Saturday, May 25, 2013
Rossian Spiral/Model of Apophatic Knowing (must be read along with the original diagram – July 23, 2012)
“...a spiral is a figure that retains its shape (i. e. , its proportions) as it grows in one dimension by addition at the open end. You see, there are no truly static spirals.” Gregory Bateson (italics original)
Nature has a way of conveying its wisdom that life comes with arcs and spirals - the protruding bellies of pregnant women; the house and shape of the human brain; the bodies of dolphins or the bark and trunks of trees. Human ingenuity is only beginning to acknowledge the healing power of spirals and arcs applied for example to the circular structure of cyclotron and gantry used in proton therapy. Common wisdom tells us how people abhor being 'boxed-in,' how linear structures are rather more suffocating compared with those that tend to 'encompass' like old cathedrals or caves of solitude, silence and transfiguration.
The basic assumption of the Rossian spiral/model of apophatic knowing is that human being and doing is ordained towards theosis or transfiguration and that there is an incarnational means, context and language that facilitate “knowledge” of the way to this telos of transfiguration. They are incarnational for two reasons: the means, context, and language are available to everyone; and second, because transfiguration can happen though more imperceptibly and incrementally within a person's lifetime. The means and context towards transfiguration and its expression in human language (could be deprived, vapid, narcissistic, self-destructive also) is beholding.
The original diagram [posted Monday, July 23, 2012] shows that 'human knowing' tends to traverse between two 'hemispheres' – the left and the right hemispheres. The two hemispheres could be both metaphorical in one sense, or literal in another in reference to the hemispheres of the human brain. In apophatic knowing, the line dividing the metaphorical and the literal is blurred. The contemplative mind is mediated by the physicality of the human brain. But it is also, in the tradition of Bateson and Bringhurst, “a reflection of large parts and many parts of the natural world outside the thinker”. In-between the two hemispheres is the area of liminality, the area that is most marketed as the 'contemplative experience'. The left hemisphere could mean the hemisphere of differences and distinctions whereas the right hemisphere could mean the hemisphere of the immeasurable density and spaciousness of the divine vision of the goodness of creation, of the human heart. The diagram however shows that the area of liminality is simply the area of waiting, or the intent to wait in silence, or the willingness to be handed over to silence, to be attentive to the silence that is more spacious than the linguistic expressions in the left hemisphere. The present impasse regarding contemplative practice is how liminality is marketed as the contemplative prayer when the deeper truth that the model advances is that contemplative prayer is way beyond human consciousness and more silent than one's intent to wait. Contemplative prayer is floating in the sea of silence where self-consciousness on how to float is suspended. After the float, there is no way talking, analysing, or interpreting what happen during the actual floating. One can only float in the absence of the conscious effort to float. To float is to let go of the initial intention and desire to float. The right hemisphere is the sea of silence, the context of beholding. But this sea of silence is not something external. It is inherent in creation, in every person. The practice of silence then becomes the means of beholding, of entering into the infinite context and space of silence. The gift of beholding is transfigured perception, growth in the 'mind of Christ,' the re-ordering or purification of human desires by the Spirit that Paul alluded to in Galatians 5:22-26.
The image of the spiral above is meant to aid in understanding the Rossian diagram. The green fine dashes represent the content of the left hemisphere. The open end of every dash represents the point of liminality, the doorway to surrender in silence. The space in-between every dash is the continuous space of silence in the practice of beholding. The context of the beholding is the white background of the whole spiral. But the spaces of silence in-between the language of the left hemisphere could become the means also towards outward growth or kenosis in prayer and compassion in fulfillment of the two greatest commandments. The spiral looks like it has a point of beginning. It doesn't have a beginning. The context is the Spirit's playground, the space “more than one can imagine or ask for.” Be-ginning here is original, infinite self-outpouring that pervades every nook and cranny of creation (Keller). Hence, the beginning of the spiral could be anywhere else in the beholding of creation that is the recipient of divine self-outpouring, the divine activity human consciousness, if humble enough, has no sense of its trajectory. The spiral has no Newtonian neatness but is rather projective of some quantum movement of digressions, seemingly Sisiphyian monotony of “sitting in one's cell” over and over, of going back always to where one has started, detours, ennui, confusions, woundedness, of human shortness in beholding – human predicaments that could cyclically give birth to the necessity of beholding because beholding brings hope for a transfigured world in the here-and-now.
Friday, May 24, 2013
Al Mozol's Index To This Blog
Monday, May 20, 2013
Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model
There have been a number of requests for a pdf of this article that Al recently mentioned. It was posted—somewhere—on this blog, but if you would like to have a copy please send a comment with DO NOT POST at the top and giving your email.
NB A slightly updated version posted on this blog begins in May, 2012.
NB A slightly updated version posted on this blog begins in May, 2012.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
That was the word used by the BBC weather forecaster on a prime time news and weather broadcast about our 'spring' day yesterday. Torrential rain, bone-aching temperatures, and death to any small tomato plant that doesn't have a really sturdy stem. Which means I lost about five. I have enough left, if it will only dry out, but still, it's depressing, and more rain is forecast for the weekend. We have had six—count 'em—six cold, wet summers in a row. This morning we received the happy news that the jet stream is 2000 miles south of where it should be at this time of year.
Last summer even the professional gardeners on TV were happy to harvest courgettes that were only five inches long. Everything I harvested—squashes, tomatoes, beans—tasted watery. The tomatoes got blight so almost no-one had any in their gardens; I managed a few because a) I sprayed with a copper solution designed for veggies and b) I picked them green and brought them inside. I've put all the tomatoes in pots this year, because it takes a year for the blight to get out of the ground.
Amid the gloomy weather, which is all too uncomfortably reminiscent of the violent change in Juneau's weather that began about fifteen years ago, comes the catastrophic—yet somehow grimly appropriate—news that CO2 levels have now reached the 400 ppm mark. Those levels haven't occurred for 4.5 million years, and happened in a world geographically very, very different to ours—not to mention that there weren't any humans.
Someone has just woken up to the fact that the Thames Barrier will need heightening if London is not to be flooded . . . where have these people been all these years? And do they really think that they can get through the political process to raise it before the floods come? Don't they realise that with this much CO2 in the atmosphere that they can't build a barrier high enough to keep London from flooding? Not to mention New York City and dozens of other megalopolises. Haven't they been reading about whole villages in other countries that have had to be moved, or islands evacuated, because of rising seas? [www.guardian.co.uk/environment/interactive/2013/may/15/newtok-safer-ground-villagers-nervous] About vanishing Arctic sea-ice? About India of all countries, gaining observer status at the circumpolar council?
And here I worry about a few tomato plants. But I did grow them from seed, so they were lives I felt responsible for; and their loss is perhaps a harbinger that not too many years hence we won't be able to grow tomatoes outside at all [Harbinger is one of the varieties I lost]. French viticulturists are looking to the UK to grow wine grapes because some of France's premier wine terroirs will soon be too hot to grow premium varieties. But no grape can survive the soggy, frigid, gale-battered summers we have had recently. Last year's harvest was a write-off for many UK vineyards.
This is only the beginning, and the effects are beginning to cascade. If we think the weather has been weird in the last few years—snow today in parts of the UK, a midwest-style tornado in northern Italy a few days ago—just wait until the chaos really takes hold.
It is already too late to avoid some of the devastating consequences of famine and displacement. What is it going to require to wake people up?
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Sorrow and Courage
Today happens to be the Feast of Julian of Norwich, observed in some churches. There is a lot of facile rubbish in circulation about Julian. We need to remember that it is only by 'seking to the beholding' through weal and woe that we come to the knowledge that 'all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.'
In one of those strange coincidences it is also VE Day here in the UK and all over Europe. Appropriately, the BBC is broadcasting Benjamin Britten's War Requiem this afternoon. It's a work that usually engages (no other word for it; it's not something you can listen to with any detachment) me on Good Friday, but this year, for me, Good Friday took a different form.
VE Day is now overshadowed by Remembrance Sunday in November, but consciousness of geographical vulnerability and contingency, and the fragile nature of peace, are never far from the surface in the UK—two key elements, in my view, that make British culture at its best what it is.
But today I also want to focus on a battle, on victories and on beholding of a different sort. I don't think George Swanson would mind at all if I called him one of God's Holy Fools. It's been a privilege of mine to have known him since he was a curate in Menlo Park, California, back in the sixties. To try to summarize the life of this extraordinary man is simply beyond my capacity or, perhaps, anyone's. You can find out something about him at www.katrinasdream.org, but that does not begin to express the measure of this person who has spent his life in the cause of justice issues, within and without the institutional church.
In the past few years, George has suffered a number of hard blows from fate—beyond the lingering death of his first wife, who was an example of courage in her own right. First, his Significant Other (and a former schoolmate of mine) discovered that she had cancer of the jaw. Having successfully seen her through treatment and reconstructive surgery, George himself discovered he had stage 4 melanoma—even as, in his most recent burst of creative energy, he was struggling to mount an opera that describes the torture of inmates in US prisons.
Then, over this past weekend, George received the news that his son had died in a diving accident in San Francisco Bay—William was a professional diver. This is what George wrote:
"The police just notified me that my son, William Gaines Swanson. was found in the bay where he worked as a diver.
"If William had lived today he would have been feeding the poor at a shabby park in wealthy Sausalito. He and his wife Helene led simple Agape meals for the retired law-skirting sailors who live on beat up tubs —"Anchor outs" they are derisively called, because they can not afford to rent slips, Helene told me she will be there at 11 am to start the Agape.
"William and Helene went to India at Christmas and founded 'Katrina's Dream India' where Magda Kamble, a woman priest of the Church of North India will travel in a van across the country teaching in various Indian dioceses that men should not rape and kill women and girls but rather respect and treat them as Jesus wants us to treat others and be treated ourselves.
"At the last Lambeth Mother Magda Kamble was the Archbishop's chosen teacher of Biblical Prayer, if I remember correctly.
"May I request that somewhere in the public intention . . . William's journey home may be commemorated?
"With much love and vast gratitude to the giver of life while tears continue to come, George."