By R. Blair Reynolds, Ph.D., Theologian-in-Residence, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Fairbanks, AK
In this essay, I will largely be excerpting and reviewing material from three of my published works: These are: “Toward a Process Pnuematology,: a revision of my dissertation (Susquehanna University Press, 1990); “The Naked Being of God: Making Sense of Love Mysticism,” written by myself and a co-author, Patrician Heinicke (University Press of America, 2000); and “Naked Under a Blue Sky,” a novel written by myself and a co-author, Muriel Wang (New World Press, 2001). I realize that I am somewhat tooting my own horn here; I feel compelled to do so; I believe the material I have to offer has not received enough attention in process circles.
My Area of Speciality is the Holy Spirit, God as present in ourselves and our world. I am credited with being one of the first to write a book-length account of process pneumatology. I believe my process novel, “Naked Under a Blue Sky,” which was intended to be an entertaining way of introducing laity to process pneumatology, is one of the first, if not the first, process novel ever written. This is a new, much-needed area of research. While much has been written in process christology, pneumatology has received relatively little attention. Tragically, the Holy Spirit has been traditionally been the least-elaborated member of the Trinity.
More specifically, I’m interested in certain affinities that I find to exist between the love or Christian mystical tradition and process theology. In itself, this is an important area to explore, as the Christian mystical tradition has been sadly overlooked in modern theological studies.
Let me begin by sharing a bit of my own background. In 1980, when I was beginning my dissertation at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, I sat down for a lunch-time discussion with Mr. Rogers. How did a mere graduate student merit such an audience? It is sometimes overlooked that Fred Rogers was a native Pittsburgher, like myself, graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and was an ordained Presbyterian minister. When visiting his hometown, he dropped in more than once at the seminary. Rev. Rogers also had a keen interest in the Holy Spirit. He was particularly concerned that the Holy Spirit frightens away so many people, especially children, as well as perplexing many clergy as to just how to explain it. After all, it is also referred to as the Holy Ghost, and ghosts are not exactly user-friendly entities. He encouraged my work, giving me a shot in the arm to do all I can to put a friendlier, more human face on the Spirit. That fit well with my process emphasis.
Just how did the Spirit acquire such negative, spooky characteristics? I believe that such spiritual disasters are the result of major metaphysical blunders. In the case of the Spirit, I emphasize that the Bible is not a book of metaphysics. It tells us very little about how God is built. At best, we get but snapshots that often conflict. If, for example, many passages stress that God is immutable, about 100 others stress that God does in fact change. It is up to the reader to put these conflicting snapshots into a meaningful whole.
As the church moved into the intelligentsia, it was only natural for it to incorporate Hellenic standards of perfection, which enshrined the immune, the immutable, the immaterial, and the passionless. Incorporated into Christianity, this meant God and the world were like oil and water. They do not mix. From the time of the earliest churches, it was assumed by many that God as pure Spirit exists in major conflict with the plurality and temporality of the material world. The world was, at best, an anti-God principle. In turn, this made it difficult, if not impossible, to speak of the one, true, unchanging God as literally present in the world. Although both the Bible and Judaism had long recognized the Spirit as God’s own breath or energy, its role as divine presence was greatly obscured by the emphasis on God’s unfathomable distance from creation.
Augustine summed up Christian discussion of the Spirit up to his time in “De Fide and Symbolo,” where he observed that while the Father and the Son had been treated in many books, there had been no thorough discussion of the Spirit.(1) A few years earlier, Gregory of Nazianzus spoke of the great confusion about the Spirit, writing that “some consider it energy, others a creature, others God, still others are uncertain what to think of it…”(2)
Other early church leaders introduced a pervasive subordinationism, whereby the Spirit was just one of many intermediaries between God and creation. This was especially true of the gnostic movement. Accordingly, the world was not created by God, but by an inferior Demiurge or craftsman. All evil was ascribed to the material order. Salvation necessitated a complete separation from the material world. The Holy Spirit was but one of thirty-nine intermediaries between the one true God and creation.(3)
Arius (256-336) made the dualism of Hellenic metaphysics paramount, demanding an unchanging God and emphasizing that change and suffering demote and degrade God. Thus, Arius writes,”There is a Triad not equal in glories; their subsistences are unmixed with each other…The essences of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are separable in nature, and are estranged, unconnected, alien, and without participation in one another.”(4)
God does not suffer or change. Christ did suffer and change. Therefore, Christ cannot be God. Such was the dualistic metaphysical logic of the Arians.
Although the Council of Nicaea affirms the Deity of Christ, it provides only a slipshod concept of the Spirit. Whether or not the Spirit was ontologically God was left undecided. The original creed said nothing about the Spirit, save that it was to be believed in. Even when the creed was amended, around 500AD, little was said about the Spirit, save inspiring prophecy. The creed lacks the ascription of “Deity” to the Spirit. It does not state that the Holy Spirit is “the true God of the true God,” or of “one essence with the Father. The church had such difficulty understanding how God could be present in the Christ event, that it was unable to adequately address the ubiquitous presence of God the Spirit.
Among early Trinitarians, the Spirit was often described in world-negating terms. Basil’s treatise on the Spirit emphasized the Spirit as separating us from the contaminating influence of the material order, which he viewed as the sole source of all sin. The union of the believer with the Spirit will automatically “exclude all passion, which comes from the flesh and turns one from God.” To be truly spiritual is to be lifted out of the world, to be “free of all flesh.”(5) Like Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus distinguished the Spirit from the creature on the basis that the Spirit does not change. Gregory of Nyssa likewise equates the Spirit and spirituality with freedom from the flesh and all passion, writing, ” It is not allowable to ascribe our constitutional liability to passion to the human nature which was fashioned in the divine likeness…our love of pleasure took its beginning from our being made like the irrational creature.” In his work “De Virginate” he emphasized all sexual activity is inherently evil, sexuality being attributed to the Fall.(6)
The Mystical Tradition and Dipolar Theism
From this survey, it appears obvious, at least to me, that our times demand a wholly different concept of God the Spirit. How might process theology contribute towards a fuller understanding of what it means to have the Spirit? It is my thesis that the love or Christian mystical tradition may provide process theology with highly advantageous insights to this end. My claim is that there are distinct affinities between mystical concepts of God and the process model, and also that there are distinct affinities between mystical ecstasy and the process concept of aesthetic experience.
I realize I have a great challenge before me here. Right after I completed my dissertation, I submitted an article on the subject to “Process Studies.” Lewis Ford immediately rejected it. He insisted that mysticism is nothing more than an extreme form of classical theism, a view shared by many critics, unfortunately. He added that the journal was reserved for issues so technical that they could not be published anyplace else and suggested I try some sort of “Catholic magazine.” I also spoke with Charles Hartshorne, who said he was at least open to the possibility there are certain affinities between process and mysticism. However, he told me he had little interest in mystical writings, as their language lacks the kind of clarity he demands, a point he also stressed in his critique of Boehme in “Philosophers Speak of God.”
Of course, I found all this quite disheartening, but nonetheless informative about process. It would appear that a cold, clinical approach is being favored, over and against a poetic-intuitive one. That is somewhat strange, as Whitehead’s whole approach is an aesthetic one. According to Whitehead,” a fact is always a fact of aesthetic experience.”(7) To date, I know of only one book-length work on the aesthetic side of Whitehead, Sherburne’s “A Whiteheadian Aesthetic,” originally published years ago, by Yale University Press, 1961. I am hoping my work in mysticism will encourage more process people to explore poetic-intuitive literature and sources.
Now, at first glance, Ford’s interpretation would appear to be correct. Mysticism does seem to be just another static, world-negating form of Christendom. The first-hand literature does picture ecstasy as a state of mind characterized by emotional withdrawal and deadening; for, throughout the first-hand accounts, numerous arid, ascetic passages abound, stressing that harmony or unity with God necessitates the annihilation of the self, as God is said to be an Impersonal Absolute, the complete and total negation of our humanity and our world.
In sharp contrast, I wish to present a radical re-evaluation of ecstasy as essentially world-affirming. Asceticism, mortification of the flesh, and stoical resignation were, in fact, major aspects of the mystical journey to God; but, I emphasize, only in the initial stages of the quest, largely due to the fact that mystics began their journey deeply imbued in classical theism and its fundamental concept of God as immutable. However, the mystical quest for God underwent a major transition in that the unitive experiences of the ecstatics brought them to an experiential appreciation of the emotional inter-responsiveness that exists between the self, world, and God, which is the true ground of all life, both human and Divine. Ultimately then, the mystical message is that we are saved, redeemed, transformed, by our aesthetic quest for
emotional stimulation and gratification.
One major example of what I mean is to be found in the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, who was a major source of inspiration for Medieval mysticism. Throughout his writings, he pursues with a vengeance what he terms his Negative Theology, according to which absolutely anything at all ascribable to creatures must be denied of God. Many critics focus only on this aspect of his writings, according to which God appears the complete and total negation of all creaturely predication, for example, does not change grow or move, is not a”being,” has no “life.”(8) However, a crucial point generally overlooked here is that his Negative Theology or via negativa is making a much broader claim than merely that we can know nothing of God. It also claims that God is the negation of all negations, that we can affrim or deny nothing of God, as God simply transcends all our formulations. Dionysius realizes that God is by no means simple, so that any complete account of God will contain seemingly conflicting elements, a major in process pneumatology as well. Hence, Dionysius says we can elevate ourselves to God only by what seems “paradox” and “absurdity.”(9) Put another way, as my algebra teacher used to say, if you smear mashed potatoes on one side of the equation, you have to smear them on the other, and, I add, neither side can be absolutized.
In his “The Divine Names” (9,19), he speaks of the “movements of the immobile God”–for example, movement in a straight line, signifying the immutability of the divine process; and circular motion, signifying that God envelops all intermediaries and extremes and returns to Godself all that has departed from God. (10) Later, Meister Eckhart cites Dionysius in speaking of souls catching the tide and flowing back into God.(11)
In addition, Dionysius also speaks of what he calls his “Affirmative Theology.” The world-affirming character of this theology is well illustrated by its use of highly anthropomorphic, cosmic attributes in describing God. Here he calls God “Water,” “Rock,” “Sun,” “Cloud”– “in a word, all that which is and nothing of that which is.” In his creation myth, God is seen as dynamic, continually expanding, and contracting. Everything in some way preexists in God, so that creation is an outward diffusion or differentiation of God, analogous to rays emanating out from a center point. Salvation, then, is a matter of the dynamic God contracting into Godself, of the universe as an immense aesthetic stream pouring back into God. Hence, he writes, “According to the Holy Word,”All things come from God and all things return to God.”(12) Granted, Dionysius is stressing the conservation of all things, rather than creativity. Nevertheless, he anticipates process in that he seeks a relationship not with a static monad, but with a dynamic, responsive, all-inclusive God. Indeed, God is said to be Eros, the suressential power of connection and unification that pervades throughout all beings, from the lowest to the highest, enabling them to mutually attract one another.(13) Dionysius, then, strongly anticipates Whitehead’s contention that God’s massive presence throughout each minuscule segment of time enables each and every creature to empathically identify with or resonate to God’s own unitive feelings, thereby maintaining the aesthetic order of the universe, guaranteeing that total chaos is intrinsically impossible.
Turning now to the writings of the great German mystic and Dominican Meister Eckhart (1260-ca.1328), his writings on God consist of a myriad of obscure, tangled, and scattered passages, so it is no wonder he has been described as a heretic, loyal Catholic, feminist, you name it. It would be easy to conclude he represents an extreme form of classical theism, as everywhere the via negative predominates, such as his famous statement that “God is truth, but creatures in time are not true.”(14) Nevertheless, a careful reading shows his Deity is far more complex and dynamic than the static, simple God of classical pneumatology.
Eckhart speaks not only of “God,” but of “God (Gott)” and the “Godhead (Gottheit),” and sometimes confuses the two. I think that is part of the problem and complexity of Eckhart. The Godhead is described in world-negating terms, as a “supra-nothingness,” void of consciousness “(15), above all love and affection, wholly unaffected by anything that happens in the world, including creation and the martyrdom of the Son.(16) Thus, he says we should come to love God (really, the Gottheit) as a “not-God, not-person, a not-spirit, formless.”(17) Granted, this sounds a long way from process. But, and this is a most important qualifier, he also defines the Gottheit as God in”the all-possibility of his unmanifestness.”(18) That, I think, is quite similar to Whitehead’s claim that the primordial nature “neither loves nor hates,” is untrammeled by reference to the concrete and particular, that this aspect of God is God as an abstract creative potentiality for the universe and for Godself, and is unconscious.(19) Hence, Eckhart says all that we have comes from Godhead; and in many passages, speaks of the Godhead as flowing forth into all things, driving to the conclusion that the universe is all a differentiation of the Godhead. “All creatures are in God and are themselves Godhead,” he proclaims.(20) Elsewhere he proclaims that none can grasp God, not because God is exclusive of creation, but because “God Himself is in all things, and is all things in all things everywhere all things everything.”(21)
So the question now is, What accounts for this power flowing forth of God? Eckhart speaks of the “birth of God,” which he equates with the pouring forth of all things.(22) More specifically, he says that God would have perceived of Himself, not as a self, but as an empty void, a nothingness, had he not differentiated into Father and Son, “in whom He created all things,” emerging from the abyss of unconsciousness nothingness to become an object of consciousness to Himself.(23) God, to become self-conscious and know Himself, must become tangible to Himself. God needs the universe, according to Meister Eckhart, which touches on a strong process theme.
Centuries later, Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), one of the founders of the Protestant mystical tradition, took up a similar notion. Unfortunately, his writings have been labeled “a melange of chaos,” “dreary wastes of words that elude all comprehension,” at least by the noted mystical scholar Rufus Jones.(24) Hartshorne and Reese pointed to affinities between process and Boehme, but then said they chose to omit him, one reason being the “obscurity of his language.(25) So much for the process appreciation of the aesthetic, the poetic-intuitive. I add that we, as process people, have to be careful about faulting and dropping mystics for being obscure. Truth is, Whitehead is often faulted by many readers, even highly educated ones, for being extremely abstract and difficult to follow.
Although Boehme does not speak in the “clear” language of process, he clearly focuses on two forms of reality: The Nichts an the Ich. The Nichts is without character, pattern, life.(26) It is said to be unactualized will, which suggests it is a depth of creative potential waiting to be realized in tangible, visible forms.(27) The Nichts is, then, seeking to become an Ich, a living personality. God, in Boehme, is not merely active, but also passive. God, he emphasizes, has eternally but one desire, which is “to give and bring forth himself.” Hence, creation is that by which God, natureless, passionless, but with a will to become, strives to introduce himself into actuality, so that he can feel, find, and behold himself.(29) Boehme understands God in strict analogy with the human self. Just as the latter must go forth from itself to have knowledge, so God must go forth from himself in order to bring himself into self-consciousness. God, as Nichts, as a totally simple, homogeneous entity, would be void of all consciousness and so must differentiate into the created world, enter into the complexity of his being. Thus, it would appear in Boehme that an aesthetic orientation toward unity in diversity is the ultimate metaphysical principle.
What, then, of mystical experiences? What kinds of experiences are the mystics having that enable them to move out of classical theism and come to approximate a dipolar concept of God?
One of the main reasons why mystics are accused of fostering a world-negating state of mind is that they often describe ecstasy as a blank, empty state of mind in which they are conscious of nothing, absorbed in nothing at all. However, these accounts have a positive meaning if placed in their proper context: It was the mystics, not Freud, who discovered the subconscious mind; for the fundamental mystical claim is that the discovery of God is the never-ending process of becoming opened to vast inner depths of experience that ordinarily remain beneath the threshold of normal waking consciousness and so are unreachable by either thought or sensation; hence, the truly mystical quest is the yearning for a richer, more radical unitive experience of God, self, and the world than that provided by thought, sense, or the more specialized forms of conscious knowing.
So we read in “The Cloud of Unknowing,” a major 14th-century English work, that in ecstasy “thou findest but a darkness and as it were a kind of unknowing. Thou knowest not what, saving that thou feelest in thy will a naked intent unto God.”[30) “The Epistle of Discretion,” another outstanding English work from that period, states that “God may not be known by reason, may not be gotten by thought nor concluded by understanding. ButHe may be loved and chosen by the true lovely will of thine heart.”(31) Although ecstasy, then, has neither thought nor sense, and so is blank in that regard, it is not a truly vacuous state of mind; rather, it is filled with vivid, intense emotion. The imageless nature of ecstasy, achieved through the banishment of all thought and sensation, is not a renunciation of the world, but a process whereby the ecstatic becomes free of major distractions that would seriously interfere with the perception of the deepest and most sublime aspects of worldly existence.
In Hilton’s “Ladder of Perfection,” we read, “Therefore if you desire to discover your soul, withdraw your thought from outward and material things, forgetting if possible your own body and its five senses.”(32)
According to Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), mysticism is a complex process of personal growth achieved through an ever-deepening self-awareness. It is true that much of her writing depicts this process as a complete and total withdrawal from experience as if like a turtle she curls up in her shell and goes to sleep. Often she describes ecstasy in very somnolent terms—the soul is said to be fast asleep, the body is described as being dead.(3) However, the main theme of her book “The Interior Castle” is the introspective journey through the so-called “interior mansions” or subconscious depths of experience, until God is encountered at the center of the soul. Teresa, then, faults those who live only by the senses, for living solely on “the outer wall of the soul” and warns that they will be turned to pillars of salt for having allowed themselves to become distracted by the senses, from turning inward to appreciate the great beauty of the interior structures of the soul.(34)
Her writings, therefore, make it quite clear that although she is not describing normal, waking consciousness, neither is she describing a perceptual blank. Rather, she is absorbed in almost violently dynamic emotive experiences. She likens the emotional impetus of ecstasy to that of a bullet leaving a gun;(35) she stresses that although sensory images are totally absent, the higher levels of ecstasy manifest such depth and fullness of feeling that “the soul here resembles a fire which suddenly breaks forth, spreading flames in all directions and rising up into the
Consequently, in the context of this aesthetic-affective framework, God is no longer defined as the Passionless Absolute of classical theism, but instead is said to have deep personal feelings, which are sharable with creatures, and so is experienced as an all-encompassing matrix of sensitivity. Thus, very erotic imagery likening God to an affectionate, gentle,supra-personal spouse is quite common throughout the mystical literature, as for instance in St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, Bernard, Blosius, Hugh of St. Victor. This parallels the major contention of process theology, that God is a loving and unlimited companion, “the fellow-sufferer who understands,” as Whitehead puts it.(37)
Furthermore, the mystical literature tends to allegorize God in the feminine form. This calls attention to the empathic, receptive, preservative aspects of God, as these traits have been traditionally identified with femininity. One major example here is Henry Suso, another is Dame Julian of Norwich (1324-1415), who speaks of Christ as “Our Kind Mother, our Gracious Mother.”(38)A corresponding theme is to be found in the mysticism of the Eastern Orthodox. For centuries, the Sophia has represented God’s wisdom. She is pictorially represented as a young woman, not a mother; she is the passionate, erotic side of God.(39)
I believe this tendency to picture God in the feminine serves the purpose of providing a libidinal springboard to an emotionally rich prayer life by assuring that one will come to actually feel, hence resonate to, God’s own emotive states. Again and again, the mystics assure us that rather than the dissolution of the self, ecstatic unity means to become a deeply emotionally enriched self by identifying with God’s own feelings. A favorite metaphor used by the mystics to illustrate this point is that of a piece of iron thrown into a fire; this image of ecstasy can be found in the writings of Blosius, John of the Cross, David of Augsburg, St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, Eckhart, and Tersteegen.
Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), one of the founding fathers of the Protestant mystical tradition, writes of ecstatic unity with God, that we should “behold a bright flaming piece of iron, which of itself is dark and black, and the fire sopenetrateth and shineth through the iron, that it gives light. Now, the iron does not cease to be, it is the iron still.”(40) Five hundred years before Boehme, Richard of St. Victor wrote, “As the difference between iron that is cold and iron that is hot, so is the difference between the soul and soul: between the tepid soul and the soul made incandesce by divine love.”(42) In other words, as the coldness and rigidity of a hunk of iron is melted away in a fire, so the icy, stony heart is bought to feel more deeply by coming to resonate God’s own love. Thus, ecstatic unity is a supreme instance of self-affirmation, attained by the gentle perfecting and fulfillment of our potentials from sensitive, appreciatory awareness.
Ecstatics, then, enjoy a direct, immediate awareness of the passive, receptive dimensions of God, and therefore experience themselves to be contained within the very being of God. Meister Eckhart (1260-circa 1328), one of the giants of German Medieval mysticism, although initially quite dualistic in his view of God, eventually overcame his classical heritage and affirmed that the highest joy of the soul is to experience itself as life literally within God.(42)
Numerous other mystics, such as Gerson, Antione de Saint-Esprit, Ribet, St. Gertrude, and Denis le Chartreux, speak of experiencing the infinitely strong but sweet and gentle hug by which God envelopes and absorbs the totality of their being. In her work on Purgatory, one of the most famous on the subject, Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510) contended that even souls in Purgatory are subject to this divine embrace.(43)
The Place of Ecstasy in Whitehead’s Aesthetic
I contend that Whitehead’s aesthetic provides a solid basis for enriching our understanding of these ecstatic experiences. True, Whitehead never acknowledges any influences from the above-cited mystical sources; and it is also true he faulted at least Indian mysticism for being too impersonal. Nevertheless, his aesthetic is of particular relevance to the study of mysticism, because he shares the mystical quest for inner wholeness, which he, like the mystics before him, believes can be achieved only by returning ourselves to the full measure of our experience. His aesthetic, then, is a reaction against the reductionism of the long-standing traditions of empiricism and behaviorism, which deny the reality of the subconscious and view feelings as an insignificant by-product of sensations. According to his Reformed Subjectivist Principle, the centerpiece in his aesthetic theory, conscious, sensory experience is not our primary construct but belongs to the superficialities of experience. At rock bottom, is unconscious feeling, just as the mystics seemed to argue. Indeed, the plain facts of ordinary consciousness always point beyond themselves to the reality of subconscious experience; for normal waking consciousness is continually haunted by a vast periphery or penumbra of intense experience in dim apprehension.(44) Sensory experience, despite its predominance in consciousness, is only one special form of experience, merely the end product of a complex integration of nonsensory events or feelings within the brain and body.
The words “non-sensory” and “feeling” are used quite deliberately here. For example, the neurons firing in our nervous systems are responsive to one another, can excite each other, yet in themselves lack any form of sensory apparatus and so are void of all sensation, though their mutual sensitivity suggests they can certainly feel one another. So, when we see green, for example, what actually happens is that first, we empathize, though subconsciously, with the datum at hand, thereby having greenly feelings or feeling greenly, and then, by projection, we see green out there. In other words, the visual impression of green is the result of the literal incorporation into ourselves of the datum at hand, followed by the synthesis of countless feelings in the brain, body, and nervous system, of which we ordinarily are not conscious, that finally culminates in the sensory impression of green. Sensations, then, are in point-of-fact qualifications of empathic, affective tone.
Normally, , however, in our scientific, rationally based scientific society, this intimate relationship between sensation and emotion lacks vividness in our consciousness. And that has been a disaster for our experience of unity, as causal efficacy, our fundamental experience of connectedness, is primarily an affective experience. If, however, consciousness were turned back upon itself far enough, then it might become exclusively preoccupied with a direct apprehension of those feelings from which sensory experience is later derived, and in turn the subconscious, empathic dimensions of our psyches by which we adsorb all others into ourselves. In such a case, the perceiver might undergo an overwhelming experience of unity. The whole subject-object dichotomy would then disappear; the perceiver and the perceived, God, self, and world, would all be experienced as one.
But can consciousness be turned back on itself, as the mystics claimed? Can we, according to Whitehead’s aesthetic, even become conscious of those psychical operations which, by nature and definition, are beneath the threshold of conscious awareness?
Here is where Whitehead’s distinction between Appearance and Reality comes to the fore. Sensory perception, Appearance, is defined as “blunt truth” or “clear and distinct appearance.”(45) Aesthetic truths, Reality, however, are not sensory truths, are not clear and distinct; for they are the dim, massive truths from behind the frontier where the precision of consciousness fails.(46)
Aesthetic experience, then, is the enrichment of our emotional lives, by the elicitation into radiant consciousness of this penumbral world of feelings surging through relevant realities in a context far less articulate than those factors ordinarily disclosed in sensory awareness. Because aesthetic experience unloosens feelings from deep beneath the threshold of conscious experience, it is loaded with heavy, shifting, indeterminate meanings; it is unbounded experience; that is, it is very brief, easily lost, totally unanalyzable, and therefore ineffable.
The kind of experience, then, that Whitehead labels as an aesthetic can never be divorced from deep religious connotations; for, what he is pointing to is a revitalization of the sense of mystery, both within and around ourselves, and therefore the experience of living faith. As process thinkers, we can say along with John of the Cross that “the more the soul attends to clear and distinct apprehension…the less will be its capacity and disposition for entering into the abysm of faith…”(47)
Turning to Whitehead’s doctrine of God may further deepen this connection between process and mysticism. Mystics claim to have experienced a direct revelation of God’s passions; and, in Whitehead’s aesthetic, this claim receives a precise philosophical rationale. According to his doctrine of creativity, each momentary occasion of experience, each actual entity must begin with an initial aim from God for what it is to become, since God alone is the sole source of all novelty, as only God can conjure up conceptual feelings (imagined ideas) that do not depend upon prior physical feelings (perceptions of concrete manners of fact).(48) The mystics, then, are not misleading us when they claim to have seen God. Frankly, from the perspective of Whitehead, it is surprising that this does not happen more frequently; for each and every aspect of the universe, however trivial or ugly it may be is a least potentially revelatory of God, since the initial aims from which they arose are always a finite reflection of the divine harmonization of God’s own experience of the world.(49)
Also, God as chief exemplification of relativity is God present throughout the entire universe, in the fullest and most perfect way possible.
Nevertheless, we may not be consciously aware of God through the initial aim, even though we may be conscious of some aim for novelty. There may be no need, no real reason to become conscious of the internal dimensions of God, since the aim is directed toward the world. But, because God is the lure for feeling, continually striving to broaden and deepen our level of conscious awareness, there may be special aesthetic aims of God whose content is to focus on the source of the aim. In these cases, the actualization of the initial aim would mean that we would become consciously aware of God as an omnipresent infinite harmony containing all lesser harmonies.
In sum, the value of Whitehead’s aesthetic is that it arises out of actual, ongoing conditions of human spirituality in this world. His aesthetic theory has a religious present and a deeply mystical past. The value of his aesthetic is that it provides a coherent philosophical psychology of mysticism that would interpret ecstasy in continuity with ordinary experience. Consequently, his aesthetic would rescue ecstasy from negative stereotyping that would unduly relegate mystical phenomena to an elite subset of individuals assumed to be either psychotic or high-minded spiritual geniuses. In contrast, the Whiteheadian has every reason to claim that ecstasy has meaning and relevance to all persons, because it represents a return to a more authentic level of existence, by reintegrating consciousness, with the deepest and most primal forms of experience that are to be found in each and every one of us.
1. Augustine, De Fide et Symbolo (Paris:Desclee de Brouwer, 1947), p.57.
2. Quoted in Thomas Rees, The Holy Spirit (London: Duckworth, 1915), p. 119.
3. Leo Donald Davis, The First Seven Ecumenical Councils: Their History and Theology (Collegeville, Minn; Liturgical Press, 1990),p.46.
4. Robert Gegg and Dennis Groh, Early Arianism: A View of Salvaion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), p. 82.
5. Basil, Traite du Sainte-Esprit (Paris: Editions du Cerg, 1946), p. 147.
6. Henry Swete, The Holy Spirit in the Ancient Church (London: Macmillan, 1912), p. 249.
7. Alfred North Whitehead, Body and Soul (Lecture 3) (King’s Chapel, Boston, 1926).
8. Maurice Gandillac, Oeuvres Completes du Pseudo-Dionysius (Paris: Editions Montaigne, 1943), p. 183.
9. Ibid., p. 141.
10.Ibid., pp. 159-160.
11. Fanz Pfeiffer, Deutsche Mystiker: Meister Eckhart (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck, 1914), p. 515.
12. Gandillac, p. 185.
13. Gandillac, p. 143,
14. Rufus Jones, Some Exponents of Mystical Religion (London: Camelot Press, 1930), p. 101.
15. Pfeiffer, pp.318-319.
16. Ibid., p. 405.
17. Ibid., p. 320.
18. Charles Kelley, Meister Eckhart on Divine Knowledge (Yale University Press, 1977), 187.
19. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality ((New York: Free Press, 1967), p. 405.
20. Pfeiffer, p. 322.
21. Ibid., 513.
22. Ibid., p. 485.
23. Ibid., p. 608.
24. Rufus Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion (London: Macmillan, 1909), p. 160.
25. Charles Hartshorne and William Reese, Philosophers Speak of God *Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), p. 164.
26. Jacob Boehme, Sametliche Schriften: Sex Puncta ( Stuttgart: Fr. Fommans Verlag, 1957), p. 8.
27. Ibid., p. 4.
28. Boehme, Sex Puncta, p. 23.
29. John Stroudt, Sunrise to Eternity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1957), 201-202.
30. Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing (London: J.M. Watkins, 1950), p. 77.
31. Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1957), p. 205. 31.
32. Walter Hilton, The Ladder of Perfection (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1957), p. 205.
33. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle ((E.A. Peers trans., New York: Image Books, 1961), p. 97.
34. Ibid., p. 31.
35. Ibid., pp. 149-150.
37, Ibid., p. 160.
37. Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 413.
38. Paul Jaegher (ed,), An Anthology of Mysticism (Westminster Press, 1950), pp. 94-9739.
39. Margaret Mallory, Christian Mysticism: Transcending Techniques (Netherlands: Van Goreum, 1977), p. 73.
40. Underhill, p. 307.
41. Ibid., p. 429.
42. Pfeiffer, pp. 618-619.
43. Jaegher (ed.), p. 126.
44. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: Free Press, 1957), p. 270.
45. Ibid., p. 350.
46. Ibid., pp. 270-271.
47. John of the Cross, The Ascent on Mt. Carmel (D. Lewis trans., London: Thomas Baker, 1906), p. 259.
48. Whitehead, Process and Reality, pp. 55, 104.
49. Ibid., pp. 412-413.