Sunday, July 17, 2005

gnosis 9: sacred scriptures

   Gnosis of God is unique because God is unique. I cannot assimilate God as I can hope, if I am fairly intelligent, to assimilate facts about geology and chemistry. Why? Kierkegaard, in his dramatic way, provides the awesome answer: God is "pure subjectivity." By that he does not mean that God is only a subjective experience. He means God is confronting me, judging me, as the objects of my studies in chemistry and geology are not. My hope of understanding him is nil unless (a) he first deigns to reveal himself to me and (b) I approach him in that humble faith that is the only effective prelude to this kind of knowledge, that is, knowledge of the divine.

- MacGregor: Gnosis, p24.

It has occurred to me that I've been using both Rumi's verses and MacGregor's book as sacred scriptures, springboards for reflection on myself, on the world, on the relationship between "I" and "you", or between the ego and the higher Self. It is a journey of exploration both inward and outward and I am using these writings like guide books or signposts along the way.

Once, long ago, I used the I Ching in this way, finding passages through the randomized divination method, and then pondering the meanings therein. People open the Bible at random to do something similar. Any writing with a rich and varied content can thus become a sacred scripture: Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Dick's Valis, Yann Martel's Life of Pi. I've included the last one especially because it contains, I believe, a strong and quirky reference to this very issue.

The hero of Life of Pi is an Indian boy called Piscine (or Pi) Patel. His father runs a zoo but circumstances force him to sell up and transport his animals overseas and it is during this journey that the ship sinks leaving Pi on a lifeboat, with but a few animal companions that soon reduce to just the one tiger. Before this pivotal journey, Pi had joined three religions: his native Hinduism, and then both Islam and Christianity. He persisted in belonging to all three despite protests from religious authorities on all three sides. Presumably Pi was able to study and derive benefit from three sets of sacred scripture.

However, once stranded in mid-ocean with but a tiger for company, Pi is left with but one piece of writing, a banal but pragmatic lifeboat survival manual. It provides him with much of the arcane knowledge he needs to desalinate the water, to catch fish, to stay alive under his desperate conditions. During his ordeal, he seems to derive no benefit whatsoever from whatever he may have learned from the earlier three sacred scriptures. He never refers to them. The only earlier knowledge that also serves him well is what he picked up about animal psychology and behaviour, how to manage a wild animal like his tiger companion. That is all.

Through this device, I think Martel is making fun of - or deconstructing? - our reliance on sacred scriptures as guides to getting through life in one piece. It is comforting, perhaps, to cling to some form of guidance but it must be the right guidance for the occasion. Spiritual guidance has its place but so too does the practical and down-to-earth. If one reads Martel's novel, one finds a good bit of both such that it could well serve as a sacred scripture in itself.

I like MacGregor's idea above that we can study the subject matter of science in one way but we cannot apply the same method when it comes to God or to Kierkegaard's "pure subjectivity". The latter is much closer to the way we get to know another person. I like to read and reread both Rumi and MacGregor because I like these writers and want to know them more intimately. I feel that spending time with them leads to that. Even if I could read the writings in a matter of hours or days, I gain something deeper by dwelling, returning, discovering new nuances, and returning again just for the pleasure of the company. In doing this, I think I am treating the writing as a sacred scripture, as a pathway to divinity.

I found it odd at first that MacGregor should speak of God's uniqueness. However, I can see that he is quite right. My experience of God, my love and awareness of divinity, simply must be unique, must be coloured by the unique path that has led to this acquaintance. That which approaches me, that which I relate to, that which I discover bit by bit, all this is subsumed under "God" and what I know is therefore unique, even in and of itself. Ha! I think the greatest mystery lies here. It's where words fail. They are useful up to a point but then ...


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