From Isaac of Stella

"So, brother, make for yourself a hidden place within yourself, in which you can flee away from yourself and pray in secret to the Father." Isaac of Stella

Passing From Self to God: A Cistercian Retreat, Robert Thomas, OCSO Cistercian Press, 2006, p. 4

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Perceptional Cognition and Abstract Cognition and Holiness

As I read Schopenhauer's second volume of "The World as Will and Representation" I note in his description of the difference between animal and human cognition that the lack of abstract cognition in animals leads them to live peacefully in the present, unoppressed by the past and unconcerned about the horrors that the future may bring.  The misery of men is therefore the greater because we remember and abstract the past pain and suffering and contemplate the sufferings to come, and these remembering and anticipating are far worse sufferings than those of the present.  It seems to me that the description he gives of animal cognition is very like the goal of the spiritual man- to live in the present, being unconcerned about the future needs (the illustration of the flowers and the birds from Jesus) and letting go of the past (forgiveness, offering sufferings up).  Is the higher cognition of the Christ filled man, the saved man, the same as the lower cognition of the animal?

I think not, because giving away or renouncing use of something you have is quite different from never having it in the first place.  For example, it has long been thought to be good to be voluntarily poor, like St. Francis.  However, to be poor out of circumstance rather than by choice is not seen as being a good thing, although not necessarily a culpable evil either.  So using this analogy, a man who lays down his abstracting cognitive powers in order to live in the present is like the man who is voluntarily poor, and his reward is similar- the peace of God.  The man who is poor but not by choice is analogous to the animal with pre-abstracting (perceptional) cognition.  He does not reap the full benefits of separation from the world although he does perhaps escape the slavery to possessions.  The poor are said to be much more generous than the rich, perhaps because they have less to lose.

In the end the man who seeks to follow Christ will indeed lay down his very life, giving all that he has.  The Stoics see life as an indifferent as it is not something in our control.  The Christian must see it similarly.  Our life is not our own, we must die like the seed buried in the ground in order to live.  If you grab onto your life, like the abstracting cognitive mind does with the past suffering remembered and the future anticipated, then you will lose your life.  By giving it up you gain life.  By giving up worry for the unreal future and the no longer real past you gain joyful or at least peaceful possession of the only time that is actually real- the present.  What a glorious achievement!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Random Thoughts, and Schopenhauer

Submersion of the self in God, the choosing of the new man over the old, taking on the Christ nature, or even the Schopenhauerean negation of the Will all have common effects.  The insistent demands of the ego are diminished and others become as important to us as we are to ourselves.  The competitive accumulation of material objects for security and power becomes less important.  The condemnations and failures of the past and the fears and hopes surrounding the future diminish as the supreme reality of the "now" becomes clearer.  Joy and peace become your possession as the Stoic indifferents no longer tempt you and the things that are yours are also placed in the beneficent hands of God.  This is the promise and the reality.

Faith is the grounded expectation of results not yet seen.  It should not be believing in things which "you know ain't so" as Samuel Clemens wittily puts it.  Naive faith needs to be replaced as soon as possible by informed and grounded faith.  To those who have been given much, much is demanded.  The simple can be excused a simple faith.  The intelligent and "wise" would fail if they stopped here.  The simple expect that the sun will rise each morning.  The intelligent explore the mysteries of induction and the regularities of orbital mechanics and his expectation of the morning sunrise is better grounded.  The simple barnyard chicken expects that each day will be like those before and so has no anticipation of the fall slaughter.  The wise man knows that death comes for us all, and can know and plan for that end.  And so like children we must trust that God is beneficent and come trustingly, but as those with wisdom we must have grounded hope lest we fall into delusions and trust that which is not trustworthy.

Schopenhauer says that compassion is the foundation of morality.  Is love at the heart of the universe?  Schopenhauer would say that the will is the "thing in itself", the true reality as it is even if we see only its phenomenal representations.  The will is the eternal cry "I am!"- the choice of existence over nonexistence, of growth over diminishment.  This gives rise to struggle, invasion, the devouring of the weak by the strong, to Schopenhauer's definition of evil in the taking/invading the ego space of another in order to expand your own.  This would seem to argue that Love is absent from the "thing in itself" and is foreign to the world as will and representation.  Only in the repudiation of the will, in the realms of art, music and asceticism can we know anything approaching compassion and love.  Asceticism, the denial of self- is there here a clue to escaping the Schopenhauerean pessimism?  I think so, and note that what is said in the "prayer of St. Francis."  Note the inversion of the Schopenhauerean world.  St. Francis knew, as did Schopenhauer, that there is a gate and path that leads to life, but it is narrow and few are those who find it.  Behind, or beyond the will, lies the Lord.  It is He that I seek.  Love therefore, transcends, transforms and redeems the universe.  As such it is the deepest heart, but not that which we, like Schopenhauer, see in front of us.  To the Mystic and the Artist this heart can be seen.  This is the deeper reality than the "Will".

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.