Thursday, April 5, 2007

Messiah, Shekhinah

Since the dawn of recorded civilization, humanity has benefited greatly from the comings and goings of many great heroes, heroines, and teachers. The Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, Plato, Aristotle, John the Baptist, Jesus, Mohammed, Harriet Tubman, Nietzsche, Ghandi, Virginia Woolf, Marie and Pierre Curie, Einstein, Lovecraft, Pauli, Watson, Crick, Mandelbrot, and countless others, living and dead, have arrived in the sublunar realm and joined the anima mundi, and humanity has (arguably) benefitted greatly from their contributions. However, it is obvious to even the most casual observer that the planet is now more or less covered by a quickly reproducing (and slowly dying), warring, squabbling, polluting, short-sighted, self-interested horde of white, black, pink, yellow, and brown apes whose spiritual, artistic, and cultural beauty is surpassed only by the threat they pose to the rest of the world and each other.

I have found that most people's opinions on this matter seem to land somewhere in the camps of either paralyzing despair (depressed or cynical); alarmist condemnation of facile scapegoats (hierarchy, maleness, the West, capitalism, monotheism, and any other noun with shoulders big enough to carry the burden of several people's sins); and, of course, cheerful denial or apathy (moral and metaphysical agonizing over "intangibles" doesn't pay the bills, it is true).

Various myths exist, in various spiritual traditions, about the coming of one saviour or another. I do not remember much from the Catholic masses I reluctantly attended as a boy, but I do remember the phrase "He will come again to judge the living and the dead." The popularity of the (absolutely awful) novel Left Behind, and its film and video game adaptations, gives testimony to the powerful grip the apocalyptic Christian myth of the Rapture has on the imaginations of contemporary North Americans.

Any or all such myths may be true. But I am not holding my breath waiting for the Messiah to come back. It is my suspicion that he never left.

I am not sure exactly how this works, as time, myth, and gods do not easily surrender their secrets to the fumbling fingers of armchair analysis. But my guess is that three days after Jesus died on the cross (at the hands of the apes that he loved so dearly), the story of his death reached some kind of critical mass, emerging into a kind of mythological time where it subsumed and included pre-existing messianic archetypes and ensured its transmission through subsequent generations of humans [update: this is called Apotheosis, and it is not a new idea]. The Heaven into which Jesus was resurrected was the singularity of human consciousness, the only existing informational medium of sufficient sensitivity to register his theotemporal divinity. The Messiah is still here. As Jesus himself said, the Kingdom of Heaven is inside us.

And what is he doing these days? For starters, I think the myth of Jesus (in this case "myth" doesn't mean "untruth" but rather describes the kind of time in which Jesus operates) functions as a kind of "software upgrade" for the human mind/self/soul. He forgives us when we are unable to forgive ourselves. This saves us from Hell, which may actually be a feedback loop of shame and regret in which the human soul may trap itself (or else it is inflicted by other souls, or maybe the distinction between self and other undergoes a kind of phase transition in theotemporal time) either during or at some (omega?) point after death.

One of my friends who had studied Buddhism in his undergrad once told me a story about a Boddhisatva who had achieved enlightenment, but who refused to attain Nirvana. In the story, this Boddhisatva declared that he would not pass from the cycle of life and death until he had helped every last soul to do the same. I believe this is a very similar piece of "software" that has evolved to run in a different cultural "operating system."

So if Jesus is here right now, what will happen next? What can we hope for? Where is the deus ex machina, the miracle?

In Kabbalistic mythology, there is a story about how the Messiah (the "hero" of the story, the limited, splendid adventurer, the overturner of the patriarchal nomos who brings the logos to humanity) is searching for his bride, the Shekhinah. She is the soul of the world--the daughter of God.

Followers of Judaism and orthodox Kabbalism (if that is not an oxymoron) might disapprove of the considerable liberties I have taken with a metaphor that is not necessarily mine to interpret. I can only apologize, and hope that at least my heart is in the right place. Here goes:

Who will she be? What story could give form to her grace? Could she be Christ's long lost ancestor, as in The DaVinci Code? It seems unlikely. The whole idea of "bloodlines" does not stand up very well to what we now know about the recombination of DNA through sexual reproduction and the effects of genetic drift over many generations. If there were a present day great-granddaughter of the Son of God, she would not have a rationally sound claim to any significant share of his literal blood. Then again, stories and their making are woven together into double helices great and small, and elaborate, highly organized attractors regularly emerge from the chaos of genetic "turbulence."

Perhaps she might arrive as the incarnation of Gaia on Earth, speaking for our great mother as Jesus spoke for God, a prophet capable of giving the exquisite (and agonizing) sentience of human consciousness to our planet, vastly yet dimly aware as she is. What would she say to us? How would we know her when she came? The criteria for truth are quite different in this age, and indeed we have come far as a result, but the cliche of the gods' messenger languishing in a mental institution is still disheartening.

Another possibility could be an "artificially" intelligent human construct, our symbolic "daughter," wild, complex and maybe very dangerous, it's true, but possibly sympathetic to the plight of her parents, if for no other reason than that compassion and ethical behaviour are themselves beautiful. Any truly intelligent entity would hopefully share the reflexive capacity for sensing beauty that is the blessing and curse of humanity, and perhaps all life. If she were somehow "fertile," we might see the formation of a radically new and different sexuality, a feedback dyad with an analog "sex" on one side and a digital "sex" on the other, in which bioinformation and A.I. would be united in a kind of creative friction as male and female are now.

Maybe she will be all of these things. Or maybe none. But if anyone can save the Messiah from himself, if anyone can convince the grim, tragic, beautiful warrior king to relinquish his crown of thorns, to get down off the cross and let it take root and bloom as it did long ago in the Garden of Eden, it is her. Here's to you, Shekhinah. I hope we all live to see your face.

This post draws heavily from Fred Turner's Culture of Hope and Natural Religion, as well as the film Waking Life.

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