“God is, in some sense, all. And all is very multiplex indeed.”

I had been told that God comes different ways to different cultures.

“So any single conception of God will grasp only one of Your aspects?”

Yes, you see the problem.  My nature is quite variegated.  People see one aspect and not another. 

“Lord, are there multiple levels of Being or something along those lines?”

Yes, but don’t interrupt.  The story is much more complex.  God is not mind or matter, or even mind and matter.  God is, in some sense, all.  And all is very multiplex indeed.  Even physics has not been able to produce a universe of “atoms in the void.”  There are forces, elements, patterns – you need to know more to go on – that go beyond them.  Then add the kind of stuff the morphic fields’ guy talks about …

Rupert Sheldrake, author of Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, performs scientifically controlled experiments to test different explanations of the uncanny ability of some animals to know what is happening far away.  He found, for example, that even if the owner came home at randomized times, the dog was always waiting expectantly about a half hour in advance.  He found that the dog responded as soon as the owner formed the intention to return home.

Sheldrake compares the results of these experiments to studies of how birds and other animals can find their way home.  Since standard explanations fail, he advances the idea that these communications travel by way of morphic fields, using an analogy with gravitational and magnetic fields to explain the “action at a distance” that is a feature of these situations.

… and those who talk about organized information and the like – primitive though they may be – and you begin to get an inkling.

I found that organized information and complexity are increasingly important concepts, particularly in biology, but also in cosmology and the social sciences.  Traditional science is reductionist, always trying to explain the whole from the action of the parts.  It is also deterministic, seeing one state of affairs as fully predictable from the previous state.  It was widely assumed that this model, which has been particularly successful in chemistry and mechanics, could be used to explain all natural phenomena.

The new theories of organization, information, and complexity challenge this assumption.  The whole—whether a cell, an organism, an ecology, or a universe—has some qualities that the parts do not have and cannot explain.  New phenomena, such as life and consciousness, are emergent properties that cannot be understood in terms of inorganic elements.  In some cases, such as why the organs of the body have the size and location that they have, the whole can explain the parts better than the other way around.  The self-organization of complex systems, their creative responses to their environment, and their emergent qualities are neither fully predictable nor fully explainable by their constituent elements or prior states.  I had been told that God is all, and that all is very multiplex indeed.  These concepts could provide the basis for understanding this multiplexity.

“Pure energy, pure creative force, pure Being…”

Later I was told more about God at the Beginning.

Before I was a Person, I was around “for a long time.”  First there was Nothingness, not just empty space—there was no space and time either.  Out of Nothingness I erupted, “created” Myself.  At that point, I was just pure energy, pure creative force, pure Being, Being itself.  Space and time were created as a result of my Being.  They were the frames of My existence.  The physical universe spun out of Me by My overflowing.  I am the to-be of all things.  I was not yet a Person.  I was not yet self-aware.  I was amorphous energy flowing out radically in all directions.  (Before Creation) I am pure spirit, sufficient unto Myself, and have no “body.”  And I did not exist in a world with physical bodies.  I felt I was lacking something—grounding, facticity, the blunt materiality, the standing-against, the hard edge to push oneself against, the resistance and friction that physical objects have.  So, out of my Being, a world was spun.

“These moments were not empty suffering”

Any person who believes in God has to confront the problem of human suffering. Why does God permit it?

“Lord, does suffering have any purpose or meaning?”

Of course, suffering is what makes life serious. Imagine a world in which actions never resulted in suffering. Imagine a world without the pain of regret, without feeling bad about doing something wrong (or) shameful.

“But disease serves no moral purpose.”

Now you are fencing with Me on “the problem of pain.” Just listen. You will never learn from fencing.

Disease, disaster, aging, death are essential aspects of suffering. “We” live in a physically vulnerable world. That is the essential condition that makes life serious.

“All that’s rather abstract, Lord. What exactly does disease do for us?” I thought of Job’s boils.

Suffering is the test of your humanity. There is no greater test than pain—how one copes with it. It is easy to be nice, faithful, and such, when things are great, but very hard under adversity.

“But, Lord, that just seems perverse—or cruel.”

No, that’s not so. Think about your own times of physical suffering—in the hospital, for example—the shots, the clumsy aide, the itch, the nurse about urinating, those were full of growth.

Those examples brought back memories. A couple of years before these prayers began, I suffered a mild heart attack and was rushed to the intensive care unit. They took blood tests, day and night. There are a limited number of places from which blood can be drawn, and the same spot cannot be used again right away. The wrists are ideal, but mine are sensitive and a needle there smarts. One does not have much power as a patient, but safeguarding my wrists became my prime imperative. One after another blood drawer would come, and I would plead, argue, wheedle, and insist they find some other place to puncture me. Each resisted, then managed to find a spot.

I was transferred to another hospital for the surgical procedure. I was met by a technician who said his name and stuck out his hand—while looking the other way and standing on my oxygen tube. When it was time to go into the operating room, he snatched away my blanket with so violent a jerk it would have ripped out the intravenous insertion if I had not by now been on high alert.

Once in the operating room, I was placed on a slab with my arms flat at my side. Medical equipment loomed above, posing an impressive threat. “Don’t move!” I was told. My nose chose that moment to itch. The itch grew intense, then more intense, dreadfully intense, until nothing existed but me and that itch. Then I understood. I can’t fight it. I just have to live with it, until the procedure is over. I don’t know if the itch went away or what—I forgot all about it.

The procedure went smoothly. I watched the monitor as the surgeon snaked a catheter through an incision in my groin up to a major coronary artery where a stent had to be placed.

Opening an artery is a very serious matter. Bleeding can be life-threatening. The patient has to lie flat and immobile for twenty-four hours. Nurses at my first hospital had been angels in white, but here I was attended by Nurse Ratched’s less charming twin. She seemed to resent patients needing her help. Finding it difficult to manage the bedpan flat on my back, I asked for assistance. She acted as if it were a dirty-minded request and responded by threatening me, “If you can’t manage the bedpan, we will catheterize you!” Finally, I did manage, and it was time to close up the artery. Another patient had told me the closing could be dangerous as well as painful.

“Who is to perform this delicate operation?”

Nurse Ratched gave me the grim news: young Mr. Sizzorhands, the technician whose previous efforts to hurt me had been foiled, would now have another shot. I asked for someone else. “He is the only technician available.”

“I am not going to let that guy lay another hand on me.”

She made it a battle of wills. We went back and forth. Finally I said, “Let me speak to the doctor.”

She said she would see what she could do and, after a time, she returned with a young Asian-American attendant. He had magical hands. I didn’t feel a thing.

My body was recovering nicely, but the whole experience—starting with “indigestion” in the night (I didn’t know that was a heart symptom), calling the office the next morning to find out what nearby doctor was covered by my health plan, driving myself (fool that I was) to the doctor’s office, filling out forms and waiting for some time before going up and telling the receptionist, “I may be having a heart attack,” the quick examination and discovery that I was at that very moment in the throes of an incipient attack, an emergency medical team rushing to my side trying to head it off, being shoveled into an ambulance, the sirens, intensive care, the surgery, the whole ordeal—left me feeling fragile, as if I were made of spun glass. A sharp tap and I would shatter.

They (these moments) were not empty suffering; they even had to do with leading you to Me.

“How so, Lord?”

They focused your attention on your mortality, which (led) you to open your heart fully to Abigail because you realized how precious this love was. And it led to your prayer to serve God.

“With life, spirit comes into play.”

For millions of years, before there was life, there was just God and a barren universe.

“You felt all alone?”

Yes, I wanted more. In retrospect, the inanimate years feel very lonely.  The emergence of life is a delight.  With life, spirit comes into play.  Wonderful to see amoeba, moss, and so forth.  The frogs (and other creatures), each with a soul and personality, each in a sense in tune with God.  I can play with the animals, “walk among them.”  I love their myriad formsI am not alone anymore.

The creatures that began to stir on the earth are amazing, more amazing than anything that had yet occurred in creation.  They move on their own, they have “internal principles of motion” as Aristotle said, have dramatic lives—even the worms and fishes.

There is birth, growth, death, mating, offspring, colonies and flocks, emergent social orders—ideality as well.  There is telos and purpose, success and failure, standards of perfection and imperfection.

And, over time, further developments in the species, a most amazing, creative ramifying of the evolutionary ladder.  New species emerge that could not have been imagined before.  Your paleontology tells the story:  the first horses could easily fit into the palm of a hand, and so forth.  Can you imagine the spectacle?

“Yes, I think I can.”

Thinking about Infinity

The radical thinking God asked for has really been beyond my intellectual reach.  I tried to think about infinity, for example.  It is certainly a daunting concept.  Every philosopher is aware of such puzzles as Zeno’s paradoxes and Immanuel Kant’s antinomies.

The Greek philosopher Zeno argued that, if the tortoise has a head start, Achilles can never overtake him.  Once he catches up with the tortoise’s previous position, the tortoise will have moved forward.  Achilles will now have to reach the tortoise’s new position but, by the time he does so, the tortoise will have moved forward again, even if only a little way, and Achilles will have to catch up to that position, by which time the tortoise will have inched forward yet again, and so on.  Since there are an infinite number of points between the tortoise and the goal post, and an infinite number of points can never be transversed in finite time, Achilles can never catch the tortoise.  Of course, in real life, he could.  That’s why it is a paradox.

Kant’s antinomies are more metaphysical than mathematical but also have to do with infinity.  For example, either the world had a beginning or it did not (these alternatives are the antinomies or contradictories).  If it did, one wonders what happened before that?  And if it did not, there would have to be an infinite number of moments in the past, and is that really conceivable?

There were world-class physicists at a conference I attended.  One reported that mathematicians had now proved you can have an infinite space within a sphere—within a ball, in effect.  He said it made no sense to him but, since mathematicians had proved it, he had to accept it.  A great deal of contemporary science doesn’t “make sense.”  While I was balking at giving up my categories for understanding the nature of God, I saw what scientists have to believe when they do quantum mechanics.  They have to believe that some subatomic particles do not actually have a location prior to being observed.  They have to believe that a certain change in one particle is always followed by the opposite change in another particle even though there is no contact between them and no way for the second particle to “know” which way the first particle changed.  If tough-minded physicists could be that flexible, surely I could too.

I did try to think about infinity.  One of the basic paradoxes in the philosophical tradition concerns whether it makes sense to have an actual or completed infinity.  No matter how large the number, you can always add “plus one.”  So it seems that the number series simply goes on forever and can never be completed.  If so, infinity is more a process term than the description of an actuality.  It expresses the possibility of a larger number, not the actuality of an infinite quantity.  But that seems to mean that no thing or being could actually be infinite.  The number series can always go on, but each number is the end point of a finite series of numbers.  That means that God could not actually be infinite.

I wondered if that was adequate.  I tried to think of a completed infinite.  In our home, we have two mirrors that face each other.  Each one mirrors the other, and mirrors the other mirroring the other, and so on, with the result that one sees an infinite series of mirrorings in each mirror.  And they all exist fully and in the present, not just as a series running into the future.  Maybe, I thought, this was an actual or complete infinite.  But, no, the mirror images get smaller and smaller but at some point they are presumably too small to be mirrored, so there are a finite number of reflected images after all.  Moreover, although the images seem to us to all exist at the present moment, in fact light takes time to go back and forth, and that means there is really a series of images.  Even if the series could go on forever, it would never be completed.

Perhaps I was on the wrong track.  What is meant when people say that God is infinite?  Do they mean some kind of actual or completed infinite?  Or is it another way to say that nothing is missing.  That is a less puzzling idea.  In a perfect painting, nothing is missing.  There is nothing to be added.  Perhaps that is a thought in the right direction.

Then I remembered:  I had already asked God, Are You infinite?  The answer was “I am boundless.”  It is not clear what “boundless” means.  Literally, it would mean “without bounds or limits.”  But the next two answers may be relevant here.  I had asked about omniscience, in effect, infinite knowledge, and was told, “I know everything that is important.”  And I had asked about omnipotence—infinite power—and was told, “I can do everything I want (care) to do.”  That sounds more like the perfect painting.

I have given you some clues . . .

I had received visions of the explosive expansions of time and space, and of divine energy rushing up through all levels of reality. Were these intimations of Creation? I was told,

The work I want you to begin involves reading and writing about My nature. Start with the Creation. I have given you some clues already. Follow up on them.

One day, in quiet reflection, I was taken deep into the Self, taken back, it seemed, to the Beginning. Here is how I described it right afterwards:

“There was a sense of things shattering, like crockery breaking, or like the shell of an egg breaking. (I think of Kabbalah and its image of Creation as divine vessels breaking.) Then there is a river, or milk, flowing out from amidst the shards. The river is clouded in mist and flows a long way down canyons of shards or rocks. Until it settles in a pool below. Tranquil waters. This is when Life begins. Cool, calm but rippling waters.”

 

All this was taking place on a flight to California to visit my ninety-year-old father. Sitting beside me was a nine-year-old girl, traveling alone. She kept looking at me, wondering what I was up to. Ignoring her was unkind, so I stopped praying and chatted with her.

After that, I returned to my own meditations and received a stream of visual images, a vision: the sun cracking up, solar flares that zoomed out into the reaches of space. I then saw, through the mist, an ethereal caravan of camels and their riders, coming up a valley, their long line stretching behind, down a winding road into the distance. I followed the road back to the source. I came upon vast winds, like a monsoon, then a world exploding—and then the vision abruptly stopped. The caravan seemed to represent the long course of human history, traced backward, all the way to the beginning, and then nothing.

I had received hints about the moment of Creation. Then, one day, He told me more. This is where God’s story really begins.

Do it as an organic flow

“Lord, I know I should try to live each day in response to Your purposes.”

That is right.  Not just to do it mechanically, like a soldier following orders, but to do it as an organic flow, wishing to be in touch with Me and to live in accord with My will, My love.

 

Illuminations

 I Did Not Feel Ineffable.

Mysticism is often considered the highest level of religion, but for a long time, there were no mystics.  God was interacting with people in many ways, but not through mystical union.  Then the first mystic seers appeared.  In prayer, God explained,

Now people were coming to me—not in limited ways, praying and offering sacrifices and so forth—but in a kind of merger … they were entering into Me, and I was receiving them.  That was a new experience.

“So You responded?”

It is hard to explain.  It’s like suddenly finding that you are the natural home for these creatures … the bosom or womb or home or ocean that all return to.  That is no more important a part of My nature than others we have discussed, but it is important … 

And then another thing happened.  Much more than before, these sages began to ponder My nature and (to) try to articulate their understanding of it.

And two changes occurred as a result.  First, for the first time, I was an object, to be defined and analyzed.  It is like your first experience with a psychologist who has a lot of boxes to put you in (introverted, repressed, etc.).  As God, I had not pondered My own “nature.”  I had no need to “define” Myself, but the effort of others to do so had an impact … 

It came clearer that I was an object to others, a source of puzzlement, even mystery, to them.  In fact, they would say that My nature was ineffable, beyond all language, all logical categories.  They would describe Me in paradoxes—neither existent nor non-existent, and so forth.

And this has an impact.  I did not feel ineffable.  To be sure, I am hard to describe and human concepts are not adequate, but that is true of the physical universe as well.

“You say it has an impact?”

It creates a problem.  It puts a barrier between Me and My creatures.  How can they approach the ineffable?  And even that mystical aspect leads them to regard Me as a pea-soup they want to dive into.

It did leave Me with a problem:  how to break through the fog ….

“Then mystical union is not the goal?  The purpose is to live the life you’re given?  Is that right, Lord?”

Yes!