Gordon’s last post over at Runesoup exemplifies why I keep visiting his site. It has little to do with the specifics of a given post, the facts that have caught his eye, but much to do with his capacity to use them startlingly. Even where Gordon makes use of material with which I am familiar, he takes it out of the contexts with which I am most familiar with them and puts them in a much broader horizon.
Take his use of the Kardashev scale. I am deeply skeptical that anything we would call ‘civilization’ is capable of achieving Type I energy use, much less Type II or III. Nonetheless, in placing his discussion of spiritual cosmology alongside the Kardashev scale, he creates the idea of a gap between our current understanding and one which we might be capable of in the future. That is the sort of intellectual work someone like Immanuel Kant can be proud of–it isn’t a matter of reaching a final stage of progress, but of having an idea of it that makes us recontextualize our current experiences in a more encompassing framework.
Will our idea of the future progress come to pass? No, but having that sort of idea of the future transforms our relationship to what we do have. If that sounds abstract, just think about self-improvement. Sometimes, what you need to become a better person is an ideal of what that might look like, even if the better person you become is nothing like that ideal.
I enjoy it, too, because the spiritual work I do is so, for the lack of a better word, grubby. While there are (many) sympathies between my spiritual world and that of others, in practice it is very concrete and specific. There is a spare silence that accompanies my work. While I have taken solace and aid from people with well-defined traditions, I have never found my spiritual life within those traditions. Gordon’s sweeping vistas help to maintain my sense that my own grubby work nonetheless has a place, a destination, in the wider circuit of life.
When you get down to it, though, the grubby spiritual diversity of our world is the other side of this situation. Just as there is a wealth of experience that is just too big and wondrous for much of the neo-medievalism of the occult and pagan revivials, there is also a welter of experiences that are too small for them, too.
This mirrors the sort of challenges faced by the Catholic Church during the late Middle Ages. Yes, there was the challenge posed by Galileo and Copernicus, which blew open the confines of the medieval cosmos. But there were also challenges as the Church became increasingly involved with the spiritual lives of individuals and began to discover all of these spirits passing through it. These familiar spirits didn’t fit comfortably into the doctrine of devils, in part because some of them actively encouraged their cunning people to be good Christians.
I think in a lot of ways, we can benefit from letting our spiritual thinking be grubbier and more contingent. We should tear all the clever labels into bits and slap them on a thousand moving things, so that like pixels on a fritzy screen they are in flux. That means spending more time in the gray zones where traditional categories become increasingly inapt. It also means fostering a rich notion of spiritual hospitality that doesn’t immediately bar the unfamiliar spirit from the door.
Let me leave you with this pertinent and otter-ized quote from Michael Serres: