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. 


Anonymous Henry Burke said...

Very lovely!

2:37 pm, July 07, 2012  
Blogger Joel said...

I remember one time at the Ranch during a youth conference ( you were there) Margaret and Billy Pierce asked Kim Myers about the Circle and "God," and the Bishop asked in reply, "what circle?" talk about apo photic prayer! He changed so many lives with that one. KEEP WRITING AND PRAYING, And come see us.

5:12 pm, July 10, 2012  
Blogger Joel said...

I remember one time at the Ranch during a youth conference ( you were there) Margaret and Billy Pierce asked Kim Myers about the Circle and "God," and the Bishop asked in reply, "what circle?" talk about apo photic prayer! He changed so many lives with that one. KEEP WRITING AND PRAYING, And come see us.

6:57 pm, July 10, 2012  

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