3. THE SUPREME MOMENT AND AFTER

In the supreme moment of the cosmos I, as the cosmical mind, seemed to myself to be confronted with the source and the goal of all finite things.

I did not, of course, in that moment sensuously perceive the infinite spirit, the Star Maker. Sensuously I perceived nothing but what I had perceived before, the populous interiors of many dying stellar worlds. But through the medium which in this book is called telepathic I was now given a more inward perception. I felt the immediate presence of the Star Maker. Latterly, as I have said, I had already been pow-erfully seized by a sense of the veiled presence of some being other than myself, other than my cosmical body and conscious mind, other than my living members and the swarms of the burnt-out stars. But now the veil trembled and grew half-transparent to the mental vision. The source and goal of all, the Star Maker, was obscurely revealed to me as a being indeed other than my conscious self, objective to my vision, yet as in the depth of my own nature; as, indeed, myself, though infinitely more than myself.

It seemed to me that I now saw the Star Maker in two aspects: as the spirit’s particular creative mode that had given rise to me, the cosmos; and also, most dreadfully, as something incomparably greater than creativity, namely as the eternally achieved perfection of the absolute spirit.

Barren, barren and trivial are these words. But not barren the experience.

Confronted with this infinity that lay deeper than my deepest roots and higher than my topmost reach, I, the cosmical mind, the flower of all the stars and worlds, was appalled, as any savage is appalled by the lightning and the thunder. And as I fell abject before the Star Maker, my mind was flooded with a spate of images. The fictitious deities of all races in all worlds once more crowded themselves upon me, symbols of majesty and tenderness, of ruthless power, of blind creativity, and of all-seeing wisdom. And though these images were but the fantasies of created minds, it seemed to me that one and all did indeed embody some true feature of the Star Maker’s impact upon the creatures.

As I contemplated the host of deities that rose to me like a smoke cloud from the many worlds, a new image, a new symbol of the infinite spirit, took shape in my mind. Though born of my own cosmical imagination, it was begotten by a greater than I. To the human writer of this book little remains of that vision which so abashed and exalted me as the cosmical mind. But I must strive to recapture it in a feeble net of words as best I may.

It seemed to me that I had reached back through time to the moment of creation. I watched the birth of the cosmos.

The spirit brooded. Though infinite and eternal, it had limited itself with finite and temporal being, and it brooded on a past that pleased it not. It was dissatisfied with some past creation, hidden from me; and it was dissatisfied also with its own passing nature. Discontent goaded the spirit into fresh creation.

But now, according to the fantasy that my cosmical mind conceived, the absolute spirit, self-limited for creativity, objectified from itself an atom of its infinite potentiality. This microcosm was pregnant with the germ of a proper time and space, and all the kinds of cosmical beings. Within this punctual cosmos the myriad but not unnumbered physical centers of power, which men conceive vaguely as electrons, protons, and the rest, were at first coincident with one another. And they were dormant. The matter of ten million galaxies lay dormant in a point.

Then the Star Maker said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. From all the coincident and punctual centers of power, light leapt and blazed. The cosmos exploded, actualizing its potentiality of space and time. The centers of power, like fragments of a bursting bomb, were hurled apart. But each one retained in itself, as a memory and a longing, the single spirit of the whole; and each mirrored in itself aspects of all others throughout all the cosmical space and time.

No longer punctual, the cosmos was now a volume of inconceivably dense matter and inconceivably violent radiation, constantly expanding. And it was a sleeping and infi-nitely dissociated spirit.

But to say that the cosmos was expanding is equally to say that its members were contracting. The ultimate centers of power, each at first coincident with the punctual cosmos, themselves generated the cosmical space by their disengagement from each other. The expansion of the whole cosmos was but the shrinkage of all its physical units and of the wave-lengths of its light. Though the cosmos was ever of finite bulk, in relation to its minutiae of light-waves, it was boundless and center-less. As the surface of a swelling sphere lacks boundary and center, so the swelling volume of the cosmos was boundless and center-less. But as the spherical surface is centered on a point foreign to it, in a “third dimension,” so the volume of the cosmos was centered in a point foreign to it, in a “fourth dimension.”

The congested and exploding cloud of fire swelled till it was of a planet’s size, a star’s size, the size of a whole galaxy, and of ten million galaxies. And in swelling it became more tenuous, less brilliant, less turbulent. Presently the cosmical cloud was disrupted by the stress of its expansion in conflict with the mutual clinging of its parts, disrupted into many million cloudlets, the swarm of the great nebulae.

For a while these were as close to one another in relation to their bulk as the flocculations of a mottled sky. But the channels between them widened, till they were separated as flowers on a bush, as bees in a flying swarm, as birds migrating, as ships on the sea. More and more rapidly they retreated from one another; and at the same time each cloud contracted, becoming first a ball of down and then a spinning lens and then a featured whirl of star-streams.

Still the cosmos expanded, till the galaxies that were most remote from one another were flying apart so swiftly that the creeping light of the cosmos could no longer bridge the gulf between them.

But I, with imaginative vision, retained sight of them all. It was as though some other, some hypercosmical and instantaneous light, issuing from nowhere in the cosmical space, illuminated all things inwardly.

Once more, but in a new and cold and penetrating light, I watched all the lives of stars and worlds, and of the galactic communities, and of myself, up to the moment wherein now I stood, confronted by the infinity that men call God, and conceive according to their human cravings.

I, too, now sought to capture the infinite spirit, the Star Maker, in an image spun by my own finite though cosmical nature. For now it seemed to me, it seemed, that I suddenly outgrew the three-dimensional vision proper to all creatures, and that I saw with physical sight the Star Maker. I saw, though nowhere in cosmical space, the blazing source of the hypercosmical light, as though it were an overwhelmingly brilliant point, a star, a sun more powerful than all suns together. It seemed to me that this effulgent star was the center of a four-dimensional sphere whose curved surface was the three-dimensional cosmos. This star of stars, this star that was indeed the Star Maker, was perceived by me, its cosmical creature, for one moment before its splendor seared my vision. And in that moment I knew that I had indeed seen the very source of all cosmical light and life and mind; and of how much else besides I had as yet no knowledge.

But this image, this symbol that my cosmical mind had conceived under the stress of inconceivable experience, broke and was transformed in the very act of my conceiving it, so inadequate was it to the actuality of the experience. Harking back in my blindness to the moment of my vision, I now conceived that the star which was the Star Maker, and the immanent center of all existence, had been perceived as looking down on me, his creature, from the height of his infinitude; and that when I saw him I immediately spread the poor wings of my spirit to soar up to him, only to be blinded and seared and struck down. It had seemed to me in the moment of my vision that all the longing and hope of all finite spirits for union with the infinite spirit were strength to my wings. It seemed to me that the Star, my Maker, must surely stoop to meet me and raise me and enfold me in his radiance. For it seemed to me that I, the spirit of so many worlds, the flower of so many ages, was the Church Cosmical, fit at last to be the bride of God. But instead I was blinded and seared and struck down by terrible light.

It was not only physical effulgence that struck me down in that supreme moment of my life. In that moment I guessed what mood it was of the infinite spirit that had in fact made the cosmos, and constantly supported it, watching its tortured growth. And it was that discovery which felled me.

For I had been confronted not by welcoming and kindly love, but by a very different spirit. And at once I knew that the Star Maker had made me not to be his bride, nor yet his treasured child, but for some other end.

It seemed to me that he gazed down on me from the height of his divinity with the aloof though passionate attention of an artist judging his finished work; calmly rejoicing in its achievement, but recognizing at last the irrevocable flaws in its initial conception, and already lusting for fresh creation.

His gaze anatomized me with calm skill, dismissing my imperfections, and absorbing for his own enrichment all the little excellence that I had won in the struggle of the ages.

In my agony I cried out against my ruthless maker. I cried out that, after all, the creature was nobler than the creator; for the creature loved and craved love, even from the star that was the Star Maker; but the creator, the Star Maker, neither loved nor had need of love.

But no sooner had I, in my blinded misery, cried out, than I was struck dumb with shame. For suddenly it was clear to me that virtue in the creator is not the same as virtue in the creature. For the creator, if he should love his creature, would be loving only a part of himself; but the creature, praising the creator, praises an infinity beyond himself. I saw that the virtue of the creature was to love and to worship, but the virtue of the creator was to create, and to be the infinite, the unrealizable and incomprehensible goal of worshipping creatures.

Once more, but in shame and adoration, I cried out to my maker. I said, “It is enough, and far more than enough, to be the creature of so dread and lovely a spirit, whose potency is infinite, whose nature passes the comprehension even of a minded cosmos. It is enough to have been created, to have embodied for a moment the infinite and tumultuously creative spirit. It is infinitely more than enough to have been used, to have been the rough sketch for some perfected creation.”

And so there came upon me a strange peace and a strange joy.

Looking into the future, I saw without sorrow, rather with quiet interest, my own decline and fall. I saw the populations of the stellar worlds use up more and more of their resources for the maintenance of their frugal civilizations. So much of the interior matter of the stars did they disintegrate, that their worlds were in danger of collapse. Some worlds did indeed crash in fragments upon their hollow centers, destroying the indwelling peoples. Most, before the critical point was reached, were remade, patiently taken to pieces and rebuilt upon a smaller scale. One by one, each star was turned into a world of merely planetary size. Some were no bigger than the moon. The populations themselves were reduced to a mere millionth of their original numbers, maintaining within each little hollow grain a mere skeleton civilization in conditions that became increasingly penurious.

Looking into the future aeons from the supreme moment of the cosmos, I saw the populations still with all their strength maintaining the essentials of their ancient culture, still living their personal lives in zest and endless novelty of action, still practicing telepathic intercourse between worlds, still telepathically sharing all that was of value in their respective world-spirits, still supporting a truly cosmical community with its single cosmical mind. I saw myself still preserving, though with increasing difficulty, my lucid consciousness; battling against the onset of drowsiness and senility, no longer in the hope of winning through to any more glorious state than that which I had already known, or of laying a less inadequate jewel of worship before the Star Maker, but simply out of sheer hunger for experience, and out of loyalty to the spirit.

But inevitably decay overtook me. World after world, battling with increasing economic difficulties, was forced to reduce its population below the numbers needed for the functioning of its own communal mentality. Then, like a degenerating brain-center, it could no longer fulfil its part in the cosmical experience.

Looking forward from my station in the supreme moment of the cosmos, I saw myself, the cosmical mind, sink steadily toward death. But in this my last aeon, when all my powers were waning, and the burden of my decaying body pressed heavily on my enfeebled courage, an obscure memory of past lucidity still consoled me. For confusedly I knew that even in this my last, most piteous age I was still under the zestful though remote gaze of the Star Maker.

Still probing the future, from the moment of my supreme unwithered maturity, I saw my death, the final breaking of those telepathic contacts on which my being depended. Thereafter the few surviving worlds lived on in absolute isolation, and in that barbarian condition which men call civilized. Then in world after world the basic skills of material civilization began to fail; and in particular the techniques of atomic disintegration and photosynthesis. World after world either accidentally exploded its little remaining store of matter, and was turned into a spreading, fading sphere of lightwaves in the immense darkness; or else died miserably of starvation and cold. Presently nothing was left in the whole cosmos but darkness and the dark whiffs of dust that once were galaxies. Aeons incalculable passed. Little by little each whiff of dust-grains contracted upon itself through the gravitational influence of its parts; till at last, not without fiery collisions between wandering grains, all the matter in each whiff was concentrated to become a single lump. The pressure of the huge outer regions heated the center of each lump to incandescence and even to explosive activity. But little by little the last resources of the cosmos were radiated away from the cooling lumps, and nothing was left but rock and the inconceivably faint ripples of radiation that crept in all directions throughout the ever “expanding” cosmos, far too slowly to bridge the increasing gulfs between the islanded grains of rock.

Meanwhile, since each rocky sphere that had once been a galaxy had been borne beyond every possible physical influence of its fellows, and there were no minds to maintain telepathic contact between them, each was in effect a wholly distinct universe. And since all change had ceased, the proper time of each barren universe had also ceased.

Since this apparently was to be the static and eternal end, I withdrew my fatigued attention back once more to the supreme moment which was in fact my present, or rather my immediate past. And with the whole mature power of my mind I tried to see more clearly what it was that had been present to me in that immediate past. For in that instant when I had seen the blazing star that was the Star Maker, I had glimpsed, in the very eye of that splendor, strange vistas of being; as though in the depths of the hypercosmical past and the hypercosmical future also, yet coexistent in eternity, lay cosmos beyond cosmos.