Part III in a Series by Pseudo-Ermatinger
The space shuttle Challenger lifts off from the Complex 39A launch pad, National Archives, 1983.
The soul’s journey towards the divine may travel outward from herself, might propel herself outward and upward under her own power, her own ingenuity, her own vainglory. To be sure, the powers of man, of body, mind, and will are vast, multifaceted, and capable of circumscribing and bending the material order to his will. Man’s gaze is outwards towards the horizons, knowing that the Earth, though it be where he sojourns, be not his home. Like Icarus of old, man seeks to fly upward from himself towards Sol Invictus but, as befallen Icarus, there is a fiery sword that bars his ascent to the heavens. For all man’s bravado and airs, what he can create is only so much plumage and wax that collapses in the face of the fiery bared heights. Such a confrontation between the powers of solitary man and the ineffable sends man plunging into the torrents of the abyss; alienation, despair, and self-annihilation, quickly engulf him.
Man might surround himself with civilization, and the wonders of its constructions. Not a thousand men, nor even a nation, no not all the nations of the Earth, might construct a monument to scale the heavens. Corporate man, unified in purpose and mission, cult and society, might toil long years, but like Babel, confusion quickly sets in and the attempts are left abandoned and unfinished, colossuses collapsed under feet of clay half-buried under the sands of time. This is the weakness of man who, being formed of clay, cannot support his own capabilities upon the earth. Technology, and its products, might propel men to outer worlds in iron clad-ship, but it still rests upon clay fundamentals; the ethereal dreams of man’s primitive aspirations and longings. Technology and monuments cannot liberate man from his own self.
Mighty was Gilgamesh, yet the walls of Ur have turned to dust. Unsung are the deeds of Patroclus and other heroes of old; our heroes of today in their turn will join them in dark silence. Great have been, and are, the empires of man spanning and uniting the known world for few short years until all, each in their own time, fragmented and now lay buried beneath our feet. In disarray man’s longing for the heights, unable to find a perch, collapses down, and without support from the earth, turns inward seeking the divine within.
The inward journey of man is not dissimilar to his outward journey. Man’s journey into his own soul finds the way to be a maze, the progress of which is increasingly in darkness. To his dismay, he finds that which he should know most intimately, himself, he does not. He finds the faculties of his inner life to be multifaceted, but fragmented, powerful yet often outside of his own control — oft warring with other faculties as do the city-states of the world beyond his inner life. Whether describing this inner life with Id, Ego, Superego or various energies of the far East, such as chakra, all seekers of the inner life of man see the same disordered thing.
For those who manage to delve deeply, they find that their way is barred — that man is not in possession of his innermost self. The flaming angelic sword is found here too in the depths of the soul. The symmetry of the outward journey to the heights and the inner ward journey to depths of the soul, like the branching of a tree above and below ground, has driven man to despair whether in the nihilism of the West or the reality-denying mysteries of the far East. Barred in both directions, a flaming sword, an invisible hand, a cloud of unknowing says that there are places that man may know exists but is prevented from journeying towards, that man might have mastery of many things but is not the master of things nor of himself.
That the heights of the heavens and an inner chamber of the soul can be glimpsed is not a capricious trick of the gods, a “look but do not touch” a “behold and despair”, but is rather there to give us hope for things yet unheard and untasted of. Hope is not a child’s wish for fantasies dreamed of but a promise for things far off. As a locked door prevents sight beyond, but a barred doorway offers a vision of someday for the imprisoned the journey of man towards the divine, outwardly or inwardly, is a way barred but not blocked. A flaming sword or a cloud of unknowing show that there is a beyond, and their existence is the promise of their respective lifting.
The journey to God is not a fool’s errand but for those who hope, for theirs is a simple truth; that as man is barred, yet can see beyond, man cannot, by his own powers, find his way to the abode of God, but rather God must reach to man and take him there. The light of eternity spills beyond the flaming sword, the wick of the inner chamber of the soul is spied readied for the eternal flame to perch. It is the promise that the Divine will come to man, if man will but prepare himself and allow himself to be led.
It is not as if man must abandon his search for the Divine in despair, or try to force his way against the bars in presumption, but that, in humility, he must dedicate himself while letting go of himself.
Anastasis Mosaic (detail, edited), Hosios Loukas Monastery, 11th Century.