It’s like this:
You’re watching television in the late afternoon on a cloudy day. You’re watching a news program. Suddenly, the sun breaks through the clouds, and now you can barely see what’s happening on the news because the bright light from the window behind you is reflected in the TV screen. It’s now easier, in fact, to see what’s going on in your backyard than it is to see the news show. The reflection of the window is so bright and clear and deep compared to the dim translucent figures moving on the surface of the screen.
I don’t imagine it’s too difficult to see where I’m going with this metaphor. We can say that the news show is our everyday reality, and that there are moments when the Divine breaks through so clear and bright that we absolutely know it to be the only true Reality. The sun may go back behind a cloud, night may fall – we are back to “seeing in a glass darkly” – but we know that the window is there. We had an eyeful of God before we went back to our regularly scheduled program.
l want to stretch this metaphor a little further, probably past its breaking point. What if your news program was in black and white, and it was only when the window was reflected in the depth of the screen that you could see your show in color? And not only color, but dimensionality – like a full-blown hologram right there in front of you, and with the window shining in the depths, now there is no screen between you and the life of the Real. With the window shining, you are able to see the true Being of everything that is, and how everything that is, is held in being moment to moment by that Light.
According to ancient Wisdom traditions, this temporal physical world of ours is surrounded and interpenetrated by a world of divine purpose. In the Christian context, this is the Kingdom of Heaven, the wellspring of Living Water. It is what gives color and depth and meaning to our life-world. And with a double-vision not unlike that of seeing the interpenetrating images of the television program and the window reflection, we can perceive the Kingdom of Heaven through the appearances of this world. And not only can we perceive, we can also participate.
The core practices of meditation, prayer, ritual (movement, chanting, sacraments), and mindful work are the means by which we increase our level of being and with it, our capacity to perceive this higher meaning. “We are using too little of ourselves to see,” writes Cynthia Bourgeault, spiritual teacher and Episcopal priest, who describes the need for a multi-centered awareness, including not only the physical and intellectual faculties, but also the faculties of the “heart-center:” the intuitive, creative, image-forming capacities.
This realm of divine purpose to which we have access is often called the “imaginal realm,” and exists between the physical world and the pure Unmanifest. It is through our imaginal faculties that we can participate in the divine life. Images and intuitions are like our maple-sap spigots with which we tap in to the nourishing flow of the divine and then feed the soul of our world. This is the realm where people perceive the Sacred Heart of Jesus or the Bodhisattva’s Diamond Body. The energies of these are absolutely Real beyond real. The images are fluid and changing.
Both Thoreau and the Irish poet, W.B. Yeats wrote that we need to learn to see from “the side of the eye.” They weren’t talking about peripheral vision; they were talking about that mode of intuitive perceiving. The ecologist and philosopher David Abram writes that imagination is not a mode of thinking, but is part of our perceptions. It is “the way the senses have of throwing themselves beyond what is immediately given, in order to make tentative contact with the other sides of things that we do not sense directly, with the hidden or invisible aspects of the sensible.” (1)
I would add worship to the list of core practices necessary for increasing our receptivity to higher meaning. The attitudes of awe, humility and adoration open the heart and propel the imagination into Majesty of God. We know this intuitively. This is where the psalmist dwelt, in the heart of the joy of the Lord. And it connects us to all that is, which adores the Holy One unceasingly.
Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands.
Sing forth the honor of his name; make his praise glorious.
Say unto God, How awe-inspiring art thou in thy works!
All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee;
They shall sing to thy name. Selah.
Come and see the works of God:
He is awesome in his doing toward the children of men.
(1) Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous. (New York, Random House, 1996), p. 58
Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Wisdom Way of Knowing. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.