Sunday, October 16, 2011


We tend to think of Revelation as communication of knowledge, guidance, and of information from the realms beyond the border. That’s also the context in which I’ve written on the subject in multiple posts here (see Categories). That human renditions of revelation might decay over time and need to be renewed seems obvious to me—but such a view tends to be resisted by those who control its dissemination. They’d agree that interpretation may be necessary—but they reserve the right of interpretation to themselves. I’ve never encountered a sharply put interpretation saying that revelation may also be nutrition, indeed necessary spiritual nutrition. These are my two subjects today.

Let me start with the first by focusing on a single word, Grace. The first dictionary definition of that word is “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.” The first example Merriam-Webster’s online version gives is “She walked across the stage with effortless grace.” The last three examples mention God. One of these is “By the grace of God, no one was seriously hurt,” but you won’t see that in newspapers. They will substitute “fortunately” for the leading phrase. Neither the deeper meanings of the word, nor its role in religious controversy, is present here.

The word does have such meanings in Christianity. There it is a gift of God linked to salvation and said to flow from right deeds and holiness. Luther disputed this by asserting that faith alone saves—and grace is unnecessary. Its meaning therefore as an active, indeed necessary, support, arising from a real and transcendental source has very much thinned out, more or less replaced by modernity’s secular explanation for all mysteries: chance and probability.

Now concerning the subject of nutrition. In her science fiction novel, Shikasta, Doris Lessing tells the story of a galactic empire, but of a different kind. Multiple planetary settlements have taken place over many eons from the star system Canopus, in the constellation of Argos. All kinds of species have been, as it were, planted, and they are evolving. Sustaining their evolution is an energetic emanation called Substance-Of-We-Feeling, abbreviated SOWF. It isn’t necessary for simple survival, but it is what sustains harmonious development. All is well for a long, long time—but then the emissaries from Canopus notice that something very troubling has taken place. An unexpected cosmic realignment causes the flow of SOWF to thin. Another empire, Canopus’ enemy, Puttoria, attempts to exploit this situation. A degenerative disease begins to affect settlements, among them Shikasta (read Earth); it’s not a physical disease; it is the higher levels—spiritual life, community life—that are affected.

The story of Shikasta, of course, merits interpretation as a new or as a renewed revelation—this one emanating from Sufi roots. Doris Lessing was associated with the Sufi teaching projected by Idries Shah from Britain. When I first read Shikasta, I had to smile when I encountered SOWF; to me it was an obvious reference to Sufism; later I discovered that others had had much the same thought. Lessing’s series of novels, collectively known as Canopus in Argos, is the framing of a cosmology in modern terms, thus accessible to a secular and technological age. SOWF functions as Grace—a gift, a source of higher nutrition, regenerative, as Webster’s has it. Lessing’s intent, to be sure, is far from suggesting that God is a distant galactic civilization. The effect of her, alas, very difficult fiction is to make such ideas of a conscious and meaningful cosmic plan—in which, as it were, energetic emanations like Grace play a vital role—visible to modern minds and, when thought about, illuminative of ancient and by now moribund structures of belief we’ve come to dismiss as backward superstitions.

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