Preparing for Parousia - Going Deeper For the Parousia Blog please access the sub-menu on the Parousia tab
PREPARING FOR PAROUSIA - GOING DEEPER This page is a general introduction to the Preparing for Parousia - Going Deeper monthly group on the 2nd Saturday of each month at 3pm during 2021. Written material for the theme each month can be found on the Parousia Blog page which can be accessed as a sub-menu on the Parousia menu tab.
Parousia is the Greek word for Presence. Meditation, contemplation and prayer begin to really undergird our lives when we experience and develop a sense of Presence in our practice. This may well be a different experience for each one of us, and our associations and interpretations are likely also to be different. But it will be a feeling state and a flow of consciousness that each of us will come to recognise and treasure for ourselves. It becomes an inner anchor that we can return to time and time again, an inner space that nurtures and informs us. It can enable us to Go Deeper into our own stories and into the extraordinary story of Life. It is exactly this that the Preparing for Parousia group is exploring.
The word ‘consciousness’ did not come into general usage until the 17th century in English. It is now a key word, largely because it highlights a major divide in our culture which first opened up at the beginning of the modern period. The divide was immortalised in Descartes’ famous dictum ‘I think therefore I am’. Our existence, he believed, is in our capacity to think, and presumably feel; in other words in the flow of psychic or mental images, thoughts, feelings, memories, etc. that go to make up the flow of consciousness that we are, and this cannot be doubted. We assert our individual existence when we think and say ‘I am’. In other words he was making ‘soul’ or ‘mind’ primary. As modern science developed, it wanted to reverse this and make physical matter primary. And science up to now has won the day. Mind, science argued, was simply an outcome of the complexity of matter; it was an epiphenomenon. It was believed that scientific knowledge was objectively true because it removed all ‘subjective mind’ from it. It is all about physical matter. ‘Inner life’ was just by chance a happy by product.
This however became complicated for modern science with the emergence of relativity theory and quantum mechanics. At these two extremes of the physical world, the very large and the very small, it became clear that the ‘subjective observer’ could not be removed from the knowledge of what existed and was real. The ancient words of ‘soul’ and ‘psyche’ however did not make a comeback, but the word ‘consciousness’ did come to the for, along with the whole ‘mind-body’ problem. Mind and body cannot be separated. Is one prior and primary to the other, or are both derivatives of a third ‘substance’, a neutral ‘monism’? Even die-hard materialists are beginning to make concessions to the integrity and centrality of ‘subjectivity’ in attempting to fully grasp reality. Has mind been an essential and necessary part of life all along? Many now think so.
‘Consciousness’ studies have taken on two fronts. The first is the growing recognition that all life has an outward physical aspect and an inner psychic registering. This has been shown experimentally. Bacteria, the smallest cell that self exists appear to have some sort of inner registering of the external world. They can learn and remember and adjust their behaviour accordingly, as can slime moulds and other single cell life forms. Plants appear to have memory. World recognised neuro-scientists and other researchers are offering insights and explanations. Some are arguing that all life has a form of consciousness, however primitive; it is only the higher forms that make use of a central nervous system and brain. Others insist that consciousness can only be associated with brain, but accept that earlier forms of life have pre-conscious states out of which consciousness grew in the evolution of life. Yet others note that it was the analytical psychologist C.G.Jung who was the first to claim that our psyches are as much evolutionary structures as are our bodies, back to the beginning of life.
The second front is the growing acceptance that our consciousness, human consciousness, itself evolves. The person to first suggest this in a systematic way was the philosopher Georg Hegel in his first book Phenomenology of Spirit. It has now become an accepted understanding in anthropology and elsewhere. The world for a paleolithic hunter gatherer, for instance, was a very different world to ours. Understanding the evolution of human consciousness is not however only about what we think we have gained in consciousness since those times, it is as much about what we have lost. And regaining what we have lost may well be far more important than what we think we have gained. This is where Parousia comes in, learning to participate again in Presence. This is what we are exploring in Preparing for Parousia.
Fortunately for me the whole idea of the evolution of consciousness has been popularised in a recent book by Englishwoman Jo Marchant, The Human Cosmos: A Secret History of the Stars. Its great value is that it is a ‘good yarn’, as one friend suggested. Although dealing with very important issues, it is entertaining and readable. It makes the phenomenon of the evolution of human consciousness available to everyone, and makes clear that this evolution is now down a dangerous cul-de-sac for western consciousness especially, but really for the whole world. She has chosen twelve stories ‘that tell us something about how people through history have seen the sky’. These twelve stories trace a path from humanity’s earliest expressions in cave paintings and stone circles; through the birth of great traditions such as Christianity, democracy and science; to the hunt for alien life and our recent flights into actual- and virtual- space. It’s a journey that helps to explain who we are today, and can perhaps guide a future course. It can be hard to see the limits of something when you’re embedded in it. I hope that zooming out to survey the deep history of human beliefs about the cosmos might help to probe the edges of our worldview and beyond. How did we become passive machines in a pointless universe? How have those beliefs shaped how we live? And where might we go from here? (page 10)
Our group Preparing for Parousia makes use of Marchant’s book. Some may like to purchase a copy and follow through chapter by chapter. But you don’t have to. Each month on the Parousia Blog on this Open Sanctuary website I will highlight the issues we will be dealing with in the upcoming Saturday group. This will be enough to fully inform you in preparing for the group. As if to underline the essential message of Marchant’s book, and the idea of the evolution of consciousness, and the point and purpose of the Preparing for Parousia group, I met a young scientist, just after finishing the book, who is preparing a doctorate in astrophysics, the modern study of the stars and the heavens. He was able to tell me that in his work he does not need to look at the actual stars and the heavens. He works entirely from computer models. There is the nub of the matter.
Finally, the word Parousia has other meanings. It also means ‘arrival’ and ‘official visit’. Classically it was used to denote the visit or arrival of a king or emperor. In the New Testament it is used 24 times to describe the coming or arrival of an individual. Paul uses it to note ‘the coming of the lawless one’, later to be identified as the antichrist. It is also used to denote the ‘arrival’ of the Son of Man at the end of time, later called the second coming of Christ. It could equally be used for ‘Isa in Islam and Maitreya in Buddhist tradition in that sense. However important such a use of Parousia may be in the outworking of history, the sense that is important for us in our ongoing lives now, and which we are looking at in Preparing for Parousia is the Presence we can sense in nature, in innocent children and animals, in places of sanctuary, solitude and silence, and in holy good loving human beings, especially Jesus and all the saints and holy ones of the Earth. This Parousia is Spirit and Life.
In that sense it stands in an interesting juxtaposition to the word Apocalypse, or Revelation, that which is uncovered. The word has become common coinage in recent times particularly. There hangs over us an increasing sense of urgency about the state of the world, now summed up by the word apocalypse, which means for most people ‘destruction or damage on a catastrophic scale’. Parousia means the opposite. We need to prepare for it.