The Space Between

 

My journalistic investigation of the way scientists attempt to investigate the phenomenon of ghosts led me nowhere.  My article became a cover story and even inspired an episode or two of the television series “Unsolved Mysteries.” But the mystery of my own experience remained untouched by the whole adventure, like a stone glinting up from the bottom of stream.   The researchers I asked told me what I already knew—that it was most unusual to be addressed in such a way by a ghost.  To be seen.

One day, there came a hint.  I visited Karlis Osis at the American Society for Psychical Research, in an old brownstone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (where Dan Ackroyd did much of his research for the movie “Ghost Busters.”)   Born in Riga, Latvia in 1917, Osis is one of the first psychologists to receive a doctorate degree with a thesis that dealt with ESP, from the University of Munich, in 1950.  Tall and ascetic looking, with a soft voice and a Latvian accent that made his words sound like spooky echoes rolling out of a cave, Osis told me that spending his youth surrounded by the devastation of World War I helped him develop “a taste of the mysterious and sublime.”

And there was this:  As an adolescent lying in bed with tuberculosis, Osis suddenly saw his room fill with a “joyful white light.”  He later learned that at precisely that moment, his aunt had died.   Osis went on to conduct ESP research at the parapsychology laboratory at Duke University, as a colleague of one of the famous figures of parapsychology, Dr. J. B. Rhine.  But Osis never forgot that experience and he began to feel sure that the great discoveries were to be found in the experiences themselves, not merely by research in the lab.

Osis left the lab to conduct a major survey of the deathbed observations of physicians and nurses in India and the United States, which resulted in a book he co-authored, At the Hour of Death.   It also turned up a smattering of evidence for the reality of ghosts.  Osis called them “transit disasters,”  Near Death Experiences in which there is no joyous burst of light that seem bound for somewhere, but “exceedingly self-centered individuals cruise in a void with no one to meet, instruct, or rescue them.”

This was not my Elizabeth.  I was certain of the reality of my experience—and yet I also came away siding with the skeptics.  As Ray Hyman, professor of psychology at the University of Oregon explained to me, even the most rigorous of these investigations “are historical investigations, not true scientific investigations at all.”   It all comes down to testimony, stories.  No researcher has ever been able to capture a ghost by way of an experiment that could be repeated in a lab.  I came away from my ghost investigation knowing that I was on my own—left to discover the meaning of what to others could only be a story.

“Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in Walden.

There are times in life, usually after a significant ending–college or a job or a marriage or the life of a loved one, when we really realize where we are—when we shocked into realizing the depth and mystery of our experience.  This often comes at the moment when we feel lost in a dark wood, off the path, our connection to the divine cut off.  When all of the exits are blocked,  you have no choice but to go inward, to leave your head entirely and sink down into your own experience, into the body.  There we may discover our roots–“the infinite extent of our relations,”  the depth and fineness of our capacity to just be here, alive on the earth.

In the end, spiritual work is about being willing to be naked and vulnerable, about letting go of the armor of answers to live to be open and defenseless (I once heard that the word “lost” came from a Norse word that means to disband an army).   Real spiritual work depends on an awareness that can embrace contradiction and brokenness—that can bear not knowing, being in between.

The Buddha called the path he found the middle way (majjhima patipada) because it steers clear of two extremes.  One extreme is totally going for it, totally indulging every sense pleasures.   The other way is total denial, painful self-mortification.  The usual explanation of this way between extremes is that body needs to be healthy and in balance to undertake the cultivation of awareness.  But it can also be taken to mean being willing to be in the space between certainties.

“We are not ‘everything,’ but neither are we ‘nothing,’” write Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham in The Spirituality of Imperfection. “Spirituality is discovered in that space between paradox’s extremes, for there we confront our helplessness and powerlessness, our woundedness. In seeking to understand our limitations, we seek not only an easing of our pain but an understanding of what it means to hurt and what it means to be healed. Spirituality begins with the acceptance that our fractured being, our imperfection, simply is: There is no one to ‘blame’ for our errors — neither ourselves nor anyone nor anything else. Spirituality helps us first to see, and then to understand, and eventually to accept the imperfection that lies at the very core of our human be-ing. Spirituality accepts that ‘If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.’

Very slowly, it dawned on me that I could learn to be with my experience just as it is, in all its weirdness and imperfection.  If I could learn to be in my experience—to really inhabit the experience of being in this body– its meaning might slowly open over time like a story or a myth.

“Read the myths,” said Joseph Campbell once said in an interview with Bill Moyers. “They teach you that you can turn inward, and you begin to get the message of the symbols. Read other people’s myths, not those of your own religion, because you tend to interpret your own religion in terms of facts – but if you read the other ones, you begin to get the message. Myth helps you to put your mind in touch with this experience of being alive. It tells you what it is. “

Comments

  1. Hi Tracy

    There we may discover our roots–“the infinite extent of our relations,” the depth and fineness of our capacity to just be here, alive on the earth.
    ******************

    I call this dog consciousness. Any self respecting golden retriever experiences this life on earth to its fullest and without thought getting in the way.

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    • And it’s also related to what your esteemed S.W. means by roots–all the deep wordless ways we are connected to the earth and fed. I remember reading that Julia Child told people if they wanted to experience eternity to have dinner with family and friends. I know what she means.

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  2. Thanks again Tracy for a very thoughtful piece.

    It makes me wonder about the nature of consciousness and its impact on what we may experience alone or together, our awareness in the moment on the internal and external, our sense of self and others.

    Consciousness is the quality or state of being aware of an external object or something within oneself.

    It makes me wonder if there is a difference between the soul and consciouness, a consciousness that lives on, goes beyond, and how we feel this within our bodies even now, in life.

    Perhaps it just a matter of vocabulary, soul, psyche, consciousness.

    What is the body without consciousness? What happens to consciousness without a body?

    What is an OBE for instance, or vivid dreams even are particularly lucid and real? What ties us to the body?

    This last statement of yours hit home as well.

    “Very slowly, it dawned on me that I could learn to be with my experience just as it is, in all its weirdness and imperfection. If I could learn to be in my experience—to really inhabit the experience of being in this body– its meaning might slowly open over time like a story or a myth.”

    Life is very much like this, we are writing our own story, our own myth, finding meaning within this life. And the story will continue you know, into the next life or afterlife. It goes with us, it follows us, into the unknown I think.

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    • Thanks for this, Ron. What is consciousness is a huge question. I am inclined to believe that it takes on the quality of the vessel that receives it–that there can be squirrel consciousness. Also, within my own being, it can have different qualities, different aims–the heart, the mind. Does it need the body? Does it have an ultimate aim and purpose? As Barb commented, it may be love.

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  3. Tracy,
    Thankyou again for sharing your experience and thoughts. I love the book, “the Spirituality of Imperfection” !
    Again you hit on the Coincidence of Opposties in , “Spirituality is discovered in that space between paradox’s extremes….”
    As you said in a previous post, we do live in mystery, and that is what helps to make it so awesome!…Along with the fellowship of all those we meet on this road who are dedicated to the Truth, and to helping others when we can.
    I think Elizabeth is a shining (pardon the pun) messenger of how precious our life, and of course,our body is! But it was your experience and you are the only one who can give meaning to it.
    Ron, “All of Life is a Story”. That was my theme in my fourth grade writing class, and I use to tell my students that what is so great about writing is that we help to create it,through our writing. Thanks for reminding me. :)

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    • Thanks, Elizabeth. I would like to know what the “Coincidence of Opposites” is again. I know you have written of it before and that it is very meaningful for you. Peace, Tracy

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  4. It seems that we are more than consciousness, a new story in the making, being written each day, consciousness is what makes the world.

    It all turns on a single thought, even that one thought controls a world of endless possibilities in one continuous stream of consciousness that is ever changing and evolving.

    This is who we are, both alone and together, moving towards the unknown.

    Betty, I too, would like to know more about the “Coincidence of Opposites.”

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  5. Ron

    “Life is very much like this, we are writing our own story, our own myth, finding meaning within this life. And the story will continue you know, into the next life or afterlife. It goes with us, it follows us, into the unknown I think.”

    Yo describe the variety and excitement of karma well. The story goes on into infinity. Sometimes it is pleasing and at other times it is horrific. That is its beauty. Karma is a continuing story containing all what we as individuals and as a whole are capable of as part of the fallen human condition.

    We are fortunate to be able to continue writing and celebrating these stories. Where would we be without them?

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  6. Nicholas of Cusa’s Philosophy

    Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) was a German cardinal, philosopher, and administrator. For many years he served as papal legate to popes Eugene IV, Nicholas V, and Pius II. In addition to leading an extremely active public life, Nicholas managed to write extensively on a wide variety of juridicial, theological, philosophical, and scientific subjects. In his philosophical writings he departed from the prevalent Aristotelian and scholastic doctrines. His first and most famous treatise, On Learned Ignorance (De docta ignorantia), is a mystical discourse on the finite and the infinite. In addition to presenting his important philosophical concepts of learned ignorance and coincidence of opposites, this seminal treatise also contains various bold astronomical and cosmological speculations that depart entirely from traditional doctrines. For example, long before Copernicus, he proposed that the earth is not at the center of the cosmos, and is not at rest. He also argued long before Kepler that the motions of the planets are not circular. These speculations, however, were not based on empirical observations but on metaphysical principles.
    Nicholas read widely in various languages and was influenced by Plato and Neoplatonic thinkers such as Plotinus and Proclus. Nicholas also drew inspiration from Dionysius and Meister Eckhart. From Anselm he took the notion of God as ultimate Maximum. From Ramon Lull he took the idea that the infinite is the joining of beginning, middle, and end. The fundamental insight that inspires Nicholas’s thought, however, comes not from his wide learning, but from a mystical illumination in 1437 during a journey home from Constantinople. This gift from God, as he describes the vision, provided him with the key that allowed him to talk about the ineffable, and provided a way of viewing opposites as coincident from the point of view of infinity. According to Nicholas, this logic of infinitude unites opposites, transcends comparison, overcomes limits of discursive reasoning, and goes beyond both positive and negative theology. The profound mystical insight at the heart of Cusa’s logic of infinitude is clearly expressed in the following passage:

    In God we must not conceive of distinction and indistinction, for example, as two contradictories, but we must conceive of them as antecedently existing in their own most simple beginning, where distinction is not other than indistinction.[2]
    An expression of this insight is Cusa’s idea of coincidence of opposites. Cusa recognized that this idea is an expression of the principle of Incarnation, wherein God’s identification with creation in Jesus coincides with God’s transcendence above all creation. In God the opposites of identity and difference coincide. Thus Nicholas does not present a merely negative theology, but a conception in which the ineffability of the Infinite coincides with its expressibility, in which creation coincides with creator, and transcendent coincides with immanent. As Nicholas writes,

    The great Dionysius says that our understanding of God draws near to nothing rather than to something. But sacred ignorance teaches me that that which seems to the intellect to be nothing is the incomprehensible Maximum.[3]
    Like Plato, he has a synthetic philosophy that comprehends and integrates opposing streams of thought. Also, Nicholas never attempts to present a consistent and self-contained system of thought. Instead, he remains open to unlimited elaborations of his seminal ideas of learned ignorance and the coincidence of opposites.

    Learned ignorance itself is a coincidence of opposites, for it teaches that the more we know our ignorance, the more we attain to true knowledge. Thus, as learned ignorance is perfected, knowledge and ignorance coincide. Using a comparison of the Infinite with the finite, Nicholas explains learned ignorance as follows:

    All those who make an investigation judge the uncertain proportionally, by means of a comparison with what is taken to be certain. Therefore, every inquiry is comparative and uses the means of comparative relation. … Hence, the infinite, qua infinite, is unknown; for it escapes all comparative relation.[4]
    It is self-evident that there is no comparative relation of the infinite to the finite. … Therefore, it is not the case that by means of likeness a finite intellect can precisely attain the truth about things. … For truth is not something more or something less but is something indivisible. Whatever is not truth cannot measure truth precisely. … For the intellect is to truth as an inscribed polygon is to the inscribing circle.[5]
    Here Nicholas introduces a mathematical analogy to explain his metaphysical ideas. Just as the definite polygon cannot measure the continuous circle, our finite minds cannot know the Infinite. All we can know of the Infinite is that we cannot know the Infinite. To the extent that we can understand the Infinite at all, Nicholas argued, we must understand it through the coincidence of opposites. For example, Nicholas taught that, in the Infinite, the circle coincides with the line. He illustrated this paradoxical statement by considering a sequence of circles of larger and larger diameters.

    As the circles increase in size, a given length of the circumference is less curved and more similar to a straight line. The infinite circle, therefore, coincides with the line. The actualization of this coincidence of opposites, however, cannot be comprehended by the rational mind. It can only be seen through mystical insight that cannot be consistently expressed in rational terms. Nicholas thus embraces in his thought the opposites of finite and Infinite, arguing for the limits of our rational understanding, while also pointing to an insight that transcends these limits.

    Nicholas believed that his doctrine of the coincidence of opposites had implications not just for theology and philosophy, but also for mathematics, physics, and other branches of learning. Boldly contradicting the cosmology of his day, Cusa argued that the cosmos is not bounded by a celestial sphere and does not have the earth, or the sun, at its center:

    Draw a circumference of a circle, making it larger and larger and you will see how it becomes a straight line.
    Hope this helps.
    i can send the link too if you wish.

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  7. Hi Tracy

    And it’s also related to what your esteemed S.W. means by roots–all the deep wordless ways we are connected to the earth and fed. I remember reading that Julia Child told people if they wanted to experience eternity to have dinner with family and friends. I know what she means.
    ****************************

    It is and this is what makes metaxu such a meaningful word. It describes what serves as a connection. The qualities of a healthy societal metaxu feed our roots which in turn opens us to receive from above. We are separate on one level and yet have a common origin at a higher level of reality we can “remember” a connection to.

    “Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall. The wall is the thing which separates them but is also their means of communication. It is the same with us and God. Every separation is a link.” Simone Weil

    Nourishing the lower parts of the soul as with a good dinner can also lead to something of a higher nature through the environment in which the diner takes place. Together they improve the quality of the wall, the metaxu that connects us prisoners in Plato’s cave.

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  8. Yes, the Paradox of Life, of living, a parabola curving back upon us, joining two distant points upon a line or plane.

    Nicholas believed that his doctrine of the coincidence of opposites had implications not just for theology and philosophy, but also for mathematics, physics, and other branches of learning. Boldly contradicting the cosmology of his day, Cusa argued that the cosmos is not bounded by a celestial sphere and does not have the earth, or the sun, at its center:

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  9. More on coincidence of opposites:
    certain philosophers, including Nicholas of Cusa, Meister Eckhardt and G.W.F. Hegel have held that presumed polarities in thought do not exclude one another but are actually necessary conditions for the assertion of their opposites. In the 20th century the physicist Neils Bohr commented that superficial truths are those whose opposites are false, but that “deep truths” are such that their opposites or apparent contradictories are true as well.[2] The psychologist Carl Jung concluded that the “Self” is a coincidentia oppositorum, and that each individual must strive to integrate opposing tendencies (anima and animus, persona and shadow)

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    • Thank you for illuminating the “Coincidence of Opposites,” Betty. It reminds me of this phrase from the Heart Sutra: “Form is emptiness and emptiness form.” It is a great mystical truth but I think we have all had flashes of it–contemplating Jesus or even in our own lives. It is when I have been most aware of my ignorance and limitation that I feel closer to knowing (or at least glimpsing) the vast, intricate Oneness of life–and glimpsing that my true Self is part of that Whole. As opposed to Ayan Rand’s inviolate individual.

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  10. Liz

    11:05pmMore on coincidence of opposites:
    certain philosophers, including Nicholas of Cusa, Meister Eckhardt and G.W.F. Hegel have held that presumed polarities in thought do not exclude one another but are actually necessary conditions for the assertion of their opposites. In the 20th century the physicist Neils Bohr commented that superficial truths are those whose opposites are false, but that “deep truths” are such that their opposites or apparent contradictories are true as well.
    ***********************

    He seems to be describing the door Simone Weil refers to when she wrote:

    “When a contradiction is impossible to resolve except by a lie, then we know that it is really a door.”
    ************************

    Gurdjieff said we are third force blind. If true we must be normally closed to the experience of the “Coincidence of Opposites” and the door it provides.

    Why the door remains shut in favor of imagination is IMO a subject for real psychology.

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  11. Someone once said (paraphrasing now) that true wisdom comes when one can hold two mutually exclusive truths about one subject and be completely comfortable with it.

    Paul and ancient rabbinical traditions often describe things in terms of contradictory opposites, especially God. Since God cannot be described, who God is lies in the middle, indescribable…

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    • A secular (or not really secular) version of this is what John Keats called “negative capability” — the capacity to have a knowing beyond catagorical knowledge.

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  12. Also was watching Charlie Rose recently as they reran his series on the brain with leading medical experts. A materialist view could be simply that consciousness is simply electric and chemical signals on a biological substrate. Remove the substrate (or when the substrate “dies”) and all electric and chemical signals halt and you are left with nothing, no consciousness. Not that I believe that to be true but…

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    • Or else, the brain (and the whole body) is like a receiver. We receive consciousness and transmit it according to our capacity, our tuning.

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  13. Hi Tracy

    Nick, can you define what you mean by the Third Force for people?
    *******************

    It is hard to do in a post since it requires becoming aware of what leads up to it. This will only be superficial.

    Matthew 13:

    16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
    ******************

    I’m only speaking for myself now but I believe Jesus was referring to being third force blind.

    Gurdjieff wrote:

    “the higher blends with the lower to actualize the middle” and thus becomes either “higher for the preceding lower, or lower for the succeeding higher”. (Beelzebub’s Tales, p.751)
    ***************

    Every phenomenon is a blend of three forces. Normally we only consider duality but the third force is what unites them

    We are accustomed to live with a dualistic perspective, yang yin, affirm deny etc. This dualistic perspective continues along the horizontal line of life connecting before and after. A middle such as luke warm water is a subjective determination connecting what we call hot and cold water.

    Consider an ascending musical scale in the context of the whole octave. Re can only be defined in relation to do and mi. Mi can only be defined in relation to re and fa and so on. What we experience as a note is actually a middle determined by lawful vibrational relationships between above and below.

    The universe including the being of Man participates in the continuing vertical processes of involution and evolution in accordance with the Law of Three explained above by Gurdjieff.

    To be third force blind is to not yet be open to to the conscious experience of this vertical direction of relative being connecting above and below explained by Gurdjieff. I believe being third force blind is the same as being in Plato’s Cave or in the “World” Jesus referred to.

    For those interested I do suggest reading Ouspnsky’s “In Search of the Miraculous” and Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson” in order to receive the full impact of the vertical direction of being as a function of third force which we are blind to but IMO opens one to the potential for objective human meaning and purpose.

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    • The third force allows us to see the “coincidence of opposites.” It is like grace descending–a force of love from a higher level that is not separate from awareness, from wisdom, from an actual particular perceptual apprehension of the divine in the midst of the ordinary…even in us.

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  14. Yes, it is where both aspects of reality become One. There is no longer a subject and an object. I agree, Tracy, we have all experieced this at one tme or another.
    I love the music analogy too.
    We are all part of the ” universe”….. One verse!

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  15. As Christianity devolved into secular society into forms of Christendom, certain sects have decided to abandon the Trinity. The idea that God is simultaneously one and three has become politically incorrect and even sometimes considered archaic. Yet for anyone open to the relativity of “being” and the complimentary universal processes of involution and evolution occurring through levels of reality, it is clear that ONE and THREE create diferent qualities of impressions for us.

    Where ONE IS outside the confines of time and space, diversity EXISTS as part of a cyclical process within time and space. ONE “IS,” THREE begins the PROCESS of creation. Existence occurs within Isness

    Without appreciating how the process works and experiencing it, it is easy to consider ourselves as ONE. As I understand it, we are not ONE but rather a plurality with the potential for unity at a higher level of reality that reconciles our plurality. We can psychologically open to the evolutionary direction of being leading to inner unity for Man. But we are what we are which is why the observer and the observed within creation must simultaneously exist as part of a process for us. Without this conscious recognition as I understand it, imagination takes its place.

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  16. Perhaps the third force is an also an action of the Holy Spirit at work within the world, opening eyes, opening hearts, unveiling, revealing, redeeming, binding together creaition seen and unseen, visible and invisible, and acting as counselor, comforter, and a healing life emerging energy that offers us a way, the way, the truth, and the light. A gift given indeed.

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  17. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and being in awe of creation (or fear of the Lord). An awareness I think of the mystery and how it touches us daily, interacts with us daily, calling out to us, even praying with and through us when we do not know how to pray and meditate deeply on our own. Buddhism speaks of similar gifts the Six Perfections of Wisdom, which are generosity, patience, virtue, joyful effort, meditation, and insightful wisdom that lead to enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.

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  18. Nick,

    I got lost in your last posting. Just some comments in response. I would say that the Trinity has not become politically incorrect or archaic. I would say that it is still a core tenet of Christianity. I would agree that in our society it has become more difficult to speak of Jesus as Divinity, as God, since our culture is now so diverse relative to 50 years ago.

    As we strive to find a way to accommodate other cultures and belief systems into the fabric of our society, Christianity and its core creeds are no longer the cultural norm, even if most Americans still profess to be Christians.

    Also, you spoke about “One”, “Exist”, and then One “is”. Existence then exists within isness. I am not clear on what you mean. An orthodox Christian (that is orthodox as classically defined – right belief) understanding of the Trinity of both one and three would never allow for existence to be in the isness of the One. Creation, including ourselves, does not exist within the “Isness” of God. We are wholly separate and God is holy “other”.

    Nick, also above you referenced Matthew 13. I believe it is very clear from the text that Jesus is speaking about the miracle of the Incarnation and what he did on his time on Earth. One has to very careful about projecting a meaning onto a text from without, this is called eisegesis – projecting onto the text what is simply not there.

    But maybe I am missing your meaning…

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  19. Scott,
    I don’t believe that anything can exist independently of God.
    God is that which has no beginning or end, therefore independent of us. However, we were made in the image and likenss of God. Does His spirit not live in us?
    What about Luke 17:21?
    I am a Catholic, but I do believe as Nicholas of Cusa did, in panentheism…different from pantheism.
    What do you think?.
    As a Catholic I was taught that if God forgot about me for even a mini second, I would cease to exist..
    I don’t claim to have all,the answers. But the above are my thoughts and beliefs.
    I also think that is why Jesus called us his brothers and sisters.

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  20. Elizabeth,

    What I was speaking of is a classical understanding of Christianity that was formed very early on in response to what came to be viewed as heretical understandings. Gnosticism was based on a belief that reality and matter were of the same substance as an inferior god called a demiurge. This gave rise to the gnostic view that the body and matter is bad.
    Moreover, there was the Platonist understanding of duality, the spiritual and the physical, again giving rise to the view that the physical is something to be transcended by the higher spiritual good, or higher forms or pure ideas.

    Classical Christianity teaches that Creation is Good (Genesis 1 and 2) in direct opposition to gnostic and platonist beliefs. I might add that traditional Judaic thought is not dualistic like Greek philosphy.

    Classical Christianity also teaches that God is wholly other. God is NOT of the same material and essence as God’s creatures. Creation is ex nihilo, that is, creation was made out of nothing. God created cosmos from something apart and different from Godself.

    Classical Christianity also posits that God exists outside of space and time. Perhaps better said, God exists outside of our space and time. That being said, the Holy Spirit does live among us and the Holy Spirit is a distinct person, having a being that is autonomous and divine.

    Do we have a divine spark in us? It depends on who you talk to. Orthodox denominations believe in divination, that is, that we can become like little Christs if we work hard at moving to saintliness. I don’t know what the classic Roman Catholic view is of a divine spark in us. Reformed Christian understanding would be that we do not have a divine spark but that we would be resurrected, like Christ, in a new spiritual body (Paul).

    Can you explain panentheism to me?

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  21. I don’t have an answer as to whether God maintains my existence through his thought. I do believe that we all exist because of God’s goodness and creative action; moreover, God could surely end me if God so chose. It’s an interesting idea that my existence is constantly enabled by God’s thought…have to ponder that one.

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    • Tthe universe and the divine are not ontologically equivalent. In panentheism, God is viewed as the eternal animating force behind the universe. Some versions suggest that the universe is nothing more than the manifest part of God. In some forms of panentheism, the cosmos exists within God, who in turn “pervades” or is “in” the cosmos. While pantheism asserts that ‘All is God’, panentheism goes further to claim that God is greater than the universe.
      Scott, I guessyou could say that “a spark of God interpenetrates all that is because without God, nothing could be.
      Thankyou for youe explanation.
      Also, whe. You fell during meditation, and felt love…that to me is the sacred love of God! What a beautiful experience, and thank you for sharing it with us.

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  22. Hi Scott

    We understand Christianity differently. The outer shell of Christianity or its devolution into secularism I call Christendom. It serves social issues such as social morality. Its concern is for what we DO.

    The Christianity that concerns me is esoteric Christianity. Its purpose is in revealing what we ARE in the context of our conscious potential or “re-birth.”

    Re-birth cannot be understood without the awareness of what Christianity calls the Great Chain of Being. It is what includes qualities of being or man’s conscious transition from the Old Man into the New Man.

    Christendom or man made Christianity concerns itself with man made interpretations. Christianity is a perennial tradition so appreciating it requires returning to the source of its ideas.

    My guess is that Panentheism (not Pantheism) will be the religion of the future. Once it includes levels of reality it will IMO open many doors for the future unity of science and religion which is what concerns me.

    Anyhow if you’d like an introduction to esoteric Christianity, feel free to read the following. It will explain why as common as Christendom is, Christianity is equally rare.

    http://www.hermes-press.com/esoteric_christianity.htm

    Also, consider St. Augustine:

    “To conclude, the great Christian theologian, Saint Augustine in his Retractiones, wrote “The very thing which is now called the Christian religion existed among the ancients also, nor was it wanting from the inception of the human race until the coming of Christ in the flesh, at which point the true religion, which was already in existence, began to be called Christian.”

    Christianity is one thing and Christendom is another. IMO it is wise to respect the difference.

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  23. Panentheism asserts that the universe is the body of God. Orage said the same but I cannot find a direct connection. But regardless the implication is that the body EXISTS within God’s ISNESS.

    Of course I can’t leave it without a bit of Simone’s insights

    “God could only create by hiding himself. Otherwise there would be nothing but himself.” — Gravity and Grace

    So according to her, God is absent. Wiki elaborates on this idea

    Absence is the key image for her metaphysics, cosmology, cosmogeny, and theodicy. She believed that God created by an act of self-delimitation—in other words, because God is conceived as a kind of utter fullness, a perfect being, no creature could exist except where God was not. Thus creation occurred only when God withdrew in part.

    This is, for Weil, an original kenosis (emptiness) preceding the corrective kenosis of Christ’s incarnation (cf. Athanasius). We are thus born in a sort of damned position not owing to original sin as such, but because to be created at all we had to be precisely what God is not, i.e., we had to be the opposite of what is holy.

    This notion of creation is a cornerstone of her theodicy, for if creation is conceived this way (as necessarily containing evil within itself), then there is no problem of the entrance of evil into a perfect world. Nor does this constitute a delimitation of God’s omnipotence, if it is not that God could not create a perfect world, but that the act which we refer towards by saying “create” in its very essence implies the impossibility of perfection.

    However, this notion of the necessity of evil does not mean that we are simply, originally, and continually doomed; on the contrary, Weil tells us that “Evil is the form which God’s mercy takes in this world.”[30] Weil believed that evil, and its consequence, affliction, served the role of driving us out of ourselves and towards God—”The extreme affliction which overtakes human beings does not create human misery, it merely reveals it.”[31]

    More specifically, affliction drives us to what Weil referred to as “decreation”—which is not death, but rather closer to “extinction” (nirvana) in the Buddhist tradition—the willed dissolution of the subjective ego in attaining realization of the true nature of the universe.
    ******************

    This is tough to swallow but I’ve come to appreciate that Jesus’ consciously inviting and experiencing this affliction which contains all that humanity is capable of delivering as the purpose of the Crucifixion.

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  24. Nick,

    I will take a look at the esoteric_christianity writing. I try to be clear when I use terms that may or may not be commonly understood. As a trained seminarian, I try to appreciate what the core tradition of Christianity is about. I respect the fact that many wise saints who have come before me have fought and lost their lives to assist in the discernment of the nature of God, creation and humanity.

    I understand Christendom to be the adoption of Christianity as the state religion beginning with Emperor Constantine, continuing through the Holy Roman Empire, and the Reformation.

    I understand Christianity to be based on the revelation of God in the Hebrew Bible continuing with the revelation of God in the incarnation of Jesus Christ as witnessed in the New Testament. I have been trained to view canonical Christian Scripture as holy and set apart from other writings. I have been trained to read scripture through the lens of the text, tradition, inspiration of the Holy Spirit and other modern critical tools that allows us to understand the meaning of the text through literary, historical, archeological and other means. When preaching or leading Bible study, I have been trained to exegete the text, that is, to discern meaning through the means noted above. I have also been trained not to apply my own subjective
    hermeneutic to the text if it contradicts the tenets of the faith. I think the third force is an interesting concept and I hope to learn more, but one should realize that it is a concept that exists out of historical and traditional Christianity. This is not meant as a criticism, just a
    matter of definition, to apply the third force to a saying of Jesus lies outside the Christian tradition.

    As far as esoteric Christianity, I am not sure what that means. I, as testified in this space, certainly embrace mystical traditions and experience as being within Christian norms. But, I also believe that those experiences must be understood within classical Christianity.

    I think it can be very dangerous to pursue a personal “Christian” faith that lies outside of tradition and the norms of the church. These norms have been developed to protect men and women from being misled by charismatic individuals to places that may be inhabited by the children of “light” but are, in reality, not.

    Because of this, I think we must be wary of idiosyncratic beliefs. These beliefs have not been “vetted” by men and women of deep faith and understanding. Systematic theology creates lines of logic AND faith that “stress test” the telos, or endpoint, of a belief.

    I am not a Buddhist, and likely will never be but there are things within that tradition that are attractive for some of the same reasons that Christianity is to me. First, Buddha was a historical figure. He is not a myth. He is of this world. The tribes of Israel and Jesus Christ are historical figures. They existed in our space and reality. Buddhist tradition has been “stress tested” by many holy men (and women?) over the centuries. Although, like Christianity, there are many streams within the great river, my guess is that there is a boundary of what is true Buddhism and what is not.

    As a Christian, I try to stay within a stream of the river of orthodox thought. I have not read this particular piece by St. Augustine but my guess is that what he is saying is akin to superlapsarianism, i.e. that the coming of Christ and God’s plan was in place from before eternity. Everything that happened before the birth of Christ pointed towards that historical event. Everything before that event were mere shadows pointing to the reality of God’s entering our reality so that we could be reconciled to God and have everlasting life.

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  25. In traditional Christianity there are two very similar concepts, Theosis and Santification. With Theosis closely aligned in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but it is also accepted in the Anglican Communion and Catholic Church. Simply stated it points towards a union we can find with the Divine, becoming Christlike, or like Christ, perhaps godlike in a very sacred contemplative way, in union with God, experiencing the Unity of God, in holiness, or wholeness. It is a great mystery that will lead to an awakening, an enlightenment, a revealing, redemption, renewal, reconciliation, healing, etc., a wholeness of spirit.

    Jesus tells us in John 4:24: “God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”  And in 1 John 8:16: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

    As a Christian, I see these scriptures, pointing us towards a deeper level of understanding in our relationship with God, and in turn with all of creation and one another. Perichoresis (peri-kor-es-is) is an ancient Greek term in Christian theology, which refers to the indwelling of the Trinity.  It tells of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are so intimately connected within their unity as one that there is an indwelling between them all.  This indwelling is shared with us, in and through Christ, in the Paschal Mystery of Christ as the Incarnate Word, the Word Made Flesh, who a Christian encounters in the sacrament of the Eucharist, where Jesus is truly present. Saint John of Damascus (7th Century) describes Perichoresis as a “cleaving together,” and as a fellowship of the Godhead that enters into one another.

    “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us (John 17:21).”

    Jesus points us towards another realization of God’s oneness and reign in these verses from Luke 17: 20-21: And when the Pharisees had demanded of Him when the Kingdom of God should come, He answered them and said, “The Kingdom of God cometh not with outward show. Neither shall they say, `Lo, it is here!’ or `Lo, it is there!’ For behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.”

    Jesus is telling us in these verses that God lives within us each, dwells within us each, and is in our very midst, actually within any sacred community where people are gathered in his name, but, even more than this I think. Jesus is telling us that we are so intimately connected to one another, not only one with him and the Father, within the Trinity, but within one another too, within a community, and that out of this oneness our lives unfold, or rather our lives fold into one another, interweave with one another.

    It is all a mystery, and one without words, but for a Christian found in the Word, the Logos. Peace – Ron

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  26. It is our relationships with one another, and all of creation, which is the reality we experience every day of our lives. It is out of all these relationships that our lives arise, interweaving, unfolding and folding into one another, and it is in and through these relationships we encounter and come to know, and be known by God, by the Divine Mystery. Through and in one another, we come to know God, in a divine relationship that is creation itself, constantly creating new relationship from one moment to the next.

    In Buddhism, this concept of our interconnectedness with life, all life, reality itself, out of which our lives arise, is called Dependent Origination or Dependent Arising. The Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, calls this concept interbeing, in his book, The Heart of Understanding, 1 where he teaches that “To be” is to inter-be, and that “we cannot be alone, exist alone without anything else.”

    All beings are in relationship with one another; we are all “interbeing” with the rest of creation. Indeed, our life and the reality we experience moment to moment is arising out this “interbeingness” and that through “interbeing” we come to know God in and through our relationships. As a Christian, I want to use the language and symbols that I know and love so well, and add that what is drawing us together is the life giving presence of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit who is actively at work within the world. And to recognize that it is the Holy Spirit who is literally calling us into a relationship with one another and into the fullness of our humanity, the full potential of our human life, which after all is a gift from God.

    In his book, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, in writing about Thich Nhat Hanh’s idea of “interbeing,” Paul F. Knitter tells us that understanding God through relationships is critical and that the source and power of our relationships is driven by the presence of the “Holy Spirit.” The importance of this concept is summarized by this: “behind and within all the different images and symbols, Christians use for God – Creator, Father (Abba), Redeemer, Word, Spirit, – the most fundamental, the deepest truth Christians can speak of God is that God is the source and power of relationships.”

    Another way to view this, as Paul Knitter explained to me once in a conversation, is that in meditation Buddhism asks us “to let go of all concepts, and to let go and open ourselves radically and utterly to the present moment, and in the trust that this present moment contains all that I need. This setting aside of words and imagery and opening oneself to what St. Paul calls God as Spirit, letting that Spirit make itself (or herself or himself) felt within us, grow within us, to lead us.” We find this idea beautifully expressed in these two scriptures from the Gospel of John, and in the book of Romans.

    John 14:26-27 and Romans 8:26-27, tell us: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” … “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

    I imagine that this is exactly as Jesus must have prayed to our Father in Heaven (Abba), with a radical and complete openness and trust that took him beyond all forms and images into a union and unity with the Holy Spirit that was praying with and through him. This is the same Holy Spirit, who prays with and through each one of us, when we take the time to be still, to be silent, to meditate and rest in the Divine and Ultimate Mystery of God as Spirit.

    “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”“That very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.””God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.””That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”

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  27. Nearly all of this thought is coming from the theologian Paul F. Kniitter, from the body of his work, who teaches at Union Theological Seminary in NYC. We have, I have, spoken of him before. There was a Tangent on him done in the Seeing, Fall 2011 edition of Parabola, it also included an interview you can go back and read.

    Nearly a direct follow up to this was another Tangent and interview that can be found in the Winter 2011-2012 edition, Many Paths One Trith, with Fathe Laurence Freeman. Theosis and Sanctification are mentioned here the context of following a spiritual practice, meditation, and three distinct stages of faith.

    Peace Again – Ron

    Tracy and everyone, forgive me for jumping in so boldly here, but it seemed relevant within this dialog, and a good reminder of the value Parabola offers in expanding an ongoing dialog where spiritual traditions do indeed meet face to face.

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  28. Hi Scott

    I think it can be very dangerous to pursue a personal “Christian” faith that lies outside of tradition and the norms of the church. These norms have been developed to protect men and women from being misled by charismatic individuals to places that may be inhabited by the children of “light” but are, in reality, not.
    **********************

    What can I tell ya, I’m a strange one. One of may ancestors was an archbishop and also friendly with Madam Blavatsky. Another painted one of the most famous depictions of the days of creation from a distinctly cosmological perspective.

    I have come to believe through my novel heredity that the essence of Christianity is far more profound than is generally understood.

    Gurdjieff explained a little about Christianity to Ouspensky in his book “In Search of the Miraculous.” It isn’t the norm which isn’t to doubt its value. Gurdjieff said in part:

    “Generally speaking we know very little about Christianity and the form of Christian worship; we know nothing at all of the history and origin of a number of things. For instance, the church, the temple in which gather the faithful and in which services are carried out according to special rites; where was this taken from? Many people do not think about this at all. Many people think that the outward form of worship, the rites, the singing of canticles, and so on, were invented by the fathers of the church. Others think that this outward form has been taken partly from pagan religions and partly from the Hebrews. But all of it is untrue. The question of the origin of the Christian church, that is, of the Christian temple, is much more interesting than we think. To begin with, the church and worship in the form which they took in the first centuries of Christianity could not have been borrowed from paganism because there was nothing like it either in the Greek or Roman cults or in Judaism. The Jewish synagogue, the Jewish temple, Greek and Roman temples of various gods, were something quite different from the Christian church which made its appearance in the first and second centuries. The Christian church is—a school concerning which people have forgotten that it is a school. Imagine a school where the teachers give lectures and perform explanatory demonstrations without knowing that these are lectures and demonstrations; and where the pupils or simply the people who come to the school take these lectures and demonstrations for ceremonies, or rites, or ‘sacraments,’ i.e., magic. This would approximate to the Christian church of our times………………………………

    When I read the Bible, it makes sense. When I read Gurdjieff he makes sense. When I read Simone, she makes sense. When I read Jacob Needleman’s book “Lost Christianity,” he makes sense.

    That’s just me. I wouldn’t inflict it on anyone nor would I want to deny it. 1 Corinthians 15 explains Christian re-birth which is the essential goal of Christianity. I do not see any harm by understanding the logic of it in the context of the lawful chain of being and the way third force applies to it since my interest is in the unification of science and the essence of religion.

    I appreciate your concern but I was kicked out of Sunday school when I was twelve for asking the wrong questions. It has been a battle ever since. :)

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  29. Ron and Nick,

    Thank you both for further education and edification. My need to be taught and to learn is never ending and, I am sure, will never end.

    Peace,
    Scott

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  30. Also, I am humbled and full of awe at those that have come before me, the Communion of Saints and the great cloud of witnesses. There is such a depth and richness there that I do not think I have anything new to offer so why not feed off of the waters that give life?

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  31. I am joining this discussion very late. It is a good one! Tracy, thank you for writing again about the mysterious. Based on my experience, there is a strong connection between being multisensory and a willingness to “go mystical.” I wouldn’t say that I have seen a ghost, but I have been awakened by lights and presences, heard dying people tell me goodbye or feel their presence shift away, and I’ve smelled the cigarette smoke of the afterlife! So I think I’m in your boat with the skepticism thing, that is the funny thinking about experience, it is ours alone. I also loved your understanding reference – it reminded me of a favorite quote of Marge Piercy: “Life is the first gift, love is the second, and understanding the third.” How precious is that understanding when we relate our experiences to another and they can suspend disbelief and “see” them as we do. I think spirituality is about being vulnerable – to what? The unknown – that’s what makes us so vulnerable, all the things we can’t explain, the paradoxes between which we find our minds. I am always grateful to your writing about these things and providing a forum, and thank you.

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    • Thank you for this. I have also very much enjoyed the exchange here. I just posted a new, short post–hoping to articulate the very common yet extradinary feeling of being alive. The truth that cannot be reduced to words, which is being alive, carried along by the way things are.

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