This post is an updated version of a post from Christmas 2013:
What is it that is born, again and again – on Christmas day and in each new life, and in each moment of everyday? Perhaps it is symbolic of another ongoing kind of birth – the birth that brings renewal throughout our lifetime as we spiral our way into the mystery that is life.
I ask myself, what is it that is trying to be born now, in me, in you and in the world?
“He not busy being born is busy dying.” Bob Dylan“The decision of the future falls to the soul, depends upon how the soul understands itself, upon its refusal or acceptance of a new birth.” Henry Corbin
But not only a new birth, not one time, but repeatedly throughout a lifetime and many lifetimes.“Insofar as anything is perceived as determinate and comprehensible, to that degree it is a Veil of the divinity. And yet in truth all things are masks of the infinite, and their being is the gift of God. All things are organs by which God contemplates Himself and are not other than He. To overcome the Test of the Veil requires that we not become trapped in the literal face of any being, that we not idolize it but rather see in it a Face of God.” Tom Cheetham
“Masks of the infinite” because who can look into the face of divinity and live? For instance, how difficult is it to look intently into another’s eyes before looking away, or to ponder the depths of either the beauty or horror of this world, or to receive a full presence of true awe? Have you ever experienced a feeling so intense that it literally took your breath away? How difficult it can be to openly and fully receive something not yet known, seen or wordless without turning away and reaching into the safety of the known to identify it and name it. Ah, we say, that’s just…, or that is…which immediately removes the danger and fear of the unknown. “I know, I know,” we say, but do we?“For if God is known and witnessed by an other than Himself, it is because there is such an Other. However, for there to be an Other, there must be this opacity, this darkness of a being that stops at itself, at the non-being of its pretensions, its ignorance, or even its devotions. If he claims to be an Other, he cannot look at God, as God can only be looked at by Himself. God can only look at a world which is his own gaze, that is his own eyes which look at him from this world. This is why a world which wishes itself other (either by agnosticism or by piety) is not a world that God looks at. Literally, it is a world that God does not look at. … [And] there must be a world that God does not look at so that Nietzsche’s tragic exclamation of the last century: God is dead can resound and spread in it. Uttered from the West and since then echoed in all consciousnesses, this cry is precisely what, for a Sufi, is experienced as the Supreme Test, the Test of the Veil , and, facing up to this Test, Sufism opens the way precisely for one who wishes to pass through it.” Henry Corbin
Nietzsche’s freedom is everyone’s freedom, on the one hand to err, ignore and discount the mysterium tremendum and awe of being alive by always knowing, and on the other to bring into expression new possibilities of the numinous. But, in order to pass through the test of the veil, Corbin says we must find our angel, a divine being that is a face of God. Without the accompaniment of the Angel, we feel abandoned, because we are without a guiding presence which creates a vertical connection, curing us of the blindness of literalism, and giving us the second sight to see, at least imaginally, the Face of God in all of creation.
“The paradox of monotheism is equally the paradox of individualism, for the Angel as a Face of God is linked to the soul of whom it is the Twin in a bond of love that is essential for the being of each. Nietzsche’s cry requires a world that God does not look at, a world without His Face, a world that is, without Angels. But in such a world the reality of the person begins to fade. For if God is dead, then so are we.” Henry Corbin
Not so much through belief, but through the experience of seeking that twin, our guide and angel, do we begin to know ourselves and others as persons, as masks of God.“On the one hand there is the doubt of the intellect, of the philosopher, who, as Corbin says, demands rational proof for realities to which such proof cannot apply. For rational doubt assumes that human reason can cast its net over everything and extend its reach to capture even God. It is this hubris that drives much of modern culture. We are liberated from it if we can take to heart the words attributed to the nineteenth-century British scientist Lord J. B. S. Haldane: “The universe is not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we can suppose.” “ Tom Cheetham I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone,
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now – Amy Grant
Cheetham, Tom (2012-07-03). All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings (p. 220). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.