Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pantheism Redux

Lake Chabot Regional Park Castro Valley CA

After a very dry early winter in California, the rain returns. The air is redolent of an emerging Mediterranean spring; moisture clings to the nose, a votive offering of aromatic herbs and shrubs. It is easy to be a pantheist in a Mediterranean climate. Nature is both gentle and fierce.
The three major monotheistic religions of the Near and Middle East, Judaism, Christianity and Islam little prepare us for a pantheist experience. The nature of God, transcendental and remote, pulls our meditations and prayers away from the manifest beauty of nature, unless we celebrate nature as the offspring of God's creation. But the Neoplatonic philosophers from Plotinus of Egypt to Iamblichus of Syria who flourished in the first centuries CE created a philosophy consonant with pantheism and informed the mystical strands of the three monotheistic religions: Christian mysticism, Sufism and Kabbalah.

For Neoplatonists, the universe is a progressive emanation from the One, to hen, that descends through layers and layers of being to our material world. Hardly a lonely universe! Salvation is a return to the One through contemplation. Contemplating the beauty of the universe or the harmonic composition in a work of art are paths to union with the One. Iamblichus describes the activities of theurgy, or divine-work, as multiple ways of returning to the One. 
I would say that nature walking is high up there as a mode for salvation. Think about it--when we walk through a forest or by a lake, we progressively remove the complexities of of daily thoughts and gradually focus on the unifying experience of the gnarly tree, the aromatic shrubs and the multifarious colors that surround us. A simultaneous integration of diversity into unity. A return to the One.

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