| BOOK EXCERPT |

THE TREE OF LIFE, THE FORM OF HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS*

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By Stephen B. Machnik

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The Montréal Review, November 2023

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THE TREE OF LIFE
The Form of Human Consciousness
By
Stephen B. Machnik
(Wipf & Stock, 2021)

Engraving and cover design by Stephen B. Machnik

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Is it possible that the Bible’s revelatory nature can be appreciated by understanding its symbolic form? It is a form that mirrors the divine in which we were created, an image which corresponds intimately to the I Am. I suggest that humanity’s evolution of consciousness is a macro development and a manifestation of the daily micro-processes of human understanding. And that the macro process reflects the Bible’s symbolic nature.

My study came out of a desire to understand Christian-Jewish relations. At the same time, Bernard Lonergan’s Insight, A study of human understanding, 1 helped me to concretize the relationship between the cognitive process and the metaphysical. I compare the cognitive operations by which we come to know what is real, to the micro, and the metaphysical elements to the symbolic, to the macro. Differences in relations that were insurmountable on a rational level became accessible on a metaphorical level. Lonergan relates his cognitive operations to Aristotle’s metaphysical terms and says that they are similar in form. 2 I concluded that the combined form of these processes characterized a unifying symbolic operation which I believe is a development within human consciousness, a primordial symbolic operating principle that harmonizes the process of human understanding.

Illumination of a menorah, from the Jewish Cervera Bible by
Joseph Asarfati. National Library of Portugal

From an artistic point of view, the Hebrew menorah, a principal liturgical symbol for the Jewish people, expresses through its elements, a portrayal of the evolution from an elementary organic dimension to a dimension that ultimately transcends to the non-material. The menorah visually transcends from the organism as a seed to the organism in a state of light. The main stem, branch, and flame components of the temple artifact incorporate a recurring motif of bud, bowl, and flower. Several authors 3 have also concluded that the menorah is a cultural and sacred representation of the tree of life. Although the tree is referred to several times in the Bible, such as in the book of Proverbs, it only appears in Genesis and Revelation. In a sense, the menorah carries on the memory of the tree of life throughout the intermediate period from Genesis to Revelation.

The real and symbolic import of the tree is to provide substance to a non-material dimension. The tree, as a symbol, acts as an agent of representation, which enables a movement between conscious states from the organic to the non-material. As a real entity, it prefigures an abundant life experience. Both the menorah and the tree of life provide an underlying symbolic framework within the Bible. We then understand the Old and New Testaments as a movement from an infinite dimension to a cultural human dimension in which our evolution of consciousness is embedded. The Bible reveals itself as having a supra-conscious form that interacts directly with our patterns of understanding and with our personal desire to know by which we come to an understanding.

Symbolic and organic patterns relating to the tree imply a promise of an event or a representation of recurring events, such as the seed of the woman, the oil of anointing, and the olive tree. Lastly, when the combination of the menorah/tree of life as a symbolic template is applied to the Book of Revelation, a more comprehensible pattern emerges.

In chapter fifteen of Insight on the elements of metaphysics, Lonergan is very explicit regarding the relationship of his cognitive operations to Aristotle’s terms. This is important because, in my further development of symbolic metaphor and its relation to Aristotle, the agreement must compare not just imaginatively, but realistically, to the process within which we can come to an intelligent conclusion.

Table 1: Pattern of relations between analytical, metaphysical and symbolic operators 4


Tree of Life
(Transcends all operations)

The menorah and the three elements

Aristotle’s
metaphysical
terms

Lonergan’s
conscious operations

Flame / Flower

Act

Judgment
Decision
Transcendent values

Bowl

Form

Understanding

Bud / Seed

Potency

Experience

It is my suggestion that there is a symbolic correspondence between the elements of the menorah, the tree of life, and the operations of knowing and being. When we see the Bible through the eye of transcendent being, through the eye of the heart, we grasp the unity of form, the immediacy of its potency, and the possibilities inherent in our transcendent relationship to the divine.

Recent research describes the nature of the human being as an electric body. 5  Although it is not my purpose in this book to investigate the electrical nature of consciousness, I want to consider that there is a correlation between the metaphysical elements and an electric circuit. I suggest that the metaphysical elements of potency, form, and act, compare to the resistive (), capacitive (), and inductive () elements of a circuit. Or similarly, that the seed is a resistor, the bowl is a capacitor, and the flame is an inductor. And that our being is both grounded () and has a capacity for induction. As humans, as humanity, we are an electrical-magnetic, transmitting-receiving being. To be able to imagine human consciousness as a form of electric energy facilitates the dynamic of our human knowing.

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Stephen B. Machnik has a master’s degree in theology from Concordia University in Montreal. He is a research consultant for the Thomas More Research Centre and has worked with Bnai Brith Montreal to develop Christian-Jewish seminars. He worked as a foster home manager for Miriam Home and Services from 2006 to 2021. He occasionally works part-time as a research assistant for Dr Marie-France Dion, Professor of Biblical Studies at Concordia University, Montreal.

*Originally published as the Tree of Life, the form of human consciousness. Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR. Introduction pp. xix-xxi.

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1 Lonergan, Insight (1957, 1970). Pages from the later University of Toronto Press (1992) are numbered 23–24 pages higher. That is, p. 124 instead of p. 100.

2 They are isomorphic. Lonergan, Insight, Chapter XV

3 C. Meyers (1976) and J. Levenson (1985)

4 The pattern of understanding generally begins from the level of our experience and moves in an upward direction to an appreciative decision culminating in a heightened consciousness. There can also be revelatory insights flooding our consciousness from (a so-called) up to down movement.

5 Dispenza, Becoming Supernatural. Lipton, The Biology of Belief. Ober, Earthing. Scott, The Electric Sky. And many others.

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