November 9th, 2010 10:12 EST
Following The Transparent Bride to a Higher Consciousness
A call to ardent mindfulness
(The Transparent Bride: Engaging Evolution Through Conscientiously Ardent Conduct, Andrew Franck, Xlibris, 2010, 259pp, $19.99)
We are lost among the veils of matter, Andrew Franck tells us. We slog through a morass of campaign posters, billboards selling us yet another object, buying, selling, staggering under the weight of our materialism.
Few messages in the last fifty years have been as cogent or urgent. Our job is not to elect, to acquire, to argue, to triumph, or even to believe; our job is to become more conscious, to make a contribution to the soulishness of air, to the Akashic library which is the repository of all human experience.
Everything else "mortgages, predatory lenders, politicians, wars "is a distraction from this one ineffable task to disappear " the material world.
You could read a hundred books this year and not be as changed, as elevated as you will be by a single page of this singular meditation.
The Sufis say we live in Al Alam al Mithal, the world of illusion, a world of veils which the dervish must penetrate. But at the end of the day his job, too, is to disappear. The transparent bride is Sophia, Wisdom, or Sophia-Mary, Mother of God. We pierce the veil to reach her, to reach the theophanic world of consciousness. If we reject this work, if we settle for received ideas and ideology, we remain unconscious.
No message in the melee of today`s ideological clashes could be more important or hopeful. Worshiping at altars and nodding our heads in assent to the latest homily is not the same as allowing Sophia-Mary, the transparent bride, to reveal to us the divinity in all things.
Franck is not asking us to withdraw from the world, to renounce it, he is asking us to engage in a lifelong conversation with the transparent bride. It is much simpler and yet more decisive than going to church. It is the promise of never being alone, never being bereft, the promise of seeing more than we would ever see in Cancun or Saint Tropez or Paris or Rome, and finally the promise of knowing more than any degree or belief system can certify. It is the promise of eternal companionship.
We are yearning for something, for someone. Franck suggests it is in fact Sophia-Mary for whom we yearn, and we are in turn yearned for. Imagine this concept: a spiritual view in which do`s and don`ts are inconsequential compared to this immense yearning to experience our own divinity, to free it from our illusions.
We are asked in The Transparent Bride to become ardents, willing accomplices of the bride. This requires in us a metanoia, a kind of repentance, which means a turning around. It is widely held that a person seen to be talking to someone the rest of us can`t see is mad. In some societies it is thought to be a divine madness. The truth is we are all engaged in a conversation that influences our behavior. If we undertake consciously to be ardents and to engage in an ongoing conversation with the transparent bride we shall never have to adhere to an institution or to another. It will be an entirely private wedding feast in which we are yearned for as much as we ourselves yearn.
This is the breathtaking vision Franck holds out to us. It is the purpose, the true and hidden purpose of alchemy, which in its purest form was never to transmute lead to gold with various elixirs but rather to transform the human spirit from its baser circumstances to a unity with the divinity inherent in all things.
The Transparent Bride cover
Perhaps as lovely is the idea that we are the alembics in which this transformation should take place, not a building to which we subscribe and to which we must ascribe certain imperatives, not a preacher, not an institution. We are the alembic, the church, the temple, the mosque, and our daily business, each profane moment of it, is divine. This is a stunning prospect, particularly at a time when our beliefs seem to be tearing apart the fabric of community and nation.
The bride is a creatrix and requires of us that we co-create and continually re-imagine the world in collaboration with her. The very idea lifts us from our mundane preoccupations and commissions us to undertake the very things which materialistic thinking persuades us we are powerless to change. This is a clarion call to abandon our delusion of helplessness. But we must come to it as ardents, as students, not as believers, not as followers or adepts. To respond is to never be alone again.
One can hardly think of Franck`s transparent bride or transparency without one`s mind turning to Sandro Botticelli`s La Primavera, and sure enough by page 177 Franck is meditating on this indelible painting, saying that from the day Botticelli delivered it to the Medici palace deep space was born because of the painting`s depth of field. But much more is born, because La Primavera is one of those paintings that conveys one of Franck`s most crucial observations, that our experience of something is not fleeting. It does not die with us but rather becomes part of the record of everything we have experienced "a collaboration with the creatrix.
Ibn al Arabi in a much misunderstood and even abused commentary spoke of our co-creation of the universe, saying that the creator required us to co-imagine an ever-evolving universe. As with alchemy, critics debased this vision, speculating that we could realize something we wanted by imagining it. This materialistic interpretation of what the Sufi master said played into the hands of the facile idea that whatever we can imagine can be created. The Sufi had something quite different in mind, namely that we are co-creators and therefore must be ever willing to pierce the veil of nostrum, notion and illusion.
Some people live by a book, perhaps Kahlil Gibran`s The Prophet, perhaps Niccolo Machiavelli`s The Prince, perhaps the Bible or the Qu`ran or the Vedas, but Franck`s idea "and I think Ibn al Arabi`s "is that we live by them all, by everything, because we find the divine in everything. One does not cancel the other or supersede it or tower above it. The divine is everywhere, and Sophia-Mary is ever enthused to help us experience it.
The Transparent Bride emerges in a time when ideological camps are locked into position, when the clamor of people insisting on being right is deafening. The Sufis have always said that when the student is ready the teacher appears. Seemingly we`re not ready, and yet it may be that those of us who seek not to live by negotiating polarities are ready for this elegant, unobtrusive meditation.
A Medieval Arab poet memorably wrote of the Guadalquiver River as a white hand opening a green robe, green being the color of spiritual attainment in Islam. I think of The Transparent Bride in this way, opening a robe to reveal the splendor of inquiry, the grandeur of the Sophian project of re-imagining the world. When Franck reminds us that astronomers say that at two hundred billion galaxies we`re still counting it`s difficult to fathom the stark immaturity of human culture.
For example, a society that insists on turning everything into a contest in which there must be winners and losers stares at us like a belligerent juvenile delinquent when we consider the number of galaxies. A politician who claims to have answers instead of questions appears to us in this light as a dunce. How can the Hubble Space Telescope give us such strong indications of all we have yet to learn while our leaders throw broken-down notions at each other? How to explain such a disconnect? When we consider the sheer juvenility of the culture of acquisition we might well feel like cops interrogating a teen-age murderer who cannot comprehend he has terminated a human life. No wonder games are so popular, affirming us as they do in our populous immaturity.
For anyone remotely interested in this question Franck has seeded his book with gemmy meditations. Their concision and depth startles us:
How cozy that the sleepwalkers speak of their fabricated impersonal particles using such terms as quark, flavor and charm. Their thoughts are captive to conjured properties; their whimsy, a craving for the divine names.
So here we are, captive to conjurings "the latest slogan, a beguiling preachment, a fond prejudice "and yet yearning for whom, for what? In our materialistic frenzy we say we are yearning for success, for a neighbor`s wife, for celebrity, for winning the lottery, for publishing a book, for getting rich. Others, more evolved, yearn for peace, perhaps a contemplative life, mere food and shelter. And yet we have all seen that poignant look that signals a hunger for something else, and that something else is the transparent bride. Not a person, not a goddess, nothing anthropomorphic.
What must we do, what must we be to be the ardent of this creatrix, her co-creatrix, co-creator? First, we must close our minds to nothing, no one. No idea, no object, no possibility. No wonder so many of us have trouble with mathematics, with the concept of zero. Mathematics invites us to consider zero, infinity, infinite possibility. But in our acquisitive society we wish to seize, to obtain, to have, to hold, and so the marvelous concept of the zero eludes us, or we elude it. It does not conform to our idea of objectifying success. It does not conform to winning and losing, to acquiring, to aggrandizement.
Perhaps the zero may be said to be the gateway to Sophia-Mary. But we must shed something as we pass through it, just as we must pass through an electronic search at airports. We must shed, in Franck`s words, the integument of our thought-habits "the habit of presuming that we are thinking when we recycle hand-me-down ideas and beliefs. Franck`s reference to already-thought thoughts is eerily contemporary: we are witnessing an entire election cycle consisting of them. The press recycles them. We bandy them. We get hot under the collar promoting one over the other. But in Franck`s world view this is not thinking, it`s recycling the already thought. And when we accuse some leader of flip-flopping, over changing a position or a stance, we are accusing him of having the audacity to think. And we are more or less at the mercy of a Fourth Estate so immature as to take such an accusation seriously.
The Transparent Bride is a kind of alchemical laboratory in which Franck employs essay, prose poetry, anecdote, pun, exposition, word play, almost anything to prompt in us a realization of Sophia.
The advent of abstract art in the 20th Century might be seen as a challenge to the anthropomorphic bind in which we refuse to embrace concepts that cannot be reduced to the human figure. The condescension in such a bind is suffocating. In the Judeo-Christian tradition we not only humanize the godhead, we also exile the feminine. Mariology, of course, is an attempt to rectify this disgrace. Islam in its fierce iconoclasm also attempted to rectify this degradation of the sublime. Abstract art didn`t just blossom unforeshadowed in the 1950s. The Cubists between the world wars announced it to the world, but it is present throughout the history of art, perhaps most notably in Islamic art.
It is tempting, if not susceptible to demonstration, to posit that the ascent of abstract art into public discourse is a facet of a higher consciousness attempting to establish itself. It is perhaps a sign of our no longer needing to anthropomorphize our most abstract and far-reaching conceptualizations.
It may be said the same thing was going on when the Arabs applied the zero to the existing body of mathematics. Indeed, what they found was arithmetic and geometry, but what they bequeathed to us was mathematics, and the instrument of this bequeathal was the zero.
These speculations are in the long view optimistic, showing a progression from adolescence to a youthful maturity, but it has certainly not been a steady progression. It has been impeded at every step by Hulagu Khans, Torquemadas, Savonarolas. Hasan ibn al Sabahs, Stalins, Hitlers, demagogues of every stripe in every culture.
A least savory aspect of criticism is an implication that the critic fully understands the object of his criticism when he doesn`t. A whiff of the snide is often a cover-up of this defect. So I want to make it clear that I`m a student of Franck`s work. I don`t fully understand it. But I think I understand enough to think of it as a call to create a new super-sensible cultural atmosphere by celebrating the divine as it is revealed to us in everything we experience "a call and a preliminary blueprint. I can say, as I would of few books, I am going to keep it at hand.
Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, will be published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia`s Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com