figures so prominently in ascetic literature. And with the mention of asceticism, we also should understand that in itself, imposed as a template, asceticism is meaningless and sterile. Instead, it should be understood as an expression of the process I am describing; that is, it is what is necessary to sustain the openness, the praxis, to receive the gifts that are being given. Often a person will not be aware that what they are doing might be considered ascesis at all, any more than an athlete would regard his or her training regime as anything but a means to an end. The same applies to ethics, as we shall see.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

XV Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model...


Theology’s loss of contact with its incarnational referents in the constants of human experience has led to the establishment of doctrines based on a so-called natural law that has little to do with the way the creation is made;  to the establishment of ecclesial structures that can neither be justified nor sustained;  to transmitting language it no longer understands and which is becoming increasingly debased, and imagery both misapplied and rendered vacuous in the contemporary world. 
There is great value in the ancient treasure of Christianity for the present world, but only if it is restored to its function as a way of transfiguration for every aspect of the creation, beginning with the individual human heart.  Within the apophatic tradition, the paradox of vulnerability and power and the laws governing the human psyche are richly revealed, and the awakening of human aspiration to the truth of the self entails reverence for the Otherness of all creation, and a socio-environmental contract that provides for an optimal balance between order and freedom.  Grace builds on the dynamics of nature and is reciprocal with it;  the God who indwells the creation is revealed at its centre, which is Otherness. 
The possibility of recovering Christianity’s theological psychology and restoring the relational cluster of [2012 praxis]-theology-religion-psychology-apophasis suggests wide-ranging implications, of which there is space to mention but a few.  First, there is no need to fracture theology and religion into mutually dismissive factions.  These factions arise from a) the dismantling of descriptor paradoxes into premises, which are contradictory and b) political power struggles masking under the guise of theology and ecclesiastical polity.[i] 
Once the fundamental descriptor paradoxes of the reciprocal indwelling of the divine and human from which religion emerges are recovered, there is no contradiction between reason and revelation;  they are complementary.  There is no contradiction between the ‘authority’ of scripture and the modern claims of biblical criticism.  Scripture’s authority arises from the fact that it preserves the descriptor paradoxes and parables intact, which may be mined far more richly than the banal literalism extracted by those who most vociferously claim biblical authority.  And this banality is rightly challenged.  The virgin birth, for example, is not a story of miraculous membranes but refers to the tradition of single-heartedness preserved in Syriac (semitic) Christianity that harks back to the reciprocal singleness of heart symbolized by the empty mercy seat in the holy of holies, the self-conscious ritualisation of a primordial wilderness. 
Equally, the resurrection is not ‘a conjuring trick with bones’ but new life beyond imagining which is given to those who enter their full likeness to God by mirroring the divine kenosis, by relinquishing the material illusions of the super-ego that pass for life and by entering the silence from which this new life emerges.  Fear of death and questions about life after death become category mistakes because death is restored to its proper integration with life and is repeatedly encountered in the jouissance of the kenotic, ekstasis, the suspension of self-consciousness in its infinite manifestations.  Without the multidimensionality of death, all of life becomes flattened.  From this repeated entry into silence emerges the full richness of life. 
With awareness of the dynamics of self-consciousness, it becomes starkly evident that what happens in the book of Acts is already a betrayal of the Gospel because the introduction of ordained leaders re-[2012 establishes] the very layer of self-consciousness which it has been Jesus’ mission to suspend.  This is not to say that Christianity does not need leadership;  it does mean that what leadership there is must be self-effacing in order to enable the union of the believer with the God whose image the worshipper reflects.  But present institutional structures and theology of ministry confuse spiritual discipline with secular obedience, and attract many people who perceive an opportunity for ego enhancement, however this is masked as ‘vocation’.  Their preparation for ministry does not train them in genuine discernment and apophatic praxis, nor does it reflect the kenotic ideal, much less provide them with the skills to sustain this ideal in themselves and to enable it in others.
All of this does not mean a drive to uniformity, which would be undesirable even if it were possible;   nor does it mean the elimination of diversity of styles of worship: all  are needed because members of the community are at different stages of maturity in their relationship with God.   It does offer the possibility of enabling contemporary Christians to re-examine together the theological psychology that lies at the roots of the precious inheritance that is transmitted through the paradoxes and parables on which Christianity is founded, and to find a more harmonious way forward. 
But this can only happen if theological and religious factions will give up scorching the earth with their presumptuous and irrelevant debates, which all too often cloak the lust for power and self-aggrandizement.  They must learn the humility and wisdom of earlier theologians such as John the Solitary,[ii] and accede to the leading of a four-year-old child who remains mute in Kuwait.

[i]  See my Pillars of Flame for an extended exposition. 
[ii] ‘How long shall I be in the world of the voice and not in the world of the word?  For everything that is seen is voice and is spoken with the voice, but in the invisible world there is no voice, for not even voice can utter its mystery.  How long shall I be voice and not silence, when shall I depart from the voice, no longer remaining in things which the voice proclaims?  When shall I become word in an awareness of hidden things, when shall I be raised up to silence, to something which neither voice nor word can bring.’  Quoted in ‘John the Solitary, On Prayer’ by S. P. Brock, The Journal of Theological Studies, New Series, Vol. XXX, part 1, 1979, p. 87.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

XIV Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model ...

The fear of death that holds humanity in slavery (Heb. 2: 14-15) and is the source of all its problems is the fear of loss of self-consciousness.  It is the loss of this fear that enables the transfigured perception of ordinary life, fully satisfying in its simplicity.   It is a life no longer lived in terms of appetites and power games, which are symbolic battles with death at the level of self-consciousness.  Rather it is lived simultaneously from the perspective of ‘time’, which is an illusory function of no where, and the centre, which is the timeless every where.  It is a life lived in the community from an integrity that cannot be co-opted by the usual time-bound coercive tactics of flattery or fear, envy or desire (see note 18).   It is a life that recognises that the Otherness of God is the otherness that is the truth of the self and otherness of fellow creatures, the common centre of the circle that is every where.  This Otherness calls forth reverence, humility and respect, an awe before the divine, the self, other human beings and the creation that turns attention away from the linear loop[i] of comparison and enters the multidimensional perichoretic play of presence and absence.  These are but a few aspects of the central Christian paradox of vulnerability and power.
The entry into silence entails a rigourous morality but again, subject to the paradox of intention, this is morality by aspiration, not the imposition of a restrictive template.  It is a morality that takes on life as consciousness is gathered in the intention of the highest good.   And here it is important to remember that
the mercy seat in the temple at Jerusalem was a vacant space between the cherubim in the holy of holies, the ‘great speaking absence’, in Rowan Williams’ phrase,[ii] that signified both Israel’s repudiation of earthly representations of the deity and the imageless space into which they sought to come by prayer and devotion.   In the New Testament, the empty tomb is similarly eloquent in its absence of presence [and we might add that the cherubim surrounding this empty space wear the masks of tragedy and comedy MR].  The angel’s question in St Luke, “Why seek you the living with the dead?’ signals the necessity of passover into a new perception of the living Christ and a putting away of the old certainties.  Christ's injunction to Mary Magdalene, ‘Noli me Tangere’ reinforces the sense of his transfiguration beyond the realm of earthly signification.[iii]

The centre that is every where is the mercy seat, and to this mercy seat everything in life is brought.  Thus Julian of Norwich’s revelation that while humanity may not be spared tribulation, within this privitie all shall indeed be well. 
But what of judgement?  Judgement occurs on the surface of the sphere because it is disordered thinking in time that is under judgement, as Julian of Norwich clearly states.[iv]  Judgement is neither too late nor too early because all judgement reflects ek-static communion with the centre through the essential kenotic likeness in Christ, which is constant, no matter how disordered the thinking.  This judgement is ineffable;  its perception is disordered by the projections of self-consciousness, the grasping super-ego, which extrudes from the sphere like one of the eyes on stalks of cartoonist Gary Larson’s weird animated blobs. 
In the movement towards the centre, the eye is reabsorbed.  It and the disorder of thoughts and perceptions, especially the disordered perception of divine judgement, are brought to focus toward the centre, and in that focus are justified.  That is, disordered thinking that grasps shame, guilt, blame, confusion, appetites -- all is sorted out in the kenotic, unmediated and undistorted, self-outpouring Love which is God, and in this light the judgment of self-consciousness, the judgement of this simulacrum of the divine, is revealed as contradictory and antithetical to the justice of God.[v]
In an optical paradox, as the focus becomes more concentrated and deepens, perspective becomes limitless:  justice, what is justified, is swallowed up in mercy and self-forgetfulness.  While the journey to the centre at the sensory level appears to be undertaken repeatedly in fixed times of meditation, at the ontological level, each gesture towards the centre moves the person farther along the journey from which there is no turning back because the past now goes before.
The ordinary is now lived through transfigured perception.  Every moment in time on the surface is perceived through the timeless centre, the ‘world to come’ which, in its semitic meaning, has little to do with the linear future.  For one with transfigured perception, there is neither surface nor centre.  Both perspectives are caught in singleness:  the perspective of Julian’s doomsday and the ‘today’ of psalm 95;  eternal life, resurrection, what Isaac of Nineveh famously calls the birth of the spiritual child and what Eckhart equally famously refers to as the birth of God in the soul.  It is the perspective that perceives that what can be predicated of divinity can be predicated of humanity, a perichoretic interweaving of one being in a unitive act that is neither identity nor antithesis.[vi]
Without this transfigured perception, the outer surface of the sphere is no where, a simulacrum of where as it is a simulacrum of time and a simulacrum of self.  It is, to echo Philippians 2, the illusion that is the consequence of attempting to grasp equality with God, for, once again, the parabola is only textual, and the attempt to grasp divinity is an attempt to sustain an illusory height, for divinity is humility.  The surface of the sphere is the realm of narcissitic self-consciousness, of illusion, of a phantasmal and idolatrous self-awareness that seeks to rearrange creation and even God in a flattened, two-dimensional hierarchical order, in which me, my and mine have top priority.
            It is the delusion of a world where every variable is absolutely under control, and where all energy is devoted to maintaining that control, where technology trammels with its noise, where difficult choices are taken away, and where poor little talktative Christianity provides protection from ambiguity, elusiveness (and therefore beauty, truth and goodness), adventure and unpleasant surprises.  Most of all in this dark fantasy of a world, humanity is protected from the nightmare of its own making called Death, which terror manifests itself in the panic that ensues when minor losses and failures occur in the ordinary round, revealing the reality of powerlessness -- losses that frighten even more than death itself, which those who live in this hell try to pretend out of existence.

[i] The difference between a regular and a mobeus loop is instructive here. Take a long strip of paper and join the two ends. This loop has two surfaces and two edges; the inside communicates only with the inside; the outside with the outside. Now give one end of the strip a half turn (the ‘therefore’ of the Phil. 2,5-11 text) and put the ends together again. This is a mobeus loop that has one surface and one edge (and should be imagined as spinning very fast) in which the inside communicates with the outside, or, rather, there is no ‘inside’ or ‘outside’.
[ii] From an unpublished sermon. 
[iii] ‘The Apophatic Image’, p. 53.
[iv] Julian’s anxiety about sin and judgement are a barrier to ‘onyng’, and her metanoia is to turn truly away from this self-conscious distraction into the true beholding.  See especially chapter 29 of the Long Text.
[v] A few of the implications of this model, to name but a few: 
(a) bracketing gender arguments, the superficial, self-defeating if not pathological character of the monarchical model of God;
(b) the primacy of the kenotic model of God.  This would mean that the human tragedy assumed by Christ is precisely that of self-consciousness (symbolized by the fig-leaf clothes in the myth of the Fall) and its redemption is returning and reintegrating it in the stream of outpouring love.  In other words, Jesus shows us what to do with self-consciousness:  give it away.  And it is significant that salvation is signified by a return to shameless nakedness, e.g., Ephrem’s “robe of glory”, i.e., clad only in glory.
(c) the significant correlations between the kenotic model of God, psychological health, and the process of prayer that leads to union.  If this is correct, then perhaps discussions of doctrine, ecclesiology, hermenutics, exegesis can find a common new beginning.
[vi]  I am grateful to Robert Dodaro for his discussion of this point.  See his ‘Sacramentum Christi: Augustine on the Christology of Pelegius’, Studia Patristica, forthcoming.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

XIII Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model

To model the permutations of self-consciousness it is necessary to bracket the continuum metaphor and think of layers:  the outer surface is ordinary distraction.  The next layer might be called concentration, the first gathering of the distractions and noise of the surface into some sort of attentive focus in which the person first becomes aware of the silence.  As concentration and focus increase, self-consciousness in its simple sense begins to fade, although it may continue to try to intrude at every moment.  This relinquishing of self-consciousness (which masks as self-consciousness holding onto the person) is difficult because initially it seems too much like death.  The process of focus on the single point is both active and passive:  it is actively attentive to the gathering point, and it is passive in its relinquishing of whatever is not the point of focus, and in its receptivity to silence.[i]
As the gentle effort to focus persists, the person both follows and is carried by the point of focus towards the centre.[ii]  The region of liminality is entered, a consciousness that is content to be without content.  Between this region and the centre are phenomena, the so-called paranormal (this word belittles incarnation).  Here lie visions, locutions and, if the warnings about phenomena go unheeded, madness.  For many creative people, it is in this liminal area that creativity emerges from silence to find its way into the world of sense and time through their bodies as musical notes, art, or words put onto paper.
On this turning point of the paradox of intention, ignoring everything that may occur, that is, letting go the last vestige of spiritual materialism,[iii] returning to the point of focus as necessary, the person waits without expectation or conscious hope.  In the paradox of intention, desire and hope are still present, but out of sight, gathered and integrated with the rest of consciousness around the point of focus.  Desire is so great that desire is given up.[iv]
It is at this point that a text such as the kenotic hymn in Phil. 2:5-7 takes on particular significance.  The turning point is the ‘therefore’ in meditation, corresponding to the textual nadir which paradoxically is also its apogee.  Thus the paradox of vulnerability and power.  The parabola  -- equality with God, abasement, exaltation -- is only textual, not theological, because divinity is humility and humility is divinity, and the ‘therefore’ is not ‘it was axiomatic’ but rather ‘it was because of this’,[v] in other words, a gift. 
      The suspension of self-consciousness at the centre of the sphere relinquishes all claims to and therefore all control over experience.  There are only two other events in life that mirror this suspension of self-consciousness, and only one of these has exact correlation:  they are orgasm and death.[vi]  Thus the effect of the suspension of self-consciousness is the perfect love that casts out fear (I John 4:18), most especially the fear of death (for the fear of death is self-conscious fear of the loss of self-consciousness), and in this freedom from self-consciousness and fear, the person is no longer subject to death, because death in the form of the loss of self-consciousness has been revealed as the source of deepest life.

[i] Another way to imagine this is to think of intentionality as a ship moving through the sea that turns aside all that is not itself.
[ii] Boethius, De Cons. III, 9.
[iii] The phase is Chogyam Trungpa’s in his eponymous book, Boulder: Shambala, 19.
[iv] Or in the famous words of Staretz Silouan, ‘Keep your mind in hell and despair not.’  See ‘Purification by Atheism’, by Olivier Clément, in Orthodoxy and the Death of God, ed. A.M. Allchin, Supplements to Sobornost, #1, 1971,p. 243.
[v] Julian’s most frequent preposition is ‘for’ or some variant of ‘therefore’.
[vi] Thus one aspect of the profound relationship between sex and death in the human psyche.  This relationship has intriguing implications for reading ancient texts, for example, the Anglo-Saxon poem, “The Seafarer”.  It is possible that the poem is a parable of meditation, or even an account of the thoughts that come during meditation that are gathered as the poet embarks on the waelweg  in line 64, the way of the slain, not the emendation of hwaelweg, the way of the whales, which ‘way of the whales’ does make sense in line 60.  As Vincent Gillespie has pointed out, line 64 is the turning point, the still centre around which the poem turns.  The relationship of sex and death to apophasis is not irrelevant here, either. [2012 The poet Richard Crashaw comes to mind, with his use of the word 'die' in the poem beginning 'Lord, when the sense of thy sweet grace....'].

Saturday, July 07, 2012

XII Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model...

A Thought Experiment

I would like now to use these notions of multidimensionality, paradox as descriptor, the paradox of intention, self-consciousness and its subversion, the paradox of vulnerability and power and the exegesis of silence to construct a simple model that not only facilitates thinking about these abstractions, but also may reveal why, bracketing gender arguments about god-language, certain models of God are more useful and more mature than others, particularly given the movement of kenotic reciprocity.  Before proceeding, however, I want to emphasize that even though this model employs psychological phenomena such as self-consciousness and the paradox of intention, it is only a thought experiment, a heuristic paradigm, a hermeneutical tool, a metaphor, no more, no less.  It is a suggestive model for seeking coordinates in the ineffable.
The ancient saying, ‘God is a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference nowhere’ provides the metaphorical framework for the model.[i]  In a classic example of an apophatic image, the circle is introduced and immediately effaced by its geometric paradoxes.  The mind is brought to stillness, caught between the familiar and the fathomless.[ii]
There is a similar figure in two passages in 2 Esdras (4 Ezra):  ‘He said, “I shall compare my judgement to a circle: the latest will not be too late, nor the earliest too early...and all will see my judgement at the same moment”’ (5:42 and 6:20, REB).  In other words, God is at the center of a circle and the circumference of this circle is time.  There is no beginning to time, from God’s perspective, and what appear to be moments are one moment for God. 
Setting this context of judgement aside for a moment, the circle can also be a model for the human person entering silence.  The traveler seeking to enter silence begins at the circumference and journeys towards the centre, which represents complete silence.  The same model can be applied to a creature in a wild landscape, stopping to listen to discern appropriate behaviour.  In this case, the centre of the circle represents the creature tapping into a metaphorical synapse in the biosphere.   In other words, God, the creation and the human person all can be modeled using the same figure, sharing a common centre which is unknowability, or otherness.
Now imagine that the circle is a sphere. The traveller into silence is on the surface of the sphere and moves through it to the centre, and as the centre is approached, it is helpful to imagine  moving through the centre of a very fat doughnut, because as the traveler reaches the other side of the doughnut hole, the surrounding surfaces recurve back and away.  It is as if the circle appears to turn itself inside out, and the image, revealing itself as illusory, effaces itself.  This shift in perspective is crucial.[iii]  Should the traveler, having arrived at the centre that is every where, turn around, there would be no ‘where’ to return to.  The centre of silence is every where precisely because God is not an object, not a locus, and theology falters when it retreats into a regressive object-model of God.[iv]
In this model, the traveler arriving at the centre is in kenotic reciprocity with God and the creation through the mind of Christ, that is, the self-outpouring humility of God whose centre is every where.  This centre in Julian of Norwich’s Long Text, for example, is the fulness of ‘beholding’, the place of onyng, the entry into God’s poynte, which previously was perceived only from the outside.  Both perspectives are meant to be held at once, for at the centre the divine gift is given for the sake of the world in time.  It is the poynte or synapse of interconnection through which is given that breath which sustains everything that is continually being created, and in that centre the seeker is thrust outward and every where and in this onyng is in communion with everything that exists.[v]  The centre of the sphere is thus in constant communication with its illusory surface -- a convenient way to think of this is the continuum of space-time, which is always in communication with itself.*  In the centre is the truth of the self, the freedom for the self to be only its own uniqueness, where it receives its ‘substance’, its likeness to God.[vi]
           If this model is now applied to human consciousness, self-consciousness is the surface of the sphere and its complete suspension occurs at the centre.  Because of the interplay of cataphatic and apophatic, it is crucial to understand the communication that occurs between the centre and the surface at levels beneath the discursive that occasionally irrupt into the discursive.  For the purposes of this thought-experiment, the simplest means of travel from surface to centre is one-pointed meditation, although this ‘travel’ is an illusion as the centre is every where and the surface is no where.

[i] This saying is frequently quoted by writers over the centuries, including Bonaventure in the Intinerarium, and Chaucer, somewhat scatalogically, in “The Summoner’s Tale”, 2254 f.  According to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, is ‘said to have been traced to a lost treatise of Empedocles.’ [2012] The formula first appears in the Corpus Hermeticum in the third century. It can be inferred from Empedocles fragment 169 on love and unity. See I. This formula is usually an indicator that the author has the two epistemologies model in mind.
[ii] ‘The Apophatic Image’, op. cit.
[iii] The Tibetan mandala of time has a pyramidal shape and the apex of the pyramid appears to reverse perspective.  A similar figure is the double-funnel model of black hole-singularity-white hole used by some speculative astrophysicists.  See Fountain, p.212.
[iv] For a discussion of God as a transitional object destructive to intentionality, see ‘Sexuality’, op. cit.  Another way to imagine this is to think of an infinitely long sock being turned inside out:  as one hand (representing the present) reaches for the unreachable toe (representing the centre that is every where), the other hand (representing the past) pulls the cuff of the sock forward so that at some point when the hand holding the cuff passes beyond the hand reaching inside, the past precedes the present.  See Augustine, De Trinitate, II.
[v] The famous Rublev icon of the Trinity may possibly be an attempt to illustrate the centre of the circle: creation (the meal at the centre of the table) is enfolded (see note 3) by the Trinity.
* [2012] Two fermions cannot be in the same quantum state simultaneously no matter how far apart. (quantum entanglement, Bell's inequality). [This is a quotation from memory; I might have the details wrong. The point is that everything in the universe is connected in ways we don't understand. See, which relates more to chemistry than physics. With thanks to John Parkin.] 
[vi] ‘What is essential is invisible to the eye.’ The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, London: Piccolo, 1974, p. 70.  The notion of ‘substance’ is another paradox for the modern person because what is substantial is what is not seen. This word is somewhat static;  it needs to be kept in mind that the ‘substance’ is the dynamic, kenotic outpouring of love. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

XI Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model...

The suspension of self-consciousness occurs many times each day in the course of ordinary life.  But precisely because it is the suspension of self-consciousness, the occurrence usually goes unnoticed. Occasionally, however, the attentive person may glimpse, as the New Yorker writer and Isaac of Nineveh describe, that this phenomenon has taken place, and the vast implications of the imperceptible release into complete silence and its immense freedom may gradually or suddenly become evident.  One of these implications is the recognition that self-consciousness, in the simple sense I am using it, can exercise a ruthless tyranny, particularly in its Freudian role as the voice of the super-ego, which claims presumptuous[i] knowledge of the truth of the deepest self. That is to say, the super-ego forces the subject to look outward to compare and judge, instead of inward towards single-heartedness that is self-forgetful. The super-ego claims knowledge that is unavailable to it, and the right to judge absolutely.
Self-consciousness is particularly noticeable and intrusive in the practice of one-pointed meditation, and anyone who has experienced this sort of distraction knows how frustrating it can be for the beginner even to the point of anger. The language for expressing the phenomena of self-consciousness may be modern, but the experience is universal, and it is important in re-reading texts to be aware that these distinctions and the laws by which they operate are at work whether or not the person is engaged in a formal spiritual praxis such as meditation. 
        Such re-reading raises questions about the intention of the seeking self and the distraction from this intentional self by the voice of self-consciousness, an important and neglected aspect of texts such as the Pauline epistles; or Isaac’s careful distinction of ‘the world' meaning the exploitive, reflexive and imprisoning appetites, from the creation which he regards as holy, and again from the ‘world to come’ which is not teleological but the interior kingdom, the transfigured perception, into which the soul is born;  or Julian’s ‘inward and outward’.  So fundamental is the role of self-consciousness and its play with silence that writers who appear to be only subliminally aware of the role of self-consciousness are still able to write texts that perform their content and deliver the reader to silence.

[i] In its most forceful meaning of an imposed and arrogant ignorance. 
     [2012]The language of 'inward' and 'outward' can be confusing. The 'outward' of the so-called super-ego is a counterfeit of the 'outward' of beholding and self-forgetfulness; the 'inward' of narcissism is the counterfeit of the 'inward of single-heartedness (which is both an opening and an effect of beholding).