Sacred and Profane, so often mixed in art.
This blog does not operate as a silo, which disconcerts some people who are used to seeing blogs as focused on a product. This one is a landscape, a horizon, a broad set of topics for a dozen different communities. But this particular post IS a silo in spite of approaching one topic through several points of view. It is an inventory of thought about felt internal sensations that all creatures appear to have, but that have been repeatedly in many ways investigated and reflected upon, put into words and philosophically categorized. It is the felt difference between two kinds of space which Mircea Eliade famously defined as “sacred” and “profane.” It is also the difference between what is felt as sacred, as spiritual, as something palpable in the environment, and what is a peneplain, a flat featureless plenum, which could be called the profane, the daily, the quotidian, the ordinary (order-nary).
I once was once asked to study the cultural gender assignments of worshipping people. (Post-Christian UU's, therefore Abramic.) Our contemporary culture assigns men to the profane, mathematical, rule-operated, engineering sort of experience -- theological, hierarchical, empowering. I called it the glass telephone booth where Superman assumes his powers. The women are assigned the sacred, messy, emotional, enfolding approach that nurtures from the most basic physical level. I called it the hot tub in which one almost returns to birth.
Partly this set of metaphors came from watching people attending a retreat. At the end of a worship service (overgeneralized): the men leapt out to go do something; the women sat smiling and dreaming. But also partly it came from reading about infant development and the accounts of saints. The brains of children develop in response to what is happening to them. Before they are born they move in their mother’s bodies, somersaulting in the womb and creating neurons that are aware of the mother’s body moving through the world -- the grid, the compass. Their budding brains record the rhythm of heartbeat and the whale-like sounds of digestion. Their first sensations are smell/taste, the most primordial senses necessary even for a one-celled animal trying to find food. The cycle of darkness/light is built into the circuits as the baby grows.
What the saints described was paradoxes of the first distinctions, not yet separated, what an infant brain learns both before and after birth. They said they felt they were falling, but supported in an embrace; there was utter darkness but blinding light; they were burning and freezing at once; they were flying and paralyzed. These were feelings interpreted as the presence of the Holy which some named God.
The politics of theology and institutions can be cruel. Spirituality, feeling-based, empathetic, can be ineffective. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the human brain that tries to sort it out. Gender definitions are as paradoxical as the other basic distinctions. The extremes interact, the two “long tails” of the gender bell-curves overlapping so that the strongest, tallest, fastest females will surpass the weakest, shortest, slowest males. Our use of gender hormone ratios to separate male from female doesn’t really work.
The feeling of not being who others say you must be can drive escape from the theological circle into a far more ambiguous spiritual world. Depending on what the zygote learned, this can be a new birth.