2010-07-29 / Musings


I saw it in all of me,

And saw me all in all of it, —
That we were twain in distinction,

And yet again one in one likeness.

— “Hymn of the Pearl”

Embedded in the apocryphal Book of Thomas, written in the second century C.E., is a poem entitled “Hymn of the Pearl.” This poem is a hauntingly beautiful story of a young prince who goes on a quest to a foreign land to bring home a precious pearl that is guarded by a formidable serpent. He starts his quest feeling strong and bearing gifts. But as he enters more deeply into the strange land, he forgets his mission. Then he even forgets his identity. A letter from his own land, from those there who love him, reawakens him. He finally remembers his purpose, and he finally brings home the pearl.

This song of the freedom of awakened and successful mission was written by the doubting apostle Thomas as he awaited his martyr’s death in a prison in India. He had heard the parable of the pearl of great price, and like the person in that parable Thomas gave all, even his life, for the one treasure.

There would be many other pearl sto- ries, some with curses, like the Steinbeck pearl. And there are many ladies, tremendously proper in their wearing of the pearls.

But this “Hymn of the Pearl” is a Gnostic text. This philosophical perspective images the world as intensely dualistic, in high contrast hues of good and evil. There is implied a cosmological struggle between a world of spiritual good light and an axis of evil material darkness.

Pearls are preciously embedded in the dueling dualistic, made of nacre, the stuff of the inside of mollusk shells. This nacre is a composite material, both organic and inorganic. And to make pearl, nacre comes to rescue soft mollusk insides from some small bit of hard outside invasion. And what emerges is iridescent, shifting colors of surfaces dependent upon point of view. Visions like those given, too, by soap bubbles, butterfly wings, seashells and oil afloat on water.

Oil and water is the epitome of immiscible. Intermolecular bonds and buoyancy forces prohibit mixing, matching, homogeneity. Like George W. Bush, oil and water do not do nuance. There is no syncretism, no attempts to reconcile the contrary.

Manichaeism, an Iranian version of Gnostic worldview, posits that the material world was created by demiurges, imperfect or evil entities that unskillfully played with the breath of the all-good supreme God who created the spiritual realms. What emerged from demiurge play was irredeemable befouled worlds in conflict with the essential goodness emerging from the fullness of God’s non-material spirit.

Like oil and water, the pleroma, the fullness of divine power and goodness, is seen as eternally separate from material worlds and material girls and boys. There are birds encased in crude, and there are birds aloft, fancy and free and good.

But in the pearl is the hope of something other, of the impossibly all-good homogeneity. In the pearl there is both invading object and lovely iridescence. And all this out of composite organic/inorganic.

I am inspired to hold this in mind. Perhaps in mind even oil and water can be hieros gamos, archetypal divine marriage. Perhaps there will be the birthing of new birds, of pearls pried from serpents’ mouths.

I remember the Hindu Net of Indra. Here all-that-is is net, with precious perfectly reflective jewel at each interstice. And in each jewel is unique vision of all the rest.

And I remember the Buddhist lotus, born of mud and filth, yet infinitely precious, birthplace of jewels that fulfill all wishes.

Pirates crave this: To be all, mixed up. 

— Rx is the FloridaW eekly muse who hopes to inspire profound mutiny in all those who care to read. Our Rx ma y be wearing a pir ate cloak of in visibility, but emanating fr om within this shado w is hope that readers will feel free to respond. Who kno ws: You may e ven inspir e the muse. Make contact if you dare.

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