Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The sacred begins with a sense of mystery

Thomas Moore joins a discussion in the Comments area of his blog post, "Suggested Reading" by describing his appreciation of the divine in the ordinary. He writes:
September 3, 2011
"I keep waiting for the return of a new kind of theology. Theology is in decline because divinity has been forgotten, 'divinity in the manifest world.' I would like to spend the rest of my days spelling out what that means, because everything depends on it. It’s very difficult to speak in such language today. Either it is countered immediately with naive religion or it is subjected to sentimental spirituality, which is rampant today. Sentimentality in these areas is a defense against the power of what we’re talking about. I came across a line in Thoreau recently about him seeing angels on Walden Pond. If I had to do it over again, I might have become an angelologist. Now there’s something worth spending your life thinking about."

September 5, 2011
"... I’d like to make an attempt to spell out more what I mean by the sacred in the secular or the divine in the ordinary. First, usually we divide the world and experience into heaven and earth, or somewhere else and here. This seems to be making too literal of a distinction between the world imagined as contained within our understanding and power on one side, and that which is beyond our understanding and control on the other. For me, the sacred begins with the sense of mystery, which implies something (a bad word) hidden. God was known classically as deus absconditus, the hidden god. I think we can access that hidden element with our imagination: poetry, painting, architecture, music, theology, ritual, and so on. This is a key point: we know with the imagination. This is different from our usual way of knowing through sense impression and measurements. What is hidden? Some sense of the whole or some potency beneath it all and in everything. In some places, for example, a tree is treated as sacred because of its size or shape or location or history, all suggesting a special epiphany of the hidden. This hidden is not to be ever measured. It remains in the imagination. Nicolas of Cusa always said that whatever we say of it falls short. I try to glimpse the hidden or the sacred or the potency of the all in the most ordinary things. They become tiny windows onto it. I make a bed and find myself outside myself, deeply quieted, closer to the hidden, and so then I realize that a simple act like making a bed places me close to what I was looking for in formal religion. There the images became too thick and heavy. They didn’t offer as much access as simple things do. In our family we put images of buddas and saints and bodhisattvas around us to help us see the hidden in our house and garden. I have them all around me in the room where I write. I want to remember that when I work at my writing I am in touch with the hidden. Maybe now it will be clear why I have been meditating for weeks on a line from Thoreau’s Walden: 'Walden Pond has blue angels in it, in the azure tint of its waters.'"
Visit Thomas Moore's blog to join the discussion.

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