This letter-writing experiment is already starting to reconfigure me in interesting ways – I’ve started a cardboard collection box in my brain where I’m picking up scraps and ephemera from our coffee conversations to remember: a feather there, an acorn here, a lot of cool rocks and lost marbles.
Each of these objects are gathering points of ideas, haunted by the meaning that they house. I wonder what our cabinet of curiosities will hold over time.
Now that we’re firmly ensconced in “Safe Ghost Space”, I admit that I have wrongly attributed to us this idea of being comfortable with notions of spirituality and religion. Actually, we’re discomfortable in that way where we need to be playful and irreverent with our semantics when we try to reclaim notions of “God”, the spiritual, the sacred and the religious.
At one of our Dungeons and Dragons games, we were struck by a scenario that our dungeon-master David facilitated: one of the game characters inquires with a spectral figure on an astral plane about whether there is “goodness” in the universe. This figure answers that given that the cosmos encompasses everything, and that we (sentient conscious beings) are part the universe and want to be “good”, then the universe necessarily includes goodness in it by way of including us.
There’s a beautiful simplicity to this concept: I know that we exist in the universe, and I try to make sense of the universe, therefore I am (a part of) how the universe makes sense of itself. There is nothing outside “I” that tells me what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong. We manifest this into the cosmos. This is the radical responsibility that comes with the territory of living in the void.
What do I mean by the void? I think I’ve always intuited that the cosmos is indifferent, amoral and meaningless, a dark ocean of matter that churns and moves with no transcendent rhyme or reason, with no higher-order capital-T-truth that we can comprehend as “God’s plan”. This is why I’ve always been drawn to Existential “God is Dead” philosophy and Lovecraftian cosmic horror. For some, this seems hopeless and depressing. But I don’t think it really scares me, not in a way that makes me want to avoid or turn away from it. Maybe the only time I feel that intense stomach-churning feeling of anxiety and dread is when I really truly contemplate my death. And then even then, I’m working on seeing it as a transmutation of my matter into something bigger and deeper, the wave that returns to the vast ocean .
Perhaps I went through postmodern vertigo in the womb, I feel like I’ve always floated on groundless ground. Or maybe my comfortable disposition with the void is sourced from my ancestral lineages, the Eastern notions of the emptiness of all things (Śūnyatā), impermanence and unending change.
There has been an elegant maturation in my metaphysics though, that still rests on the foundation of the void. I realize it’s all and good to acknowledge emptiness, but what does it then mean to live? I don’t want to just dwell in and despair at nihilist meaningless existence, nor do I feel compelled to escape to a cave in the mountain to meditate and be with nothingness. I want to live with the exuberance and spontaneity of not knowing what is happening in the river of life! I want to be-with the tension of wanting and desiring, and also not being attached and letting go. I want to paint sacred meaning on the empty canvas of every moment!
I want to take a leap of faith towards the Immanent Divine.
For me, the Immanent Divine means that God is not transcendent as a separate being of another substrate – this proverbial image of a man with a big white beard sitting on a cloud. No, I see God as the universe, and God in us, on earth, in all living and “inert” beings. God is contained in and matters through me and you, in fuzzy Meowbot, in the oak tree outside our window, in my cup of green smoothie and the soil that the vegetables grew from… and in the entangled ecology of relationships and meaning-making that we live into: the folie à deux, language and concepts, this letter, the circles and the dots. This is the divine realm that is beyond-the-human but not transcendent of the human.
My favourite contemporary philosopher Bayo Akomolafe expresses it beautifully here, where he imagines if “God” is:
“No longer the irrepressibly transcendent one, but the diffractively immanent manifold. No longer the one who sits at the end of the straight and narrow, but the crossroads – the intersection where things are confused, where things meet, where things shapeshift. No longer the Sphinxian figure who solves all our problems, or even the one who asks new questions, but the one who muddies the water. The confounding variable. No longer the omnipresent, or the omni-absent, but the omni-emergent. The omni-imminent. The one always yet to come. Yet to happen. The one who slips away.”
So what does it mean for us to act “for the glory of God”? We’ve discussed that in our secular Godless world, our sense of purpose now comes from “working” for the sake of being a “productive member of society”, to make enough money to feed our manufactured desires and pay homage to the Church of Capitalism and Economic Growth. But if we break away from this, then what is the point of it all?
Perhaps we create God by living God? Following our wise DM’s notion that I am the sense-making meaning-making organ of the universe, then this is the constantly unfolding choice to manifest the divine ethos of my existence, the mystery of Dasein, my way of being-in-the-world, into the universe. In the emptiness of the void, I want to listen to the whisper of my spiritual calling, the numinous voice inside my head, heart and soul that tells me: “Oh. I vibe with this, this feels right. This is beyond words but I feel it. I sense it. This is what I sense that I must create.”
And given that I am thrown into the world with other beings – both human and more-than-human – how do I co-exist with the plural ways of being-in-the-world of the other(s). Maybe this is the territory of religion?
Because of my upbringing into and subsequent rejection of Catholicism, I think I’ve always looked at religion as synonymous with institutionalized dogma. However, this was challenged when we listened to the podcast conversation between John Vervaeke and James Carse. They discussed this innate need in humans to individually and collectively make meaning and the historical role of religion in this. What was memorable was the introduction of the root word of religion (religio) as ‘religare’, the combination of re- (again) + ligare (to bind or connect): which means to reconnect.
This makes me feel better about the possibility of religion as the ecology of rituals and practices that guide reconnection. Reconnection with the immanent “God” that is in me, and you, and all that is around us, with cultivating a respectful and loving “I-Thou” relationship with ourselves and the cosmos. Reconnection with the task of making and remaking meaning (maps) on the ever-shifting territory of the divine. Reconnection with connection.