Fiction and Fantasy Feed Humanity

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Ask not when Christ was born… ‘the birth falls in the soul exactly as it does in eternity, neither more or less’ – Meister Eckhart. (But you can still like Silent Night)

Many years ago I asked a spiritual teacher whether she believed that Christ was God. She smiled and said, “Of course.” And then, before I could get too far into believing she had actually answered the question that I had intended, she added, “But aren’t we all?”

It was many years before I even started to understand the depth and wisdom of the seemingly contradictory mystery she had presented to me that day.

As Christmas approaches – a holy day that I embrace and look forward to every year, that I celebrate by trimming a tree, creating a village with sheep, angels, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and several music boxes, by buying presents and cooking a turkey, and a day that finds me in awe at Mass with my family – it is important to ask a pertinent question.

Just what exactly does someone who believes in the complete yet mysterious unity of God and Creation, in the non-dualistic immanence of Spirit, in the Cosmic Christ of Teilhard de Chardin, celebrate on Dec. 25? What does this particular birth mean once you’ve moved beyond the dualistic way of looking at the Incarnation?

I’m nowhere near truly answering that question, but in reading the European mystics while writing In the Same Breath, (yes we are jumping ahead about 1,600 years, sorry), I came across one of the writings that got German Dominican Meister Eckhart accused of heresy shortly before his death in 1328. As you can see, he has gone about as far into believing in the complete unity of Spirit and Creation, of Self and self, of Brahman and Atman, as one can.

And yet, the words are familiar even without leaving dualism. Christians do pray for Christ to be born in their souls on Christmas Day, all the while believing in a transcendent, separate, omnipotent personal God.

Eckhart recognizes that, but then takes us firmly to the the unity his mysticism felt as he ends this homily on Christmas with the words “we are the Son himself.”

This is a common theme for Eckhart. To him, the core of our being is the “ground of the soul,” and this ground is “one with the divine nature or ground.” In Eckert’s words here: “Hie ist gotes grunt mîn grunt und mîn grunt gotes grunt,” or “Here, God’s ground is my ground and my ground God’s ground.”

Meister Eckhart – From Whom God Hid Nothing

Here in time we make holiday because the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says this birth is always happening. But if it does not happen in me, what does it profit me? What matters is that it shall happen in me…

Now note where this birth occurs … this birth falls in the soul exactly as it does in eternity, neither more nor less, for it is the same birth. This birth falls in the ground and essence of the soul.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16). By this we understand not the external world, but the inner world. As surely as the Father, by his one nature, gives birth to the Son innately, so surely he gives birth to him in the innermost recesses of the mind, which is the inner world.

Here God’s ground is my ground, and my ground God’s ground. Here I live in my own as God lives in his own…

On one occasion I was asked what the Father is doing in heaven. I said that he is giving birth to his Son, an act he so delights in and which pleases him so much that he does nothing else but generate his Son, and these two are flowering with the Holy Spirit.

When the Father gives birth to his Son in me, I am his Son and not another: we are another in manhood, true, but there I am the Son himself and no other …We are sons in his Son, and we are the Son himself.

Now I’ll admit that as far as getting into “the spirit of Christmas” goes, this isn’t the warm and fuzzy Silent Night that was written in the early 1800s in Austria.

But I would say that both have their place. Perhaps the goal is to be able to appreciate both in whatever our spiritual lives or beliefs are – the soaring philosophical treatises and aha! moments of deep meditation and the folksy, emotional hymns and rituals. Might not that be another form of nonduality?

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Solstice and Joyous Kwanzaa!


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Wisdom personified, the piping of heaven, winter holy days

As this year’s Hanukkah celebration draws to a close and we move towards Winter Solstice, Christmas, and an amazing array of women and goddess-related holy days, it is good to take a look at a second Torah/Old Testament writing that evokes the spirit of the thread of unity we have been following.

While the “I am who am,” of Exodus is a fairly straightforward narrative, this passage from Proverbs is poetic and sounds more Eastern than most of the Bible. Wisdom is personified as a strong woman who was present as the Master Craftsman created the oceans and speaks of the wonders of those times.

The book of Proverbs is considered part of the wisdom literature of the Jewish/Christian scriptures, along with Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. Proverbs are sayings that use similes and comparisons to make a point.

Scholars disagree about exactly when the various parts of the Book of Proverbs were written, but place them somewhere between 900 and 350 BCE, partly overlapping the tail end of the Axial Age..

In Chapter 8 of Proverbs, Wisdom calls all to goodness and remembers her existence before even the oceans were formed. The chapter begins, “Is not Wisdom calling? Is not Understanding raising her voice? On the heights overlooking the road, at the crossways, she takes her stand.”

The chapter goes on to exhort “simpletons” to learn how to behave and “fools” to come to their senses in keeping with much of Proverbs, but then takes a mystical turn into our realm of unity-thinking that is breathtaking.

Proverbs 8:22-31

Yahweh created me when his purpose first unfolded before the oldest of his works.

From everlasting I was firmly set,
from the beginning, before the earth came into being.

The deep was not, when I was born,
there were no springs to gush with water.

Before the mountains were settled,
before the hills, I came to birth
before he made the earth, the countryside,
or the first grains of the world’s dust,

When he fixed the heavens firm, I was there,
when he drew a ring on the surface of the deep,
when he thickened the clouds above,
when he fixed fast the springs of the deep,
when he assigned the sea its boundaries
– and the waters will not invade the shore –
when he laid down the foundations of the Earth,

I was at his side, a master craftsman,
delighting him day after day, ever at play in his presence
at play everywhere in the world,
delighting to be with the sons and daughters of humanity.

A strong argument can be made that this connection of Wisdom, the Creator and Creation speaks of unity. I have read other interpretations that put more emphasis on the separation between the Spirit creator and what was coming forth. While I respect that, I don’t think it is the only possibility.
The lens of nonduality seems to sing through these verses as Wisdom recalls when One Spirit decided to explode and become the physical world we know.

Staying within this time period, one can also hear chords of unity in this writing by our old favorite, Chuang Tzu. Instead of Wisdom and the Master Craftsman, however, this writing use the image of The Great Clod belching out wind that causes the “ten thousand hollows” to begin crying wildly as a description of unity.

To me, with respect to Teilhard de Chardin, the Cosmic Christ can be seen just as clearly in Taoism’s description of the crying of the hollows as in the Judeo-Christian depiction of wisdom. The following is a conversation between two men, one”leaning on his armrest, staring up at the sky and breathing – vacant and far away,”  and the other “standing by his side in attendance.” Conversations are a typical technique in Chuang Tzu’s writings.

The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu.
Chapter Two

Tzu-ch’i said: “…You hear the piping of men, but you haven’t heard the piping of earth. Or if you have heard the piping of earth, you haven’t heard the piping of heaven.

Tzu-yu said, “May I venture to ask what this means?”

Tzu-ch’i said: “The Great Clod belches out breath and its name is wind. So long as it doesn’t come forth, nothing happens. But when it does, then ten thousand hollows begin crying wildly.

“Can’t you hear them, long drawn out? In the mountain forests that lash and sway, there are huge trees a hundred spans around with hollows and openings like noses, like mouths, like ears, like jugs, like cups, like mortars, like rifts, like ruts.

“They roar like waves, whistle like arrows, screech, gasp, cry, wail, moan and howl, those in the lead calling out yeeee!, those behind calling out yuuu!”

“In a gentle breeze they answer faintly, but in a full gale the chorus is gigantic. And when the fierce wind has passed on, then all the hollows are empty again. Have you never seen the tossing and trembling that goes on?”

Tzu-yu said, “By the piping of earth, then, you mean simply [the sound of] these hollows. And by the piping of man [the sound of] flutes and whistles. But may I ask about the piping of heaven?

Tzu-ch’i said: “Blowing on the ten thousand things in a different way, so that each can be itself – all take what they want for themselves, but who does the sounding?

Who, indeed, does the sounding? Who is Wisdom? What is the Tao? Whence cometh the Cosmic Christ?

In a footnote to this section, translator Burton Watson explains that “heaven” “is “not something distinct from earth and man, but a name applied to the natural and spontaneous functioning of the two.”

So the spiritual realm and the physical realm are intertwined and function as one.

Amen to that!