I AM NOT A SPACE THAT GOD DOES NOT OCCUPY: PART III – PANIKKAR
This is Part III of an eight-part Blog series that began on Sunday January 12, 2020. Cynthia introduced the series with this message:
As the new decade gets underway, it feels like an appropriate moment to share one of my earlier essays, which is still to my mind one of the best things I’ve ever written. It was originally published in the 2018 anthology, How I found GOD in Everyone and Everywhere, edited by Claremont School of Theology faculty members Andrew M. Davis and Philip Clayton and published by Monkfish. Compiled in honor of Marcus Borg, this anthology is broadly structured around the theme of Panentheism and features the usual suspects among Christian nondual teachers, including my colleagues Richard Rohr, Matthew Fox, and Ilia Delio. It’s well worth a read in its entirety.
I will be sharing my entire essay in eight successive posts, which will be headed your way in bite-sized doses over the next several weeks.
In “Part II: Panentheism,” Cynthia remembers how frequently she met resistance teaching Centering Prayer with its understanding of levels of consciousness:
“Clearly the whole notion of a divine indwelling, for all its certifiable theological orthodoxy, continues to make many traditionally reared Christians squirm.”
Inevitably, the word “panentheist” would come up, a term which Cynthia says, “like a ‘jet airplane’… tries to define itself in terms of a prior term (in this case, pantheism), to which it offers an ostensible improvement… while still implicitly keeping the paradigm in place.”
“As our world hovers on the threshold of a second axial age, I believe that it’s time to recognize pantheism as a concept whose era has long since come and gone… This old wineskin’s simply gotta go before we can break out the new wine of an authentically nondual Christianity.”
She concludes, “I hope to share with you a bit of the story of how I have come to see things in this way—in particular, the three “aha” insights that changed everything for me.” And here we are…
Part III – Panikkar
I had been slowly drifting toward a more unitive worldview for decades, but it was Raimon Panikkar who finally put me across the line.
Panikkar had been on my distant radar screen for some time, but my immersion began in earnest in the spring of 2008—thanks, I should say, to a nudge from my longtime friend and spiritual mentor Thomas Keating. Eighty-five years old at the time, Thomas had himself recently taken the plunge into Panikkar’s 2004 magnum opus Christophany and was electrified by its brilliant, dynamically nondual vision. “Can you imagine how this would change the face of Christianity if it were better known?” he mused, then added, staring straight at me with that signature twinkle of the eye, “But of course, it’s too difficult for lay people…”
Well, them’s fighting words! It’s long been a point of pride with me (and TK knew it!) that anything worth teaching can be taught to anyone if you can only find the right angle of approach. So rising to the wager, I too plunged into Christophany, only to find my heart, just like Thomas’, blown wide open by this theologically exacting yet breathtakingly nondual rendition of the Christian mystical vision. As I waded into the section called “The Mysticism of Jesus Christ,” I was floored by what Panikkar seemed to be arguing: that the Trinity, often dismissed as a theological add-on hammered out at the later theological councils, was actually an original—because it originated in the mind of Christ! It encapsulates in a single elegant mandala the entire personal experience of Jesus himself in his relationship to divinity.
Far from either a static immanence or static transcendence, Jesus’ experience of God was cosmotheandric, the infinite and the finite continuously interabiding one another, dynamically changing places through a process of continuing self-giving, or kenosis. At the “Abba, father” pole, claims Panikkar, Jesus is most fully identified with his finite selfhood, reaching out to God with what Panikkar describes as “a very intense experience of a divine filiation.” (p. 93) At the opposite pole, “I and the Father are one,” there is simply a unity of being, no place where God stops and “I” begin, just a unity. Between these two poles, the third of Jesus’ three great mahavakyani, or master sayings—“It is good that I leave”— places the other two in a perpetual kenotic dynamism which Panikkar beautifully summarizes as “I am one with the source insofar as I too act as a source by making all I have received flow again.” (p. 116).
Dynamism, the missing link: like a bicycle, the whole thing only works when it’s in motion.
“Cosmotheandric” is Panikkar’s neologism of choice to describe this dynamic intercirculation. Denotatively, it covers much the same turf as panentheism, but connotatively, they are light years apart. Panentheism ties us back into that old static paradigm (this “thing” called the created order is not God, but God can still visit it without getting stuck in it); cosmotheandric (forged from the words cosmos, world; theos, God; and andros, human) speaks implicitly of an intercirculation of realms, of whole different dimensions or planes of being actively infusing each other. It is cosmic, quantum, Einsteinian, portraying the paradox of form and formless more like virtual particles dancing in and about existence in a single unified field than in the old substance theology categories now largely outmoded as we have discovered that energy, not substance, is the coin of the realm.
Panikkar’s words knocked my socks off, for it felt so in tune with the heartbeat of the 21st century, the dynamic, evolving, interabiding world we are coming to find affirmed far more in science these days than in theology, still so stuck in defending an ancient and long since superfluous abyss between form and the formless.
Nor did it come as much of a surprise to me when the lay people in my Wisdom School ate it right up.
(Originally published on NortheastWisdom.org: https://northeastwisdom.org/2020/01/i-am-not-a-space-that-god-does-not-occupypart-iii-panikkar/)