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“Weirdly plausible . . . excellent.”
The Sacred History
Scientists have almost nothing to say about this time—and neither do mystics. Whichever way you look at it, it’s almost impossible to discover anything at all about this darkness or even to find any words to begin to describe it.
But while scientists claim it was nothing more than nothingness, believers claim it was nothing less than the teeming mind of God.
It is from this point of disagreement, on an issue about which both sides should admit that they know almost nothing at all, that great epoch-making arguments have flowed—the inquisitions, the persecutions, the imprisoning, the torture, the executions, the wars that continue into modern times.1
One thing we all know for certain, whichever side we are on, is that in order to get to where we stand today, there must have been a transition from a state of no matter to a state in which matter began. Scientists have offered theories to explain this very mysterious transition, such as the “steady state” theory that says that matter is coming into existence all the time, that it is steadily precipitated out of the darkness. Then, of course, there is the Big Bang theory. This says that matter and space and time all sprang into being at once, bursting out of a single dimensionless, timeless point called “the singularity.” But whether it happened steadily or in one quick splurge, that is to say whatever the speed of the process, if you had been there with two physical eyes and been able to look at these events through the most powerful microscope, you would have seen very fine, at first almost abstract subatomic particles evolve and take shape as atoms. The cosmos was becoming suffused with stuff in the form of a very thin mist.
You might have been reminded of the wonder you felt as a child when you woke at dawn and went out into the garden to find that dew had precipitated out of thin air. Even though it looked as if it hadn’t rained overnight, the early rays of the sun revealed a lawn sparkling with drops of water. In Jewish mystical tradition the mystic dew of creation is sometimes thought of as softly falling from God’s great shaggy mane.2
Or you might have been reminded of the wonder you felt in the chemistry lab when among the Bunsen burners and racks of test tubes you first saw beautifully shaped crystals forming in a solution, as if ideas from another dimension were squeezing into our material dimension. And if you are a believer, that is exactly what did happen—and that other dimension, the one that lends shape and form to our material dimension, is nothing less than the mind of God.
In the visions of the mystics, the process of creation began when God began to think—when thoughts began to emanate from the mind of God, wave after wave of them. And in the same way that wave after wave dashing upon the shore smooths the pebbles on the beach, so wave after wave coming out of the mind of God fashioned the first matter.
Look at this mystic version of events more closely, look with imagination, and you can see that these waves of thoughts are actually made up of millions of angels. The first wave is made up of gigantic angels who fill the whole cosmos. Next comes a wave of lesser angels which the greatest angels have helped to create, and together these generate a third wave of smaller angels. This sequence flows down until we finally reach minute spiritual beings. They work to weave together what we recognize as the material world around us, the rocks and stones and trees.3
Equating the thoughts of God with angels may seem odd. These days we tend to have a lowly conception of our own thoughts, seeing them as abstract things which hardly exist at all. But there is an older, perhaps more illuminating way of looking at thoughts that comes from the great religions. This sees thoughts as living beings, with a level of independent existence and a life of their own as we send them off into the world to do our bidding.