Some people fear vastness, I feel an almost erotic thrill when beholding a desert, a vast forest, a huge mountain, or the sea. The night sky at times almost robs me of my speech.
There is a vastness to beauty, my heart expands when I behold certain eyes, or a fair neck. A beautiful form and face, even when they conceal an ugly interior.
A crumbling mansion speaks to be, the silence of the grave stones pushing through the grass, the sky’s vault over it all.
There are things that seem ineffable – impossible to fully articulate but that may only be grasped at and hinted at – but whose impact on my mind seems to suggest a self evident order of reality that is as real, if not more so, as the hair upon the back of my hands.
I feel that our modern tendency to reduce reality to what little we can materially perceive directly through our physical faculties, and a tendency to almost worship the form, blinds us and robs us of other faculties of perception that suggest that things around us are not quite as they may seem.
Know a paradox:
That every analogy is a lie – and every analogy is an attempt to arrive at truth.
So first the similitude, and then my comments; first the lie-seeking-truth, and then the further penetration into the matter’s heart.
For all similitude – all analogy – all metaphor – is imperfect and only relevant in a certain context.
We are nature, we are in nature, we seek to transcend nature and her embrace.
There is something in you and I that yearns for beyond nature, and that also yearns for nature. We seek the womb, and we seek the stars. Sometimes at the same time – and that which is within our souls is a deep mystery. We seek to mold, create, and stretch beyond. Sometimes to our great misery we seek things that make us quite alone in the company of our other fellow animals.
I reflect on the nature of visible empirically perceivable reality, and what I regard as the divine, the source of reality, and it can be illustrated by this analogy.
1. THE CLODHEAD AND THE NEGLIGE
A seeker in exile from his homeland has in his mind the memory of his lady dear, an elegant and subtle lady with curls like the sun, a smile like the moon, and in whose presence he feels whole.
Our lady who, by night sometimes wears over her lithe and lovely frame, a beautiful garb of elegantly, delicately knit, lace.
And let us say that she ardently yearns for the seeker and the seeker for her. At first she sought to make her intentions known to him through subtle approaches and hints, though his dull senses took time to realize the true nature of her hints.
One night he sought her out, and managed to find the long corridor to her chamber. As he walked along it he noticed lying on the floor of the hall, her beautiful lace gown, sheer and well crafted, lying on the floor. He picked it up and could faintly smell her perfumed scent in the lace.
So he stands there and gazed upon this beautiful lace under thing. At first its association with her, its fitting close to her, and its carrying her scent, the fact that it is from her, captured her heart.
But over time he continued to stand there, and caressed the soft lace, gazing at its well formed textures, admiring its beauty, in time he forget about his beloved who waits impatiently in her chamber, lying upon her satin sheets, growing lonely and saddened.
Her dropping her lace gown was a flirtation and an invitation.
The seeker’s aim was union with her; instead he found a sterile union with her clothing.
All the while she, in her loveliness, waits yearning, sad, and hurt, beyond the chamber door ahead.
After some she comes out to inquire as to his delay, and sees him fondling and rubbing her lace gown. Beyond hurt, insulted, and in pain and anger, she hurls her shoe at his head.
My beloved’s elegant and beautifully formed shoe, or her delicate lace bodice, reveals her and conceals her, and are beautiful in their own right, and bear her scent and her warmth, but are mainly tokens of her they bespeak her presence.
As I see things; there is a beloved who ardently yearns for us, but often we are satisfied with her beautiful trappings and mistake this for her. Sometimes we forget that she exists, but she is so much more beautiful and extensive than a bra, a shoe, a lace gown, a smile, a flash of an eye.
She wants us to see these pretty and lovely things but to go beyond them. The traces she leaves along her corridor are to lead the seeker to her. In reality the seeker is seeking him or her self, the essence of his or her reality.
This is what causes me to reject the approach of a sort of New Age “pantheism” the attitude that “we are god, everything is God.’ I reject this and contend that it is a profound misunderstanding of reality. Is Hitler god? There are several deep logical fallacies in such a view, some so obvious that they need no further
So too I reject atheism as being self-evidently an inaccurate misunderstanding of reality, a reality that appears to be supremely intelligent, and willful, on every level – and pervaded with a craft and art so profound as to defy my belief.
The very last trace of any doubt in a divinity eroded when I took my first Biochemistry class. While I from time to time in my life rejected religion, or questioned it, I rarely rejected the notion of God. My past career as an agnostic could be measured in hours, my past career as an atheist could be measured in minutes.
So too, I reject the simple theism that most people associate with a “belief in God” the angels on clouds floating in train, the Lord upon his throne – or for pagans the god of the hunt, the goddess with overflowing bosom, all of this I reject as a profound misunderstanding of reality.
There is an apocryphal Islamic tradition that quotes God as saying: “I was a hidden treasure, and I yearned to be known, and so I created the universe that others may know me.” while the textual authenticity of this statement is frequently challenged, it illustrates something of interest
One of the Sufi adepts, al-Jilani, once said: “The example of the Cosmos is as a snowflake. To it you are like the gushing water.”
The 4th Sunni Caliph, the 1st Shia Imam, Ali bin Abi Talib, once noted that the likeliness of the perceptible cosmos, before the reality of it’s source, God, was as a small gold ring lost in the middle of a vast uncharted desert.
It is difficult to translate the weight of certain terms from one language to another; the seeker of knowledge assumes that his assumptions are the same as the one with whom he speaks.
An oft reflected upon, and sometimes derided, aspect of the Islamic Weltanschauung is the extraordinary focus on divine unity, and an iconoclastic stance pervading all things.
In other word’s Muslims tend to be obsessed on, for lack of a better word, a monotheism so total that it verges on pantheism. Not just “God is one” but something more ruthlessly total than this, almost but not quite “There is nothing.. but there is God.
Unlike the other “Abrahamic faiths” there is a focus on both transcendence and immanence. However the idea of God we are dealing with is quite different from the idea evoked by the word “God” in English, in the Christian and Post-Christian world.
God is not a being, an entity, a person upon a throne. God is none other than sheer Being itself.
Anything that you can conceive of, or imagine, is other than God. God is not a buddy; God is the essence of the reality of every thing.
I have been conditioned as an iconoclast, in an iconoclastic faith. To me his was and is liberating – even when I rejected Islam, and especially after I found it again.
This engrained iconoclastic stance allowed me to profoundly question the “faith” I was raised it, because while forms can reveal the essence, they can also conceal the essence to the point that one does not perceives that there is an essence, but only the form, the beautiful magical forms all around.
The forms all decay, constantly, but the underlying pattern continuously reveals itself, the DNA produces infinite unique near copies of the same mold, the mountain wears down, and the earth’s ridges pushes up others anew. The seasons change, and return, in an infinitely unique set of particulars, forming something much greater.
A brick or cinder block is as much a part of nature as a flower or sunrise, if we have the eyes to see it for what it is. A factory is as much of this world as a red wood. To me all are manifestations of the divine. But they are not the divine, just as a ray of light is not the sun, but it is not other than the sun.
But they from, and in some way of, the divine at the same time.
I see something that seems so crystal clear in its clarity that it shocks me that others do not see it.
Nothing physical exists.
Nothing = No-Thing. Really. Not in the way we perceive it. You are not solid, you and I are not things though we appear to be, we are really clouds of atoms, dust, almost particles of light or something so near to light.
Is that chair “real” in the way to perceive it? Or can it better be described in terms of valence levels, particles and their states, their velocity – clouds of stuff so subtle that it is not “stuff” in the sense we are accustomed to thinking of stuff, and not even “energy” in the conventional layperson’s sense.
Is everything that seems physical to us simply more analogous to light?
A light that has a source, from which it radiates outward, and what of its source? Is the light “divine”; is a ray of the sun the Sun itself? In this paradox is the crux of what I am considering.
I often used to contemplate this verse of the Quran:
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
The parable of His Light is as a niche, and within it a lamp,
the lamp is in glass, the glass as it were a brilliant star,
lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor of the west
whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself), though no fire touched it.
Light upon Light! Allah guides to His Light whom He wills.
And Allah sets forth parables for mankind, and Allah is All-Knower of everything.”
What I’m wrestling with is not an abstract paradox… it must be felt fully to be understood and yet I contend that everyone has, or at some point of time in her life has or will, feel a sense of being completely connected to all around, frightening or comforting, or a sense that all is connected and all is right, or of a physical awe of things and knowing that there is so much more.. And that there are also subtle moments in which we sense that there is something beyond all of this too.
What I believe to be divine is immanent around us and “closer to us than our jugular vein” as the Quran puts it. It is “on” the horizons and “in” ourselves and “in” our inner depths and “through” the air, whichsoever way we turn it is there.
And yet it is “not there” it eludes this.
I ALSO believe that the divine is utterly transcendent from us, separate, and apart at the same time, alien, so unlike us. And if the divine is Being and existence and plentitude this means that we are literally nothing.
That in a real sense nothing exists. And does it really? Physical causes appear to affect us, there appears to be a chain of causality in nature but the more you break it down the more disparate and separate it all seems, and stranger.
To me something seems self evident.
When I look at a flower, its petals lead me inward, every deeper, to its core, its center.
The wheel has its spokes moving inward.
The sun’s rays emanate outward from itself.
The mirror reflects my face looking in it.
But the mirror’s reflection is not me, the photons bouncing back are not me, but they seem so very much like me.
Perhaps this cosmos is like a mirror, its myriad forms and things are “reflections” of “God” in a sense. Perhaps we all are just “reflected light”, all of the forms are meanings inside of images.
Perhaps every form in existence is like a symbol, reflecting something more immense, every event a reflected symbol.
As a shadow puppet upon a screen.
As light through celluloid film and cast upon a screen.
The embrace of the lovers, the gasp and the pang of ecstasy.
The rattle of death in the throat, the decay of consciousness and the descent into darkness.
The ultimate limits of our perception, hinting at what lies beyond.