Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Cloud of Unknowing: Apophatic Blogging

Apathetic? No, apophatic, that which transcends the utterance. The phatic, that which I recall dimly from grad school learning refers to a sound not necessarily freighted with meaning. At least expressible in mere syntax or lexicography. Perhaps calligraphy?

What would the anonymous English mystic, circa 1370, who penned this treatise have to say about our attempts to fill our far busier, if no less anguished, world with meaning? How can we ever penetrate the mentality of those who preceded us, trusting in signs and portents now explained by science, or common sense?

Re-reading Michel Houllebecq's moving, detached, and stubbornly odd 2000 novel "The Elementary Particles" on the treadmill before it got to a hundred degrees outside this morning, I noted a passage about what the narrator calls "white noise." This sensation pulsing within once filled our ancestors with the imminence of their reunion with the sundered divine; for us today, at least me (has my faith been not lost but misplaced?) and H's characters in the wake of the 60s and the breakup of their parents' families under consumerism, capitalism, and libertinism, the sound filling our bloodstream as it thickens and clots reminds us only of our death. For Meister Eckhart's negative theology, the "via negativa," he appealed to what God's not.

I pulled down my Paulist Press edition of "Cloud." I always have been haunted by Fr. Simon Tugwell's preface, citing Eckhart (but not with an exact quote; I've traced this concept so far in vain, perhaps fittingly so): "We must, in Eckhart's striking phrase, strive to be as we were before we were created. Only so are we really one with God." (xxii)

This powerful concept, that in turn has been one that ever since I can remember, all my life I have stumbled around in some Wordsworthian, Neo-Platonic sense, reminded me of when, early in meeting Layne, I investigated Eastern Christian thought. It talks of a similar process that denies articulation to understand divinity. We know God not by His essence, but only His attributes. The core of the Force eluded us. Perhaps not unlike our galaxy's center, all black holes, keeping the stars wheeling, within an increasingly incomprehensible realm of dark matter and invisible energy.

Well, visit my spiritually infused friend's titular blog and sample the mystery beyond verbal flounderings like mine. Is its creator taking the piss out of us? Or, making a profound comment on what we know we don't know, if all the fundamentalists and atheists in the world to the contrary? Perhaps in what Buddhists call "luminous emptiness" we too will find our salvation. It figures Harry (aka Bob) created this Zen-like space amidst the mundane sort of secular, self-indulgent, and busily blithering blogs. Happy sweltering searing Solstice to all.

Photo:Carl McColman's AnamChara: The Website of Unknowing.

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