Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Jan van Ruusbroec

Prejudice (in spite of Hans Georg Gadamer's spirited defence) is not always an entrance into understanding (the necessary pre-judgement that frames knowing - see dense Germanic text: Truth and Method for further detail. I spent a happy summer reading this in a time far, far away)!

Prejudice kept me from reading, "Mysticism: Buddhist and Christian: Encounters with Jan van Ruusbroec" by Paul Mommaers and Jan van Bragt until now. It is their photographs in the back flap: they both look like rather severe bank managers trying to look amenable whilst they deliver the news that no, you cannot have a loan!

I picked up the book in Hay on Wye - first hand but remaindered - and it sat on my shelf languishing. However, it caught my eye in the move and against the background of recent prior books on Buddhism and Christianity, I overcame the image of financial administrators and took the plunge.

Early days but so far so good.

Ruusbroec, as the authors acknowledge, is not well known in the English speaking world. This is partly, as they say, because he wrote in the vernacular rather than Latin and a vernacular that is a 'minor' language. Partly, as I imagine, because, unlike Meister Eckhart, he died quietly in his bed, lauded and at a great age, rather than under suspicion of heresy! There is nothing like controversy to ignite a sustaining interest.

I have always liked him because he marries the affective and the intellectual. Or in Buddhist terms, compassion and wisdom that an understanding of the world can be entered from either direction. Love leads to knowledge, knowledge imparts love.

So far, I have been reading the book's theoretical underpinnings and they are clear and contestable. It is right to imagine that mysticism is about a transformation of awareness but wrong to imagine that this does not have metaphysical implications. We not only feel the world differently through the experience but see it rightly and that seeing is a completion of knowing.

The book captures one of the dilemmas in Christianity: how does God relate to the world?

Is the world a distinct creation into which God intervenes or is it a manifestation of God's grace of which we are a part?  Is mystical awareness the seeing of a bridge over the divide or is it a realization that the divide, in truth does not exist?

The book appears to fall on the side of the former, I fall on the side of the latter. However, the books lucidity means that you engage in this debate fully. It promises a rich exploration.






P.S. He might be added to that elusive list of famous Belgians... He ought to be: such sanity is at a continuing premium in the world!

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