Since my original experience of the Nativity at Bethlehem as part of my work on the "Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius," which I described in my previous post, "A Different Nativity," I have extended my literature research into areas which I have felt to be relevant to my spiritual studies. As a result, I believe I am now in a position to attempt an analysis of that original experience.
In addition to the information given in the previous post, further mulling over has revealed something, the significance of which can hardly be underestimated. That 'something' relates to the nature of the manger that was used as a crib. Whereas every other construct in the cave, for example the animal stalls, was built from wood, the manger was made from stone. In fact it can only have been produced by the process of hollowing out a rectangular block of stone, resulting in something resembling a Roman sarcophagus. With that realisation in mind, I am advancing an hypothesis which, even if not entirely correct, may form some basis for further, future development.
The sarcophagus I take to be a symbol of death, existing in the presence of life, the manger brought into service as a crib. Thus we have a death/life duality, a pairing that is manifest only in the material world experienced by the ego, or psyche. On spiritually higher levels, it is taught that dualities are subsumed into Unity. I would like to quote from, "The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead":
"Binaries, or Syzgies as they are more often called, are a time-honored feature of Gnosticism. Primal being was conceived as going forth from itself in a series of existencies, each at a farther distance from the centre. One of the chief hallmarks of these emanations is that they are represented in pairs.........In Jung's Sermons the Syzgies are called pairs of opposites....."
The passage then goes on to list a series of opposites, which include good and evil, energy and matter, and significantly in this context, living and dead. It would appear, therefore, that the nativity experience is a Gnostic experience. But can anything further be usefully extracted from the experience? I think there can be. Consider, if you will, the tenor of alienation I felt in the nativity cave. My conclusion that it related to the alienation of my intuitive faculty was in all probability a faulty conclusion. It was too specific in a situation that required a more general understanding.
The coexistence of life and death as a duality would seem to indicate that moving from a higher psycho-spiritual level into a manifestation at a lower level, requires a 'dying' to the higher level, a slipping into the 'death' that we experience as living consciousness. By its very nature, this new state of consciousness (or death) must seem alien to that which has undergone this transformation. And because the ego is involved, it necessarily means that the sense of great power is present. That this great power may seem to be evil may simply be a result of psychic disorientation, or a meeting with a force as yet not understood. That latter point awaits confirmation or rejection. That the ego/material level feels alien raises a further and more interesting question. Who or what is the "I" that experiences this alienation, that is present during this experience? Who or what is the presence that becomes independent of the ego during meditation? That question must, regrettably, be shelved for future consideration.
All my experience of meditation indicates that a journey, such as the one I have described in the previous post, may have more than one meaning. In this instance, and bearing in mind the sense of alien-ness in the presence of the donkey and the cow - which may be symbolic of my emotions, or feeling function, an integral part of the ego - I think the sense of alienation means much more than I previously thought. I have to say that I am very partial to donkeys, and even somewhat partial to cows in a please-don't-barge-or-slurp-me kind of way. In the donkey, the gentleness, and in both animals the dark, soft, thoughtful eyes are irresistible. In this nativity scene, however, their eyes were emotionally cold. What appears to be emerging here is, not only evidence in support of Gnostic-psychological teaching, but also a piece of newly-made, conscious advice symbolised by the presence of the sheep who is unable, or who is not required, to look down into the manger. That advice would seem to be that it would be inappropriate for a developing spirituality to follow, like a sheep, the path of others.
The presence of Joseph and Mary as rather dilapidated, chalky statues, so reminiscent - or so it seems to me - of some old church statuary, and the Roman feel about the manger, may point in the direction of Christianity, particularly as a spiritual philosophy from which I must escape. At this point care must be taken not to gild the lily, if a lily I have indeed hypothesised.
It might be worth pointing out that because the basis of this experience is Gnostic in character, what has been described in the nativity cave may have less to do with the nativity of the Christ child and rather more to do with the spiritual nativity of humanity in general, and this writer in particular. Now it has always been my aim in my psycho-spiritual work to seek for personal, experiential evidence to support or reject the claims of others' teachings, whether they be religious, spiritual, or psychological (which in many ways are the same thing). We grow from our own experience, not from that of others. This particular experience seems to have justified that approach in full measure. Jung put his words into the mouth of Basilides, but I have no such authority to whom I can turn. But I do thank the source from which my realisations have come, even if I cannot name it.