The still point of the turning world

My forthcoming book, Religion in a Material Universe, will be guided by the observed and verified presence of a dynamism in the matter of the universe that accounts for its existence and character, its vastness in space and time, and the complex self-possessed, intelligent forms that it has evol­ved, the most developed of which, to this point and to our know­ledge, is the human species.  This resident power — matter’s existential energy — accounts for the sense of the sacred in us … and the sense of the sacred is a pheno­menon we have to clarify, find a way to understand, and decide how to live with.

But that’s not an easy task.  The final chapter of The Mystery of Matter identified material energy as fundamentally unfathomable.  We cannot “know” it because we cannot objectify it.  But we understand it intimately for we ourselves are material energy; we understand it from within.  If we enquire after it, it is material energy that is enquiring after itself.  As with looking at a mirror reflected in another mirror, the self-images recede to infinity.  There is nothing to see but ourselves looking at ourselves looking at ourselves looking at ourselves.  In other words, we see nothing beyond our direct experience of our own existence. 

At the end of my reflections, the discovery of the emptiness at the heart of being-here puts me at a dead-end.  … I am aware that the apparent contradiction we encounter in the way matter’s energy is-here, leaves us at the edge of a void.  We have reached the end of our earth-bound knowing.  From a conceptual point of view, the rest is darkness… What I claim is the only thing left … if one has the temerity to go there … is relationship

This is the fulcrum, “the still point of the turning world.”[1]  At a certain point, all “knowing” stops and the only possibility left is relationship an embrace — built on our intimate understan­ding of existence that comes from interior experience, for we are matter’s energy and we cannot relate to it from the out­side.  We must embrace it one way or another; we have no choice, because it is ourselves.  Once this is realized another question enters the enquiry, i.e., how to do that.  Can the metaphors of our traditional religions bear the burden of accurately expressing and authentically sustaining our relationship to the transcendent existential energy in this material universe — our source, ground and matrix — ourselves?   Or must we devise new ones?

Since “knowing” has ended, we have no recourse but to meta­phors.  Metaphors refer to what we understand but cannot objectify.  They are symbols of what cannot be known or expressed in conventional terms.  They communicate understanding, which I define as an inti­mate cognitive embrace that is a work not just of the mind, but of the whole human organism in all its integrity.  The presence of the body with its conatus is an intrinsic element of this connatural understanding and its expression.  It confirms the relationship itself to be a function of material energy.  Our relationship to ourselves is the starting point and the end-point of our relationship to the material matrix “in which we live and move and have our being.”  It is the still point of the turning world.


[1] T.S.Eliot, Four Quartets, “Burnt Norton.” 

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