Full Moon Fireside and Flatland

FlatlandTitle Page


Full Moon Fireside is a gathering here at Bluestone Farm on or near the full moon, beginning with a half-hour’s drumming, followed by a presentation and discussion either outside around the fire pit, or in the “great room” around the wood stove.  If it’s too hot and humid for fire as it was this past week, a simple candle will do.  We end by chanting and then entering the monastic Great Silence. Wednesday was both the Full Moon Fireside and the eve of the Transfiguration.

After drumming and introductions, we watched a short TED talk, Brian Greene on multiple dimensions and string theory.  http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/brian_greene_on_string_theory.html

After hearing Brian Greene, I talked about Edwin A. Abbott’s little book Flatland. The book is part indictment of Victorian social class structure, part mathematical treatise, and part mystical analogy.  The “author” is a two dimensional being writing about a three dimensional adventure. The hero, A Square, has a dream in which he encounters a one dimensional world and tries to enlighten that world through conversation and demonstration.  Not long after his dream, A Square is confronted similarly in an encounter with three-dimensional reality.  The voice seems to come from “within” the startled square.  A sphere enters A Square’s world, again through conversation and demonstration – but it is only by transportation into the three-dimensional world that A Square comprehends the concept of “up”.  While exploring Flatland from “above” (of course, he can see into everything in two dimensions, including Flatlander’s digestive systems) he learns that the Flatland authorities know about previous encounters with three dimensions and they violently suppress this information.

In further conversations with the Sphere, A Square postulates the existence of a fourth dimension and beyond.  Sphere is terribly insulted by this idea.  Sphere’s reality must be the only reality!  A Square returns to Flatland with the prophetic truth about three-dimensional reality and, despite Sphere’s scoffing, theories about multiple dimensions.  He tries in vain to teach his grandson these concepts.  Soon, however, he’s found out by the Flatland authorities, arrested and sentenced to life in prison.  (A lower class of Flatlander would have been executed.)  A Square writes his story, the little book we hold in our hands.

Edwin Abbott Abbott (maybe his friends called him A Squared) published Flatland, A Romance in Many Dimensions in 1884.  His own title page illustration includes representations of dimensions beginning with “Pointland, no dimensions”, two, three, and then, entering a cloud, he notes dimensions tucked here and there, all the way to ten dimensions at the top-most billow of cloud. (see top of blog entry).

Edwin Abbott, an Anglican clergyman, also wrote about Shakespearean grammar, Johannine language and vocabulary, books on Thomas of Canterbury, Francis Bacon and John Henry Newman, and  as well as other theological topics, including an Encyclopedia Britannica entry on the Gospels which caused controversy when published.  A lovely sense of humor emerges through the voice of A Square. “Fie, fie, how frantically I square my talk!”  Flatland has been made into two movies.  Numerous editions exist, including on-line free manuscripts.

I don’t remember when I first read Flatland.  Perhaps a friend told me the story while I was in high school or college.  To me, the concept of multiple dimensions helps explain why revelation comes to us in inexplicable shards of often uninterpretable Reality.  If, as Brian Greene and other theoretical physicists and cosmologists tell us, observable reality finally makes  sense in ten dimensions, no wonder we “see” only in flashpoints and through inner intuitive depths.  No wonder Isaiah describes six winged seraphim covered in eyes, oscillating  in and out of the cloud of incense.  No wonder we strive (evolution-driven?) to “see” with an inner eye that which our infant earth eyes cannot apprehend.  No wonder we build more profound telescopes to see beyond time and microscopes to see through interior space.

TransfigurationAnd icon writers create mandorlas to signal dark infinity behind Theotokas, or Christ Pantocrator, or, in festal icons of the Ascension and Transfiguration, Jesus coming and going, at once, through the boundary of time.  A Cloud surrounded the disciples on the day Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah on the mountain of transfiguration. Perhaps, like A Square, the Voice they heard occurred inside of them.  Frightened, they fall into ecstatic sleep, they fall down the mountain losing their shoes, they fall into stupefied incomprehension that begins to make sense only after the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. 

At the Full Moon Fireside, it turned out that everyone present could recount some unexplainable occurrence, coincidence, perception, intuition to hold in ambiguity for a later time of revelation.  Through analogy, telescopes, microscopes, or meditation, humans know more than can be seen by the naked eye.   -Suzanne


Here’s a photo of the CasaBlanca lilies now in bloom, with dark coleus and tall meadow rue. The building on the right is the chapel.


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