Sunday, September 23, 2012

XII Manchester Talk May 31, 2012


Gerson, for example, understood annihilation as the suspension of self-consciousness, or excessus mentis as it is referred to in many medieval texts. If there is excessus there can be no mentis, no experience, no interpretation or classification; thus the logical absurdity of the visionary's claim. The suspension of self-consciousness can be known only by its effects, in retrospect, for example, by the realisation that time has passed unawares, or by the unexpected return of the lost word to the tip of the tongue. Experience can refer only to the interpretation of these effects; or, at the most, an oblique perception of the event horizon where self-consciousness disappeared. In terms of the diagram, what a contemplative might name the activity of the Spirit, represented on the right side (deep mind), is not and cannot be experience because it is hidden in the part of the mind that is not directly available to self-consciousness, but that can only be influenced by self-consciousness—hence the importance of intention. The Spirit's activities in the deep mind rather irrupt into the liminal as effects, sometimes life-changing effects, where they are then interpreted by the self-conscious, conceptual mind, as experience.
The misunderstanding by modern scholars of Gerson's famous definition of mystical theology is an example of how texts are adversely affected when a Cartesian methodology is applied to a text that is developed on the assumption of two epistemologies, when there is no theoretical or practical knowledge of the dynamics of the work of silence. For example, one scholar translates it in this way: 'Mystical theology is an experiential [in the modern sense] knowledge of God that comes through the embrace of unitive love'.[1] What here has been translated as experiential should in fact be experimental, which is in any event closer to the Latin (theologia mystica est cognitio experimentalis habita de deo per amoris unitivi complexum (emphasis mine)).
Modern interpreters have a tendency to seize upon and isolate the first half of the definition—when it is in fact the second and consequent phase of the process Gerson is describing. His definition has three parts. First there is the engagement with divine love, which is apophatic; then there is experimental knowledge, which is interpretation in retrospect of the traces, the effects, which the apophatic engagement leaves. And finally, entailed in Gerson's definition—as the Cloud-author and others note—is the relinquishing all claims to experience.


[1] Mystics, p. 5.

3 Comments:

Blogger Frederick Morris said...

Maggie Ross,
Surely someone has shared with you the TED talk by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, "intellectual, neuro-anatomist" who, in describing her own stroke, distinguishes the "two epistemologies" very effectively. If no one has shared this with you, here is the link:
http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html
Enjoy.
Fred Morris

5:00 pm, September 25, 2012  
Blogger Laura said...

Dear Maggie Ross,

First, thank you for all you do. I discovered your writing recently through reading Martin Laird's books on contemplation. As one brought up without religion, never baptized, and today, as an adult, new to Christianity and currently attending an Anglo-Catholic Episcopal church, I've found your book "Pillar of Fire" a continuing source of comfort and inspiration.

My question relates to "seeking into the Beholding" (as you describe it) whilst simultaneously studying (for the first time) the Old and New Testament.

First: is there a particular bible translation whose words, in your view, best embody the "dynamic work of silence" and allow it to shine through? I recall in an earlier post you mentioned that a new translation of the bible was badly needed. This started me wondering if it would be more useful (from a “Right Side" of your "Two Epistemologies" chart perspective) to first learn Hebrew and ancient Greek, so as to go straight to the “originals” (so-called) - rather than starting with the NRSV, for example. There is fear of having the Truth, the Light and the Way tainted by worldly “Left Side” thinking, "bad" translations not rooted in silent beholding etc.
and not realizing it.

Second, how to balance the deep yearning to radically let go of “self” (esp. self will) with the personal desire to acquire more knowledge (i.e., "spiritual knowledge")? The underlying fear, again, is to be caught in a never-ending trap of letting go followed by an immediate re-accumulation, of constant spinning that gets one exactly nowhere.

I would be most grateful for any tips, suggestions, and/or advice. Thank you so much. Laura

3:39 am, September 27, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Dear Laura,

Thanks for your comment and kind words.

I'm afraid there isn't a good bible translation that incorporates the things you mention. And alas, I don't know of one that's in process.

Of course it's wonderful if you can learn Hebrew and Greek. Short of that, there are some interlinear translations of the bible, and I find the site 'Great Treasures' extremely useful for Greek as it gives analyses and so forth; you can call up a number of versions in both English and Greek and the /Wescott-Holt version is colour-coded and if you click on a word it will give you both a simple and a deeper analysis. Alas, I've never figured out how to do Hebrew on it.

There really isn't any conflict between the yearning for self-forgetfulness (which is rather different to 'letting go' of self and acquiring knowledge. In fact, deep study makes you self-forgetful. Self-forgetfulness cannot be willed: it comes through immersion in whatever is in front of you. What is most important is intention and the practice of turning away from the noise and 'reaching' into the dark for silence (just a metaphor, but you see what I mean). One-pointed meditation can help but there's so much razzmatazz and flimflam surrounding it now that it's often counter productive.

What is most effective is to find something that is totally absorbing....

Blessings

10:32 pm, September 27, 2012  

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