In my first DM on Robert Bly’s passing two days ago, there was a video of his reading his poetry in which he cites this one line from Kabir, the fifteenth century ecumenist and mystic from India: “I laugh at the fish in the water who tells me he is thirsty.”

Fish swimming. Photo by Sakura on Unsplash.

I love this statement for it is pure panentheism—with a punch–a punch of laughter not of aggression.  How can we be so stupid, Kabir is telling us.  I used that sentence in closing my chapter on panentheism in my book, Original Blessing.  That reflection follows. 

If God is so omnipresent as a panentheistic theology suggests, then Kabir is right to laugh when the fish says he is thirsty.  I too am often tempted to laugh when persons tell me they don’t pray anymore which 99% of the time means “I don’t pray like I used to as a child” or “I don’t pray like they are praying in my church’s worship services”.

Robert Bly reciting his poem, “The Hymn of the Peal”. Originally posted to YouTube by Minnesota Men’s Conference.

If we used to pray theistically, if Christian liturgies are still theistic in their prayer forms, then it is a blessing indeed to hear people who are growing up enough spiritually so that they are becoming less and less comfortable with dualistic worship.

Worship like that can kill the soul—while also driving people from church, as Jung suggests when he says there are two ways to lose your soul–and one is to worship a God outside you.  Panentheism is mysticism: Julian of Norwich: “We are in God and God, whom we do not see, is in us.”  Pablo Casals: “In music, in the sea, in a flower, in a leaf, in an act of kindness…I see what people call God in all these things.”   God is the ultimate with.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 88-92.

Banner Image: “Sufi Spinning” Photo by Vyacheslav ArgenbergFlickr.

For transcription of video please click here.

Queries for Contemplation

Have you moved from theism (God outside us) to panentheism (God in us and us in God)?  What follows from that?

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10 thoughts on “Bly and Kabir on Panentheism”

  1. Avatar

    Embracing panentheism for me personally has led to the discovery of experiencing a personal, unique, and authentic relationship of friendship and life long companionship with the indwelling presence and essence of the Trinity. This is what incarnation means to me. It is a spiritual reality that is an open invitation extended to all, one that is not based on religion, but rather one that is founded and rooted in unconditional love, acceptance, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy, graciously and freely given. It’s a covenant of mutual trust.

    Prayer is the open hearted dialogue that unfolds within this relationship, and as one engages with this, one learns to distinguish that small still voice of the Holy Spirit within and her different methods of communication. This sacred communion, union and conversation takes place not only within oneself, but also through the all and the everything of creation as well. Listening, observing, meditation, contemplation, and the many different and diverse forms of creative self expression are also apart of this prayerful meeting.

    Journalling has been for me personally, a pathway of honoring the intimacey of this relationship of friendship, life long companionship and the spirituality of this sacred communion.

    Learning of and reading the sacred writings of the Mystics has given us the gift of testimony, which encourages us all to be and live in this spiritual reality, trusting our own experience. We are indeed all mystics, blessed in many ways, with all that we really need, when we choose to respond to the invitation offered to all.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, Thank you for your comment Jeanette! It sounds as if the concept of panentheism has helped to enrich your personal communion with the Holy Spirit. For me, I had come to the point that the God of theism–the anthropomorphic God had become to childish for me–to think of God as having a physical form like a Father, complete with hands, feet and eyes, and emotions like anger, vengeance and jealousy–it seemed to much as if we had made god in OUR own image. On the other hand pantheism seemed almost as if there isn’t a God, for when you say God is everything, then everything is God! Panentheism however, teaches that God is IN everything, and everything is IN God–how can fish in the water say they are thirsty? In a specific way it has helped me with the doctrine of the real presence in the eucharist–God is IN the bread, rather than the bread turns into Christ (transubstantiation)…

  2. Avatar

    Father Matthew, I rarely reply to emails or newsletters, but today is an exception. I’ve been subscribed to your daily meditations for about a month now and I read and listen to them over my morning coffee. What you said today is something I think I’ve known intuitively to be true since I was a child, but organized religion nearly beat it out of me. After I finally had the good sense to leave the church, I began to rediscover it which is why your meditation today resonated so loudly. For me the “great blue cathedral” as I call it, is so much more life giving than what is conventionally understood as worship. I pray that the Great Spirit gives you many more healthy years to continue what you are doing.

  3. Avatar

    And so it is that I will venture out this Sunday to a favorite “thin place” (Cosumnes River Preserve) and spend time with the birds, for birds can teach us much about waiting in this season of Advent. }:- a.m.

    Hoofnote: And some will once again say, “Patrick, your efforts are all for the birds!” Maybe so?

  4. Avatar

    There are two other quotations of Kabir that I especially like:

    “Behold the One in all things; it is the second that leads you astray.”

    “O Friend, hope for Him whilst you live, know whilst you live, understand whilst you live; for in life deliverance abides.
    If your bonds be not broken whilst living, what hope of deliverance at death?
    It is but an empty dream that the soul shall have union with Him because it has passed from the body.
    If He is found now, He is found then.
    If not, we do but go to dwell in the City of Death.”

  5. Avatar

    There are degrees of duality, with one extreme being complete duality, a limitation of self as matter separated from everything else and from God, and the other extreme being complete non-duality (total transcendence) found in the mystical Unitive Godhead experience. Everything else is somewhere in between. Extreme duality contradicts and erases much of the input from intuition, and intuition is the voice of spirituality.
    Many people are content with the familiarity of a well-defined boundary around themselves and one around God. And some people need a boundary of self vs. other in order to hold a loosely-organized ego structure together, and any erosion of their self can trigger panic, an ego-vertiginous terror. But for many people, duality’s extreme limitation of their intuitive self is like a spiritual starvation. They need more freedom to stretch out past the suffocating walls of dualism. They need to re-connect with more of what they sense is beyond the painted pictures on the walls. Spirituality is a way of creating connections and flowing with the love/energy/spirit between people and everything else, living within the infinite Love and Being of God. When people no longer can access intuitive spirituality within their religions, they will leave them to go find it some other way.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Melinda, I know your main point is your discussion of duality vs mystical unitive experience. I however would like to talk to you a moment about what you said here: “Many people are content with the familiarity of a well-defined boundary around themselves and one around God. And some people need a boundary of self vs. other in order to hold a loosely-organized ego structure together, and any erosion of their self can trigger panic, an ego-vertiginous terror.” The point I’d like to make is that often times people have well-defined boundaries not just because they need their familiarity, or because they have “loosely-organized ego structures” but because they are required too. This was true with social distancing but in many professions (including the ministry) as well. As a minister I was required to take a “Boundaries Training class every year or two–the same one, over and over. Why? Because the Church’s hierarchy wanted to make sure that the clergy watched their boundaries. I’m just saying…

        1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
          Richard Reich-Kuykendall

          The boundaries that were required to be guarded were between people of opposite sex, to avoid and protect from sexual harassment. This we had to take again every year or two. In the original denomination I was a minister in, they also had very strict boundaries concerning our theological beliefs, which could not stray from the Church’s doctrines.

  6. Avatar

    Matthew, thank you from all of us for helping revive the universal mystical spiritual traditions of all humankind, past and present. As our souls and society evolve, it’s always reassuring that God’s Love~Wisdom~Creativity is Always Present with-in and among us as Co-creators on our spiritual journeys together…. God Is All In All….

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