Now fifteen years on
Last week I broke out a piece of my credo from seminary [‘E X P E R I E N C E‘]. It seems my credo sent me a note across time. We’ll come back to that.
These past eight weeks we’ve been (loosely) considering the problem of epistemology. Empiricists like John Locke (1632—1704 C.E.), et al., insist that all knowledge is received through the five senses. How, then, can we possibly know directly of anything spiritual? Saint Paul helpfully points out the first Bible was nature/creation [Romans 1.20]. So, we sense G-d through our observation and experience of creation. OK, there’s that. But what of direct knowledge of G-d? Is that possible? So, exclusively through Scripture, discursive prayer and meditation, Church, etc., only by externals, then?
Last week we briefly examined an intrinsic dimension of mysticism, e.g., ‘experience.’ Randy Maddox’s typology of John Wesley’s (1703—1791 C.E.) use of the term has indicated it was seemingly limited to the cataphatic [positive, express, manifest] side of mysticism. However, not without some difficulty.
Wesley was able to transcend Locke’s reductionist empiricism—in vogue in Wesley’s day (and ours, e.g., scientific materialism)—with the integration of “spiritual senses.” I feel this is a fine example of mystical theology/poetry/literature as an expression of reverse engineering. Wesley knew the first-hand immediacy of experiencing G-d [Aldersgate]. His integration of ‘spiritual senses‘ seems like a retrospective way of explaining his perceiving of divine knowledge, and his ‘heart strangely warmed‘ the offering of an apt metaphor for his non-Lockean experience in receiving that knowledge. So, Wesley’s move (in The New Birth sermon—1760) was to point out that G-d—by the Holy Spirit—provides spiritual senses through which we perceive spiritual matters. Wesley argues that G-d has equipped us with our physical senses to perceive the physical, and in/through the new birth, G-d equips us with spiritual senses to perceive the spiritual. While this may be substantially different than the G-d given ‘stirrings,’ ‘longings,’ and ‘yearnings’ described by the early apophatic (negation) mystics, I’m not sure how. Grace upon grace in any event. Images from the early mystics, and later from John Wesley, point to the means of grace (both apophatic/negating and cataphatic/affirming) by which we know G-d.
An unconscious note to myself from 2004
I couldn’t help but notice the grace evidently involved in my credo evaluation. The argument in my ‘theological method’ regarding ‘experience’ fell well short of supporting the spiritual intuition I was endeavoring to express.
A quick review of our quadrant mnemonic—designed to keep wholeness [holiness] top of mind—may be helpful:
My credo argument attempted to express the seamlessly holistic nature of existence. For lack of one particular term, the case fell a bit flat. Trying to steer clear of a binary-trap, I used the term ‘spectrum.’ On close reading now, however, I see the lack in that term. While not ‘black & white’ [except for the poles of the spectrum], a ‘spectrum’ is still, in a sense, a binary image. While not limited to either/or, it’s only able to account for a linear range of possibilities. For instance, a spectrum may account for a range of possibilities from interior (subjective) to exterior (objective)—horizontal axis in illustration ii. However, that same spectrum is unable to simultaneously account for the linear range of possibilities on the singular (individual) vs. plural (community) spectrum—vertical axis in illustration ii.
I now use the term: möbius. I feel this image is more able to holistically integrate wholeness (holiness)—all four quadrants of our mnemonic. Locating cause becomes a dualistic distraction.
In terms of holding Wesley’s category one experience (‘pure subjective awareness’) to account, holiness works best. The seamless nature of existence means that Wesley’s UL ‘category one’ has immediate co-creators/correlates in the UR, LL, and LR quadrants.
September is a joyous time for me because that’s when the world’s finest peaches are available. So, I feel about these Idaho (O-Henry) peaches the way Kramer does about the annual Oregon (“Mackinaw”) peaches on Seinfeld.
Words inadequately describe the experience of eating one of these Idaho peaches. Each year in anticipation I wonder, ‘Can those O-Henry’s possibly be as good as I remember?’ Without fail, the taste always surpasses my memories! An experience far too sublime for words/memory to contain. Experiencing G-d is something like that.
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?