Skyline, Fall - 2006

By Diane Pendola

The Expanding Heart

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            Stretched out like a horizon: 

                        on this side what is seen.

                                    over there, the unseen; 

                        on this side, the known, 

                                    over there, the unknown.


            My mind pushes toward the horizon and in my advance the horizon retreats, always inviting and always out of reach.  Philosopher Raimon Panikkar calls it a "horizon of intelligibility".  On this side of the horizon we make sense of our world but there is always more that we cannot see, cannot know.  We grow.  We gain knowledge.  We learn the earth is not the center of the universe.  Our horizon expands to include planets beyond our planet, galaxies beyond our galaxy.  Our myth-making expands with our awareness.  The creation stories that helped make sense of the world for our ancestors appear to us as fictions. And yet myth is not fiction. One of the foremost authorities on mythology, Joseph Campbell, says of our myth-making:  Mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical.  It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth-penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words.  It is beyond words, beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming.  Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.  So this is the penultimate truth. As we engage with our ever-expanding knowledge of the universe a new myth emerges, a new way to create meaning, to make sense of our ever unfolding experience.

            Joseph Campbell suggests that the emerging symbol for this new myth is our planet as seen from space:  a beautiful round gem of multi-faceted life in an otherwise vast and largely mysterious universe.  From this new horizon of space the earth is seen as fragile, precious and unique, without national, religious or ethnic boundaries.  From this new horizon the earth emerges as our one and only Home, needing our protection and worthy of our loyalty and our love.

            Through the lens of contemporary science emerges this new cosmology, what Thomas Berry calls the Universe Story.  As we bring our whole being into engagement with this New Story, which means our hearts as well as our minds, faith as well as fact, it can become our sacred story.   Raimon Panikkar  describes  faith as existential openness towards transcendence.  The experience of faith is primal for the human being and constitutive of the very meaning of our humanness.  

            Some might argue that science is not myth but fact. But even this points to its mythical content.  Myth, Panikkar asserts, is the truth we presume, the ground we do not question, the horizon against which our world becomes intelligible.  When myth becomes knowledge and understanding it is no longer myth but logos, no longer the back-drop of our knowledge but the content. And don't we see scientific facts themselves pushing ever toward a horizon that recedes before them revealing new knowledge that makes the old knowledge look small or obsolete?  Our knowledge is never complete.  It only reveals itself against the yet-to-be-revealed.  It is ever expanding just as the universe that this new cosmology reveals to us is ever expanding.

            Through this new cosmology I am discovering deeper reservoirs of meaning that illumine my own Christ-centered spirituality which in turn is integral with my personal, familial and cultural myth.  One theme I find illumined is the reality of suffering and evil. We all struggle with the presence of evil in the world.  At times the tension between the true blessedness of my own personal life and the suffering through out so much of the planet feels overwhelming.  I feel into the center of myself and I sense that I am not big enough to contain the suffering, to respond to it, to effect it in any way.  In my heart I carry this suffering and the suffering itself demands that I expand, that I allow my heart to be effected, even to break, in order for a bigger spaciousness to open up within me.  In this I am a microcosm of the universe itself which is expanding and which has often found suffering, violence and death essential to its own transformative processes.  I find I always have a choice.  I can close down, harden my heart and cease pushing toward that horizon of the not-yet-born, thus sealing the door to any further revelation (which appears to me a very denial of my humanity).  The other choice is to open, soften my heart, allow suffering to enter and expand me as the universe itself is expanding.  It is through this vital choice I participate in birthing an ever-new creation.

             Christian theology would call this a participation in the Paschal Mystery, which I perceive in a new light against the backdrop of this emerging myth.   Through it I find my faith deepened.  My quest for meaning finds a new context which breathes new spirit into old symbols.  It allows them to speak truths that perhaps ultimately reside behind and beyond our horizons of intelligibility.




Sources and Recommended Reading:

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, Doubleday, 1988

The Universe Story by Thomas Berry & Brian Swimme, Harper San Francisco, 1992

 Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics, by R Panikkar, Paulist Press, 1979



©Diane Pendola, Fall 2006. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

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