Posted by: Harold Knight | 10/06/2009

“And I saw the shining flame glow white…”

“Holy Breath, you quicken life, move in everything, and all light radiates. . .” Hildegard von Bingen

“Holy Breath, you quicken life, move in everything, and all light radiates. . .” Hildegard von Bingen

“We can’t very well expect to observe a universe incapable of supporting life” (note 1). 

…and sitting in a crowded room, steel folding chairs, cold to the touch, tables too close together loaded with food, too many people, the acoustical properties of the room broadcasting the clash of steel on wood—of dropped spoons, of forks scraping across plates, and happy—yes, jolly—conversation needing no electrical augmentation, every word available to every person in the room, listening to one voice becomes impossible, the shape of the room magnifying the 100 voices, trying to sort out 50 equally audible conversations, not even the conversation I’m involved in is louder than the one at the other end of the room, the crowd joyful, a sensory overload. aaseizure01a And distinct sound retreats. Light lightens brighter than itself. Light and sound merge,  undifferentiated from each other, and each from itself, an all-consuming experience of sense until sense is gone and nothing is tangible, and nothing is in focus, yet everything is deeply lighted, surreally real, missing only is my sense of self. The sound becomes white noise and the light blinds, and I must either retreat or be swallowed up.

This should not be fearsome. I know this. Fifty years I’ve known it. But every time, every day, the same fear, anger, agony. Avoid people, avoid crowds, avoid those lights. Why not avoid them? They are not real. “Our explanations and understanding will progress only when we attend to the details of reality, for the miraculous solutions exist for us to find within our world, not without. The truth will prove more attractive than any metaphysical fantasy” (note 2).

My grandmother’s girlhood home comes to mind. Why? Why not? Why should anything be privileged over anything other? Let’s search for truth, not metaphysical fantasy. Grandmother’s house. Kansas City. Who lives there now? Is it my sight that is distorted? No. Only my hearing. Why, then, do I see so strangely.

aaseizure02a“Many theologians have centered their attention on what this says about us as people. Nancey Murphy and George Ellis betray a common bias as the phrase the strong principle: ‘Intelligent life must exist in the universe; it is a necessity.’ Where did that quintessentially human characteristic intelligence enter the picture? It stems from the amusing version of the weak [anthropic] principle: We cannot but observe a universe capable of supporting life-forms clever enough to frame this principle” (note 2).

The ancestral home I have never visited but only photographed from a distance; the ancestral thinking which I have never understood but only heard about from a distance.

 “A better phrasing of the ‘anthropic’ principle, one drawn from cosmic coincidences and not read into them would be: The universe must have those properties that all the development of complexity through self-organization. More poetically, it might read thus: The universe must be as creative and fruitful as possible” (note 3).  aaseizure04a

Do seizures, rather than take me away (as I have from the beginning assumed) from “reality” actually bring me into reality—a reality reserved for a fortunate few? The reality of leaving the ego (the fragile part of oneself parading as the strong) behind, of being stripped to an essence of thinking, feeling, perceiving, an essence that cannot be contrived but only experienced.  “And I, human being, neither ablaze with the strength of strong lions nor learned in their exhalations, remaining in the fagility of the weaker rib, but filled with mystical inspiration, saw: a shining fire, unfathomable, inextinguishable, full alive and existing full of life….And I saw the shining flame glow white” (note 4).


(Note 1) Sharpe, Kevin, and Jonathan Walgate. “The Anthropic Principle: Life in the Universe.”  Zygon 37.4 (December  2002) 925-939.
(Note 2)  Murphy, Nancey, and George Ellis. On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996. Quoted in Sharpe and Walgate.
(Note 3) Sharpe and Walgate.
(Note 4) Hildegard von Bingen. Dame Texts in Medieval Culture, 6 (Notre Dame: Universityof Notre Dame Press, 1999). a seizure07a



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