Thursday, September 5, 2013

Caretaking the cosmos

Gary Lachman in a stream of books has admirably both described aspects of the Western esoteric tradition and its influence on Western culture and written biographies of some of its key exponents, most recently on Madame Blavatsky (as described here, http://ncolloff.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/a-genuine-fake-madame-blavatsky.html).

However, in his most recent book, 'The Caretakers of the Cosmos: Living Responsibly in an Unfinished World', he explicitly sets out his own views of what it means to be human and why we are here? This being Lachman his views are set out lucidly, engagingly, tentatively and accompanied by a cloud of illustrious witnesses from the Hermetic tradition and the the Kabbalah, to Blake and Goethe through to Berdyaev and Cassirer (amongst many others).

He begins with the Hermetic and Kabalistic notion that in creating the world God left it purposely unfinished and that humankind's task was to complete the world through repairing it. In the Kabbalah such repairing is done through continuous acts of loving attention that allows the world to be seen, handled and disposed aright. The intention with which we handle the world, the intention of repairing, transfigures the world suffusing it with meaning. This intention and attention may be very simple - treating the person at the Sainsbury checkout counter as a person in themselves or more radically imaginative, the poets Blake and Milosz beholding 'the spiritual sun'!

But in some important way, Lachman argues, the cosmos was made for man (and vice versa), our conscious beholding of it, the doors of our perception cleansed, brings it fully to life.

Such a viewpoint necessarily comes into conflict with both materialist reductionism and postmodern ennui and, I confess, the most entertaining parts of the book are when Lachman puts them to flight and he does so in the company not simply of airy poets and woefully neglected philosophers but in the company of hard core (Nobel adorned) physicists and neuroscientists. The gentle skewering of John Gray's misanthropic posturing is especially enjoyable.

However, I think, his most serious point is to notice that it is only since we displaced ourselves as cosmic guardians and saw ourselves, in an increasingly fractured way, as simply 'part of nature', an animal amongst other animals, that our serious despoiling of that very 'nature' or 'environment' began in earnest, without self-correcting limit. He quotes Louis Claude de Saint Martin, the Unknown Philosopher, to the effect that we have clothed ourselves in a 'false modesty' rather than seeking to be fully human and accept the responsibility that entails in a cosmos completed by us, a co-creation with God, we have settled for being 'only human' amongst the other animals, which has often meant, that we become less than other animals, wrapped in seeking identity, satisfaction and consumption, restless activity rather than a composed crafting, a repairing of cosmos.

Like his books before, you are set out upon new avenues of thought and reading. I came away knowing that I must (re)read Berdyaev that remarkable Christian personalist philosopher who sees it incumbent on us to exercise our freedom and creativity to create a home where God can dwell in the world, beginning with recognising that the glory of God is the human person fully alive. That life Lachman maintains is contagious and lights up the meaning of the creation as well as our own souls.

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