"[D]epth has two faces. It is not just abyss but also ground, terrifying at first, but ultimately liberating and redemptive. Looking earnestly into the depth of everything involves a kind of death, but it also promises resurrection.” (93)
- John Haught Making Sense of Evolution
It is Epiphany, and I am ending my month-long journey through the Winter Solstice Season. The last of the trimmings are being taken down and stowed away, and the reality that they represent is now – hopefully; if I have walked a wisening path through the last month of celebrations, meditations and experiences – being realized within me.
Last night – which is known as Twelfth Night – I took out Loreena McKennitt’s A MidWinter Night’s Dream CD once more and used it for a travelling meditation. Yet, everywhere I went signified depth more than a horizontal movement in the plane of everyday space and time. Eventually, I entered into the Tree of the Self and went up and down in the trunk, roots and boughs, reveling in the refreshment that reaching the end of a journey oft brings.
I am leaving the Winter Solstice Season with as much anticipation as I had going into it; and that’s a good sign that I went Yule-ing devoutly in earthen and imaginative ways. My direction for the next couple months seems mapped out; I have ideas for what I am going to write, read and study. So at Epiphany, I rededicate myself to the Path and venture forth, leaving the Winter Solstice Season behind, once again.
At this annual turnstile I’m often thinking about depth and what it means to seek depth in the midst of life. A devout journey usually facilitates some degree of depth, and may well end in revelations about Earth & Cosmos and our place in it, insight into one’s life or even an ‘epiphany.’ An epiphany (from the Greek ἐπιφάνεια) is a sudden appearance, a brilliant manifestation, a flash in the dark; all these descriptions being metaphors for an experience that lifts one suddenly and temporarily out of the ordinary, affording some kind or degree of insight.
I have found that the deeper you dwell, the brighter the flash may be. Thus the experience of Depth and the experience of Epiphany are linked. Depth refers to that inner experience that we as human animals have of being more than our surfaces can reveal. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a cliché alluding to the fact that appearances can be deceiving, though it may be extended to refer to the depths of personhood, experience and history that lie beyond what we can usually ‘see’ when we meet someone. The same caution applies to Nature.
If Nature is a Book, then we would do well not to ‘judge it’ merely by the surfaces with which we interact at our level of complexity. Science reveals depths (and heights) to Nature which are worthwhile delving into and coming to understand as we journey through life in spiritual pathways. We are a manifestation of Nature, and even in purely ‘physical’ terms we have depths to plumb; our bodies are a marvelous structure with incredible complexity and nuance. To explore our biology – flesh, bone, organs, muscles and cells in all their wondrous forms – is to add depth to our self-revelation, bringing us to a better comprehension of how we are part of the ongoing drama of life and evolution, both biological and cosmological.
This Book of Nature opens us to our real nature; our physical manifestation in spacetime. We are the particular biological organisms we are at this point in time (c. 13.75 billion years after the Cosmic Origin) at this particular location in the Cosmos (on a planet in one arm of the Milky Way, which is part of a Local Cluster of Galaxies). We are made up of cells arranged in marvelous ways over the course of millions of years by the forces of Nature on this planet and beyond. Our cells are made up of molecules, which are made up of atoms, which are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. The protons and neutrons are made up of quarks. At the depths of the physical universe there are electrons and quarks; whether or not these particles are made of anything smaller is yet to be discovered—could it be strings?
Meditate on these things, and you will find passage into one kind of depth.
But we are more than just physical beings. We have an existential nature; we experience the world and we become a living record of everything we have ever experienced—whether or not we ultimately remember or forget what has happened to us, it is imprinted on us in one way or another. We are also the sum total of all of the choices we have ever made, and there comes a point in life where it is fruitless – or possibly even foolhardy – to try and remake ourselves in some total way. You cannot erase 40, 50, 60 years of experience. You can add to your experience; you can do something radically different with the last third or half of your life – something you would never have though of doing earlier – but you are still the sum of all of the experiences you had in the earlier decades of your life plus these. Is that right? I have found this to be true in my own life so far (I am 57 yrs old). I cannot become a totally different person at this stage of life.
As existential beings – becomings with the inherent power to experience Nature; to dwell in Earth & Cosmos – we are emotional, psychological and narrative beings.
We are emotional beings. Nature has endowed us with emotions that, when well educated and wisely employed, help us to negotiate life’s mazes, dancing (hopefully) to the music of our existence, and avoiding (again, hopefully) the psychological ruin that potentially comes through traumatic and tragic experiences as well as debilitating illnesses. Educated, existentially grounded emotions help us survive what happens to us, when what happens is destructive, just as they aid us in flourishing (from the Gk εὐδαιμονία; i.e., eudaimonia—usually translated “happiness”) when life is good and we can be receptive to what is proffered us by our circumstances.
We are psychological beings—a term which includes much more than I can hope to explicate in this blog; but I’ll start by saying that I use the word here to refer to the fact of our consciousness, to the fact that we are intelligent, and to the fact that we have “soul” (the word derives from the Gk word ψυχή; often translated “soul” or “mind” but meaning, even more generally, “life” or “breathe.”); however you want to talk about “soul.”
Finally, we are narrative beings – we become who we are largely through stories we are told or hear as we grow up, stories we read or watch in film and then through the turning of our own life into a story; a narrative that helps us make sense of ourselves—once we come to self-consciousness. I would argue that we imbibe stories as food for our being-in-becoming (i.e., our ‘soul’) just as readily as we imbibe physical food for the nourishment of our bodies. The stories we choose and own as ‘ours’ once we come to self-consciousness as actors in the world under our own power – these are the narratives that tell us who we are.
Becoming a fully realized, functioning person can involve adding to our stories, changing which stories we use to direct our lives and even making up new ones; finding novels, movies, TV shows, as well as stories in the music we listen to and stories that arise out of day to day life to augment, nuance and enhance our sense of ourselves. If an honest desire to become who we are at our best drives this narrative adventure, we add depth to our lives as we work out our stories.
Meditate on these things, and you will find passage into a second kind of depth.
Meaning arises out of the stories that we tell about ourselves and our understanding of the world. For us human animals, making sense of ourselves and our lives involves the embrace of Two Books; The Book of Nature and The Book of the Self. The one cannot be divorced from the other. To understand ourselves, we must seek to understand the Earth & Cosmos; for we are manifestations of the Universe—we are the universe becoming aware of itself. We are stardust; every atom in our bodies has a long history in the cosmos, originally being forged in the hearts of stars which then exploded, casting the elements out into the cosmos.
It is in part because we are emotional, psychological and narrative beings that we are capable of the experience of depth; we need not ride the surfaces of life. Indeed, for anyone who has tasted of their own depth or the depth of Nature, the ‘surfaces’ of life come to be illuminated by what they find in their depths and may seem less and less significant in their own right. As human animals, we often begin to seek depth spontaneously, as the depth of our experiences moves us to reflect on our lives, and once we start to reflect, the depths open up. Or it may be brought on by a sudden revelation or perhaps a tragic experience that makes us ask one of the perennial spiritual questions: “Where am I, and where am I going?” Or, perhaps, the complementary question: “Who am I and who have I been?” which implies, “Who do I want to be?”
At Epiphany I often think about Depth. I have had a month-long journey through the Winter Solstice Season, involving dwelling in a place trimmed with colorful lights and a Yule Tree. I have been listening to music that I only listen to at this tide of the year. I have been reading stories that reflect the idea of personal and societal rebirth, reconfiguration and transfiguration. I took imaginative journeys on Solstice Night and then on Christmas Eve that spoke to “Death & Rebirth” with the Sun (Son). I am refreshed, despite the rush and frenetic nonsense of ‘the Holidays.’
Now that I have imbibed all of this, it is time to leave the crèche (the Birth Scene of Jesus; which may also be understood as The Nativity of the Self; for we seek to be (re)born with the god through the pilgrimage of the Winter Solstice Season) and walk out again on the adventure of life. How will I integrate this into my life? As I find the particular runes appropriate to this year’s journey through the Winter Solstice, I hope to experience a deepening of self-understanding that will help me path forward in months and years to come. So mote it be.
A Blessed Epiphany to all!