Paradox and Truth

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In Ursula Le Guin’s book series “The Earthsea Quartet.” The young ‘prentice Sparrowhawk, learns that to become a Mage he must realize the true name of things. In other words he must learn how to “see” the true essence and nature of reality, with clarity.

In  old folk tales the archetypal crone named “Baba Yaga the bony legged” is part of the cycle of Mother Nature that represents death and rebirth. Whenever an unsuspecting  sojourner enters her hut, they’ll be asked by Baba Yaga if they were sent or if they came of their own free will. They must answer carefully here, for there’s only one correct answer. The correct answer is the honest one, and usually the honest answer is piebald; a mix of two things.

Those that are allowed safe passage will say that they were sent and that they came of their own free will, thus proving that they are first truthful, second, humble and third, ready to understand the true nature of things.

Truth is immutable but that doesn’t prevent it from being distorted by subjectivity. Depending on the perspective of the artist, an object such as a cube can be drawn in a variety of different ways, it can look like a 2D, square, a hexagon, a box, etc…

Corporate, political and media outlets know how to subvert the truth to create subliminal associations in people’s minds between emotions, desires and the brands, politics, ideologies they want to promote. Truth can be presented in a variety of different forms and those forms can mask its essence.

How many people love the message of Jesus but don’t call themselves Christians (Christ followers) because the beautiful essence of the message has been misrepresented by leaders with their own agendas.

Understanding the true nature of reality, behind the veils and layers of language, culture, tradition and society has traditionally been the task of spiritual guides called to live apart from the rest of the world.

In solitude, the metaphorical waters of life still and clarify well enough for them to see a true reflection of things. After time they may be ready to return with a revelation from the world beyond, often at much personal cost.

Traditionally holy people take a burden of sacrifice upon themselves, absorbing, transfiguring and redeeming the negative energy of their communities to psychically assuage the wrath of the Gods by restoring balance.

The well-known Trappist Thomas Merton used to say that monks were a little like spiritual trees; taking in the Co2 of our collective subconscious and transforming it through prayer, contemplation and compassion into oxygen for our consciousness’.

In Hinduism evil is brought to the surface waters through the churning of the Milky Ocean. The struggle of creative and destructive opposites in this story draws truth (however unpleasant) to the surface where it can be made visible and dealt with consciously.

Lord Shiva is God destroyer in Hinduism yet his destruction is a refiners fire which consumes the small ego and leads to transformation, enlightenment and union of the individual soul with the divine in all creation.

Joseph Campbell’s “A Hero with a Thousand Faces.” shares the tale of Parvati and Shiva:

In this story, Shiva, the God of destruction, disguises himself and visits the praying and fasting Parvati to ask her why one so beautiful would live  a life of such asceticism.

“My desire,” she replied, “is Shiva, the Highest Object. Shiva is a god of solitude and unshakable concentration. I therefore am practicing these austerities to move him from his state of balance and bring him to me in love.”

“Shiva,” the youth said, “is a god of destruction. Shiva is amidst the reek of corpses; there he beholds the rot of death, and that is congenial to his devastating heart. Shiva’s garlands are of living serpents. Shiva is a pauper, furthermore, and no one knows anything of his birth.”

 The virgin said: “He is beyond the mind of such as you. A pauper, but the fountainhead of wealth; terrifying, but the source of grace; snake-garlands or jewel garlands he can assume or put off at will. How should he have been born, when he is the creator of the uncreated! Shiva is my love.”

The youth thereupon put away his disguise – and was Shiva.

Humility is simply to know the truth about ourselves, no more, no less. Truth is powerful. Humility is powerful. Humility reveals truth.

Brennan Manning Author of the Ragamuffin Gospel also evoked the pathos of our disparate and paradoxical nature when he wrote, ““…Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.”

As human beings we are always balancing the material and spiritual aspects of ourselves.

The mistake is to assume that the material is inherently flawed and evil as the Manichean heresy did. The material is always transfiguring into what it was always meant to be.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke traces the trickster’s piebald role in his poem “The Winged Energy of Delight” The last lines well capture the  bridges we are to build between worlds on this “Middle Earth.”

“Take your well-disciplined strengths

and stretch them between two opposing poles.

Because inside human beings

is where God learns.”

When we are stretched by experience we begin to understand the myriad ways of being in this world. When we understand the myriad ways of being we grow in compassion. When we grow in compassion we become more like God. In this way, I would disagree with Rilke and say, rather, that being human is where we learn how the divine exists complete within every fragment of creation. And how, just like a fractal, every human exists as part of the whole and the whole is part of every human. A fractal being illustrative of the integrity that exists within all creation.

Integrity: Definition:

The state of being whole and undivided.

synonyms: unityunificationwholenesscoherence,

cohesion

So how to understand the the paradox of this? How can colour be made of light and light made from every colour?

Opposing forces have potential for both creation and destruction. Indeed creation comes from destruction as new shoots grow from last years fallen leaves. 

As the ancient Buddhist Mantra states the Lotus blooms from the muddy pool: “Om Mani Padme Hum”

The Romany mascot is a wagtail and piebald horses are highly prized  by Gypsies, as are all creatures that reveal how light always casts a shadow, herbal cures always grow near poisonous plants and how death always gives way to life in the end. Magpies too are surrounded by folklore.

Merle (Merlin) meaning parti-coloured and the “Pied” Piper Hamlin are two mythological examples of western tradition.

When the people of Puritanical Hamlin seek to be delivered from rats that have grown at the same rate of abundance as their store barns, the Pied Piper is summoned with a Devil’s bargain reminiscent of the one struck in the folktale The Handless Maiden.

His is a cautionary tale, reminding us that we cannot eliminate shadow without also extinguishing  light. Just as we cannot expand anyones perspective by arguing a point, however logical that point may be. Rather we are invited to reach beyond the divide and understand their perspective with compassion and in so doing, build a bridge over to our own. This is transformational because it invites us to transform and enlarge our own vision before we try to transform and enlarge anyone elses.

As The aged Mage says to his young Prentice in Earthsea Quartet

To light a candle is to cast a shadow.

..”To change this rock into a jewel, you must change it’s true name. And to do that, my son, even to so small a scrap of the world, is to change the world.

A rock is a good thing too, you know,” he said, speaking less gravely. “If the Isles of Earthsea were all made of Diamond, we’d lead a hard life here.”

In the story of the Pied Piper the people hoarded their grain and in so doing invited the rats into their ecosystem. In modern life, we try to control nature to our own ends and in so doing unsettle the balance that exists between all things. When we try to eliminate or exile certain groups outside of our puritanical belief systems our “innocence” represented by the children of Hamelin goes with them.  When we try to preserve our moral high ground to the point where we undermine the good principles it may be founded on, any victory we gain is empty. As the catechism states: The end never justifies the means.

This is not to mean that we are not to stand firm in our beliefs or be set apart by them. We are called to be light, we are called to be set apart, but we are called to extend that light beyond the walls of those belief systems. The only way to do this is through empathy and love and that brings us full circle back to understanding the truth of our own flaws and gaining humility from that truth.

Though there is one truth, that truth is filtered through the prism of this world into a spectrum of colours. Perhaps, only through the unity of humility and compassion can those colours transform back into their source, the light itself.

The real pearl of great price is our truth, our true nature; the part of us that is connected to all beings and God. To be made whole “holy” is to be whole and that means to be authentically ourselves; living in close communion with our soul and the souls of those around us, including the plants animals and elements.

“The language that my grandfather was forbidden to speak is composed primarily of verbs, ways to describe the vital beingness of the world. Both nouns and verbs come in two forms, the animate and the inanimate….Birds, bugs, and berries are spoken of with the same respectful grammar as humans are, as if we were all members of the same family. Because we are. There is no *it* for nature. Living beings are referred to as subjects, never as objects, and personhood is extended to all who breathe and some who don’t. I greet the silent boulder people with the same respect as I do the talkative chickadees.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer in Orion Magazine/2017  

 

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.” Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu

 

God’s light transforms all things into beauty and works all things to good for those who trust in Him.

Pied Beauty

 By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 Glory be to God for dappled things –

  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

     For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

  Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

     And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

 

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

     With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

 

Praise Him


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