And The Word Became Flesh

I love comments, particularly the stimulating ones which goad me to dig deeper.  So, this posting is a response to number of recent comments about the nature of “response” and responsibility itself.

This morning I was contemplating Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” from the Sistine Chapel.  I’m sure you are all familiar with it.

Michelangelo's Creation of Adam

Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam

As has been noted by others, God and the heavenly host form an image of the human brain, with the Divine Reason or Divine Intelligence reaching out to endow Adam with this same quality of Reason or Intelligence. What I haven’t seen commented on before (although it probably has been noted) is that Adam’s right foot is actually in the shape of a hoof — a cloven hoof.  This might be taken as Michelangelo commenting on man’s sinister side or animal soul, or it may be that he wanted to say that Adam, as “natural” being, only became “man” with the gift or endowment of the Divine Intelligence, otherwise to become known as “Universal Reason”.

It is also in the nature of a response. God is shown reaching out to Adam, while a prostrate Adam, who seems on the point of rising but incapable to rising on his own, responds by weakly reaching out to meet God’s gesture towards him.  Adam, although prostrate, with his bent left leg seems ready to spring forth, but he cannot do so on his own. He lacks that Divine Reason and intelligence that would “uplift” and promote him from the animal to the human form.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word became flesh” could just as well be another title for the Creation of Adam.  In the gesture of the hands is the moment of inspiration. But inspiration is useless if it is not followed by aspiration — by action. This aspiration is Adam’s preparation for the “leap” he seems about to make from his semi-prone posture. His rising will be his response to God’s gesture. Adam is on the point of rising above his animal nature, but cannot complete this action on his own.  He requires a powerful inspiration to inflame his aspiration.

Now, in this painting of the Creation of Adam, Michelangelo has depicted a grammatical relationship — one that depicts a relationship between a speaker and a listener, or more precisely between a “Thou” and an “I”, or an imperative and an optative. God’s finger pointing towards Adam is election — Adam becomes a “thou” for God as an addressee. “Live (thou)!” is imperatival form. In turn, Adam’s response is the discovery of his “I”. In his reaching back towards God he is responding, “May I live!”.

This “may I live” is however not yet an “I am” — it is only the suggestion of being rather than being itself.  This “I” in the optative phase of the circulation of the spirit (so far, from inspiration to aspiration) is not yet fully formed or defined. Yet it is probably universally true that early man everywhere felt himself to be an addressee and respondent — a creature rather than a creator, and certainly not as “self-made”, and that man’s “I” or ego was only weakly formed.

When we speak of “sacred speech” we mean this kind of inspired, creative, transformative speech, and I want to highlight again the TED talk by Joe Dispenza mentioned earlier with its wonderful film footage of how inspiring speech can alter and transform the physical body, particularly the brain, in response. That seems to be what Michelangelo is implying also in his depiction of the Creation of Adam. The human brain — the human form or “Adam” — is the creation of sacred speech. This is a repudiation of any kind of strict genetic determinism. The “mind” can change the physical form. And it is Dispenza who used the phrase “the word becomes flesh” to describe how language modifies the human form — to build it up or to wear it and tear it down.

And I also want to bring to your attention as most interesting development in physical science that parallels this — how matter is created by light. That is, matter is really only a mode of manifestation of energy.

Let’s speak of this as the phases or stations of “the circulation of the spirit” in terms of inspiration, aspiration, transpiration, or expiration,  towards actualisation or realisation. We could just as well call it the circulation of energy. That is the meaning of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and of what Gebser means by “the concretion of the spiritual”.  Our present civilisation is built upon a misunderstanding of this circulation of the spirit, and it is corrupting the human form.

To the imperative “Live (thou)!” follows the subjective optative response (“may I live!”). But this optative is still a long ways from the full realisation of “the facts of life”, as it were. After the optative wish or inspiration comes the action phase — the aspiring. We call that phase “history” or “making history”. “I have lived” is narrative phase, utterable only after the action is completed and reflected upon. The final phase is the indicative or “fact” phase, when the circulation of the spirit stops. “Life is” such and such can only be realised truly after passing through the other three phases first of “Live!”, “may I live!” “I (or we) have lived”, and then, only after I have passed through these three stations, can I attempt to say what Life is… This is the indicative phase: definition or what we call “third person”.

Live! (infancy, parental)
May I live! (desire awakened, childhood)
We have lived. (action… adulthood)
Life is…. (old age)

These are the four phases or stations in the circulation of the spirit.  In the last phase, the “objective” phase, the circulation stops. Until then, it is an open question what life actually is. Only after I suffer these other phases of the spirit may I speak of “the facts of life”. We are fourfold beings. Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method” or “cross of reality” is truer of our actual experience than our present models.

Our civilisation makes the grave error of starting with the last phase — the definition and “the facts of the matter” — as if it were the first and even only phase. That also belongs to Blake’s denunciation of “single vision”.  It is deforming. The action of the spirit is expired, and we call it “cold, hard fact” because the movement is dead.

Now, it is an interesting fact (the last I checked) of contemporary research into “universal linguistics” that there are no “primitive languages” as was once assumed. All human languages so far investigated are equally complex and intricate in various ways. And all grammars reveal a very interesting pattern — they all have, at a minimum, a four-person system of grammar. Korean is apparently the simplest, having forms for “You”, “I”, “We” and “He”. English has only seven or eight — those plus She, It, They and You (plural). Some other languages have a dozen or more pro-nouns, but they are variations on the same basic fourfold person system. That means that the “we” form is not a plural of “I” (as our grammar makes it), but an entirely separate entity — the “we” form is the group entity. We also call “I” the “first person”, whereas it is, in effect, the second person in the grammatical relationship following “You”. So the proper circulation of the spirit is

You! (imperative, dramatic form)
I (optative, lyrical form)
We (narrative, epical form)
He, She, It, They (indicative, analytic or “objective” form)

Nobody can attempt a definition of “being” until they have passed through all the stages of becoming as

May I be!
We have been
Being is…

This final “is” is frozen life, the very last stage “after all is said and done”, as it were. But it is not the norm. The norm is represented in the first three phases of becoming as inspiration, aspiration, transpiration, and then only finally as expiration — as something definite for being refined and defined and confined as another “fact of the matter”.

Here’s why, then, Rosenstock-Huessy objects to the Cartesian formula “cogito ergo sum” — I think therefore I am. It is treated as a first principle of existence whereas it is the last phase of the spirit before it becomes reified as thinking or as abstract thought. Rosenstock-Huessy’s “respondeo etsi mutabor” (“I respond, although I will be changed”) is the actual situation of Adam in Michelangelo’s painting. His motto places the times and spaces of life — life as it is actually lived — back into their proper order.

Reason is, in effect, a perpetual balancing of the four phases, and knowing when to pass from one stage to the next, for each phase matures at a different rate, a different tempo.

Narcissism is, essentially, to become stuck in one of these phases alone.



14 responses to “And The Word Became Flesh”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    Beautifully visioned, that is exactly my vision regarding the flow of my light particle into the light wave of the divine, or the flow of the light wave of the divine through my light particle. The vital communicating principle of the small soul with the grand originating soul. My heart is at rest now. Thank you.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    I like again to say the weaving of the different light threads is prophetic, Thank you.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I didn’t know it would have such an effect! But, yes, the energies of the cosmos are compressed into speech, and just as light and matter are interchangeable in the scientists’ experiment, speech creates a morphic field that shapes the human form. This is the meaning of Rosenstock’s “God is the power that makes men speak — that enthuseth man so that he speaketh” (the word “en-thuse” having the meaning “en-theos” or “god within”).

      Although, I would want to make a fine distinction between enthusiasm (god within) and inspiration (in-spirited). They aren’t quite equivalent. That’s the subtlety of Blake’s lines from his poem Auguries of Innocence which reads,

      To be in a passion you good may do,
      But no good if a passion is in you.

      In that verse I think, Blake draws a line between enthused and inspired. I have called the former “delirium” in earlier posts. Blake equates that with fanaticism, as something blinding.

      You see how easy it is…. some are illuminated by the light, while some are blinded by the same light. That’s the distinction between inspired or enthused.

      • abdulmonem says :

        The universe, after all, is made of language and through language, all its entities communicate with each other. What a wonderful ceremony for those who know how to use language without abuse or misuse.

        • abdulmonem says :

          When passion is released to touch others, the good deed is materialized, but when passion remains in the confine of the self, it loses its goodness. How can we deny the prophecy of Blake.

    • Scott Preston says :

      That “light into particle” relationship is the meaning of the following lines from Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell,

      1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age
      2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
      3 Energy is Eternal Delight

      In other places, Blake uses the metaphor of a “cloud” to describe the body — actually all physicality or apparent solidity whatsoever. This is parallel to Einstein’s equation for the convertability of matter and energy, or matter and light E=mc2, and which is the subject of the experiment mentioned above that hopes to demonstrate conclusively how light forms matter — ie, how energy can take on the appearance of solidity.

      Therein lies the baffling character of our contemporary world. We experience matter as solid. We perceive objects as opaque. Yet, intellectually, we now know that none of that apparent solidity or opacity is real. It is, as Blake avers, only the result of consciousness having become closed up and walled up within the “cavern” of the physical senses.

      • Scott Preston says :

        By the way… as just re-occurred to me to mention: this is the very thing that Rumi writes about in his poem about “Phenomena”, so Rumi knew that the baffling solidity or materiality or opacity of the world was only apparent,

        Think of how PHENOMENA come trooping
        out of the Desert of Non-existence
        into this materiality
        Morning and night,
        they arrive in a long line and take over
        from each other, ” It’s my turn now. Get out!”

        A son comes of age, and the father packs up.
        This place of phenomena is a wide exchange
        of highways, with everything going all sorts
        of different ways.
        We seem to be sitting still,
        but we’re actually moving, and the Fantasies
        of Phenomena are sliding through us
        like ideas through curtains,
        They go to the well
        of deep love inside each of us.
        They fill their jars there, and they leave

        There is a source they come from
        and a fountain inside here.
        Be generous.
        Be grateful. Confess when you’re not.

        We can’t know
        what the Divine Intelligence
        has in mind!

        Who am I,
        standing in the midst of this

        What Blake means by “Energy” as source and as “eternal delight” is “the well of deep love inside each of us” in Rumi. The “fountain” has the same meaning in both Blake and Rumi, and is called “Ever-Present Origin” by Gebser.

        “The cistern contains; the fountain overflows” is Blake’s reference to this. The “water” that overflows or is contained (bound or held as phenomenal form) is energy or light or de-light. This particular “Proverb of Hell” is immediately followed by another: “One thought fills immensity”.

        “Thought” here is the translator of energy into physicality or light into materiality. Rumi calls this “Divine Intelligence” — the formative force. This “thought”, however, is more akin to what Blake calls “Imagination” (or “Poetic Genius”) or what some call “the imagination of the heart” — something more profound than ratiocination or mere mentation. This notion of “On thought fills immensity” is equivalent of Seth’s “you create the reality you know”, although this “you” he qualifies as “the You of you” — an identity more essential than the ego identity.

        This “You of you” (which Blake would call the “Poetic Genius” as “the true man”) is the subject of Rumi’s question “Who am I, standing in the midst of this thought-traffic”. This “You of you” is what Seth calls “energy personality essence”, or what Blake calls “Soul” in the lines quoted above.

        In another great poem, Rumi responds to his own question “Who am I” put here with another

        I am dust particles in sunlight.
        I am the round sun.

        To the bits of dust I say, Stay.
        To the sun, Keep moving.

        I am morning mist,
        and the breathing of evening.
        I am wind in the top of a grove,
        and surf on the cliff.

        Mast, rudder, helmsman, and keel,
        I am also the coral reef they founder on.

        I am a tree with a trained parrot in its branches.
        Silence, thought, and voice.

        The musical air coming through a flute,
        a spark of stone, a flickering in metal.
        Both candle and the moth crazy around it.
        Rose, and the nightingale lost in the fragrance.

        I am all orders of being, the circling galaxy,
        the evolutionary intelligence, the lift, and the falling away.

        What is, and what isn’t.

        You who know, Jelaluddin,
        You the one in all, say who I am.
        Say I am you.

        The “little you” and the “big You” in the relation “You of you” stand, therefore, as relation particle to light.

        So, here is the “Great Mystery” — Beings are multiple, plural, manifold and myriad, yet Origin is singular — the “fountain”. Every “I” ultimately resolves into a singular “I am” of the “one in all”, so that we are both individual and not individual (both Being and Not-Being) at the same time. This is the meaning of “You of you”.

        • abdulmonem says :

          It is not knowledge, it is understanding and I admire your understanding. Light is delight, how profound. Light that goes up is rarefied and gets formless, light that goes down gets densified and takes form, each spheres have its own creation and when the skeptics asked god to send down the angels, god said that if we were to send down the angels,then we have to give them human form. All sages of the world despite their different locality,religion or culture speak the same language, because they drink from the same Sea. Rumi spoke of the particles that swim in the wave and in a flash of revelation he saw himself alive in all these particles.It is a wonderful world for those whom the god has opened their inner eyes.It is tragic for those who will be summoned blind and when they asked why are we blind, come the retort that you were blind to our clear signs during your earthly stay and therefore you have been summoned blind. It is your deed returns to you, he who is in this one blind will be in the other one blind.Feel sorry for our world leaders.

          • abdulmonem says :

            The dissolution of the boundary between matter and energy is telling. The human despite his physical form is formless when it comes to his thoughts, a continuous flow of images that is why Blake said every possible belief is a form of truth. In the province of the spiritual mind, what one believes to be true, either it is true or becomes true within the limitless transcendence of the mind that know no limit,no wonder Ibn Arabi saw his object of worship in everything, because he saw the divine in everything. The particles of Rumi are alive in the liveliness of the divine, as the vision of Blake of eternity in an hour, either the small in the big or the big in the small.

  3. alex jay says :

    “The action of the spirit is expired, and we call it “cold, hard fact” because the movement is dead.”

    Interesting! A few days ago I watched a documentary on Stonehenge. The most recent excavations seem to indicate that the familiar stone circles were part of a wider complex that included a further wooden circle (with acompanying settlement – not sure whether permanent or temporary) on the banks of the Avon river joined by a processional route. The stone circle represented the domain of the dead (loads of burial bones were found there) while the wooden circle represented the domain of the living. It appears that even our neolithic ancestors had an intuitive recognition of the life-death dynamic by representing the action of the expired spirit with “cold, hard” stones and the spirit of inspired action by wood, which is a living/breathing thing even after it’s cut down.

    Great article! A worthy refinement from your TDAB topics on the subject matter. Introducing Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” into the Thou, I, We, It grammatical structure is inspirational and has me re-evaluating the interpretation I have held until now.


    • Scott Preston says :

      Animist religions are true. Only, they aren’t the whole truth, and that tends paradoxically to make them false as well. They, too, belong to “single vision”. “Genesis” or the “Creation of Adam” is ongoing. That’s pretty much the gist of Heraclitus contra Parmenides. Rosenstock takes the side of Heraclitus against Parmenides, too.

      Animism, vitalism, theism, atheism — these are all valid, paradoxical as that may seem — just never in exclusive terms. They are the same “stations” of the spirit discussed above. They are the forms of “Adam’s” response — the gradual articulation of the human form — the unfolding of the mold of man. As Blake put it, “Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth” — just not the whole truth. They are the same grammatical persons. Human history has a human shape. This is what the Kabbalists call “Adam Kadmon” or the Universal Adam, who is also Blake’s Albion or Swedenborg’s “Grand Man of the Heavens” or what appears in Castaneda as “the mold of man” or human archetype.

      Human history is not chaotic or random. It has followed a fairly steady course, even if that course is the zig-zag path. That “zig-zag” is actually the phasic responses in the unfolding of the human form. We appear to ourselves to be exploring and discovering time and space. But it is really ourselves we are discovering and disclosing — the meaning of ourselves. So, history is a kind of mosaic pattern, or a mandala. The creature “man” (male or female aspects) has been busy in history only worshipping various aspects of himself — blood, breath, bone, or brain.

      We think we are quite sophisticated compared to our predecessors. But even today we are building our societies in the image of a man — an automaton or cyborg — because we have come to believe that the essence of man is his nervous system. That follows even from McLuhan’s premise that technologies represent “the extensions of man”. As man once “flowed out into a god”, as Nietzsche put it, so now he does equally in the form of technology. The contemporary ideal is society in the shape of a giant brain, a giant automaton. This is what is called “System”, and the cosmos is being recast as a giant computer. But that is only, again, the projection of the nervous system.

      • Scott Preston says :

        This is, by the way, the issue of mass or universal surveillance. Given the premises of the technological mind-set, the panopticon was just a matter of time. Universal surveillance simply represents the construction of the giant’s nervous or sensory system. This was always the hidden bias of the mental-rational consciousness structure — from Fichte through Bentham through Taylorism to Samuel Huntington — one might even say from the legend of the golem itself — the will to a system, an autonomous system.

        Against system we have Nietzsche’s objection that “the will to a system is a lack of integrity”, and that is perfectly true, even if paradoxical. “System” is supposed to be the integration of dis-integrate factors. Nietzsche is saying it is actually the opposite of integrity. The more it attempts to complete itself, the more it disintegrates. It becomes a “vicious circle”. That’s also connected with his insight that the triumph of liberal institutions would be simultaneously the destruction of liberal institutions, the process Jung described by enantiodromia.

        The “closing circle” (or closing of the circuit) will fail, probably catastrophically, for the reasons given by Rosenstock and Blake — our reality is the form of a cross, not a circle.

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    Some time ago, had a cartoon about “Creation of Adam,” which pretty much a depiction of your insightful remark that ” Adam is on the point of rising above his animal nature, but cannot complete this action on his own. He requires a powerful inspiration to inflame his aspiration.”

    Only until a generation ago, the husband of an expecting woman would say “My wife [she] is pregnant.” The woman herself would say “I am pregnant.” But nowadays, expecting couples tend to say “We are pregnant.”

    So, it seems to me that consciousness that is on its way to achieving fourfold vision of reality would tend to view itself more and more as part of a group….. Or maybe I am reading too much into this new trend of how couples view themselves……

    This is a towering essay. It shall take me a while to get my head around all the great insights that is contained in it…….but by now I am used to that 🙂

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