Fullness of Life: A brief poetic interlude before the final run-up on a conclusion (Part 6)

The clear, simple truth: Nothing can fall out of God. Where would it go? luminous web

God is not “somebody” (not me)—“somewhere else” (not here.) God is the ALL, the now, the whole; the undivided, dynamic totality of form and formlessness. As Barbara Brown Taylor pictures it so vibrantly in The Luminous Web:

Where is God is this picture? God is all over the place. God is up there, down here, inside my skin and out. God is the web, the energy, the space, the light—not captured in them, as if any of those concepts were more real than what unites them—but revealed in that singular, vast net of relationship that animates everything that is. (p. 74)

We are pouring from fullness to fullness here.

From the perspective of the cove, the tide rises and falls in great contrasting cycles. A wharf riding gently at sea level on the high tide may be perched fifteen feet above a mudflat when the tide has emptied out. The sea ebbs and flows; the cove appears as “full” or “empty.” But from the perspective of the ocean, the volume of water is always the same; like a great watery amoeba it simply extends and retracts its arms into the nooks and crannies of coastline from its own serenely undiminished magnitude.

When we think about life in terms of rising-and-falling, beginning-and-ending, we are betraying our finite perspective. “The individual drop that we are disappears in time,” writes Raimon Panikkar in Christophany (p. 130). “But the personal water that we are (the drop’s water) lives eternally—if, that is, we have succeeded in realizing the (divine) water that we are.” If, in other words, if we have succeeded in shifting our perspective from cove to ocean.

It’s not easy, for sure. Down here in earth-time, the fleetingness of duration weighs heavily on us. “The paths of glory lead but to the grave,” Thomas Grey famously lamented. So brief the duration of a human life; so quickly over and gone. And when that life is but embryonic, cut off before it is even born, the pathos seems doubly brutal. We feel it as an exception, a violation. We do not see—do not want to see—even the slightest continuity with the universal, impartial agency of those “Ways of Life” Teilhard speaks of—ingenuity, profusion, indifference (!!)—to which all lower orders in the chain of life are bound. Duration seems so precious to us when it comes to human beings; less so, perhaps when we try to extend it to virtual particles or stars exploding in-and-out of existence in distant galaxies—or for that matter, to the millions of un-germinated seeds for every fetus engendered; to the ants, viruses, butterflies, starfish washed up on a beach in a freak flood tide, abandoned pets, livestock en route to the slaughterhouse…. Where do our hearts draw the line?

“Only from the spirit, where it reaches its felt paroxysm, will the antinomy clear,” writes Teilhard—“and the world’s indifference to its elements will be transformed into an immense solicitude—in the sphere of the person.” But perhaps not quite in the way we are expecting. Personhood does not change the laws to which the entire created order is bound, but perhaps it gives us some perspective by rescuing consciousness from its captivity to duration.

So what about all those “souls” who don’t get a chance to live this life, spread their wings, even draw their first breath? Is something unbearably precious lost forever? As I ponder, from my own human perspective, the pathos of a life seemingly cut short in time, I find myself drawn back time and again to one of this haunting poem by Laura Gilpin (entitled “The Two-headed Calf”), which I first came across in Belden Lane’s spiritual classic, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes.

Tomorrow when the farm boys find this
freak of nature, they will wrap his body
in newspaper and carry him to the museum.

But tonight he is alive in the north
field with his mother. It is a perfect
summer evening: the moon rising over
the orchard, the wind in the grass. And
as he stares into the sky, there are
twice as many stars as usual.

stars in the sky

I offer this poem as a kind of dark solace in the face of that sickening, “punched-in-the gut” feeling that arises whenever we try to fathom a life that will never know the grace of duration in time. All life is one life, ultimately, and this one life is in the hands of God and is the hands of God. As humans, we properly feel grief and immense pathos when a potential life trajectory is suddenly cut off, either intentionally or by accident, and it is right that we should; that is the nature of our human sentiency. But to the extent that we can open our hearts and learn to feel all of life—in all its myriad yet particular forms— as the seamless sentiency of God, then perhaps we can loosen our grip on individual duration and let the unbroken wholeness of life flow according its own mysterious deeper rhythm. The antidote to hardness of heart (from which our culture certainly suffers) may not lie so much in exaggerating the rights of the unborn as in opening our hearts more deeply to the unity—and freefall—that is divine love.

grassNothing can fall out of God. Each and every created essence—whether plant, mineral, animal, human—participates in the symphony of divine self-disclosure in its own way and knows the fullness of divine mercy according to its own mode of perceptivity. Even a stone. Even a blade of grass. Most certainly a fetus. Most certainly at the hour of our death. Duration does not affect that holographic fullness, presumably even in a virtual particle. Even—sometimes especially—in brevity, the intensity of the whole is conveyed in a heightened form—twice as many stars as usual!

Granted, the gift of time gives us the window of opportunity to do some pretty amazing stuff—like developing a soul, for one! But the soul is for cosmic service. Cosmic FULLNESS is something else again. It is the free and gratuitous birthright bestowed by God on every quark and particle of the created order. And we get to participate in it freely, fully, here and now, simply because each one of us is a tiny shareholder in the divine aliveness.

Nor does even an “interrupted life” ever pass out of the knowingness of God. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” says Psalm 139— and if we turn that promise just slightly sideways, we can see in it a deeper assurance that may have slipped by us on the first pass. Each individualized life is a trajectory—a probability wave, quantum physicists would call it—of divine self-manifestation that already exists in the heart of God. The heart of God is the infinite abyss of all possibilities. Its time will come round again.

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6 thoughts on “Fullness of Life: A brief poetic interlude before the final run-up on a conclusion (Part 6)

  1. “I mourned for the full spectrum of aborted life…”

    Yes, Julia, yes–and with such depth and beauty of soul. It is only against this backdrop that the abortion issue can really find its true balance and perspective. Thanks for staying with the process so insightfully and courageously.

  2. Cynthia, thank you for sharing your “developing soul” with us all in this brilliant and courageous writing that began with taking on the contentious fetal abortion issue in our time. It has been an exciting ride trying to keep up with you as you have been giving “Abortion” a new home. (Indeed, giving Christianity a new home so that fetal abortion can take its rightful place in the overall scheme of things.
    During this week’s installment, as I was reading the first stanza of Laura Gilpin’s poem, my gut seized up so hard that I was unable to breathe. We all know what happens to “freaks of nature.” After catching my breath, I read on only to breakdown in tears. From your contextualization of the poem, I guessed I was having my personal response to “duration of time.” I was thrilled by Van Gogh’s starry night that gave balm to the two-headed calf during her one night of life, but even with that the Grip and Release continued for some time It felt like I was in the throes of childbirth. I rode it our until forms began to emerge.
    Then the words Aborted Potential popped out and demanded to be heard. I began mourning for all the aborted potential that came up. I saw meandering rivers damned lifeless, the right brains of children rejected, adults conditioned to ignore the wisdom of their bodies, first nations virtual identities stolen. I saw so much of life cut short of reaching its potential. The full maturation process held in captivity over and over again by bad decisions, ignorance, greed or wilful cruelty, within a nation born on compromised soil and perverted values. I mourned for the full spectrum of aborted life. And now, in our present climate, we witness aborting as a way of life.
    Then I read on and was filled by much gratitude with the idea of a “developing soul” and how much good can come from this process but wondering how to help get our cultural soil turned over to receive such an idea. I guess that answer is in all of us. We do the work day by day by fully embracing the maturing process. Thank God for the connection to the Wisdom work.
    With love, Julia

  3. ps I have been watching our small herd of sheep for years now, as the flock moves through time, babies coming in and growing up, some stay and some go, the old matriarchs dying, the rams leaving when they become dangerous to all. They are domesticated, and yet they very much have a life of their own, a nucleus that is sheep, not human. We are not at the center of their lives, the flock is the center. When a sheep (singular or plural the word remains sheep) is dying the flock is very interested and stays close, just as they do when someone is giving birth, or when someone strays or gets stuck on the other side of the fence (which can cause quite the commotion).

    Once death is final however the flock moves on and no longer hangs around, there seems to be little interest in the body suddenly, after the great and serious curiousity beforehand. A very young one may come back to check it out, but even that is short lived. Immediately there is an interesting reconfiguring where the roles shift, a new matriarch steps up, often there are little personality changes. The death of a lamb can live a bit longer in the ewe who has lost, but the flock moves in and surrounds her, almost moving her along with them as they find their new order with the new arrivals.

    What continually amazes me is how much they are a flock. How they move the way a fall flock of birds flying moves across the sky forming and reforming, an elastic, expanding and contracting membrane. The sheep do that as well over the course of a day in the field, over the course of years. It is beautiful really. And though there are individuals to be sure, the flock itself is an organism that those individuals serve, a collective, that moves with the ebb and flow of life and death, reconfiguring the balance naturally and with little fanfare so that no role is left untended.

  4. Ahhhhh such deep mystical resonance I experience as I read this. YES! Inviting us into the SCALE of Wisdom. To deeply know ourselves as HELD in this endless hologram of LOVE…knowing that ‘nothing can fall out of God’…as you, Cynthia, and Julian of Norwich (and other mystics) before you, have reminded us. Thank you for this ‘poetic interlude’….I felt invited into a pause of DEEP spaciousness. Took me back to Babette’s Feast, highlighted in your Mystical Hope book…where General Lowenhielm rises and offers this toast:

    Mercy and Truth have met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another (Psalm 85). Man in his weakness and shortsightedness believes he must make choices in this life. He trembles at the risk he takes. We do know fear. But no. Our choice is of no importance. There comes a time when our eyes are opened. And we come to realize that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence and receive it with gratitude. Mercy imposes no conditions.

    And lo! Everything we have chosen has been granted to us. And everything we rejected has also been granted. Yes, we get back even what we rejected. For mercy and truth are met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another. (p61 & 62)

    Thank you Cynthia

  5. I have just read these words for the first time, and am writing through tears in response. In our group of seven “Meditations on the Tarot” study group yesterday we were touching on questions of what is resolved and unresolved in a life, what remains mystery, how to remember the light in the depths of darkness. It was surfacing as a life challenge in a way, how do we meet these inexplictable moments- and patterns in our lives- that hurt, the painful times that call for an arising, a steadying within, sometimes taking years to muster the courage and depth of heart to stand with. But it all lands ultimately right here in the center of this truth: how to not separate anything from God. How to remain true, moment by moment, to what we know, that nothing falls out of God. “We are pouring from fullness to fullness here” and “nothing can fall out of God” …or “ever pass from the knowingness of God.” I need these poetic interludes! They give me courage and and comfort the parts that feel separated and alone. The promise of cosmic fullness helps me feel the truth of it, the container of it, and offers perspective, to whatever degree of soul is growing within. The image of the soul developing for cosmic service feeds and anchors me in this small boat, knowing there are so many and we all have a part no matter, and I feel the swell of waters that have no end beneath and within and all around me. And I feel part of and companioned in God. What a beautiful morning meditation. Deep thanks, and with love, Laura

  6. This lovely, poetic post brought to mind the story of the encounter of Buddhist John Blofeld with a Taoist Sage (From the book, “The Secret and the Sublime”)


    Tseng Lao-weng’s talk of rivers flowing into the ocean had put me in mind of Sir Edwin Arnold’s lovely expression of the mystery of Nirvana, ‘the dew-drop slips into the shining sea,’ which I had long accepted as a poetical description of that moment when the seeming-individual, at least free from the shackles of the ego, merges with the Tao- the Void. This I knew to be an intensely blissful experience, but it was Tseng Lao-weng who now revealed its shining splendour in terms that made my hear leap. Afterwards I wondered whether Sir Edwin Arnold himself had realized the full purport of his words. At a certain moment in our conversation when Tseng Lao-weng paused expectantly, I translate the beautifulline for him and was rewarded by a smile of pleasure and surprised. Eyes glowing, he replied:

    “My country men are wrong to speak of the Western Ocean People as barbarians. Your poet’s simile is penetrating – exalted! And yet it does not capture the whole; for, when a lesser body of water enters a greater, though the two are thenceforth inseparable, the smaller constitutes but a fragment of the whole. But consider the Tao, which transcends both finite and infinite. Since the Tao is All and nothing lies outside it, since its multiplicity and unity are identical, when a finite being sheds the illusion of separate existence, he is not lost in the Tao like a dewdrop merging with the sea; by casting off his imaginary limitations, becomes immeasurable. No longer bound by the worldly categories, ‘part’ and ‘whole,’ he discovers that he is coextensive with the Tao. Plunge the finite into the infinite and, though only one remains, the finite, far from being diminished, takes on the stature of infinite. Mere logicians would find fault with this, but if you perceive the hidden meaning you will laugh at their childish cavils. Such perception will bring you face ot face with the true secret cherished by all accomplished sages – glorious, dazzling, vast, hardly conceivable! The mind of one who Returns to the Source thereby becomes the Source. Your own mind, for example, is destined to become the universe itself!’

    His wise old eyes, now lit with joyous merriment, bored into mine. For a fleeting moment, I was able to share in the vastness of his inner vision. The bliss was so shattering that I was compelled to lower my gaze. For a person in my state of unpreparedness, prolongation of that flash of limitless insight would have been more than flesh and blood could bear.

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