The ebb and flow of writings since ancient times on the unity of Spirit and Creation show remarkable patterns. The most interesting is the spiral that takes us from the beginning in 600 BCE, through ups and downs, fertile flowerings and bleak deserts, to the 20th and 21st Centuries, when the writings flourish again and are more like the earliest ones than any that came between.
Some say we are in the new “Axial Age” of spiritual discoveries, but this time with everyday people making those discoveries and tying them to everything from popular music to the new physics to the interconnectedness of the Internet.
We will spend time in future posts filling in the details of the ups and downs and the spiral that is still going strong, but first it’s helpful to pull some examples from each of the the five most fruitful periods of time. This is how I broke them up in writing In the Same Breath, with illustrations by Christine Tobias. If you have other historical categories or favorite writings, I’d love to hear about them.
There are are 52 writings in Same Breath, one for each week; here are some from each of the five time periods.
Beginningless Beginnings – 600 to 300 BCE
There was something formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name,
I call it the Tao.
Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu, trans. Stephen Mitchell, about 500 BCE
Bread, Wine and a Billion Arms – 200 BCE to 200 CE
In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning,
Through him all things came to be,
Not one thing had its being but through him.
John 1:1–5, The Jerusalem Bible, about 100 CE
Mystical Aha! Moments – 850 to 1600
I gazed upon [al-Lah] with the eye of truth and said to Him: “Who is this?”
He said, “This is neither I nor other than I. There is no God but I.”
Then he changed me out of my identity into His Selfhood…
Then I communed with Him with the tongue of His Face, saying:
“How fared it with me with Thee?” He said, “I am through Thee, there is no god but Thou.”
Abu Yazid Bistami, Sufi mystic, 804- 874
A Spiral Back to Flying Sparks – 1900 to 1999
When we enter the unknown
of our houses,
go inside the given up dark
and sheltering walls alone
and turn out the lamps
we fall bone to bone in bed.
Neighbors, the old woman who knows you
turns over in me
and I wake up
in another country. There’s no more
north and south.
Asleep, we pass through one another
like blowing snow,
all of us,
“Our Houses,” from Seeing Through the Sun, 1985, by Linda Hogan,
Native American poet and author
There is no such thing as seeking God, for there is nothing in which He could not be found.
Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher, 1878 – 1965
Seeking Eden in the Chaos – 1999 – today
I believe that the Messiah is not a person, outside of us, but is a noble state of mind possible in each and every one of us, a state of mind which must be attained, too often through pain.
Storm of Terror, by June Leavitt, 2002
What was going on during all this time?
Here’s the capsule version – many more details to come in future posts.
First there was a flurry of juicy, prolific writing in all parts of the inhabited world, stretching almost nonstop for more than a millennium starting in 600 BCE.
Then wars and invasions in Europe made sheer survival take precedence over spiritual growth, at least in the West, for 600 years until the emergence of Christian, Jewish and Sufi mystics in the 9th Century. The thread was more subdued this time, especially among Christian mystics. Eden had been lost. Those in exile were now unable to completely embrace the unity that was once so natural. Even so, a few were determined to try to reach the God who had once walked by humanity’s side, but had now been exiled by the theologians to the heavens.
After a mere 600 years, however, the mysticism that flowered in Christianity was stopped in its tracks by the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic counter-Reformation, neither of which had any tolerance for mystical experiences or talk of other than a transcendent, separate God. The Enlightenment, for all its wonderful exploration of science and
rational behavior, was also inhospitable soil for mysticism. Kabbalah, however, kept the mystical thread going in Judaism, as did Sufism in Islam.
Meanwhile, the Eastern religions of Taoism and Hinduism were well into their 26th century of seeing Spirit and Creation as One; Buddhism had held up a mirror to the illusion of reality and Eastern Orthodox Christianity had found a way to continue to accept and even nourish mysticism.
It wasn’t until the mid-19th to the 20th Century, however, that writing of this unity began to appear again broadly in the West, often influenced by Eastern thought, but also at times quite home-grown.
We’ll explore how this came to be and take a look at Thomas Merton‘s 20th century rendition of the 300 BCE writings of Chuang Tzu, for whom this blog is named, when next we meet.
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