Seeking Consonance with the Transcendent

William Blake's "Jacob's Ladder"

William Blake’s “Jacob’s Ladder”

Do you see an apparent contradiction in the following statement?  In my previous essay, I wrote:

  •      “I understand the inner (esoteric) religious experience to be concerned with personal transformation, so as to bring ourselves into increasing consonance with that which transcends our human experience.”

 

If the Transcendent is truly transcendent, then by definition it is beyond our ability to experience.  How then, is it possible to bring oneself into consonance with something one posits must exist outside our universe and experience?  

 

This is the point I will address in this essay.  But first, let’s refresh our memory of certain terms, and provide a frame of reference for this discussion.  The following are the best definitions of “transcendent” when I use terms like “Uncreated/Divine/God” and “Transcendent-Ineffable”:

  Transcendent

  •     Being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge;  being beyond comprehension (Merriam-Webster);
  •     Beyond consciousness or direct apprehension;  beyond or before experience (a priori);  having continuous existence outside the created world (Collins English);
  •     Being above and independent of the material universe (American Heritage);
  •     Not realizable in human experience;  referred to, but beyond, direct apprehension; outside consciousness (Kernerman Webster’s College);

 

The view that “God” (the Uncreated-Divine-Transcendent-Ineffable) is to an indeterminate degree Unknowable, is one of my radical (meaning, foundational) theological tenets.  (I addressed this point in a previous essay).  I find it to be the most certain positive statement I may make concerning the Divine;  more than this, everything else one wishes to say of “God” must reside within the shadow of this observation.  (We forget this at our peril, and the peril of others, as history is replete with examples.)

 

Negative theology (also known as Via Negativa, “Negative Way”) seeks to clarify this point by stating we are unable to make *positive* assertions as to the nature of the Uncreated/Divine/God.  This is because the divine realm is completely unavailable to our human senses.

When using negative theology, we limit our statements to observing what the Uncreated/Divine/God is *not*.  The intention is to specifically limit our statements to that of which we *do* have experience, namely:  objects, events, and persons of this world.  Simultaneously, we assert the Divine always exceeds that which is limited to human experience.

Thus:

  • Our experience is limited to the world in which we live
  • We assert there is a divine world, which transcends our world
  • As human beings, we are unable to directly experience the divine world *
  • Therefore, we are insufficient to the task of describing and defining the divine world
  • But we are able to describe experiences we have as human beings
  • And we may acknowledge human experience is insufficient to fully describe & define the Divine
  • This leads some to the adoption of the Negative Way:  limiting ourselves to stating what the Uncreated/Divine/God is not **

*  This is not to say that the Divine is unable to enter our world;  I believe it may.  But it is to say, that in so doing, what the Divine reveals of itself to us is limited by our ability to perceive it.
**  I am not aware of anyone who thinks the Negative Way adequately reveals the Divine to us.  Primarily it is an exercise designed to make us mindfully aware of our limitations in attempting to describe that which is outside the meaning of time and space, or any other categories of understanding we have access to as human beings.

 

But God Can Do Anything!

I frequently hear the argument that God can do anything, including reveal the entirety of the divine to the mortal.  I disagree.  The problem is this:  we remain mortal;  human.  Anything revealed to us must *still* be filtered through our perception and then cognitively processed by us.  We have bodies, sense organs, and a brain;  and these present limitations.  And so long as we remain human, we will always face limitation.

 

  •      The limitation in receiving divine revelation is not God (the Source), but ourselves (the Receptor)

 

If we use the metaphor of radio waves, the Uncreated sends forth a vast array of radio waves -we may even posit an infinite range of frequencies- but we as the radio receiver are only able to perceive those frequencies which our antenna and filters allow us to receive.  Psychologically, we may also consider more human corollaries.  There have been cases of persons born blind, who later gain vision;  but they cannot make any sense of what they are seeing, because their brains never developed the ability to make sense of the photons hitting their retina.

 

  •      As with one born physically blind, we are all born spiritually blind, in terms of directly seeing the divine realm.

 

The Claims of Mystics

Mystics, however, report experiencing something which they interpret as an aspect of the Divine.  But they have difficulty relating their experience to someone who has not had a similar experience.  Invariably, such experiences lose a great deal when transmitted by the spoken or written word.  A great deal of mysticism struggles with exactly this problem.

Mystics tell us they are able to push their perception to some degree beyond those most persons experience.  For those wishing to explore this more deeply I believe it is helpful to distinguish between perception, comprehension, and apprehension.

Perception is both physical and psychological;  it requires the ability to receive raw input, and it requires the ability to be aware of the input.  Comprehension is a cognitive process;  this is making sense of the raw data we are receiving as input to our perceptions.  Comprehension is a conscious endeavour.

Apprehension is more subtle.  Apprehension is linked to instincts and intuition.  I suspect it is also linked to the human collective unconscious;  which may in turn be linked to the what we might call the divine collective unconscious.  (I believe there is an interesting Jungian argument here, which I will not explore in this essay.)

Thus, through apprehension, we are able to exceed our purely physical (sensory) and psychological (cognitive) limitations.  Through apprehension, the mystic seeks connection with the Divine, pushing back portions of the veil which separates the mortal and divine realms.  And I suspect many mystics would agree that the Divine may simultaneously pull back this veil.

So I do believe the Divine is both willing and able to assist us.  (Which leads to a future discussion regarding the immanent nature of the Divine.)  And I do believe that given sufficient desire, trial, and effort, we may gain greater access to what may be a “shadow” of the divine realm.  Yet there remains a radical, fundamental difference between the divine and human which cannot be fully bridged.

Not even God can fully bridge the gap between the divine and human.  Because to do so, we could no longer remain human.  And we are not capable of being fully human and fully divine.

 

  •      This also opens the door to a discussion about “Christology” -the study of Christ- and theological debate surrounding the questions of Jesus being fully human while simultaneously fully divine.  It took several hundred years for the Church to address these and related questions.  These are extensive discussions and are beyond the scope of this essay.  Christology may be the topic of future essays.

 

Healthy Humility

Developing a healthy sense of humility is very important.  In fact, I believe this to be critical for our spiritual maturity.  This is my starting point when contemplating the Divine.  It may sound strange at first, but I believe having severely limited access to the Divine may actually be beneficial to our spiritual growth.

 

  •      Knowing that the ultimate nature of the Divine is unavailable to human experience, is a very healthy and peace-affirming theological position to assume.

 

After all, if everyone were to admit the greatest depths of the Divine are totally unavailable to our comprehension (that the Divine is in fact “transcendent”), each of us would be *unable* to assume the position that *I* understand the Mind of God –and most importantly– therefore, *you* *lack* this understanding.

 

  •      To believe and accept there are depths of the Divine beyond our ken, is a significant step toward eliminating the religious persecution and victimization of others.

 

It is a sad indictment of humanity to observe this would be a giant step forward.  It would be the end of religious war, and the end of murdering in the name of God!  (The greatest of sins, in my opinion.)  If for no other reason, this makes it an extremely worthwhile theological tenet to adopt (even if only provisionally).

 

Are We Then Bereft of God?

If we can never have any experience of, and are unable to have any contact with, the transcendent elements of “God” does this mean we have no access to any part of the Divine?  Does this mean we are utterly alone and alienated from that which we believe is the Source of existence itself?

Not at all.  We do have the ability to access those parts of the Divine which are manifest in this world.  But we should be mindful that this is only a partial understanding, and affords us an incomplete view of the Divine.  But there are steps we may take to mitigate these difficulties.

Religious Education

In the outer, exoteric sense, this is the role of religion in the public sphere.  This is a beginning point.  We attend public worship, meetings, and study sessions.  Largely, I see this as an effort to educate ourselves.  In this “exoteric” category I would also include private bible study and seminary studies.  We are trying to better understand our own religious tradition, the roles persons play within that tradition, and where we fit into our religious tradition.  (We may further benefit by including the study of other religious traditions;  how they both differ and are similar to our own.)

Public Mysticism

There are also more mystical encounters which take place in the public sphere, which are not about educating ourselves, but are instead focused upon *experiencing* the Presence of the Divine.  In my opinion, facilitating our connection (with what we may experience of) the Divine is the role of the Holy Spirit  (which I equate with the Shakinah in the Jewish tradition).

Several very different examples which immediately come to mind include:  Catholic Eucharist;  Whirling Dervish;  and very active forms of worship, such as Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Appalachian Snake Handling services.  Of these, the Catholic Eucharist is the most introverted expression of public mysticism.

Private Mysticism

For me, this is the deeper experience.  But I may simply feel this way because I am strongly introverted, therefore I have a natural inclination to this path, and a natural disinclination toward being part of a “public spectacle.”  I will point out that each of us should endeavour to be aware that what *we* find natural, may or may not be what another person finds to be a “natural” means of entering an experience of the Holy Presence.

Judge not.  Whether one sits quietly, mumbles under their breath, chants, drums, dances, or whirles in dizzying circles, it is the state of entering a sense of rapport with the Divine which is important, not how one achieves this state.  And this is an internal state, which only the person entering it may judge to be effective or ineffective.  Therefore, use whatever approach works for you.  And feel free to experiment with different means of entering this state.

Inner Mysticism

Inner mysticism may also be called esoteric mysticism, because at its core it is an internal event and experience.  One may enter this state through a public event (Eucharist, Pentecost, etc) or one may enter this state through a private event (contemplation, meditation, drumming, chanting, etc).

The point is that the encounter itself is internal to the person experiencing it.  Whether this encounter takes place in a public space or within a private space is secondary.  Another way of saying this, is that our body just happens to be wherever it is occupying physical space;  however, it is our spirit, that is engaging the mystical experience.

For this reason, I believe the inner-esoteric experience is properly called “spirituality.”  Here we seek to bridge the gap between our (lower case) spirit and the (upper case) Divine Spirit.  In this essay, I will suggest we may think of this process as trying to attain “resonance” with the Divine.  This is an intermediate step (it was preceded by the educational process, and as we shall see, may eventually may lead to a state of “consonance” with the Divine).

Attaining resonance with the Divine, repeated over time, leads to an even deeper connection.  Terms which I find useful in describing this state are establishing a “rapport” with the Divine, or of attaining “consonance” with the Divine.  Both terms are useful.  Rapport is very useful when speaking of the neural-linguistic processes taking place within our body, brain, and mind.  Consonance offers a beautiful musical metaphor for the experience, which also lends itself to the concept of participation in the “Field Theory” of the Divine.  By whatever name one wishes to use as a label for the encounter, the active attempt to bring oneself into a state of rapport/consonance with the Divine is the primary objective of mysticism.

Each of these processes builds upon and refines that which precedes.  First an outer-exoteric religious experience, followed by a spiritual attempt to bring oneself into “resonance” with the Divine, followed by a deepening “consonance” with the Divine.  While the terms used to describe these processes vary, all great religions acknowledge them.

 

Achieving a State of Consonance

It is understanding the role of mysticism as a means of establishing rapport with the Divine which I wish to discuss in this essay.  I propose this may be thought of as a two-step process.  First we determine how to enter a state of resonance with the Divine.  Once we have learned to enter a state of resonance, we refine the process over time, through repetition and exploration.  Ultimately repetitive states of resonance results in achieving a state of consonance.

Resonance & Consonance

The following are the Merriam-Webster definitions of resonance and consonance:

Resonance

  • The quality or state of being resonant
  • A vibration of large amplitude in a mechanical or electrical system caused by a relatively small periodic stimulus of the same or nearly the same period as the natural vibration period of the system

Consonance

  • Harmony or agreement among components

 

Tightly stretched wires which share the same fundamental frequency will vibrate in sympathetic response with one another.  If you have access to a piano or two tuning forks of the same frequency (or a harmonic thereof) you may easily test this for yourself.

If you strike a C-note on a piano, every other wire in that piano tuned to a C will vibrate in resonance with the one you struck.  In fact, the same effect will take place with other musical instruments in the vicinity.  This is an example of sympathetic harmonic resonance.  Sound waves are transmitted by air molecules between the strings, tuning forks, or other musical instruments.

Related effects are well known in modern physics.  Gravitational waves are a form of field effect, electromagnetic field effects are integral to many mechanical and electromagnetic systems, and at the subatomic level, field effect semi-transistors control the flow of electrons in the computer you are using to read this essay.  Thus, we see examples of resonance throughout nature, at all scales.

Consonance is a particularly useful term as it is used when describing musical relationships, because it speaks to an artful impression of which we become aware when listening to a beautiful piece of music (there is also dissonance, which describes the opposite effect).  Personally, I find resonance to be a more abstract, sterile term than consonance.  Consonance conveys a sense of beauty and heart-felt appreciation.  Thus, we seek “consonance of the heart” when seeking union with the Divine.

 

  •      One may measure resonance with a frequency meter.  But one experiences consonance in one’s heart.

 

Is there a “consonant field effect” connecting us to the Uncreated/Divine/God?

I am asking whether the above examples of field effects in the physical realm -gravity, sympathetic harmonic resonance, electrical and magnetic fields- may serve as analogies for a similar “field effect” existing between the human spirit and the Divine Spirit.

 

  •      Might a “spiritual field effect” comprise a subtle connection between the physical and divine realms?

 

I suggest that such a connection does exists.  Further, I am suggesting that understanding our connection between the human and Divine realms as a form of spiritual “consonance” is instructive for a number of practical reasons.

 

First and foremost, it affirms we have access to some aspects of the Divine Spirit while we exist in the physical-human realm.

People who have not felt any indication of such a connection are often doubtful of this assertion, but those who have felt it, no longer question that it exists.  They may question a great deal more, about its nature and meaning, and what to do with/about it;  but this connection itself, has become a part of their personal experience;  thus, it is not a theory, or an article of faith, it is something they know/feel to be as true as the wind upon their face.

It is important to emphasize, this does not mean they also understand or comprehend it.  Being certain a thing exists, is not the same as knowing all there is to know about it, or even assurance one knows anything about it, beyond its existence.

 

Secondly, it suggests we may gain access to the Divine Spirit by conforming ourselves to become first “resonate” and then “consonant” with the Divine Spirit.

This point is critical.  This is what spiritual practices are all about.  Whether one is a whirling dervish, speaking in tongues, or practicing kataphatic and/or apophatic contemplation, all are means of placing oneself in greater resonance with what one perceives as the Uncreated/Divine/God.

And as one deepens one’s spiritual practices, from this preliminary state of *resonance*, one is increasingly likely to develop a resulting sense of *consonance* with the Uncreated/Divine/God.  And mystics indicate this in turn promotes a deepening sense of peace within, which is reflected upon the outer world through the experiences of richer, more peaceful relations with others.

 

  •      Divine Light is engendered in our heart, fills it and cascades, shining forth into the world as the ray of Love

 

How might we engender this sense of consonance within our experience?

We must first discover which of the many ways of experiencing a sense of the Uncreated/Divine/God in our personal lives is effective for us.  This will likely differ from one person to the next.  I suspect our individual psychology, and cultural influences are major contributing factors for such differences.

The uniqueness of our individual psychological and behaviour development influences whether we respond well to active dancing and chanting, or prefer quiet, solitary contemplation/meditation to enter an open spiritual state.  This is a case where the “how” is subjective, and completely secondary, to being able to achieve the state of connectedness with the Divine.

Once we discover one or more ways which promote -for us- this state of connectedness to the Divine, we must determine specifically under what circumstances this effect is experienced.  Equally important is learning what discourages this sense of connection.  Both are effected by our development as individuals:  culturally, socially, psychologically, and spiritually.  We should also be aware that we may discover certain methods are more appropriate given different circumstances.  We each may cultivate multiple means of connecting with the Divine.

 

Participating in the Kingdom of God

Over time, we should anticipate changes within ourselves.  These internal changes lead to behaviour modification, leading to changes in how we interact with other persons.  These mental, emotional, and behaviour changes which take root and blossom within our hearts is the “personal transformation” I speak of as one of the two major goals of leading a spiritual life.  The second major goal of leading a spiritual life takes place when our personal transformation is transferred to our interactions with others.  This is integral to the “transformation of society.”  In fact, I believe it is the only means of transforming the community in which we live.

It is my belief these transformations -personal and communal- are vital elements of what Jesus referred to as the coming Kingdom of God.  It is already present:  in potential.  But it requires our personal, individual, mindful participation to initiate the process.  And we do so by living appropriately spiritual lives;  spiritual lives which over time bring us into closer consonance with the Divine.

 

And how are we to judge whether we are living appropriately spiritual lives?

I believe we find this guidance in the ideals of selfless love, compassion, and loving-kindness.  These become our daily measures of success.  All great religions speak of these ideals.

We should also acknowledge we will trip and fall at times.  To err is human, after all.  The key is to get back up and recommit ourselves to the principals of selfless love, compassion, and loving-kindness, to whatever extent we are able.  It is a moment-by-moment, day-by-day continuing process.  It is a process of spiritual cultivation which we will practice for the rest of our lives.

I believe this is the process of “becoming more fully human” which bishop Spong speaks of in concert with his appeal for us to “love wastefully.”  And if we can remember only a single thing, if we may hold onto only a single thought throughout our daily lives, this is certainly a wonderful, transforming thought:

love wastefully!

 

Selected References:

Advertisements


%d bloggers like this: