Sunday, 30 March 2008

Material, Spiritual, Eschatological

I was interested in Revd. Eckhart Christopher's posting on a Triune Reflection on Meaning in his blog Reflexion. It is an esoteric approach to a triune understanding of the doctrine of Christ, so it will strike many as unusual. In essence it has three aspects: the material and historical, the spiritual and the eschatologial, and in the eschatological he locates the esoteric because he sees this as where the ultimate resides. Thus there is here a kind of gnosticism of layers: a plain literal meaning in history, thus what Jesus did and what happened to him, then a kind of divine involvement and spiritual truth given into these otherwise plain events, and then a layer where these are unified, which is the eschatological.

So, to summarize the trinity of meaning, we have a historical or hylic layer that deals with the concrete, the spatial and temporal, the material. This is followed by the spiritual or psychic layer that transforms the material or the historical into signs and symbols, truths that reflect to us and teach us about God and the Cosmos; about ourselves. And, the final layer is the esoteric layer; the eschatological or pneumatic. Here, the truths we encounter at the former levels focus our attention on The Truth, in its universality and its eternality.

Well I like the labels, but not the application. I don't particularly care for layers and mysteries: for me mysteries are mysterious and perhaps the less said on them the better. So, using these labels, I would have it as something like this:

First of all there is the material, which is this transient coming and going of energy and matter. The scientists can tell us all about this. We also have the uncertainty of events, and the limitations of historiography. You somehow just cannot pin these down. Our whole world is a series of paradigms and paradigm shifts when we have meaning attached to these, and indeed meaning is what matters even when considering the material. A model for this might be Shiva: the destroyer and recreator; Vishnu too is important as a sustainer.

Now the spiritual I do not consider to be a separate realm, but rather what is thrown up by transience and the meaning we give to the stuff of stuff: derived from our biology, our talking, and the pain and pleasure of out living and that indeed of a succession of animal types including ourselves. Consciousness, and indeed knowing our consciousness, raises matters of sympathy and empathy, not doing to others that you would not do to yourself. So the spiritual is a set of values attached. How it is all understood is culture.

Our bodies are talking bodies, and we extend ourselves into collectives through talk and meaning, and we build institutions which can be considered as extensions of bodies. So the material and spiritual are wrapped up in each other, and impossible to separate.

The eschatological, however, is the dramatic, the necessary; it is about as if you are facing your greatest challenge. What are you to do, and what would you do if you had to do it quickly? It is the need to decide, and the ethical jump to be made - even though is the most difficult thing to do. This is what makes the spiritual important, then. Why is the eschatological upon us? Because reality is transient, and yet it is to be valued spiritually.

Valuing something means having to decide for or against. The eschatological does expose a kind of binary drive in living. You cannot value without deciding, and these are bound together.

These three are integrated. They are Christian in that they affirm the material, and call in a like Kingdom of God decision.

The Christology is this: that Jesus, a real human being, valued the ordinariness of life including at its lowest, but he called for preparation and decision for the religious life, the highest, a life in a new reality.

Whilst he was certainly supernatural, and even strange, this approach here is not. No powers are called upon, nor are any expected. Ritual is simply a means of passing through towards making some sort of decision, even a decision to be a little more integrated and unified with others. Music and art are cultural and so their use in ritual therefore frames, upholds and supports the cultural valuing of the transient material. So we pass material tokens one to another and receive a spiritual gift one to another that is a sign of valuing who and where we are, and what is important about where we are going. There is the demand to act in service, to go for the Yes that challenges even when we might cry no.

I'm not particularly interested in worshipping Christ as an end, but as a means: he offers important, decision taking, ethical reversals as a kind of programme. All these doctrinal and cultural constructions into the religion of Christianity are but parts of and developments from the original inter-Testament Judaism and late Hebrew Bible traditions that Jesus took up and gave his syncretistic twist. Paul's mistake was to focus on God's sole worker too much at the expense of the work of God's worker.

The triune element is not itself important, but we like triangles because they are robust and balanced, just as we like unity, just as we like diversity. You end up getting a lot of tradition, that is an encrusted reflection. Fine. But my translation is a transience that is valued that then calls on the individual and group to decide for the Yes of making well.


Revd. Eckhart Christopher said...

First, Mr Worsfold, thanks for the excellent cartoon. It's brilliant. And, second, thanks for interacting with the construct and "running with it." Finally, as an exercise in building communication, I have put a post on my blog interacting with a few of the things you spoke about in your great post.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. A great article Adrian. A long way from the complex studies intially aired on the surefish forum, presumably in an effort to make your message more amenable to Joe and Jane Public.

I've missed reading your extraordinary work which succeeds in forging links and identfying connections, without which the world would otherwise seem rigid, compartmentalised and essentially meaningless.

All good wishes