Dr Eugene Stockton...
This is partly a theological essay but there's also a very practical dimension to it that has wide application in our lives. Fr Eugene Stockton seeks to explore more deeply some ideas that were on the table in our series of video conversations recorded late last year [LINK]. All of us human beings "think" — we have minds and neurons and they are active. Few of us probably think about how we think. Is that surprising? Do any of the animal species think about how they think? In this extended essay Eugene seeks to depth some thoughts about how we think — how consciousness operates. ...Brian Coyne
Plumbing the Depths Of Consciousness, Part 2
by Fr Eugene Stockton
Intuition in Scientific Investigation
Surface rationality plays such an important role in the gathering and processing of scientific data, in practical problem solving and in devising advanced technology, that it would seem that these intellectual pursuits are conducted only in the upper levels of consciousness. Yet many researchers will affirm that there has been an intuitive pre-conceptual stage in their enquiry, showing that several levels of thinking have complemented each other in the overall task. So, for example, an archaeologist gets the "feel" of an artefact, of the placing of a site in its environment, of the stratification read from the section of a trench, of the observed changes in the assemblages and of the signs of technological development through time, all leading to the reconstruction of the life of a people in the past. Such intuitions must then be translated into objective, scientifically acceptable language in the final report, so as to fix the information in a form verifiable by peers.
Earlier, I had proposed that in scientific research there is a pre-rational stage of assembling data, each represented by a "mental image" (or some other mental analogue of sense perception). There follows an important stage of "playing with images" in the Playground. The mind's eye rapidly re-arranges this assemblage in different juxtapositions, like the changing shapes and colours of a kaleidoscope, until it sees a right "fit" and calls a halt. Once the right juxtaposition has been perceived, then follows the difficult task of translating it all into words, with logical form and sequence. I described the valuable advantages of pre-conceptual thinking.
It, is, typically, wild and lateral, intuitive and creative and, therefore, very free. It offers expandable categories and free associations of ideas, before settling down to the restriction and dogma of established discourse. It complements the more respectable rational approach in various disciplines by giving the right hemisphere of the brain an active role in problem-solving. I suspect that pre-conceptual thinking is responsible for the intuitive leap of genius (which, of many areas of human intellect, computers cannot duplicate) that can recognise patterns and, hence, parallels between otherwise dissimilar data. It opens up possibilities which might otherwise be unsuspected, but which can be tested empirically.
Worlds apart from our own modern thinking, with its advanced science and technology, is the thought world of traditional tribal people, well exemplified for us in our Aboriginal people recently emerged from a stone age culture. For them all parts of the cosmos are alive, conscious and paying attention to each other, and the individual, as one of those parts, engages in mystical union with the rest. I believe that primal people, together with monks and mystics of all religions, live habitually, or almost habitually, at a deep level of consciousness, powerfully aware of the numinous surrounding them and of the myths in which they consciously take part. Against the highly abstract and scientific language of the West, there are languages expressive of such consciousness which are thoroughly concrete and earthy, more poetic than factual, alive with deep-felt symbols and metaphors. Better known are ancient Semitic languages, such as classical Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, whose vocabulary is built on tri-consonantal roots, based on verbs (therefore more relational than particulate). It can be said of Semitic languages that they do not express meaning (as in the West) but suggest meaning. Often numbers express, not a mathematical value, but an emotional value (often with exaggeration). It is commonly remarked that the Hebrew verb "to know" does not designate an intellectual knowledge, but an intuitive experience of what is known, coming to grips with what is subjective in the other, like an intercourse between knower and known so that the two become one.
The language of the Bible is highly typological. The Fathers of the Church recognised biblical types as persons, things or events in the Old Testament which prefigured, and found fulfilment in Jesus Christ (N.T. anti-type). But this use of typology ranges more widely than the doctrinal concerns of the Fathers. This usage is consistent with the biblical predilection for mashal (Hebrew) or parabole (Greek), words whose meanings can cover proverbs, maxims, riddles, metaphors, allegories, similitudes and other forms of comparisons, even by way of extended narratives such as gospel parables. These figures of comparison highlight the similarity between patterns of experience, such that one throws light on the other to give it greater meaning. This mutual illumination, or what I call projection, can be emphasised between sets of relationship such as macrocosm and microcosm, phylogeny and ontogeny, type and anti-type, myth and experience. The logic of imagery in the Bible as distinct from that in rationality, can argue from one image to another:
Reading the Bible
If the language of the Bible shows it came from the deep consciousness of the inspired authors, it makes sense to read the Bible with the mentality of the People of God, who produced and cherished it. It must be emphasised that bible reading is a cross-cultural experience, linking the reader to a very different culture, with its own language, concerns and literary genres over 2,000 years ago.
Fundamentalist Christians are mistaken in seeing the Bible as "the Word of God" (an Englishman, of course), written to them in plain language all could understand in their (Western) common sense, embodying infallible factual truths to be taken literally. Equally mistaken in seeing the Bible as a compilation of factual statements are the sceptics who cast doubt on the canonical text on the grounds of contradictions, inconsistencies and impossible events (miracles, resurrection etc.). Likewise misguided were the early biblical archaeologists and other scholars who attempted to bring science to bear on "proving the Bible true." Also somewhat departing from the ancient Semitic mentality is the modern tendency to psychologise or rationalise the text.
The mentality of the people who authored the sacred books and those who received them is summed up in the example of Mary, the great woman of faith: "Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart" [Luke.2:19,51]. The reverent wonderment of the child, rather than the mastery of the expert, is what marked off the Fathers of the Church in their commentaries on sacred scripture. St. Benedict began his Rule with the words "Listen, my child, with the ears of your heart"; and the monks learned to apply the same contemplative listening to monastic Lectio Divina on the sacred text.
Just as reading the Bible is a cross-cultural exercise, most fruitfully conducted in the depths of one's consciousness, so any cross-cultural encounter is more fruitful at depth, rather than in the rationality of the mind's surface. In the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry both Father Frank Fletcher and I experienced the striking contrast between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal thinking and the fruitfulness for both of drawing on each other's spirituality at the deepest level. Father Franks' life, work and writing — especially his last book Jesus and the Dreaming — are eloquent testimony to the value of heart-felt encounter between Aboriginal and European Australians. A similar encounter between the Christian Gospel and native animism in 6th Century Ireland and Scotland gave rise to a vibrant Celtic Spirituality. Again the experience of the Blue Mountains Interfaith Group shows the value of heart-felt meeting of different religious cultures.
At the surface level there are serious barriers to cultural exchange. The most notable is the dualism between perceived true and false. The language and thinking at this level is very judgmental and discriminatory, leaving no room for opposites to co-exist. We readily see ourselves as "us and them". Deeper down these sharp divisions are replaced by approximations, where opposites are found to be complementary, offering welcome to mutual enrichment.
"Heart speaks to Heart"
Out of the depths of the Godhead, God speaks to the heart of the believer. Revelations is not given to us in concepts and rational discourse, after the manner of theological conclusions. After the Covenant on Mt. Sinai, God continued to reveal God-self to the Chosen People in their historical experiences, in which the prophets reflecting saw the hand of God guiding his people, until finally the Word of God, the full expression of the Father, came among us as man. That was the fullest experience of God for humankind.
At the personal level I come to know God through my experiences brought to light by personal reflection. What about the stream of doctrine which come to me in the words of teachers, preachers and reading? Yet all these words come alive only after and confirm the direct intervention of the divine companion in my life journey. How many words, spoken or printed, even the inspired language of the bible, have gone over my head without making any impact? It is simply because they strike no resonance in my life to date. There is no firsthand experience, no emotional echo to give them, for me, a concrete and personal reality. It is only when I have had the appropriate experience, that is God moving in my life, that then the words of the bible, the preacher or the teacher ring true and confirm the revelation, providing a form of words to capture it. The words coming after help the faith-inspired reflection to recognise and canonise the felt movement of God in my human experience.
It can be said, with Meister Eckhart, that the Word of God is becoming incarnate in my life through the action of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit moves in the deepest part of my consciousness. It is there, in whatever mysterious way, that a spiritual experience or theophany takes place, accompanied at times by a mental image ("vision") or sound ("a voice"). St. John's Gospel records the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan Woman [John 4]. By contrast with the well (pege) of Jacob, to be drawn on repeatedly and with effort, the Gift of God which Jesus offers the seeker is:
Later, in John 7:37-39, Jesus is recorded as crying out:
Eugene Stockton. Submitted to Catholica 03 Apr 2014.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
Landmarks is an exploration of an Australian spirituality. Drawing on the cultural influences now in our land, it offers a graded, comprehensive presentation of gospel teachings, with an Australian diction and imagery. The reader may find in it fresh insights into traditional spiritual themes. Each theme is introduced in terms of an 'Australian setting', focusing on one particular aspect of the Australian experience. The body of each chapter analyses that experience, exploring the parallels with its biblical counterpart. The bible is used, not as a book about God or a store of normative texts, but as the story of a people, who are our spiritual ancestors. The attempt is made to insert ourselves into that story, with all its ups and downs, to identify our own experience in its unfolding, and through it to catch the vision of God which the past projects onto our present and future.