Saturday, July 14, 2012

#99. Beyond the Impasse


ARCHIVE. For a list of all my published posts:

Originally published separately, all three parts slightly revised are included here.

PART ONE (posted on July 5, 2012)

This post started as an email to a friend about a conference held in the Washington DC area this year on the weekend after Easter. The email morphed, all by itself, into this post.

The conference was the annual Gerald May Symposium, sponsored by the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, a group dedicated to the support of contemplative living and leadership. This year's speaker was Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest, author and contemplative hermit who lives on an island in Maine. Her conference title was "Contemplatives and Mystics as Prophets and Visionaries."

In one sense, "contemplative" is almost an old-fashioned word nowadays. It used to be used of monks and nuns who lived cloistered lives. But in our time it has come to mean any persons for whom some kind of spirituality is central to their lives and who-- unlike religious fundamentalists-- are concerned with environmental and social justice issues and open to the findings science and psychology. "Contemplative studies" has even become an academic field; it's just getting itself together as an area of serious scholarship. (You know it has in some sense "arrived" when academics want to get in on it!)

I was fortunate that a friend of many years attended Cynthia Bourgeault's conference and afterwards provided me with a lengthy report-- which he and I then followed up with many hours of discussion. So many significant insights emerged that it seems especially important to share some of them here. I had thought I was done with my blog efforts, but it was the power of those insights that caused my intended email note to morph into this one last post.


Cynthia Bourgeault's starting point is the basic insight that in just about every way our political, economic and religious traditions are at an impasse. And for those of us who take religious or spirituality seriously-- at a deeper level than many conventional and conservative church-goers-- she offers four guides for dealing with that contemporary impasse: Thomas Merton, Raymond Panikkar, Bruno Barnhart and Constance Fitzgerald.

I've mentioned the first three of Cynthia's suggested guides a number of times in this blog, but Constance Fitzgerald was new to me. She is a Carmelite nun in a monastery in Baltimore. (For those unfamiliar with such things, Carmelites are part of the contemplative tradition of two very famous religious figures: the 16th century Spanish saints John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.)

Like me, you may be thinking, "Can this array of monks, nuns and priests be of any help as we try to work our way out of the economic, environmental, political and religious impasse we find ourselves in?" It seems unlikely, to be sure.

But I found myself captivated by the energies coming out of the perspectives offered by Cynthia Bourgeault. And one of her main references-- to the work of a religious thinker she greatly values and who was totally unfamiliar to me, the French philosopher and Islamic scholar, Henri Corbin-- has led me to some extremely significant breakthroughs in my personal self-understanding as well with regard to the convergence of science and spirituality.


The word "impasse" used to describe our present dead-end cultural and religious situation comes from the work of Carmelite Constance Fitzgerald. Two of her theological presentations, which I found fascinating and tremendously helpful, are available on the web.

At the symposium, Cynthia presented four keys needed to deal with the contemporary impasse: "Imaginal Vision," "Boldness," "Unified Cosmology" and "Contemplative Practice."

By "Contemplative Practice" Cynthia means having a practical, down-to-earth, daily discipline of some kind: something like what has come to be called "Centering Prayer" or one of the many other forms of meditation available in our day.

"Unified Cosmology" is her term for our need to take seriously the understanding that everything in the universe is connected with everything else. It's a basic insight of all the ancient spiritualities and is even clearer today from the perspectives of evolutionary science and ecology. I've quoted the Native American expression of it many time in these posts, "All things are our relatives." Mitakuye Oyasin!

By "Boldness" Cynthia means that, because many religious people are still stuck in the static and dualistic religious worldviews of the past, we need to have the courage to wholeheartedly embrace the evolutionary worldview-- to "jump," as Cynthia put it, "on to the train of evolution."

Her fourth key, "Imaginal Vision," is probably the most important but also the most difficult to understand easily. It's our need to move away from the highly restricted views of reductionist science so that we can see the biggest picture of reality available to us.

The word "imaginal" comes from the French philosopher, Islamic scholar and religious thinker I mentioned above, Henri Corbin. Late in life he called himself a "historian of religions." As far as I can tell, Corbin doesn't mention C. G. Jung's studies of the four functions of consciousness that I've referred to many times in these posts; I think he was so knowledgeable he probably just took them for granted. But it's clear enough that by "imaginal vision" Corbin means seeing the world not from a surface viewpoint but from that in-depth perspective which Jung calls the Intuition function. He goes all the way back to Persian Sufi mystics of the Middle Ages to help us understand just what he means by "imaginal vision."

I think Corbin greatly enriches the Jungian perspectives. And I find it especially fascinating that, just as we need evolutionary science in order to move out of religious dualism, so we need ancient religious wisdom in order to move out of reductionist science. That, too, is convergence, to be sure-- although, for me, it's a convergence in a quite unexpected way!


This imaginal-intuitive way of perceiving the world was lost to the people of western culture sometime around the 1100s CE. Since that time, says Corbin, "Western philosophy and philosophical theology have lacked the means of making any sense of religion and art." With a return at that time to the rationality of Greek philosophy, imaginal consciousness was, as Corbin says, “abandoned to the poets.” The American scholar Thomas Cheetham phrases Corbin's point delightfully: "The Western world lost its angels."

With this loss of imaginal consciousness, not just poets but "all other artists," says Corbin, were "thereby marginalized and entirely misunderstood by everyone else." And it's that loss which is the source of our contemporary impasse.

Today, it is especially the "contemplatives and mystics" of Cynthia's conference title-- who, along with the "poets and other artists"-- have a major role in its recovery.

These "misunderstood" and "marginalized" individuals, who by their personality type are more open to Intuitive-Imaginality than many other persons, have the job of being "prophets and visionaries" for the rest of us as Western society tries to recover its natural capacity for Imaginal Vision.

Wading through Corbin's odd language isn't easy-- he likes to use Latin, Greek and Arabic words "for clarification"-- but I've found his work and Cynthia's overview of our present situation to be profound. Probably the most accurate way I can describe what the recovery of Imaginal Vision is all about for us today is that it is a bringing together of cosmic evolution and personal transformation at the most intimate levels.

When Western society adopted what Corbin calls "the kind of consciousness which ignores consciousness," we lost contact with our own energy-sources. We lost contact with the angels and spirits-- the energies of the universe, by whatever name-- by which we are empowered to become persons-- and, as Corbin emphasizes, thereby to become a theophany.

He not only stresses that each of us is a unique manifestation of the Mystery, but also that this cosmic-human-divine union-- which is an intuitive-imaginal perception of reality at its depths-- happens primarily by way of ritual. (You can see why Corbin speaks to me! I'll share my thoughts about that, later in this post.)


Teilhard's noosphere has long become a fact of everyday life and internet resources abound on the web for those who want to tune in to these perspectives. Two of the resources listed below are in pdf form; I've included directions for the second step needed. They are well-worth the few extra seconds it takes to access them.

For Cynthia Bourgeault's own website, click here.

Videos of Cynthia's four talks at the Gerald May symposium are available on the Shalem Institute website: click here. Her three Saturday talks can be watched free, but for some reason, there's a fee for viewing the video of her Friday evening presentation. Unfortunately, I found the videos I looked at to be poorly filmed and difficult to watch.

The texts of two of Constance Fitzgerald's theological presentations are available on the web. For the first one, just click the title: "Impasse and Dark Night." For the second, click the title: "From Impasse to Prophetic Hope: Crisis of Memory," then look for that title in the list which appears. Both presentations are fascinating and tremendously helpful for understanding the impasse in which we-- church and world-- find ourselves at this moment in our history.

There's also a great deal of internet material available both by and about Henri Corbin. A long and very interesting discussion between two women connected with group peace work, Carol Frenier and Lois Sekerak Hogan, helps us to see how Intuitive-Imaginality connects with many contemporary concerns: "Engaging the Imaginal Realm: Doorway to Collective Wisdom." 

You can also tackle Corbin directly, if you want to give him a try. Two translations of his most basic essay, Imaginalis Mundus, are available. I found them both-- separately-- fascinating. Corbin's perspectives are so unfamiliar that these two translations of the one same work read almost like two different essays. For the earlier English translation, click here. For the later (and, with Corbin's permission, somewhat shortened) English version of "Mundus Imaginalis," click here.

I think the most helpful resource by far for a good overview of Corbin's insights is a talk given October, 2010, in Oxford, England, by the American scholar Thomas Cheetham. Cheetham teaches at the College of the Atlantic, a beautiful school just a short distance from downtown Bar Harbor, Maine. (I studied environmental chemistry there in the mid1990s!) His talk is an extremely thorough description of the four major themes of Corbin's work. For that talk, click here and then click on the talk's long title at the top right of the web site: "The Prophetic Tradition and The Battle for the Soul of World: An Introduction to the Spiritual Vision of Henri Corbin."

These are enough resources to keep anyone busy for a long time. And like everything else, the more we learn, the more we realize how just little we know. I keep asking myself, "Why didn't I hear about Henri Corbin thirty years ago?" You may be thinking that, too.

In any case, many of these resources about Imaginal Vision are wonderfully significant. If you have trouble choosing, I suggest you start with Cheetham's talk.


PART TWO (added on 9 July)

Probably because I've been familiar with Merton and Panikkar for many years and have known of Bruno Barnhart's work for a decade or more, it's the insights of Henri Corbin which I've found most helpful at this stage in my life. "Helpful" is an understatement!

Corbin's work turns out to be extremely significant for me personally. The best way I can say it is that, "what Merton did for me when I was 10 years old, Corbin is doing for me when I'm 75 years old."

When I first read his definitive essay, Mundus Imaginalis-- and despite the many Arabic words and his references to medieval Persian sages whom I had never even known existed-- I found myself immersed in a context in which I felt quite at home. I knew from experience what Corbin was talking about. Although I have few words to describe it, it was a powerful affirmation of my life's most basic interests and concerns.

One of the most significant things for me is how Corbin connects imaginal vision with religious ritual. One quote, which makes little sense on first reading (so, please be patient with his wording below), sums up for me much of what he has to say about it.

"Symbol" is Corbin's name for what we see when we see imaginally. In distinguishing symbols from allegories and other fantasy images he says, "Every allegorical interpretation is harmless; the allegory is a sheathing, or, rather, a disguising, of something that is already known or knowable, ...while the appearance of an Image having the quality of a symbol is [in contrast] an ur-phenomenon, unconditional and irreducible, the appearance of something that cannot manifest itself otherwise to the world where we are."

In saying that symbols-- our in-depth experiences of reality which result from the imaginal vision-- are "ur-phenomena," Corbin means that something new appears when we perceive the world imaginally. Although his context is the study of Persian Sufi sages, he's talking about exactly the same thing contemporary science refers to as evolutionary emergence and Irenaeus of Lyons calls the novitatem.

Corbin's emphasis on the fact that the novitatem-- the ur-phenomenon which emerges from our imaginal vision-- is ontologically real appears to me to be a breakthrough for both science and for the religious traditions of the Western world. I think it may someday be recognized as the essence of our present Second Axial Period.

The first Axial Period started around 500 BCE when global humanity began on a wide scale to understand the nature of the human person and of personal transformation. The mindfulness techniques of Buddhism are probably the best known example of these personal transformation processes.

In the second Axial Period-- of which we're at the beginnings right now-- we're coming to understand something of the evolution of the universe and of human development within that larger context of cosmic transformation. It's what the New Cosmology is all about.

Corbin's special contribution is that he links cosmic transfiguration and personal transformation with divine incarnation. It's a version of Panikkar's cosmos-theos-anthropos perspective which I've mentioned often in these posts. If the spiritual traditions of Asia tend to focus on personal transformation, the focus of Western religion at its best has been the unity of the cosmic, human and divine. But what's especially clear today, thanks to the new scientific cosmology, is that we understand it not as a static unity but as a process of dynamic emergence.

What Corbin specifically helps us to see is that how we participate in that process-- the means by which we take part in it-- is by using our long-neglected human capacity for imaginal vision.


One aspect of Corbin's perspective which makes his ideas especially valuable in the current cultural-religious impasse is that he can talk about Imaginal Vision in the language of the ancient Near East, the very source and root of the spiritual worldview which eventually evolved into the religious traditions of Western culture.

And this lets us see-- for the first time for me-- not just a possible coming together of Islam with the rest of the West, but also how it might even be that the inclusion of Islam will be what finally holds the whole of the Western spiritual traditions together.

I want to offer a few brief examples of Corbin's insights with regard to the recovery of Imaginal Vision. He notes that this recovery "presupposes a scale of being with many more degrees than ours." It's odd philosophical language, but he's saying that we need to see reality in terms of levels of emergence. He says explicitly, "We need a new cosmology."

Corbin wrote those words in the 1960s. They're an early version of what has come to be called the "New Story of the Universe" and, more recently, "Big History"-- precisely that evolutionary perspective spelled out for us originally by Teilhard de Chardin and enhanced by the work of Thomas Berry.

I offer two other brief-- but definitely not trivial-- examples of Corbin's insights. One is that in describing the experience of the medieval Persian sages, Corbin notes that "the ultimate thought of Shi'ism" is not a "social or political fantasy" but "the experience of an eschatology, because it is an expectation which is, as such, a real Presence here and now."

The other is that in expanding on this distinction between fantasy images and the reality of the world which we see via our Imaginal Vision, Corbin emphasizes that what he calls "the resurrection body" is "certainly not an imaginary body."

His words are awkward, but they are examples of the fact that those aspects of our Western world's religious tradition which seem least meaningful for many today-- precisely those aspects such as eschaton and resurrection-- have a coherency in the perspectives of Corbin's mundus imaginalis that is impossible in the mundus rationalis of reductionist science.

So, while Cynthia Bourgeault's emphasis on the need for Imaginal Vision in moving beyond the present religious impasse sounds no doubt strange at first, it looks like she is very much on the right track. I think the idea of eschatology as "experienced expectation," for example, may in itself be sufficient for Christian theology-- understood as Panikkar does in the broader sense of Christophany or theophany-- to persist as a life-giving perspective even as the relevance of our conventional religious institutions seem to be fading away quickly.


Of special interest to me is Corbin's emphasis on the basics of religious experience. He not only links cosmic transfiguration on one side and divine incarnation on the other with our personal transformation, he specifically sees this happening by way of symbol and ritual.

"Ritual," for Corbin, is simply a name for what we do when we use our Imaginal Vision to see the ordinary things of life at a deeper than surface level. And "symbols" are whatever it is that we're focusing on when we look below the surface at their deeper reality.

We need to make a tremendous effort to understand Corbin's words, because the overwhelmingly dominant cultural biases of both religious dualism and scientific reductionism make it almost impossible for us to understand, without great effort, what Corbin is saying. I especially appreciate his perspectives here, because I have spent much of my life trying to figure out ways of talking about ritual and symbol clearly.

I hope later to say a bit more about that. The focus of my thoughts just now is another aspect of Corbin's understanding: that looking at reality imaginally is-- amazingly!-- how we become persons. In more familiar language, he's saying that the evolutionary and developmental process by which we become who-and-what we are-- the "individuation process"-- is empowered by our in-depth perception of images of reality's significance.

And he takes it one more step. He says clearly and strongly-- unequivocally-- that this process by which we grow as human beings is what spirituality is all about. Our personal growth and development is "the central principle," he says, "in all spiritual disciplines."

It's important to note that this view-- that the recovery of Imaginal Vision gives us a cosmological perspective for our growth and development-- is obviously well beyond the limitations of dualistic religions as well as of reductionist science. Which is why we need Cynthia's "contemplatives and mystics" to become "prophets and visionaries" for us.


In his talk at Oxford, the American scholar Thomas Cheetham observed that Corbin "denies the Incarnation." I think it would be more accurate, however, to say that Corbin expands it. Corbin simply equates human individuation with divine incarnation, not limiting it to any single tradition, group or individual. For him, as with many contemporary religious thinkers, incarnation is an all-inclusive process.

But Corbin also stresses that it's also an intimately personal process. He says that each small step in our personal growth and development is a theophany-- a divine revelation. And he spells it out explicitly: "It is in prayer that the creative imagination most perfectly accomplishes its role in human life." Prayer, he says, "is the highest form, the supreme act of the Creative Imagination."

In describing the novitatem which comes to exist as theophany by this joining in prayer of consciousness and the empowering unconscious, Corbin's wording is a bit awkward, but it's well-worth looking at. He says that we can understand that "By virtue of the sharing of roles, the divine Compassion is the Prayer of God, aspiring to issue forth from his unknownness, whereas the Prayer of Man accomplishes this theophany because [it is] in it and through it that the 'Form of God' becomes visible to the heart."

He is saying that the divine mystery shows itself uniquely to, and in, and via each human being. And that the new creations which come to be by our imaginal perception of reality are specific theophanies appropriate to our own personalities. "Deep calls out to deep."

Corbin notes that the form of God that appears "is not of course God 'in His essence'-- the Deus absconditus – but rather is the form which he reveals uniquely to each soul." The Great Mystery calls out to the mystery which we are in such a way that, by our response to it, we actualize it in accordance with our own personality.

In that same Oxford talk, Cheetham pointed out that "The individual nature of these [unique] theophanies is a constant theme in Corbin’s work." Cheetham also mentioned another of Corbin's related and very significant ideas: that each time we have a theophany experience we have attained the fullness and completion of which we are capable at that moment.

Corbin says it in philosophical language: "Phenomenology becomes ontology." Cheethan's wording is clearer: each time we have such an experience "we are changed utterly, ontologically: in our very being." He concludes that it is here-- in this experience of transformation, this more and more complete and full becoming of who-and-what we are which is also cosmic, human and divine transfiguration-- that we find the healing of that great schism that has split the West.

It's clear enough, I think, how Cynthia's four keys, as strange at first as they may seem, fit together. They are precisely what's needed if we are to move beyond our present cultural impasse.


PART THREE (added on 14 July)

The inclusion of Imaginal Vision as one of the four keys which Cynthia Bourgeault says are needed in our present Impasse provides us with a wonderful overview of the contemporary convergence of science and religion. As I see it, the evolutionary perspective, the neurological understanding of human consciousness as the matter of the cosmos come to self-awareness, and the deepest spiritual traditions of the western world all converge in these perspectives of the Imaginalis Mundus.

The essence of this convergent picture is the fact that in becoming a person-- in being gathered, as Teilhard says, "from all time and the four corners of space"-- we are also, thereby, part of the evolution of the cosmos and participants in divine incarnation-- all three, at once.

And-- most amazingly for me-- all this happens by way of ritual. Henri Corbin's perspectives are a powerful affirmation of my life. In this Part Three I'll share some thoughts about how and why I find his ideas so meaningful.


For a start, I understand far better now why-- despite my life-long interest in religious ritual and willingness to share my understanding of it with others-- I have found talking about it so difficult. While I seem to have been born with a skill for aiding persons who want to do ritual to do it well, expressing it conceptually has been just about impossible.

Corbin helps a lot. He makes clear first that "symbols" are simply the world we live in looked at with our imaginal awareness, and secondly that ritual is simply the act of intentionally doing that looking.

But, as he says, ours is a culture which, a thousand years ago, adopted a form of consciousness which ignores this needed imaginal consciousness.

We still do ritual, of course; it is as necessary for us as food and water. But there is simply no way to conceptually understand it-- no way to understand just what ritual is and how it works-- in our impoverished cultural context.

Another aspect of that cultural impoverishment which Corbin helps makes clear is that seeing imaginally via ritual changes our personal reality. Via ritual, we become ontologically new, and that resulting newness is thereby, as Corbin stresses, a theophany.

But none of these words-- "theophany," "novitatem," "symbol," "ritual"-- makes much sense in a culture as intuitively and imaginally impoverished as is ours.

Although I have a fairly decent background in philosophical and theological language-- broader than many, at least-- I've found trying to talk about these things-- even to persons who are intensely interested in them-- to be a difficult task.

Corbin makes clear that the only way to make any sense of them is to recover our awareness of imaginal consciousness-- to add (in Jungian terms) the missing fourth to the mandala of our four-fold mind, and to give our attention (in Native American imagery) to the shamanic Black Bear at the west on the Medicine Wheel.


I also understand better, thanks to Corbin, the reason why such things as mandala images, personal development, ritual and cosmic evolution matter so much to me personally.

When I first read that Corbin said Western culture has "abandoned imaginal vision to the poets," it reminded me of how often I've said to myself "I wish I were a poet." That's not because I want to write poetry but because I would like to have the skill with words that poets and other artists have, to explain well just what rituals are and how they work.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a poet or artist, but do I share with such creative people their basic personality type. Corbin says we have been "marginalized." I've known for decades that I have a strong intuitive-introvert orientation-- that's INTJ, for those who know the Myers-Briggs terminology-- and that that is, clearly, the source of my interest in ritual. I just didn't appreciate what a culturally-rejected group I was in!

My interest in science also helped me to understand this aspect of my personality. The word I found which best describes my personality orientation comes from cultural anthropology; I think of it as a paleolithic term: "shamanic." I remember how good I felt when I first heard Thomas Berry talk of the need for shamanic persons in our day. And Corbin's emphasis on personal transformation via ritual greatly enhances my self-understanding precisely within the broad evolutionary context of the New Cosmology.


Corbin also helps me to understand my strong interest in and need to help others understand the new evolutionary cosmology. This is a bit more complicated than the two previous thoughts I've shared. It has to do with Corbin's description of just what goes on in personal growth and development, especially the fact that it's a creative process. He says, "the exploration of the imaginal realm requires participation between the human and divine and is at once discovery and creation."

The two words which powerfully grab my attention here are "exploration" and "discovery." I've thought of myself as an "explorer" for many years; and now, as it turns out, I hear Corbin saying that the transformation process includes explanation as well as exploration.

He uses an ancient Arabic term, ta'wil, along with the Latin and Greek terms exegesis and hermeneutics, to talk about what's involved in transformation via imaginal seeing.

In academic circles, "hermeneutics" and "exegesis" refer to the principles used to interpret-- to understand and explain-- sacred texts, symbols and images. The important point here for me is that explaining-- to myself and to others-- is itself an essential aspect of the transformation process. So I understand better now why I have such a strong teacher instinct. Corbin also helps me to understand why I lack, in contrast, much of a competitive drive.

Since Darwin's time, competition has been understood to be central to the process of natural selection. More recently, however, cooperation has come to be understood as equally necessary for the survival and reproduction of a species. I think that for me, with my strong teacher instincts and lack of competitive drives, explanation is my personal form of cooperation.


I have one more idea I want to add with regard to my self-understanding. When Corbin says that personal transformation via imaginal vision is the central principle in all spiritual disciplines, he adds an extremely important point. It only works, he says, "in the measure to which it furnishes the means of going beyond all conformisms, all servitudes to the letter, all opinions ready-made."

It's funny language, certainly, but it clarifies well the fact that those of us who are included among the poets and other artists-- explorers, shamans, mystics and contemplatives-- feel "marginalized and not understood by everyone else." When it comes to the cosmic drive for personal transformation, rigidity and conformity don't stand a chance!

Personally, I never understood why it was always so important for me at an early age to think for myself, not to follow the letter of the law, not to go along with the crowd just to get along. I remember that whenever I heard someone say something like "What will the neighbors think?" I always said to myself, "Whatever does that matter?" I didn't know, then, that I was a marginal person!

And I can see now, much more clearly than I did previously, what does matter. What matters is the very opposite of "all conformisms, servitudes, and ready-made opinions." A good name for it might be "intentional marginality." Clearly, it's what each of us is being called to in our day. Cynthia's four keys are precisely what's needed for our society to move beyond the impasse. My encounter with Henri Corbin has indeed been a major breakthrough for me!


A final point. I thought back in March, with the publication of post #98 about the work of Terrence Deacon and the unfinished business of science, that my efforts to share thoughts about the convergence of science and religion via this blog were done. But-- thanks to Cynthia Bourgeault and the Shalem Institute symposium-- Henri Corbin came along less than a month later.

Terrence Deacon and Henri Corbin are looking at things from just about as different directions as possible-- cutting edge anthropology and neuroscience on one side, metaphysics and medieval Persian-Sufi mysticism on the other-- but to me Corbin seems to be saying something very similar to what Deacon is telling us. Just as Deacon says that we've left ourselves out of our scientific worldview, Corbin observes that we've left our own personal consciousness out of our religious worldview.

They're both talking about aspects of the real world which are denied by the "facts-and-logic" perspectives of Western culture's patriarchal rationality. And they're both calling our attention to precisely that aspect of our unawareness which has resulted in the present impasse.

Deacon uses the term "ententionality" to describe those aspects of our lives-- such as purposevaluefunction, meaning and personal experience-- which were neglected by science because they can't be found in physical or material objects. He says what all such "ententional phenomena" have in common is an end or goal, and notes that they are obviously real because they so strongly influence us.

I think Corbin's term "imaginality" may have a role in the present religious and cultural impasse similar to that which Deacon's term "ententionality" has in expanding contemporary scientific insights.

Just as Deacon says that the unfinished business of science is to look at the processes by which the physical matter of the world becomes living and conscious, so Corbin is telling us that spirituality also has an unfinished business: to look at the processes by which conscious matter at the level of the human person becomes a reflectively self-aware theophany.


When he was interviewed by Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow in February 2012 (to listen to the interview, click here), Deacon said he thought it would probably take a few decades for his concepts to catch on; that's the way new ideas work in science. (I'd like to think it won't take that long!) In any case, Corbin died back in 1978. His ideas have already been around for several decades. Corbin's ideas are due!

With events like the Shalem Institute's conference and Cynthia Bourgeault's calling our attention to Corbin's Imaginalis Mundus as one of the four keys needed for moving beyond the present impasse, this may very well be the time that contemplatives and mystics-- as well as all the other marginalized artists, poets, shamans, explorers and teachers-- are called to become prophets and visionaries so that Western society can finally make its move beyond the impasse.

My long-time friend whose attendance at Cynthia's symposium sparked this final post mentioned that people he talked to had come from great distances to hear her. It seems we are in fact entering a very hopeful time. That feels good!

If you would like to respond in any way, please feel free to send me a note.

My thanks to all who encouraged me over the last five and a half years to persist with this blog adventure. Thanks to you who are reading these words right now. And special thanks to Anne for her many, many hours of proof-reading! -Sam **************************************


Sam said...

When I posted the complete version of #99, the earlier comments were not included (although they still appear in the Recent Comments sidebar-- another mystery of technology), so I copied and added them to this final version. The dates are wrong, but the comments are exactly as I received them. Additional comments are, of course, welcomed!

Sam said...

From Kathleen P: Sam, you have once again enriched us with links to an array of wisdom-keepers. It is encouraging to know there are seekers of the truth related to "The New Story" in every part of the world. Thank you!

Sam said...

From B.H.: "Impasse," is right.


Sam said...

From E.T.H.:
Thanks, Sam! I like that you keep being drawn back to do another blog
entry. I had never heard of these people at all - so neat to hear about
I've printed out the Corbin talk and am looking forward to enjoying it
 at home.

Sam said...

From "G":

Sam said...

From S.D.:
Hi Sam,

What a cool blog entry! You always open new worlds to us and introduce the most interesting people. Who would think cloistered nuns are that aware and involved in what is going on in the world. You have included links which I will definitely pursue.

Sam said...

From Anonymous:

Welcome back, Sam.

John R said...

I always enjoy reading your posts. I'm learning many new things. I have one request: the difference between "Creationism" and "Intelligent Design". The way I see it is that intelligent design is just the front cover (like a book) of creationism. Thanks.

p.s. By the way I'm also forwarding all your posts to my friends in the US and Philippines.

Sam said...

John, thanks for your note. As I understand them, Intelligent Design and Creationism are both names for a failure to integrate a contemporary understanding of the world with older religious perspectives; Creationism just puts more emphasis on the biblical creation story. Ultimately, the issue is ignorance versus education-- lack of knowledge versus information. (Just what's meant by "impasse"!)

For a positive perspective on ideas about design and patterns in nature, check out my post #58, Bridging the Gap, and of course the more recent post #98, on The Unfinished Business of Science.

Thanks for sharing my blog efforts with friends in the Philippines!

Cynthia Bourgeault said...

Dear Sam

Thanks for Writing this, and thanks for sending it! One small correction: to
me, unified cosmology is not so much the interconnectedness of everything,
but more specifically (within a Christian context) healing the split between
our scientific understanding of cosmology (the size, dimension, scale, and
genesis of our planet) and spiritual cosmology: i.e, the biblicaly and
Christologically centered world of faith and imaginal vision. For many
Christians, the scientific universe has proved to be more solid and
trustworthy, and one enters each Sunday what I call "the Jesus theme park,"
with its integral symbol-set, but not one that matches the size of the
actual scientific/rational world they do. Our spirituality cannot be smaller
than life, or it loses its integrity and force! As you so profoundly intuit,
I believe the solution lies in the direction of recovering the imaginal.

So glad Corbin has been a hit. He deserves to be better known.

With thanks and blessings,

Cynthia Bourgeault