Brilliant Passages

From an abridged version of NEPSIS entitled “Brilliant Passages,” I came to the following understanding of the complex in which Panikkar’s “tensile polarity” operates:

We begin like this: The priest walked onto the balcony patio of his rectory about midnight. There he conducted a ritual of the wind, fire and sacred objects. Objects and the fire– molded and remolded. Until, in the crepuscular moment of tender light, that night’s work seemed complete. An unseasonable (the ‘news said “freak”) squall hit the church. Winds struck, stronger than the mighty Santa Ana winds of that California clime. Rain, unseasonably tropical and terrific. The priest had conducted the ritual for a benevolent purpose. He wondered, well, half wondered, about any connection between the ritual and the storm… Several hundred pages later he comes to the following conclusion.

(Any of the fiction works in NEPSIS Section II, reveal what happened inbetween should the reader be interested.)


Dear Bishop,

…Still the priest wonders, only half believes, that there is any connection between that liturgy and the storm. Yet, the sorcerer, according to the powers inherent in him/her simply acts. Holy Mary, virgin-mother-bride, pray with us now and…

…if the logical (scientific), rational part of perception only relates to what it can name or analyze, then it needs to believe in a larger reality. The other side of our perception cannot name or analyze its subject. The other side does not believe, it can only experience what has no name, no parts, no boundaries or center, but has been perceived to be the self-justifying, radiant center… meaning and source of all things. …drop the territorial disputes (of religion[s], science, etc.) and admit that the human person/world needs both discursive and non-discursive perception to function fully.

Greed and Abuse–Hubris?

…Christian, Buddhist morality and mysticism, for instance, is remarkably similar. Science also has failed to resolve the problem of the raging human heart. Technology has amplified suffering… For all its wonders, we lose more than we gain. Where is the solution, salvation, –or even survival?

…sexuality in this work represents duality in the world; the darks and lights. One is non-existent without the other. Real union produces or results from the third thing that resolves the battle, the new being, so to speak… the resolution of every dualistic conflict, even that of heaven and earth– time and non-time.

But where does this third element come from? It can only come from the unnamable other side of perception– from the emptiness of the void that produces everything… God. Our only hope is that the non-temporal dimension still “wants” to be engaged with history, that the unnamable (with so many names) will act,

“… only say the word, Lord, and we shall be saved…”

But how…?*


*This is not a “pie in the sky” theology that depends upon some caretaker god to wait until we greet him in the after-life. But it hopes that the Spirit will enliven that divine dimension in the human heart and in the world, so that we might save ourselves as members of the whole body of Being. As opposed to destroying the whole body…

Panikkar suggests a “tensile polarity” that can be maintained between the dualities of the world, the dark and the light of creation, the masculine and feminine, rational and non-rational perception in human personality. It is a third, tensile element that completes, effects union and produces the new condition. This model is the basis of the trinitarian format in human perception- self, environment, absolute. It is also an important ingredient in resolving contemporary social concerns. Panikkar’s position posits a hermeneutic of sacrifice that maintains the thread between tradition and modernity, and thus helps develop the proper approach, or even the ritual, that in turn will help modern humanity cope with the “discomfort” that Panikkar has determined it feels about its own temporality. Mankind contains a human invariant that can be identified as the “constitutive tension” in human consciousness between “being and becoming”, “the one and the many”, “identity and difference”, “change and continuity”, and also, between “time and eternity.” Parenthetically, Panikkar notes,

my conviction that handling this constitutive tension in dialectical terms expresses both the strength and the weakness of Western culture, and that other traditions approach the problem differently. Only a complementary approach can help us to overcome the increasingly dangerous… (Time and Sacrifice, p. 687.)

In Panikkar’s framework, creation and creativity is absolutely connected with sacrifice. Since God had no primal “stuff” from which to create, he had to use himself. “By sacrifice the world is made and maintains itself in existence; by sacrifice, the entire cosmos returns to its source.” (Panikkar, Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics, p. 82.) Panikkar stresses in Worship and Secular Man: “sacrifice is by its nature a theandric act, an act in which God and man have to work together in order that the world be maintained; it is a cosmic act, for the subsistence of the world depends upon it.”(P. 34.) Panikkar suggests that God cannot perform the sacrifice without human cooperation. Similarly, Man requires divine help, since he alone is impotent to sacrifice, let alone to make the sacrifice acceptable.

From these archaic notions, Panikkar maintains the fabric of tradition and culture by projecting into the future, or the present, a construct of values acceptable for secular or religious appreciation. Sacrifice is not primarily giving something up. It is to “make sacred” from the Latin roots of the word. To make something sacred is to make it whole by connecting its existence in this world with its source in the other world, i.e., the holy.

The disturbing possibility that results from this thinking is that if God made us from itself, then if we destroy ourselves, we effectively destroy God! I think that if we believed that, we would stop doing the self-indulgent, self-destructive things that we do. To do otherwise is unspeakably evil. (Here is the root of apocalyptic thinking– in the sense of the intimate and inextricable presense of God in every moment.)

Pilgrimage, most simply, is the exterior exercise (errant over the paths of the world) of an interior process of growth and realization as temporal sensibility seeks union with the eternal holy. In this process, all needs, pains, and drives are met, resolved, worked out, or satisfied finally in the “self-justifying beauty” of eternity (non-time). Pilgrimage is at once a primary “spiritual, physical and psychological technique” and a natural, spontaneous action, practiced throughout the ages. In pilgrimage, the sacrifice is made, the individual and the world are made whole. (re: “self-justifying beauty” see Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s theology of aesthetics in, Glory of the Lord, vol. I, p. 420-423.)

Panikkar reacts against the Creationist model of reality as fanatical and childish. But he also reacts against the model of evolution as too mechanistic. (Both concepts perhaps come from the same root thought in early Semitic consciousness.) Inorganic matter produces organic matter at an enormous price, organic matter produces vegetable produces animal produces human produces superhuman, all at the expense of unimaginable suffering. Panikkar prefers another model: Humanity in creative intercourse with the divine– in the full ritual of sacrifice.

Panikkar confronts modern science from another angle: Science does acknowledge the value of Ontonomy, the recognition that the entire universe is an order, as in the Ved, a cosmic order, and as a result of this, man’s continued conquest of nature will ultimately harm him. As an example, he uses the view of modern medicine, which pits man against nature. From the medical perspective, the viruses that cause sickness are merely things to be destroyed rather than considered as members of a larger universal system in which they interact with others. Panikkar states that ontonomy implies a radically different conception of science, of medicine, of politics, of metaphysics: “We cannot isolate anything because everything is constitutively interconnected.”

This interconnectedness is also the underlying principal of Tantra, the energies, and all positive mysticism as well as the basis of compassion. In Adam’s Way, the novel that I attempted to develop out of “Nepsis,” I present part of Panikkar’s position in a dialogue in which Fr. Adam is talking to an adversary, Fr. Pat. According to Fr. Adam, we are significant in the universe because we share the Mystical Body of Christ (the Sangha). Eternity surrounds us and we are permeated with this non temporal quality of being.

For Fr. Adam, and Panikkar, the diabolical part of the theory of evolution is that the definition of a person is reduced to being this self-conscious speck of dust in the universe, an isolated accident with certain limited powers of self- determination, just enough power for self-destruction. Fr. Adam argues that God has tied his destiny to ours, making himself vulnerable to creation, and ours to his. If we abuse or now extinguish ourselves, and our ecosystem, perhaps we also extinguish God.

Fr. Adam does not deny the validity of history and science. However, the perspective history and science offers does not fill the whole of reality. He believes that modern mankind has relied too heavily on the scientific perspective while denying all the rest of reality, such as the eminent character of eternity. In denying ourselves our whole self, we undergo the ultimate schizophrenic split. Wherever and however the “conversion of heart” happens and we become whole, the Church is there.

Traditional Christian terms say that everyone is a temple of the holy spirit which infinitely transcends the spaces and the times and everything. But once we have lost an organ to keep us in touch with that reality, we lose… [The concept/belief in the temple is such an organ].

To have… technological consolation that some of us have been doing great things… I think that [it] is a qualitative jump from that kind of technological ideology to the other [aspect] of human experience which is just a mother giving her breast to the newborn child which touches the infinite in a way that is bigger than all the spatial magnitudes [of scientific accomplishments].

Clearly, Panikkar stands with those ancient systems of wisdom that regard the search for and the union with the true “order” of things, the Ved, to be that meaning of human life. In other words, there is a natural system of which we are part. But, such a natural system includes the supernatural. There is in the natural, a capacity for the supernatural that takes nature beyond itself to full, though ineffable, realization. This can be found in ordinary human affairs. The great technological revolution of the last four hundred years, or perhaps the last six thousand years of history, is largely an artificial drive away from, a distraction from this more natural order. However, Panikkar’s position is not just a partisan reaction to the horrors of industrialization, as that of a nineteenth century romantic. Panikkar’s perspective, through the disciplines of science and religion, is a nuanced evaluation of contemporary and traditional culture.


So, Bishop, I have walked the path of the pilgrim. Sincerely. And like a shaman/prophet of old, have I not gone into the other world to “steal fire from the gods” (O.T. God=Elohim=Gods!) for the sake of the people? — or at least tried to – like a priest, for the union of the worlds, for the reconciliation of all things, for healing? Have I not submitted to the strict disciplines of contemporary academic and religious masters? Do I not mediate between the things of the World and the things of the Spirit?

I am mystified and challenged by the horrific element that I came across in Yemen and other places. I have taken this as far as I can without further conversation with you. I need to hear (Lt. root: ob audire) what you have to say to help determine the will of God in this, the rhythm and breath of the Spirit in this – in order to be truly obedient (Lt. root: ob audire) as I intend. So Bishop, …