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  • Non-Dualism in Eckhart, Julian of Norwich and Traherne: A Theopoetic Reflection by James Charlton
  • Hans Gustafson (bio)
Non-Dualism in Eckhart, Julian of Norwich and Traherne: A Theopoetic Reflection. By James Charlton. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. 196 pp. Hardback. $110.00.

Intellect and spirit are both fed in the experience of this text. By including many of his own poems and hopes, James Charlton has certainly made this a self-implicating work. He weaves together the qualified, non-dual theopoetical work of Thomas Traherne, Meister Eckhart, and Julian of Norwich with the Eastern non-dualism of Ramana Maharashi in an effort to reignite the inherent spiritual non-dualism of Western heritage and Christian traditions.

In Chapter One, Charlton explores Thomas Traherne's theopoetic vision with moving commentary on "felicity," panentheism, perichoresis, and even a Hegelian aufhaben in this seventeenth century English poet, theologian, and clergyman. Traherne's non-duality surfaces amidst emphasis on a God that pervades creation in a dynamic and relational manner. Traherne insists on embodiment and "felicity" to refer to the joyous condition of actively embracing "the temporal 'within' the divine and the divine 'within' the temporal" (7). God is within all things, yet without; is below and above. He sees the sacred everywhere and in all things and draws the reader to become aware of this via "the concrete and the particular" (22). Becoming aware of this is, for him, "felicity." There is a clear advocacy here for panentheism, which preserves God's otherness. Charlton properly recognizes that "Traherne regards all things as included in the Infinity which is God" (33). He writes, "As with Eckhart and Julian, Traherne understands humanity to be distinct from the Ground of Love, yet not separate from it" (45). Charlton exposes Traherne's vision of the Trinity as perichoretic in its "nature of relations between the traditional 'persons' . . . which engenders a joy which is based on the earth" (43). This perichoretic, cosmic dance, in which persons participate, is played out in the world though remaining within the divine. It "is reflected in our interconnected human relations of reciprocity and gladness" (43). Through this process, a rather implicit Hegelian aufhaben emerges in which, as Charlton quotes an unpublished manuscript of A.F. Bellette, "self discovers itself, then moves outward to identify with all that is other, then returns to reclaim the initial experience of infant joy" (45). This infant joy ("felicity") is, according to Traherne, present in childhood and during infancy when we are all "intuitively knowledgeable regarding the things of God" (20). When we grow older, we distance ourselves from things and divide the world, hence dualism arises.

Traherne's aim is "to recover his childhood vision of non-duality" (21). This is achieved through the senses and direct participatory experience of all created things which are endowed with the Divine. Traherne balances God's "top down" divine condescension with the "upward aspiration of all things." However, we may be cautious here of the inherent dualism this creates (either "top down" or "upward aspiration") which is antithetical to Charlton's quest for non-duality. Rather, perhaps we ought to resist the urge to "balance" two poles or stress one over the other, and instead envision this as one simultaneous Hegelian movement (aufhaben) of God and world dancing in an interpenetrating perichoretic fashion.

Like Traherne and Julian, Eckhart's work urges a participatory non-dualism as well. His "non-dual Christian discourse is distinct from the dualism of the 'East'" in its partial "collapse [of] the classic Western dualism of creator/creature, [End Page 288] subject/object and spirit/matter" (48); however "it cannot be assumed that they share precisely the same type of non-dualism" (52). In the non-duality of self and God, none of the three "deny a separate me" (59). Charlton shows that Eckhart's "guiding theme" of Gelâzenheit (translations suggest "letting-be," "detachment," and "releasement"), preparatorily functions for the impending "birth of God in the soul" (48). This entails the disappearance of the human subject in order to merge with God, and for Eckhart this commences with the "spark" (V nkelîn) or "castle" (Bürgelîn) given to the...


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