|- Jim ONeill (Bio and Archives) Sunday, September 30, 2012 (1) Comments|
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”—Nehemiah 8:19
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”—Philippians 4:4
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well!”—Dame Julian of Norwich (circa 1342-1416)
Things are looking pretty grim for “we the people” these days—what with the pressure cooker of the Middle East coming to a boil, the Draconian machinations of the global elites on fast forward, and our own government lying to us in a way that would put Goebbels to shame. I thought it might be nice to step back from the troubles and travails of this world for a few moments, and contemplate a more enjoyable and elevating mindset.
Before any of you grinches tell me to get lost, and mosey off to kick your cat, please hear me out. I am not about to embark on a discussion of some lame Pollyannaish “sunshine and lollipops” attitude. I will be discussing states of consciousness that are as real and pragmatic as concrete—at least to those who have experienced them.
Very few of us are blessed with experiencing the states of consciousness that I am referring to, but it is uplifting to simply recognize their existence. One of the better known examples was experienced by Dr. Richard Bucke (1837-1902), who was a friend and biographer of Walt Whitman, and coined the term “cosmic consciousness.”
Bucke described his experience thusly: “All at once, without warning of any kind ...there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence… I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure [chance; doubt; question] all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all the worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain. The vision lasted a few seconds and was gone; but the memory of it and the sense of the reality of what it taught has remained during the quarter of a century which has since elapsed.”
The philosopher and author Allan Watts (1915-1973) wrote of Bucke’s account: “Such insight has not the slightest connection with ‘shallow optimism’ nor with grasping the meaning of the universe in terms of some neat philosophical simplification. Beside it, all philosophical opinions and disputations sound like somewhat sophisticated versions of children yelling back and forth—“Tis!” “Tisn’t!” “Tis!” “Tisn’t!”—until they catch the nonsense of it all and roll over backwards with hoots of laughter….”
History is replete with examples such as Bucke’s—from anchoress Julian of Norwich’s ecstatic pronouncement, to Robert Browning’s “Pippa’s Song.”
The year’s at the spring, And day’s at the morn; Morning’s at seven; The hill-side’s dew-pearl’d; The lark’s on the wing; The snail’s on the thorn; God’s in His heaven— All’s right with the world!
All is not right with the world, as most anyone can attest, but nonetheless Browning’s lines touch a nerve with most of us—for although we may not have experienced a “God smack” moment such as Bucke’s, many of us have experienced glimmers of what such an experience might feel like.
It is this sense of the divine-in-the-mundane that Browning’s wife Elizabeth (1806-1861) alludes to in the excerpt below from her poem ‘Aurora Leigh’ (which references Exodus 3: 2-5, “And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. ...Then He said ...Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground”).
...Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes - The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries….
Given the way that the world is, it seems Pollyannaism of the most puerile sort to claim universal goodness as a reality. Nevertheless, this is the report brought back to us by many saints, seers and “accidental tourists” who have traveled to the spiritual realm over the centuries. They report that underneath the surface “sturm und drang” of life lies an eternal serenity—the peace “that passes all understanding,” and a vibrant, ineffable goodness.
One of the many footnotes in William James’ classic “The Varieties of Religious Experience” discusses Marie Bashkirtseff (1858-1884). Ms. Bashkirtseff (who was only 25 when she died) left behind some well regarded paintings of hers, and her memoir “I Am the Most Interesting Book of All,” which is still in print.
In any event, James included in his footnotes a description that Ms. Bashkirtseff made of her “state of mind.” I find it interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is its relevance to the subject we have been discussing—Cosmic Consciousness, or Christ Consciousness, if you prefer.
Ms. Bashkirtseff writes: “In [my] depression and dreadful uninterrupted suffering [she died of tuberculosis], I don’t condemn life. On the contrary, I like it, and find it good. Can you believe it? I find everything good and pleasant, even my tears, my grief. I cry, I grieve, and at the same time I am pleased—no, not exactly that—I know not how to express it. ...It is not I who undergo all this—my body weeps and cries; but something inside of me which is above me is glad of it all.” (Lecture 4, footnote 6)
Again we run into a description of an essential goodness at the root of things, (I suppose that should be Goodness with a capital “G”). A description, I should note, that flies in the face of our normal day-to-day reality. (For informed discussions of the difference between valid spiritual experiences and mental pathology, permit me to point you toward the writings, DVDs, and CDs of the late Dr. David R. Hawkins).
Allan Watts (who had some “God smack” experiences of his own) observed that “Quite apart from the difficulty of relating this sensation to the problem of evil and pain, there is the question of the meaning of the assertion ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ I can say only that the meaning of the assertion is the experience itself. Outside that state of consciousness it has no meaning, so much so that it would be difficult even to believe in it as a revelation without the experience. For the experience makes it perfectly clear that the whole universe is through and through the playing of love in every shade….”
(Sidebar: I should briefly touch on the fact that words should always be approached with caution when dealing with the spiritual realm. As the author Joseph Conrad once observed, “Words, as is well known, are great foes of reality,” and Watts cautions us that, “Rarely is the [meta-physical] experience described without metaphors that might be misleading if taken literally.”)
How do we reconcile such glorious experiences with the inglorious, near dystopian reality “we the people” all too often find ourselves in? I am afraid such questions (let alone answers) are well beyond the scope of this article. My hope here is merely to throw a little light on the grimness, and to point out that despite the all too common pains and heartaches associated with this “vale of tears,” there is reportedly a glorious reality behind the veils of this earthly plane.
Not all of us are blessed with the mental dexterity of Augustine of Hippo, or the logical acumen of Thomas Aquinas, or the spiritual experiences of a Thomas Merton. For many of us, probably most of us, a solid grounding in Natural Law via the Decalogue, and a rather fuzzy conception of God as some anthropomorphic deity (a sort of “Zeus as Jehovah”), is as good as it is going to get.
Which is not such a bad thing at all—it beats the heck out of the dead-end narcissistic nihilism that lurks at the core of atheism, I promise you. And, one assumes, it is at least on the right track toward God’s will.
In closing let me leave you with a short quote, often attributed to St. Francis, and one last bit of scripture. The quote is, “All of the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of one candle,” and the bit of scripture is, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” I think that there is a moral, or a lesson, or something in there some place.
Born June 4, 1951 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Served in the U.S. Navy from 1970-1974 in both UDT-21 (Underwater Demolition Team) and SEAL Team Two. Worked as a commercial diver in the waters off of Scotland, India, and the United States. While attending the University of South Florida as a journalism student in 1998 was presented with the “Carol Burnett/University of Hawaii AEJMC Research in Journalism Ethics Award,” 1st place undergraduate division. (The annual contest was set up by Carol Burnett with money she won from successfully suing a national newspaper for libel). Awarded US Army, US Navy, South African, and Russian jump wings. Graduate of NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School, 1970). Member of Mensa, and lifetime member of the UDT/SEAL Association.
Jim can be reached at: email@example.com
Thanks for posting this. With all the news and chaos, so often we need to remind ourselves to just go to His Word (the Bible) and I've never gone there yet that I came away depressed.) God has given us more promises than we can understand. I think of Corrie Tenn Boom's book "The Hiding Place" and how she described life in a Nazi Concentration Camp. She pointed out that they were plagued with head lice in the unit she and her sister were in, but God miraculously let them sneak a little New Testament through all the strip searches, and they held night time Bible Studies where many women were saved. She said she found out later that their Bible Study was never interrupted because none of the guards wanted to risk head lice. Thus God sent this pestilence for the salvation of many souls. We never know what the bad we're experiencing is protecting us from. I remind myself of a quote my devout little grandmother used to encourage me with: "It's always darkest right before the dawn." Let's keep on praying II Chronicles 7:14.
I couldn't agree more. As much as I feel the turmoil of the world, the evil in it, the evil happening all around us, I also feel the inner
peace of the presence of God.
That does not make much sense, if you think about it, but I do feel at peace. It is as if, I have known this has been coming for so long, felt like I was screaming at the top of my lungs and no one could hear or see me.... as if God said, I hear you, I am in control. It is out of my hands and in God's hands. There is time always when we get to the point. Let Go and Let God.
Are we there yet? almost........