Textual Arachne

A weaver of threads.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Immanence and separation

For me the keepers of convicts shoulder their carbines and keep watch,
It is I let out in the morning and barr'd at night.

Not a mutineer walks handcuff'd to jail but I am handcuff'd to him and walk by his side,
(I am less the jolly one there, and more the silent one with sweat on my twitching lips.)

--Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, section 37. From Leaves of Grass, 2001 Modern Library paperback edition, p.91.

Song of Myself often makes me think about the concept of immanent divinity. This is a song about every one--but not about Everyman. The language Whitman uses in the entirety of the poem is often very specific: a runaway slave, a cart-driver, a dying commander. A prisoner. A mutineer and his jailer.

The 'I' here, to me, is not a vague Everyman, bland and able to take on every possible trait, but something else. Something able to be both young man bathing in the river and cholera patient dying alone, without turning them into the same person. Someone that is both mutineer and jailer, without stripping away their differences.

That paradox is central to my ideas about immanence. God is everywhere and everything. But everything is different. We are both divine, you and I: but I am not you. The things that make me who I am make me something separate from my neighbor, experience, thoughts, and so on. I am necessarily separate from you, from the world, from someone long dead or someone far away. And yet there is something in me that is also in others, or is part of others (something related but not the same as the capacity for empathy and imagination).

The finitude of our lives is something to give thanks for. It allows us to be not Everyman, so hugely inclusive as to be featureless, but ourselves, bounded in time and space and understanding, the product of this memory and this experience and this gene.

The immanence is something else to love, for it lets us connect to each other and recognize familiarity in each other, to reach that common ground between us. It means that the specificity of our experiences need not be isolation.

And God, or Goddess, or Divinity, is the combination of both that wondrous specificity and the great generality. Watching the sparrow and the spiral nebula together.

I know that this combination, this separation and immanence, is somehow related to why justice and mercy become necessary. But I do not yet know how to say that.

1 Comments:

At 1:24 PM, Anonymous Rachel said...

The immanence is something else to love, for it lets us connect to each other and recognize familiarity in each other, to reach that common ground between us.

One of my teachers reminds me periodically that though nondual thinking (all is One) is a fine thing, so is the reality of duality, because without duality -- without the separation between an "I" and a "thou" -- there could be no holy relationship between us.

I know that this combination, this separation and immanence, is somehow related to why justice and mercy become necessary. But I do not yet know how to say that.

What a fascinating assertion. In the Jewish mystical conception, judgement and mercy (din and chesed) are divine attributes which balance one another. That's not quite the same as justice and mercy, but it's a related notion, I think. I hope you'll say more about this as you continue to mull it over.

 

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