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God Is A Poet; God Is A Poem


Mike
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Thought I'd post some ideas inspired by several authors I've been reading here and there, in particular by religious scholar John Keenan (The Gospel of Mark: A Mahayana Reading) and analytic philosopher Martin Munitz (The Question of Reality).

 

In their own ways these two have intended to challenge the commonsense ways we tend to understand both language and reality. For our purpose here, what it amounts to is this: We usually take our language to function in such a way as to describe an objective state of things, that is, a reality that exists with its own independent, pre-given set of properties that language merely mirrors back, as from a detached observer. Of course, this is symptomatic of a deeper conceptual background, in which we suppose that there is some reified 'me' confronting an objectified world. Through our language we suppose that we are defining a particular 'what' that an object 'essentially is', and if we find that we cannot do so, we suppose that our inability is due to the object's being something distant - a thing-in-itself.

 

But perhaps all that is merely a projection, and reality is too immediate to fall into the dichotomy of apprehender/apprehended.

 

I'll quote some Buddhist texts to convey the flavor of this...

 

'Contact phenomena with total sincerity, not a single atom of dust outside yourself.' (Hongzhi)

 

'If we could overcome our confused subjectivity, the signs of individuation would disappear, and there would be no trace of a world of individual and isolated objects.'

...

'While all words and expressions are nothing but representations and not realities, and their existence depends simply on our confused subjectivity, suchness has no attribute of particularity to speak of.'

(The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana)

 

'The entire world is completely free of all objective dust; right here and now there is no second person!' (Dogen's 'Bussho')

 

 

 

I've been thinking that if we follow through with putting away dualistic notions of a pregiven reality composed of reified objects confronted by a pregiven subject, something very interesting happens.

 

Our early modern physicists supposed that the 'book of nature' is written in the language of mathematics. Presumably poetry, then, is merely a flowery mode of expression, essentially useless in its ambiguity. But perhaps that very quality touches something very real. If God can be a mathematician, why not a poet too? There is intrinsically more to Being than can be captured by formal logics and symbol manipulation.

 

Many contemplatives throughout history have maintained that Life, when 'beheld most intimately', loses the pretense of well-defined objectivity. Actuality becomes characterized by an irrevocable ambiguity, the life of mind shines through as the play of luminous intimacy. What better language than the poetic to do justice to such a reality, a reality which implicates the self so wholly that there is no trace left? Traceless participation and creativity at the ineffable center of life.

 

Thomas Merton writes,

 

"Lord God, the whole world tonight seems made out of paper. The most substantial things are ready to crumble apart and blow away.

How much more so this monastery which everybody believes in and which has perhaps ceased to exist?

O God, my God, the night has values that the day has never dreamed of."

 

Where do these words go as you read them? Have they flown to some essential place? Does God exist independently of the prayer? Perhaps these questions are misguided, as if to expect that God should conform to the model of an externalized referent, something that our words define so as to grasp at some essence. Perhaps, again, there is no essence, and these words fly to where they originally sprang forth: Silence.

 

Thanks for reading.

Peace,

Mike

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Hi, Mike

Always good to read your posts. How have you been?

 

Along similar lines, Sam Keen observes that religions start with the non-verbal experience of awe and wonder, dread and terror. We focus, though, on making symbols, myths, systems, theologies, institutions, and Empires. All of which take us away from the original experience. Church should focus back on the original experience. He suggests we take a language fast from the top ten words we use to talk about God so that we are forced to find words that are more authentic for us... that we "stop the bewitchment of language which often stops thought poetic ..."

 

He stresses personal story not one fossilized by the religious vocabulary we are given. Not quite a Buddha but one that recognizes that language has control over our thoughts that we can break free from.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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This reminds A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality (1929, p. 346):

 

God's role is not the combat of productive force with productive force, of destructive force with destructive force, it lies in the patient operation of the overpowering rationality of his conceptual harmonization. he does not create the world, he saves it: or, more accurately, he is the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness.

 

Myron

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Mike,

 

Some may wonder what those words have to do with Progressive Christianity as they sound more like other traditions. Yet to me they bring the PC closer to Christ as Christ being ALL in ALL and in and through all things and in whom is hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge . I am reminded of the recorded words of Jesus when he is recorded to have said. "And the glory (presence of God/Reality) which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:" To me, those were simple but deeply moving words. I am reminded by your words that in one there is no subject and object as being apart or distance. Such is the true nature of Life / Love.

 

Many contemplatives throughout history have maintained that Life, when 'beheld most intimately', loses the pretense of well-defined objectivity. Actuality becomes characterized by an irrevocable ambiguity, the life of mind shines through as the play of luminous intimacy. What better language than the poetic to do justice to such a reality, a reality which implicates the self so wholly that there is no trace left? Traceless participation and creativity at the ineffable center of life.

 

Losing one self that one may find Self or Life seems to me to be a Christian goal that Jesus spoke of. Yet , when Life is beheld as 'beheld most intimately' it seems goals disappear and Life was never lost to be found. Perhaps a mystery that words fail miserably but poetry does its best justice?

 

While i am not so clear and eloquent with the words i write, it does not impede my enjoyment of such a deep and meaningful post you have written above. Thanks.

 

Joseph

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Joseph,

 

I think there is indeed a connection between what Mike posted and Progressive Chrisianity. There is, if you would, a sychronicity between the poet and all the world. In post # 3, I quoted A. N. Whitehead, the primary inspiration behind Process Theology. There was a time when Process Theology was quite popular on this board and it seems to have faded away somewhat. This saddens me. Anyway, yet again from Whitehead:

 

There is, however, in the Galilean origin of Chrisianity yet another suggestion ... It does not emphasize the ruling Caesar, or the ruthless moralist, or the unmoved mover. It dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love; and it finds purpose in the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world. Love neither rules, nor is it unmoved; also it is a little oblivious as to morals. It does not look to the future; for it finds its own reward in the immediate present.

 

Myron

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Hi Dutch,

 

I'm doing well, thank you. How have things been going for you?

 

Thanks for your observations. I really like the idea of personalizing our vocabulary for the Divine. I think that's why poetry has something over more rigid forms of language: it is intensely personal, immediate, and alive - much as reality is.

 

Peace,

Mike

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Thanks Myron for the two quotes. I knew there was a reason why I've been wanting to look more closely at Whitehead's Process and Reality. It's been something I've kept safely on the shelf, but maybe I should step up to the challenge. :D

 

Peace,

Mike

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts Joseph.

I did question whether this belongs in the PC forum, I'm glad you think it does as well.

 

To me, nonduality is implied when we say that God is 'beyond space and time', or that God is not an object. The Church has always acknowledged the mystical Presence of God in the sacraments as something well beyond ordinary categories of thought, I think the Church suffers whenever this awareness is lost in popular discourse.

 

After reading some of John Keenan's work, I'm encouraged in my applying Mahayana categories to the Christian experience. He notes that the Greek philosophical framework that Christianity developed within historically, need not be considered essential to Christianity. We can justifiably think in other terms - a Mahayana Christology. He notes that it is the integrity of the Christian experience of the risen Christ that must be kept authentic, not necessarily the philosophical framework within which the experience comes to be interpreted.

 

Frithjof Schuon wrote this in a book on Buddhism,

 

“Like a magnet, the beauty of the Buddha draws all contradictions of the world and transmutes them into radiant silence; the image deriving therefrom appears as a drop of the nectar of immortality fallen into the chilly world of forms and crystallized into a human form, a form accessible to men.”

 

I think 'Buddha' here could easily be replaced with 'Christ'.

 

Just some thoughts that arose after reading your thoughts.

Peace,

Mike

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For anyone who may be interested, here is an essay by Keenan on a Mahayana Christology.

 

He explicates it more fully in his books 'The Meaning of Christ: A Mahayana Theology' and 'The Gospel of Mark: A Mahayana Reading'. One quote I like from the former book,

 

"To the theoretician meaning consists in understanding the inner coherence of religious teachings one to another, whether that meaning is realized by anyone or not, while for the mystic thinker meaning occurs only in its realization and embodiment in practice."

 

Another quote comes from none other than Nietzsche, and I think summarizes the main idea of my post:

 

W]e do not only designate things with them [words and concepts], we think originally that through them we grasp the true in things. Through words and concepts we are still continually misled into imagining things as being simpler than they are, separate from one another, indivisible, each existing in and for itself. A philosophical mythology lies concealed in language which breaks out again every moment, however careful one may be otherwise.

 

To me all this is particularly relevant for progressive Christians, because it has a direct impact on what it means to pray. What is prayer? If God is out there listening, then it seems that prayer is pretty straightforward. But if God is not an object out there, if he's not an object at all, if he's (or she's) the ground of our being, then to whom is the prayer referring, and how can such a God be referred to at all?

 

This all seems to stem from the essentialist viewpoint articulated above by Nietzsche, we expect our language to be coming from some apprehender and going out to an apprehended, or 'to grasp the true in things'. But for a Mahayana understanding, it is just this emptiness of the 'true in things' that allows for realization of the 'true in things'. It is grasping that falsifies things. Perhaps God is both the poet and the poem, and prayer is an articulation of essenceless arising.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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