Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Coming to Our Senses

Morris Berman's "Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West" is one of my favourite books since I read it first in a caravan on the west coast of Ireland pretending not to be staying with a nun and a would be nun. It was a different Ireland - a man in a van with two women, neither of whom were his relation: unconscionable to the caravan park administrator! 

Together with a subsequent volume, "Wandering God", it is a compelling account of a naturalistic spirituality of embodied wonder in the everyday: a horizontal spirituality that eschews 'special experience' or 'transformations of consciousness'. 

The books, along the way, open up a radical questioning of many aspects of our dominant culture. The chapter on creativity in Coming to Our Senses is exceptional in this regard as it explores the difference between creating from what you lack, creation as an attempt to solve an existential problem; and, creation from fullness, creating from a 'de-creation' of the self to allow reality to present itself.

It is the difference between the accelerating intensity of a Van Gogh landscape and a Morris Grave's flower painting. The first is visionary pumping of a space into emotional drama (that is deeply familiar) and the second is a stepping back for just as it is reality to unfold. The first wants to seize heaven, the second want to rest in what is and discover that earth is heaven, seen aright.

I confess to a certain disappointment when he turned to more direct cultural criticism, especially of his 'home land' the United States, seen now from his voluntary displacement in Mexico. This is not because there are not very interesting things in his subsequent (and forthcoming) books on America's decline (as in the accompanying blog: but because they don't wholly respond to my own guarded optimism about the future (held often in the teeth of serial depressing facts).  

I expect that the fundamental difference is that his 'mysticism' remains naturalistic, mine is unbounded by the groundless reality of being inspirited by God. This rather gives one a sense that there are possibilities remaining to us not implicated in Morris Berman's vision of the world - even as those possibilities are severely compromised by a world that would rather be consumptive than contemplative, and a world as consumptive of notions of God that secure and serve our identities as it is consumptive of goods (and of itself).

In God there is no identity only what is.


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