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By Stephen Machnik


The Montréal Review, June 2023


Jaume Plensa (Spanish, born 1955), Spiegel. [ Mirror ] Painted stainless steel, 2010. 148 ½ x 92 ½ x 96 1/2 inches each. Purchased with funds given by Rita Barbour Kern and Gift of Mrs. George M. Jones, Jr., by exchange, 2012.84A–B. Welles Sculpture Garden.


The beginnings of the book of Genesis helps to situate man’s place in creation, his essential nature, and his relationship to the divine. How do we identify with this incredible seemingly illusory statement that says that we embody the quality of our Creator? What is it, what is in us that somehow connects our being with the I AM. What is being, and what is ultimate Being in relationship. Not an easy task, but – a moment to appreciate.

Many of us have probably struggled with this verse, with our minds and hearts, trying to come to grips with the implications of its meaning. We are intelligent vessels of clay who occasionally have ‘intimations of immortality.’ Perhaps sometime in the hereafter we might have an occasion to realize what the verse truly means.

However, since we have been gifted with an intelligent mind, a heart, and an ability to come to an understanding, what is the process whereby we are able to communicate between our humanity and an infinitely indefinable Being. In other words, going from here and now, to everywhere all at once, all at the same time. A seemingly impossible venture. A task for artificial intelligence? Possibly. But we know that we are better than AI. Is a machine capable of love, of complete self-sacrifice for another? “A hireling, (the machine) he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees.” (John 10:12)

The verse from Genesis also implies that we have a unique and very particular covenant with the creator. A covenant can be both general as well as specific. As in God’s covenant to Abraham. “Look now toward heaven and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” (Gen 15:5 NKJV) Specifically each of us has a unique covenantal relationship to be realized which can deeply impact our personal wellbeing. We, in our moment, in our space, have the potential to experience the infinite.

It is always helpful to relate to someone’s personal experience. I had that opportunity in the 60s when I was at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Montreal. There I read Richard Maurice Bucke’s, Cosmic Consciousness (E. P. Dutton 1901). Bucke was a trapper out west. In the winter of 1858, he was the sole survivor of a silver-mining party and had to walk out over the mountains and suffered extreme frostbite. As a result, his foot was amputated.1 He returned to Canada, studied medicine at McGill, and became the superintendent of an asylum in London, Ontario. He was a friend and contemporary of Walt Whitman and shared many things in common with him. While in London, England he was reading some of the well-known poets with some friends in the 1870s. On the way home he experienced a “sudden conflagration in the great city,” and next that “he himself was on fire.” At this point he had a revelation. He “knew that the Cosmos is not dead matter but a living presence.” (Consciousness p.8) His life is dramatized in the NFB film, Beautiful Dreamers, with Colm Feore (1990).

There are many other aspects to cosmic consciousness that are difficult to quantify in the scientific sense because of their particularity. They are unique and meaningful to the person concerned and possibly no one else. They are not replicable. There are many descriptors that define these experiences; serendipitous, synchronicity, non-local consciousness, a unique meeting of like minds. Some of these are defined in Carl Jung’s “Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle.” As well as by Dr. Stanley Krippner’s work at the Maimonides Dream Laboratory in Brooklyn, NY. (Dream Telepathy, Macmillan, 1973). I met Dr. Krippner at a symposium at McGill titled: Psychedelics and the Religious Experience. It was held by Dr. Raymond Prince in the late 60s.

Several years ago, I created a workshop at the Thomas More Research Centre on non-local consciousness. I related to the group my own somewhat simple experience in my twenties when I decided to hitchhike across Canada to find work in Edmonton. (I wanted to create a feeling with the group of the commonality of non-local consciousness). I told them that I had been apprehensive about the hitchhiking, and it was with good reason since I would be standing on a highway in the West Island for about eight hours before getting a lift. Before venturing out (in the late 60s), I decided to implement my newfound experience in TM meditation. While I was meditating, I realized that the experience of the here and now in meditation would be the same experience I would have if I meditated out west. So, the experience of distance, which was a cause for anxiety was mitigated by the feeling that the ‘here and now’ over here, would be the same feeling as the ‘here and now’ over there. The meditation inspired a sense of comfort within me. Others in the workshop were also able to connect to similarly meaningful experiences, which created a sense of unity.

Recently, I was talking to the local parish priest. We were talking about Padre Pio, the Italian mystic. He asked me “Do you know what bilocation is?” Yes, I said. The priest continued; Padre Pio in Italy would visit Cardinal Mindzenty in Hungary using bilocation. Mindzenty had been incarcerated and tortured by the communist government of Hungary (1949). This was an incredibly moving story. Padre Pio would ‘visit’ the cardinal in the Hungarian prison and bring him the blessed sacrament. These would be life sustaining moments for the cardinal since his status as a representative of the spiritual life of the Hungarian people was being mocked. He was dressed in a clown’s outfit.2 A prelude to the Ukraine? I had attended a service by Mindzenty at St. Joseph’s Oratory in the 70s, so this story was more personally meaningful to me.3

If we consider the universe to be made of an entirely material state, then such things are impossible. But our notion of physics is changing. And again, these are unusually unique incidents. Will we deny all our eccentricities, especially our own? The point is that there can be a very unusually idiocentric element to the relationship between the human and the infinite. These experiences are valuable to the individual but may appear preposterous to an outsider. These are the moments when the infinite intrudes into the finite and gives further meaning to our lives.

I also had the opportunity to read portions of Bernard Lonergan’s, S.J., Insight, A study of human understanding. (Longman’s, Green, 1957, The Philosophical Library 1970). His analysis of cognitive operations helped me to organize my somewhat chaotic imaginings into a coherent understanding. There is a pathway between the here and now and the realm of the infinite, or transcendent. From Lonergan’s operations, I realized that there was a relationship between operations and being. There was an underlying symbolic form to consciousness which manifested itself in the Bible, and which facilitated a pathway, a cognitive link between our isolated sense as individual beings to our relationship with the divine. In other words, there is an element of intelligence intrinsic to being that has the capacity to relate to divine Being. I wrote about this understanding in The Tree of Life, the form of human consciousness. (Wipf and Stock 2021).

On a more scientific level, there is the work of the HeartMath Institute developed by Doc Childre. Science shows that the brain has eighty-six billion neurons4 compared to the heart which has 40,000. This was a very unusual development since it showed that the comparatively small heart brain was more essential to our welfare than our cerebral brain. The study by HMI showed that unless there was heart-brain coherence, unless the heart oversaw the brain, and not the brain in charge of the heart, there would be no coherence. The “heart sends more signals to the brain than the brain to the heart.” (HMI) These studies were evaluated extensively using all electric data, as in EEG and ECG. In terms of the understanding that our being is made in the image of God, the study reveals the centrality of the heart as a conscious operator, as indicated by the many scriptural texts to which it is referenced.5  

Science further developed the understanding of heart-rate variability. When HRV is flexible and responsive to its environment, it is a sign of health, compared to a very consistent and jagged rhythm, usually under stress, but which can also be a general condition. (The Fascinating Relationship Between the Heart and Brain: HMI)

There are many instances showing that the physical heart6 embodies the consciousness of the deceased donor affecting the recipient of the transplanted heart. The most famous is the prosecution of a murderer of a young girl, based on the memory recall of the recipient, another young girl, induced by the donor heart memories.7 These experiences are not meant to take away from the everyday reality that every heart has a very real conscious awareness, we are all capable of heart centered intuition. We are all able to identify that which we love, and the things and people that we are passionate about. But the experiences serve to dramatize the actual nature of heart consciousness.

HMI has also developed the Global Coherence Initiative which tries to prove that when a certain but not necessarily sizable ratio of the population combine to meditate there is a drop in violence. Gregg Braden, a spokesperson for HMI and a YouTuber, suggests using a directed meditation of the heart which focuses on feelings of “appreciation, compassion, care, and gratitude.”

I consider my wife, who works as a crisis intervention worker, to be adept at heart consciousness. She can relate to the person in crisis with empathy, feel love for them, and have an intuitive and concrete appreciation for their state. She has an ability to recognize the innate value of the human being. She provides encouragement and possibilities to enable them to see their choices and opportunities.

I hope to have illustrated that we have an innate sense of the potential of the divine within us. For most of us humans this seems like a far-fetched reality. We are left with the idea of deism, that God (or some other impersonal natural force) created the world and then left it to us to sort it out. Isaiah reiterates, (to return to the notion that we are made in His image) “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness דמות will ye compare unto him?” (Isa 40:18) We are ultimately confronted with God, the indefinable. And yet He has blazed a trail for us, in the lives of those who have gone before. Many souls have inspired a hope within us, to reinvigorate our appreciation that we are intimately connected with a far greater reality. When I walk in the hallway of the Montreal General’s 6th floor I am always moved by the tribute to John McCrae. “To you from failing hands we throw / The torch; be yours to hold it high.” In the near future, our accelerated understanding of ultimate reality will give us a more coherent sense of what our relationship to our Creator implies.

Figure 1: Tribute to John McCrae - Montreal General Hospital

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows and gives
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.8


Stephen B. Machnik has a master’s degree in theology from Concordia University in Montreal. He is a research advisor for the Thomas More Research Centre and has worked with Bnai Brith Montreal to develop Christian-Jewish seminars. He worked as foster home manager for Miriam Home and Services from 2006–2021.


1 Wikipedia. From: Bucke, Richard M. (June 1883). “Twenty-five years ago.” Overland Monthly. I. (Second series) (6): 553–560.

2 Mindzenty, Memoirs, MacMillan, NY, 1974.

3 Note: Mindzenty himself does not recount this experience in his Memoirs. I had to research it though accounts in the life of Padre Pio.

4  Herculano-Houzel S (November 2009). “The human brain in numbers: a linearly scaled-up primate brain.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 3: 31. doi:10.3389/neuro.09.031.2009. PMC 2776484. PMID 19915731

5 For reference: And God said to him (Abimelech) in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart.” (Gen 20:6). For the word of God is quick, and powerful. . .  a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb 4:12) Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (Mt 5:8) Jesus said unto him, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Mt 22:37)

7 Paul Pearsall.  The Heart’s Code: Tapping the Wisdom and Power of Our Heart Energy (New York: Broadway Books, 1999).

8 Wordsworth, William. Intimations of Immortality. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Oxford University Press. p. 462, lines 204-207. First published 1903, 1953.


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