Sunday, November 22, 2015

Presence of God

Presence of God and contemplative life are one and the same thing. Both are the result of the act and the experience of going out of oneself. They do not consist in conceptual knowing as snapshots of reality, but the self experiencing itself as transcending itself.
            I think we falsify what is really going on here particularly because we presume that we know through mental images that we fabricate of real things “outside” of us. Then, the problem arises as to how we can reach the reality of things outside of us if we have populated our minds or brains with “respresentations” “inside” of us in order “to know” what is “outside.”
            Walker Percy tried to under stand knowing in terms of a reductive biologism – a kind of biological engineering -  whereby there is a stimulus outside, and a reaction inside. The attempt was to explain language, and therefore thought in terms of this binomial of physical stimulus and response. 
Following the philosopher Charles Peirce, Walker Percy was attempting to understand the nature of language, and he found it to be beyond physical stimulus and response. He wrote: “the point is that the picture the psychologist draws, showing stimuli and responses, big S’s and R’s outside the brain, little s’s and r’s inside the brain, with arrows showing the course of nerve impulses along nerves and across synapses, no matter how complicated it is, will not show what happens when a child understands that the sound ball is the name of a class of round objects, or when I say The center is not holding and you understand me.”
            Peirce offered “thirdness” beyond the dualism of stimulus and response. Percy finds and offers the example of Helen Keller (who is deaf, dumb and blind) coming to knowledge and liberation from the dungeon of the deaf, dumb and blind self to a self open to the totality of reality. She did this in a kind of lucky moment when her nurse, Anne Sullivan, was trying to teach her the meaning of “mean.” She had already known by association that the Braille symbol for water meant that cool liquid  something that could slake her thirst. But there was some thing missing: the “I” who knew what the Braille symbol “meant.” She could associate as an animal associates, but she did not know what “mean” meant – until Anne was pouring the water from the pump in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1888, and some thing amazing took place. She “symbolized” the Braille and “threw” it at the water. This was done by a free, fortuitous act of the third reality, her “I.”
            Helen Keller: “We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand, she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that `w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.
                I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me. On entering the door I remembered the doll I had broken. [She had earlier destroyed the doll in a fit of temper.] I felt my way to the dearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”[1]

                What had happened? Helen had exercised her subjectivity as cause by “throwing” (βαλέιν) the “likeness” (sym): w-a-t-e-r at the wet flowing object. She had experienced herself as cause, and therefore came to a consciousness of herself as “self.” Percy comments: “before, Helen had behaved like a good responding organism. Afterward, she acted like a rejoicing symbol-mongering human. Before, she was little more than an animal. Afterward, she became wholly human. Within the few minutes of the breakthrough and the several hours of exploiting it Helen had concentrated the months of the naming phase that most children go through somewhere around their second birthday.”[2]
What does this mean?  I haven’t thought or read enough to unpack all the implications. It clearly removes the rationalism from the Enlightenment from Descartes onward, while recovering the "I" of the Enlightenment as real being. That is, it seems that we understand (legere ab intus) reality by the experience of ourselves as being on the move out of ourselves. Ratzinger developed his “theological epistemology” of “knowing” the Person of Christ as divine Person, by the profundity of becoming Christ, or as it was said in Francis’ Aparecida in 2007, “Only God knows God.” Ratzinger showed that the Apostles had been with Christ in prayer to the Father, and it was in this context that Christ asked: “Who do men say that I am”? Simon answer: Some say John the Baptist, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. And then: “Who do you say that I am?” Simon answered from the experience of transcending himself in prayer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ now changes his name from Simon to Peter and reveals the Cross to him. Christ gave Simon His own name (Cornerstone): Petros/Peter.
   The point is that we can have a continuous presence of God, by having a continuous experience of transcending ourselves in ordinary  life, by mastering ourselves and “turning all the circumstances and events of my life into occasions of loving you…” Ordinary secular life is the proper context for the experience of going out of myself and becoming conscious of being Christ Himself. One has presence of God by becoming God. We can experientially turn all of ordinary life into prayer. This is not pantheism but the experience of holiness and divinization.

[1] Ibid 34-35.
[2] Ibid 38.

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