A Sheltering Ontology

In Serious Sounds, Moriarty focuses on the fundamental reality of humanity and nature, rooted in the biblical story. He uses a study of the sacraments as a means to demonstrate how reality is more than meets the eye. While the sacraments may be construed as objects or rituals in themselves, they are a means by which humanity can reach across the great divide that separates them from the divine. The fundamental Christian story and the sacraments become a “sheltering ontology” and point to the ‘real genetics’, as Moriarty framed it, which are at the heart of human creation. Ontology is the recognition of the fundamental nature of being and also becoming, thus a sheltering ontology becomes the guide to further experience and transitions, a life-long evolution.

     In the following passages we see this unfold. “How privileged we were, believing in something so ontologically superior to us lying as one of our calves would in our cowstall. How privileged we were, believing in something so ontologically superior to us that we yearned to praise it, to bless it, to adore it, to glorify it. How poor our lives would have been if there was for us nothing superior to us to praise, to bless, to adore, to glorify. The passion to praise, to bless, to adore, to glorify gave us a stature and a dignity we wouldn’t otherwise have had.” (Serious Sounds, 34) “The sounds with which God called the universe into being and now in this little chapel the sounds of water being poured and the sounds of bread being broken, these the sounds of that same universe being redeemed.” (Serious Sounds, 26)

     Captured in the title of the book, the most serious sounds that can be heard refer to the distinct sound of water being poured into wine as well as the breaking of bread in the Eucharist. These sounds act as physical reminders of the great mystery that bridges the natural and the spiritual world, known in the Celtic tradition as ‘thin places’. Within this space humanity is re-united with the divine and re-discover their creational substance. “To be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into a new genetics. The genetics of Parable and Passion. The genetics of our continuing Genesis. That’s it. It is into our continuing Genesis that we are baptized and, sooner or later, somewhere along the sacramental road, we have set out on, that will mean a dying to ourselves and to the world. And so it is that a Christian can say, whatever my postal address might be at any one time, my real address, my genetic address, is my baptism. Meaning, among other things, that however long my life is that’s how long my baptism is. …The torrent, the stream, that Jesus and His disciples cross is called the Cedron, more commonly the Kedron. … To cross the Torrent with Jesus is to cross into the vast adventure of our return to God.” (Serious Sounds,14-15)

The Kedron refers to the valley between the Mount of Olives and Mount Moriah where Jesus went to pray with his disciples prior to his crucifixion. The Kedron canal carried away the residues of the shed blood and sacrifices from the Jerusalem temple. The act of crossing was associated with Jesus’ acceptance of his final path toward his crucifixion where his own blood would be shed. Disciples who cross the Kedron entered into new genetics, that is, as adopted children of God they inherited a new structure and behaviour. “Our Christian genome takes us into and through a sequence of astounding transitions the blueprints for which are not to be found in our natural genome. Think of our final transition as Eckhardt has described it and we see that what the Christian genome has in mind is our further and final evolution. Our evolution, in the end, from that in us which evolves.” (Serious Sounds, 60)

A Sheltering Mythology

To understand the fullness of reality, Greek stories and legends offered a way of studying human nature, nature, and the role of the gods. The Greeks questioned the origin of the world and through mythology came to an explanation. While in the post-Enlightenment world a myth is seen as something false, the Greeks looked at myths as true. Plato used myths to teach his wider audience certain noble beliefs that they could not grasp in his complex philosophical discourse. Myths offer a certain literary distancing in a narrative that avoids factual verification, and highlights human aspirations, character, choices, and mistakes. During the Renaissance, scholars used Greek and Roman myths together with Christian tradition in their quest to understand God, nature, and themselves, and sought a balance between faith and reason.

     J.R.R. Tolkien, in a similar way to Moriarty’s understanding of Christianity and mythology, underlined the importance of myths in his quest to understand reality: “We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall.” (Silmarilien) In On Fairy-Stories, he again defines the role of myths: “The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the ‘happy ending.’ The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation.”

     Moriarty asks a wonderful question, with the assumption that many people are unaware that they are driven by myth: “What myth do you live? What myth lives you? (Dreamtime, 78) Thus, like a sheltering ontology, he sees mythology as another place to be ‘sheltered’ and ‘housed’. He claims that “Old stories shelter me.” (Dreamtime, 197). For, “It is in myths more than in houses that we are housed. It is in myths that our instinctive depths are housed, you can be sure that somewhere along the road we are walking, and it doesn’t matter whether it is an ascending or descending road, somewhere along it they are waiting in ambush for us.” (Dreamtime, 121) And, “Myths are instincts with wonder. Like nothing else perhaps in our culture, they uncompromisingly mediate the difficult strangeness of self and of world.” (Anaconda Canoe, ix)

     The world, for Moriarty, is far more than the eye can see or the mind comprehend. Mythology is another way of seeing and comprehending reality. “As a folktale sees I see. As a folktale lives, I live. And the path to my door that too is a folktale.” (Dreamtime, 22) “Those depths of ourselves which, independently of our minds, our myths remember and make safe…myths are hospitable to our depths in a way very often that our minds are not…. It is in myths that our instinctive depths are housed, and if they aren’t so housed, you can be sure that somewhere along the road we are walking…they are waiting in ambush for us….” (Dreamtime, 121) “We do need to be nourished by the deeper level of our psyches. We do need to be nourished by what Australians call the Dreaming. A people who aren’t nourished by sacred, sacramental contact with the Dreaming can become very poisonous indeed. Poisonous not only to themselves. Poisonous to the very sources of life, as we ourselves most assuredly are.” (Horsehead, 166) In fact, human civilization, and especially western civilization, has often ignored these other dimensions and starved the human soul and psyche, in the belief that only rational discourse could explain reality. Thus, Moriarty says “We need to be healed in our myths and in our metaphors, we need to be healed in the way we apprehend things and in the way we relate to things.” (Anaconda Canoe, lv)

     Moriarty contrasts the limits of scientific knowledge and philosophy with another way of understanding. “Stories I tell myself on a winters night, stories I’m a listening reverent guest in, they tell me more about the universe than E=mc does. There’s the story of Cuchulainn’s encounter with the shape shifting Morrigan. When I inhabit it, that story tells me more about the perceiver and the perceived than any physicist in Copenhagen can. Taking me by the hand, it brings me into the mystery atoms are adumbrations of, and reality of.” (Dreamtime, 197) He challenges the post-Enlightenment ideal that ideas must claim established with the modern rules of rational discourse alone: “Why, I would ask you, why in order to be respectable must philosophy conduct itself as logical argument?… If the universe is lyrical, how can it be philosophically improper to be lyrical with it? ‘Perhaps there is,’ Nietzsche says, ‘a realm of wisdom from which the logician is exiled. … Aristotle … philomythos/ philosophos’. We must not concede to science sole responsibility for talking about the universe. We must continue to give lore a look in.” (Dreamtime, 260-261) Moriarty sees the world as much more than the eye can see. Thus, deep contemplation and an emptying of self leads one to a condition of dreaming.
“So strange and so marvellous is the universe that it justifies the folktale as much as it justifies science, it justifies the fairy-story as much as it justifies maths-physics……Dreamtime attempts to let the fairy-story and the Upanishad take us by the hand.”  (Dreamtime, 250)

Reflection by John B. Roney