Fusions in the Void, Part 5. Sword and Flesh: A Word that Pierces

In the Void things Fuse for the sake of Hope.

Unless you have a strong stomach, don’t google ‘swords and tongues images’. I thought about posting a featured image but really these two things just don’t mix. You get swords coming out of mouths, going into mouths, people cutting their own tongues, and none of it’s pretty. This is a fusion of relatively incompatible neighbors. It’s bad enough when swords come out of fists, a la Wolverine.

Here, a Polish-French Canadian performance artist named Kinga Araya uses a sort of prosthetic sword in a piece called Orthoepic as she explores issues of identity/ group belonging. It’s one of the least weird visuals even remotely related to the topic, and this is a performance artist we’re talking about!

The Bible is full of imagery of tongues and swords. Hebrews 4:12, for example, is linguistically somewhat complicated and speaks of “the word of God [which] is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword”.

Without too much detail, commentaries suggest that this usage of the word “Word” do not refer to the written word (Bible) nor exactly to the person of Jesus (the word made flesh), but rather it makes a broader reference to a word of judgement, what we would call a clearly stated or unanimous verdict in a court case. Isaiah 11 and other prophecies in the Old Testament pay tribute to the idea that this is a word which proceeds from Jesus’ mouth. It’s a razor-thin line which leaves no grey area when all is said and done, “piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thought and intentions of the heart.” It’s a fusion which began in the Void, a fusion of sharpness (the Word) and of flesh (that soft mushy tongue, so sensual, dangerous and versatile).

So first of all this is usually quoted with the (incorrect) assumption that the passage is talking about the written down words of the Bible. Second, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone talk about what precedes it — the context. And all the way back to the beginning of chapter three, the author is speaking of one thing: Entering Rest.

In the “void” of the creation story the work begins in a timeless moment, but the act of creation not only begins in this Void, but ends in Rest — perhaps a mirror-like reflection of the Void for all practical purposes. Dig in to the earlier part of Hebrews 4 a little bit and you’ll see that there are two sort of moments for rest. One is Today, and the other is Another Day.

“Let us strive to enter that Rest” (verse 11) becomes this beautiful paradox; the sword-flesh knows our thoughts, carves us up. “Today”, we can enter it, (as modern writers might say, “In the Moment” or “Living in the Present”) and “Another Day” as well. We can observe a Sabbath, we can embrace moments or years or decades of the Void for the sheer restfulness they offer, and we wait as well for Another Day.

This fusion begins in the void, and it ends on Another Day. I suspect that the best way to “Strive” to enter it is really just to observe Rest on a more continual basis than simply the Sabbath (as a construct) and to live Sabbath all week long. I’ve written before about finding “Hedgerow” time, time to walk along the edges of the fields, to pick fruit that only comes to us wild, uncultivated, to embrace the possibility that in resting we find our source of sustenance rather than in work.

This is all a rather difficult thing to pursue. My point is not particularly to do a completely in depth study. It’s to look for where things may be fusing in the void, so that if you’re in one of those dry, desert, Dark Night of the Soul type places, I want to encourage you to find that for Today rest is enough. I know the restlessness that happens in that place, how difficult it is to focus our thoughts, intents and desires on Rest, but I know that as the sword and flesh fuse Today we can see the Void that was and Another Day to come reflected equally. The razor’s edge is the light striking the mirror, or the prism of our hearts, breaking things into colors, showing us where Rest is available and where it isn’t. Let the word that pierces and dissects and gives a verdict show you the way to Rest.

As I read back over this whole thing I realize the tone is pretty mystical. I’d say it strikes the right chord for such a paradoxical fusion! If it all feels rather nebulous today, I hope that the previous articles on Fusions in the Void, and the articles to follow, will surround and support the ideas here. In other words, I don’t think that this particular article stands on its own but as a continuation of the flow of other thoughts. So read those too, and see if they don’t provide a skeleton for this fleshy piece of writing.

Fusions in the Void, Part 4. Distance and Closeness: Vision

Previously in the series: 1. Fusions in the Void; 2. God and Darkness: The Future; 3. Resting and Motion: Power. See archives.

Today — Distance and Closeness: Vision

Watch a bird of prey sitting still. Their head bobs now and then. They are taking a rapid sampling, triangulating the depth of field of their vision with one eye. Our eyes, both in front of our head, make an automatic triangle (two eyes plus the object make three points) with whatever we’re seeing, and that triangle is what gives us depth perception. We can tell how far away something is without bobbing our heads. Eagles have to read two points with one eye, so they bob their heads to get a reading.

Butterflies and moths do this with their olfactory nerves. Their flight patterns seem odd and irregular because they are doing the same thing that birds of prey do: taking readings from two different spots, then redirecting based on their sense of distance to the next flower or mate.

The Void is a place where distance and closeness blend into each other. We feel when we are in a spiritual and psychological space of blindness that we have no vision at all. We are, in the present moment, unable to sense either distance or closeness, but paradoxically, we are both far and near from our objectives, our goals, our dreams.

God is developing vision in something very much like a photographic darkroom. For things to come together when the lights come back on, a photograph needs darkness to develop. You may feel that you cannot see six inches in front of your face, so distance and closeness have fused to the point that life itself is imperceptible.

This same thing happens when we close both eyes to sleep. We rest, we prepare our minds for vision. We dream, in our sleep, refocusing our energies and psyche for the next day. It is in this not-seeing state, this Void where distance and closeness seem to be lost, that they actually fuse together, allowing our spirit and psyche to triangulate and find depth and direction. One day, when the Void moment (or decade) is over, we open our eyes and we see the path clearly. The Void has allowed our picture to develop, and the lines are sharp again. This is the hope the photographer has when she turns off the lights in the darkroom and begins to work. This is the hope the eagle has when he scans the ground for prey from his aerie. This is the hope that the spiritually yearning voyager has when nothing is clear, and nothing feels comfortable — the closeness pressing, the distance vacuous: This hope is that in the Void, Distance and Closeness are fusing to create Vision. Dawn will come no matter how long the night may seem, no matter what terrors the dark may hold.

Fusions in the Void, Part 3. Resting and Motion: Power

When our body makes a move that uses strength somehow, there are muscles working and muscles opposite the working ones which are at rest.

A muscle’s fibers fire in contraction to make something happen, but when they all fire and stay locked on, we get a cramp.

In the Void, motion and rest are fusing to create power. There’s a tension which happens in our spiritual and psychological “muscle memory” and it’s that tension we feel before the gun goes off in a footrace. Perhaps we are about to take off on a dead sprint, or perhaps we’re preparing to run a marathon. Either way, anyone who has ever run a race knows the jittery butterfly feeling in the pit of your stomach, the eagerness to begin, the power welling up within, the sensation that any amount of speed will be possible. During the Void we sometimes feel powerless because we aren’t yet active, we’re being held back. Sometimes, we feel like a racehorse who is being shoved into the gate: we don’t like the confinement that comes with the moments of preparation. We’d like to just run without waiting for the starter to open those gates. Each muscle, however, must find a moment of rest, a moment when we store up energy for the thrust of that first step.

In the Void, when we feel psychologically and spiritually depressed due to a lack of motion, what’s really happening is a fusion between the resting moment and the tensing of the muscles (spiritual and psychological muscles) which are preparing to jump forward. The fusion that happens here stores up power.

Another way to think of it is the way a jet engine revs before the pilot releases the brakes, right before takeoff. You can feel it in your seat way back in economy. The entire aircraft tenses. The jets begin to build but the brakes keep you from leaping down the runway prematurely. Only when the jets have warmed up, sped up to the place where the power is enough to launch the aircraft into the air will the pilot release the brake and allow the craft to sprint down the runway. There is a little Void in that moment, a void where power is built, where resting and motion collide to create power.

Then: POW! Off you go. When we’re in the Void our desire is to move, but God is saying “not quite yet” holding the breaks, and so, like a thoroughbred who prefers not to be confined, we buck and back off from the gates, only delaying the start we are eager for!

The Void is uncomfortable in this way, (and it can last for several years) but something is happening here, fusing. It can be an exhilarating moment as well. Hold steady, let the muscles relax even as they tense: somewhere in this paradox, in this fusion, your moment will arrive. Hope for your best race yet. Hope for a beautiful flight.

Fusions in the Void, Part 1: What are “Fusions in the Void”?

Some years ago I built an artsy coffee table with walnut, maple and a marble top. It also has a drawer. In the bottom of the drawer, covered with plexiglass, sits a piece of paper with fifteen written lines, the first of which (reading bottom to top, seeing the first line as you open the drawer) is “Fusions in the Void:”

I covered the plexiglass with sand, added some pebbles and made some small rakes out of copper with wooden handles, and a tiny hoe as well, so that, to uncover the words underneath one must rake the sand aside, a sort of zen garden tucked in a drawer. The contemplative exercise allows for discovery of the lines, hidden in a similar way to how things are hidden when we experience Void in our lives. This Void has other names: the Dark Night of the Soul, or a Valley Experience. It’s thought of as not only a spiritual but also psychological phase which includes depression and a significant sense of spiritual disconnection, but also can be a time of simplification and purification as well — depending on how you engage it.

In a move of pure hope, (because I was in such a Void when I made the table) I decided that surely in the Void some things were also fusing. It’s a sort of spiritual cold fusion, more based on a hope than a science.

Scientists talk of “pathological science” as a scientific pursuit of something which has been proven not to exist, or of “the science of things which are not so.”  Cold Fusion, the idea that fusion energy could be produced at room temperature, is one example. People keep researching it because there’s some sort of hope that it could be, though scientists have proven it’s a thing “which is not so”. Richard Feynman talked about “cargo cult science” where people do things scientifically in the same way that South Pacific Islanders attempted to bring planes full of cargo back to their island by creating air strips complete with a hut with a home-made air traffic radio man inside it, complete with a headset, made of balsa wood, basically the cult creates all the trappings they’ve observed of an airport but it does not deliver airplanes. No cans of Spam arrive with obesity ensuing.

I suspect that hope must seem a pathological thing during the Void, and that even the trappings of spirituality seem like a cargo cult. We pray and journal and fast and pray some more, we read the Bible, and the harder we try the more God seems distant, as though on a journey or indisposed. His airplane never lands on our airstrip. What are we doing wrong? Where is the God who lit Elijah’s offering in a second? Where are the cans of spiritual and psychological Spam we wanted?

Hope, however, was David’s pathology all through the Psalms. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” (Ps. 42:11)

I like David’s use of the word “again”. It is as if to say “someday” as well as, maybe, now, as if to say “even though I don’t feel like it now, I will come back around to it eventually.” My friend Tim told me that in the newspaper office where he used to work, the standing joke was that any headline could gain added depth or at least humor by adding the word “again” to the end of it. “Mayor caught embezzling money– again” or “Eagles fall by a score of 52-0 to Panthers, again.” There’s power in that little word.

Part of my hope at the time I made my table was that in spite of the Dark Night or Void, when I had a deep and pervading sense of spiritual and psychological blindness, that there was some sort of Fusion going on, a cold fusion perhaps, when you’re neither hot nor cold, you’re just at this tepid room temperature, virtually numb, feeling little, groping for solutions. Living in fog as thick as pea soup (an image that has stuck with me from the children’s book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs). But in that fog, there’s a hope that fusion will happen in our lives, again.And perhaps even now that fusion is happening, though unseen.

Cold fusion may be an impossibility in the world of physics, but in the spirit/psych world of the Dark Night or Void, I am happy to pathologically believe that fusion is happening.

I invite you to follow a series of 14 more essays on Fusions in The Void. I’m sticking with the Void idea (and will not clutter future essays with the other terms) because it’s a place of creativity, of creation. I invite you to the paradigm shift that we are experiencing Void, not, perhaps in the sense of Eastern Mystics, but in this sense:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and VOID, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:1-2)

What happened during a time covered in darkness? Two verbs: creation and motion. The combination of these two verbs happening together is the idea I call fusion. (By the way, we need to pay attention to the fact that the motion here is not particularly directional! Think of it more like the motion happening when your stomach is growling: a churning and digesting motion.) The following essays (which, on my blog will bear titles beginning with “Fusions in the Void, Part __”) will explore what may be created in the Voids we experience from time to time. It is my hope that you will take this journey of pathological hope too, and that, in the end, you would find that this is not a cargo cult activity, but ultimately a productive one. Especially if you’re in a Void, I urge you to come back and read more of these Fusion essays … again.