“The crucifixion wasn’t really the hard thing for Jesus; the hard thing was incarnation.”
THE PASSAGE ABOVE, attributed to the mystic Bernadette Roberts, sets the tone for this second in a series of three posts on the theme of the incarnation of Jesus, the son of God. I continue from where my previous post left off sharing from Cynthia Bourgeault’s beautiful and provocative book, THE WISDOM JESUS, Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message. We came into Being in Heaven before coming into Human form on Earth, and our journeys here were anything but pleasant. We fell into this illusive world “from a lighter gravitational field to a heavier one.” With this post I celebrate the Winter Solstice and the beginning of yet another solar cycle initiated by the increase of Light. Enjoy.
♦ ◊ ♦
“Many Dwelling Places”
We Christians still inhabit a rather small universe, metaphysically speaking. We know that we live here on earth, and some of us may believe that above it is a place called heaven, counterbalanced by a place down below called hell. At very best it’s a three-tiered universe. But the ancient wisdom traditions (now strongly reinforced, incidentally, by findings emerging from modern physics and cosmology) universally suggest that we need to throw this three-story world out; it is far too cramped to contain the vastness of divine consciousness. There are many realms, wisdom teaches: not just earth, heaven, and hell, but countless densities or dimensions of existence, all of which exist to manifest or mirror an aspect of the divine fullness. Jesus himself states this very clearly to the disciples in his farewell discourses in the Gospel of John, when he says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” (John 14:2). He does not mean physical places but rather states of consciousness or dimensions of divine energy (as we saw in chapter 3 with Jim Marion’s recognition that the “Kingdom of Heaven” was Jesus’s way of referring to nondual consciousness). The tradition of sophia perennis (perennial wisdom) pictures this vastness as a “great chain of being” or “ray of creation.” which begins in a pure, high-intensity, invisible, subtle consciousness and “descends,” thickening as it does so, into this world we inhabit: the realm of sharp edges and tables and chairs and human beings crashing and banging against each other in a finite and terribly solid world.
The contemporary Christian hermeticist Valentin Tomberg envisions this ray as a vast energetic cascade, beginning in divine consciousness itself and ending up in our familiar empirical universe. In Meditations on the Tarot he writes:
“Modern science has come to understand that matter is only condensed energy. Sooner or later science will also discover that what it calls energy is only condensed psychic force, which discovery will lead in the end to the establishment of the fact that all psychic force is the condensation, purely and simply, of consciousness; i.e., spirit.”
Like a mountain whose base is solidly on the earth but whose summit is hidden in the clouds, this insight leads us step by step up the ray of creation. Modern physics certainly would have no difficulty with the assertion that matter is only condensed energy; this is officially the Second Law of Thermodynamics. But what about this next realm, “psychic force”? Here the paths divide. This second form of energy is well known to spiritual seekers, but largely invisible to hardcore science; it is the energy flowing through prayer, attention, intention, and will: those more subtle exchanges which science has so far declined to measure but which we know have the power to create demonstrable effects in the physical realm.”
Beyond psychic force, yet another energetic realm awaits us, claims Tomberg, for psychic force is itself only the “condensation” (that is, the densification or coarser expression) of a substance incomparably more intense and subtle: pure spirit, pristine consciousness itself, unmediated by any form of expression. This primordial quality is known by many names in the tradition-“I AM” in Judeo-Christian tradition, wujud (“reality”) in mystical Islam, rigpa (“pristine awareness”) in Tibetan Buddhism. The names vary, but the understanding remains the same. Virtually unanimously, the ancient wisdom roadmaps picture the cosmos as a vast light stream, radiating out from the ineffable Godhead through the realm of primordial intention (known in Christianity as the logos), into archetypal form and energies, and finally into human, earthly becoming. Our life here in this physical cosmos is merely the endpoint of a long journey of what you might call “divine redshift”— that is, the condensation or cooling down of the intense energy of pure spirit in order to make physical manifestation possible.
Down Here on the Edge
So here we find ourselves on this plane of existence, at or near the bottom of the great chain of being. What are we to make of our position? What are we doing “down” here in a world that seems so dense and sluggish, so coarse and fragile and finite? Even in our dreams we move faster than the speed of light, and our mystics and visionaries are perpetually reminding us that in our heart of hearts we remember and yearn for a state of greater spaciousness and fluidity.
It’s curious, when you come to think about it, how virtually all the world’s spiritual traditions see this earthly realm as somehow deficient. Depending on the tradition, our world is either an illusion or a mistake, but in either case we “fall” into it, from a lighter gravitational field to a heavier one. We have seen how the Judeo-Christian tradition upholds this understanding in its primordial myth of the fall of Adam and Eve. Other traditions (primarily the Eastern ones) see this world as a mirage, an illusion to be dispelled. Still other traditions, such as mystical Islam, carry a profound sense of exile and a “nostalgia for the infinite.” Here is not home.
Is there another way of looking at this? I believe there is, and I think that it is actually at the heart of what is intended by that beautiful mantra, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” But it is so spiritually counterintuitive that it remains almost entirely unspoken — at least I myself have never heard it spoken or written about in any of the traditions. To the extent that what I am seeing here is correct, Christian wisdom steps out into unknown territory, leaving even sophia perennis behind.
Here is my take: Yes, this is a very heavy, frustrating, difficult density that we come into by taking birth in the human realm. Because of the binary, finite nature of both the physical world itself and the egoic operating system we use to navigate it, it seems as though we’re always bumping into sharp edges. Life presents us with a series of seemingly irrevocable choices: to do one thing means that we have to give up something else; to marry one person means we can’t marry another; and to join a monastery means we can’t marry at all. Our confused agendas clash both inwardly and outwardly, and we cause each other pain. Our bodies age; we diminish physically; loved ones fall out of our lives. And the force of gravity is tenacious, nailing our feet to the ground and usually our souls as well. I remember my granddaughter, now five, who from the very moment she arrived on this planet experienced an intense frustration bordering on fury at her inability to move. “What the hell?” she seemed to be saying as she flailed her little arms and legs and tried even at four months old to wriggle herself across the room. I have never seen a child who
felt the constriction of this planet as much as she did.
Yes, we come into constriction, but is that the same as punishment! I believe not. I believe rather that this constriction is a sacrament and we have been offered a divine invitation to participate in it.
Remember our discussion of sacrament at the beginning of this chapter! A sacrament reveals a mystery in a particularly intense way while at the same time offering the means for its actualization. And in this sphere of human life, the sacrament is finitude and the mystery is “I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known….”
Notice that there is a subtle double meaning at work in this phrase. At one level “I loved to be known” is a synonym for “I longed to be known” (and the phrase is often translated that way). But you can read the words in another way: “I loved in order to be known”– and when you do, they reveal a deeper spiritual truth. In order to become known to another, we must take the risk of loving that person, and this includes the real possibility of rejection and the even more painful prospect of heart break if the beloved is lost to us. It is difficult to risk love in a world so fragile and contingent. And yet, the greater the gamble of self-disclosure, the more powerful the intimacy and the more profound the quality of devotion revealed.
Could it be like this for God as well?
Could it be that this earthly realm, not in spite of but because of its very density and jagged edges, offers precisely the conditions for the expression of certain aspects of divine love that could become real in no other way? This world does indeed show forth what love is like in a particularly intense and costly way. But when we look at this process more deeply, we can see that those sharp edges we experience as constriction at the same time call forth some of the most exquisite dimensions of love, which require the condition of finitude in order to make sense — qualities such as steadfastness, tenderness, commitment, forbearance, fidelity, and forgiveness. These mature and subtle flavors of love have no real context in a realm where there are no edges and boundaries, where all just flows. But when you run up against the hard edge and have to stand true to love anyway, what emerges is a most precious taste of pure divine love. God has spoken his most intimate name.
Let me be very clear here. I am not saying that suffering exists in order for God to reveal himself. I am only saying that where suffering exists and is consciously accepted, there divine love shines forth brightly. Unfortunately, linear cause-and-effect has progressively less meaning as we approach the deep mysteries (which originate beyond time and thus have no real use for it). But the principle can be tested. Pay attention to the quality of human character that emerges from constriction accepted with conscious forgiveness as compared to what emerges from rage and violence and draw your own conclusions.
At any rate, I have often suspected that the most profound product of this world is tears. I don’t mean that to be morbid. Rather, I mean that tears express that vulnerability in which we can endure having our heart broken and go right on loving. In the tears flows a sweetness not of our own making, which has been known in our tradition as the Divine Mercy. Our jagged and hard-edged earth plane is the realm in which this mercy is the most deeply, excruciatingly, and beautifully released. That’s our business down here. That’s what we’re here for. ♦ (Emphasis added)
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I love Cynthia’s passion and I’m finding her insights enlightening relative to the evolution and transformation taking place in Christian thinking and in the collective consciousness as a whole, probably because I still have a place of compassionate caring in my heart for my Catholic roots. Not that I’m setting out on a mission to save the Catholic Church. It’s the betrayed and misled that I care about, and who I have in mind and heart sharing Cynthia’s writings. Please feel free to wisely share these blog posts with friends and family. We will find out where the author is taking this consideration in the final series installment, which I will post on Christmas day. Until then, Happy Solstice.