Ten Tips of Frater Michael Sebastian Lux

A week has passed since the flare up over the initial ‘Ten Tips for Young Occultists’ debacle with many prominent and up and coming occultists putting their own lists up. I think by and large this has been a valuable exercise and in some ways shows where many contemporary occultists are coming from.

About mid-way through the week, Ultraculture posted another interesting list titled, ‘3 Ways to Become a Magician by a 16th Century Alchemist‘ based on suggestions by Giambattista della Porta. This article struck me in particular as it could have just as well have been my own list as well. Brother B.J. recently put up his own commentary on the same which I highly recommend. In keeping, however, with the ‘Ten Tip’ trend, I present now my own list in that form.

minervalChurch1. First, the candidate ought to have familiarity with the Liberal Arts:

While this may come off as a particularly classist statement, I do believe that having a foundational education in the liberal arts is essential to being able to understand from where our historical predecessors were coming. I’m not saying that an individual necessarily needs a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, but merely be acquainted with them. Historically this would have included the verbal arts: grammar, logic, and rhetoric; and in the quadrivium—the numerical arts: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy (I would also add here biology as well as chemistry). While I would never persuade someone from going to college, the reality is, is that that’s not always possible. Good news! However expensive going to college may be, the aspiring candidate has a world of resources at their fingertips whether it be simply going to the local public library or enrolling in online classes such as those found at Wikiversity.

2. Secondly, know thyself:

The famous magician Israel Regardie, himself a therapist, insisted on the necessity of psychotherapy for candidates as well as students of the occult. While this would be great for everyone to have access to, sadly it is not always the case. The candidate should be able to know their limits, be able to set boundaries, as well as know their own personal integrity. Many people come to the occult as a form of escapism and end up getting overwhelmed. Having a strong, but flexible idea of who the candidate is him or herself will set a very powerful stage for being a great student.

3. Thirdly, should familiarize themselves with warning signs:

There are a lot of unscrupulous charlatans out there hoping to make a quick buck or engage in a power play – there are also a lot of very knowledgeable people out there who can really take you to the next level even if it’s your first step. In my previous post I pointed out the Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Form as one possible tool to use in identifying potential dangers. Other possibilities when the candidate is ready would be to find magical forums on the intranet or other social media. There they can get to know who’s recommended and who to avoid. As always, caveat emptor! A good teacher should be able to provide a statement of principles and expectations.

4. Fourthly, the candidate should not be afraid to speak and communicate:

While this should go without commentary, the reality is, is that many students feel overwhelmed either by the personality of their teacher or by the unfamiliarity of the world into which they have just been cast. This is entirely understandable, but that should not preclude them from being able to ask questions as well as occasionally contradicting their teacher in a respectful manner that generates dialogue. In this, questioning is also a form of communication. Never accept “it’s just always been this way” as an answer until your teacher provides you a comprehensive bibliography where they’re coming from and what they know.

5. Fifthly, the candidate should strive for excellence and expect the same from their teacher and peers:

While everyone has their own unique learning and teaching styles, the candidate shouldn’t be content sitting on their or their teachers’ laurels. Arete, in its basic sense, means “excellence of any kind”. The term may also refer to “moral virtue” as well and is ultimately bound up with the notion of the the act of living up to one’s full potential. Here, studying virtue ethicists, aesthetic and moral philosophy as well as the classics as a continuation of the first suggestion may be of help. While we may study what is “hidden” it is equally important that we realize that we don’t just stand on the shoulders of giants, but should bravely go forth with their knowledge and take this knowledge to the next level.

6. Sixthly, the candidate should be mindful of what they project on their teacher and peers:

As eloquently stated by Mr. Hillier in his work, “All beings project their minds on to the world, your teacher included, its a rule of consciousness and part of what we are exploring.” It’s very easy to fail to notice this and, in relation to part two, it’s the student and teacher’s obligation to be able to see when this is happening. A number of years ago, a wonderful essay titled ‘Magusitis: A Hydra in Sheep’s Clothing‘ was written giving the warning signs and symptoms of this particularly strange phenomena – this article may well be of use for both personal reflection as well as striving for the excellence of both teacher and peers and be engaged in contributing the process in an equal and dynamic way.

7. Seventh, the candidate should not be afraid of making mistakes:

Magic can very quickly become competitive – that’s the nature of the beast. A good teacher will provide foundational exercises that will ground and balance the candidate in their tutelage – this may be in the form of a number of types of meditation, purification, prayer, et cetera. As often quoted in Buddhist Lojong manuals: “practice the preliminaries”. This will give you a little bit of extra padding should something go wrong and the knowledgable teacher will recognize when it has and be able to assist in some way. Nobody comes out of this unscathed or slightly burnt.

8. Eighth, the candidate should exercise their imagination:

The 20th Century occultist, Aleister Crowley, defined magic as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”. Whereas above I have suggested highly technical suggestions of study, the candidate will be working with a very broad set of symbols eventually which will require creativity. Whether one is predisposed toward poetry, dance, music or the visual arts; the candidate should strive to seek beauty and the truth that lies within it. Maybe they like cooking: they can examine the magical applications of ingredients and apply it; maybe they like art: they can try a new mode of painting or drawing; maybe they’re not artistic at all: perhaps taking a trip to the museum or an art gallery or reading about cross cultural art theories may help them.

9. Ninth, the candidate should cultivate awareness that the map is not the territory:

This concept occurs in the discussion of exoteric and esoteric religions. Exoteric concepts are concepts which can be fully conveyed using descriptors and language constructs, such as mathematics. Esoteric concepts are concepts which cannot be fully conveyed except by direct experience. For example, a person who has never tasted an apple or made love will never fully understand through language what the taste of an apple is or the feeling of skin against skin in intimate embrace. Only through direct experience (eating an apple or making love) can that experience be fully understood. It’s all too easy to confuse abstracts such as numbers in resulting from gematria for concrete realities.

10. Tenth, the candidate shall not neglect their own physical needs:

Many disciplines in the esoteric and occult community tend to generate a lot of mental and spiritual energy. A good teacher will prepare the student by admonishing them to pay attention to their physical needs; eat well according to their means, get adequate sleep, exercise if possible, perhaps learn some form of budgeting so they’ll be able in the future afford a more comfortable life, and lastly ground their work in the physical reality in which they live.

SPIIn closing, I understand that much of this may seem like a handful to apply all at once. I’m personally of the school of thought now that I’m a little older and have definitely done made my fair share of mistakes as well as my fair share of successes that practicing magic isn’t something that comes out of a box, but rather is cultivated carefully as one might cultivate a topiary or bonsai. The better our foundations are in the real world, the better our successes will become as we advance along the path. All teachers started out as students and all teachers are still students learning now in their own way and this itself is part of the mystery of engaging in the Mysteries themselves.


Τετέλεσται

“[Let] me advise you never to ridicule or cast obliquely upon the form of religion professed by another, for what right have you to desecrate what is sacred in his eyes?”

– Neophyte Ritual of the Golden Dawn

In the past couple days there has been a number of misconceptions arising online in response to my initial post on the subject of religious abuse. I want to re-emphasize that while my response was not as carefully worded as it ought to have been, adding more fuel to the fire, I do not think that Mr. Farrell at any point had committed any of the egregious abuses such as those by Robert Zink and Kenny Klein. This morning Nick and myself had a discussion and clarified the points of contention. I in no way hold any ill-will toward him and despite the heated discussions, do think that this was a good opportunity to bring awareness and dialogue to very real concerns that have arisen and may rise again if we are not careful and do not allow ourselves internal and external evaluation.

Nick is a serious practitioner of his art and his organization is highly respected. He has indicated that his organization does in fact have internal means of control and I’m satisfied since our discussions that he is doing the right thing. Not all organizations do this and in the past this has led to much harm. I do maintain that his post, however ill-worded, comes from experience and I reacted poorly but also out of a sense of duty to the communities that I do hold dear.

As a member of clergy and holding a number of lines of initiations and lineages, for me it is vital to uphold the dignity of my sisters and brothers, as well as students approaching the esoteric world. As stated in the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” I hold this value very close to my heart. For long-term students, it’s vital that we not become dismissive of those who are just starting out and instead should foster an environment where their own creativity and curiosity may flourish. Expectations where the student isn’t allowed to explore can become a noose that strangles them and it’s beholden on us who are elders to not allow that to happen.

As stated in the Book of the Law, “Every man and every woman is a star.” (AL. I.3). Patience with beginners should be exercised in order to allow them to flourish in their own innermost integrity. Everyone also has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. I think that the original post that Nick made does contain kernels of truth as to the value of relationship of the student, but could have gone further. Others have chimed in with their own lists as well which I think is beautiful and telling that even where there is disagreement across lines, we are communicating and expressing ourselves. A great example is in Ocean Delano’s part one of Tips for Young Occultists.

I have mentioned before, relationships between students and teachers are a very delicate and can be prone to transference and counter-transferences. It’s all too easy for both student and teacher to idealize one another as well as project the ghosts of their realities onto one another. Many organizations have initiator training, such as in O.T.O. as well as guilds that help guide teachers and initiators toward “raising” healthy initiates. I think more organizations should have such implemented. Being a teacher and initiator is hard work but teachers and initiators also have to realize that being an initiate is likewise difficult, particularly for the novice. We need to be open to them as they are to us.

For students both old and new, I would suggest familiarity with warning signs of abuse as they can be very innocuous at times and can assail both experienced practitioner and novice. Unfortunately most of these cater more toward Christian audiences, however many resources like The Wild Hunt as well as well-known pagan blogs do occasionally have good pieces where you can get your feet wet in understanding the unfortunate reality that no human organization is safe from the potential for abuse. Similarly, for initiators and teachers, I think that having a well-crafted set of Student Rights as well as Initiator Rights may be a good protocol for the future that should be made available to each student. I know it’s not always possible but I think it’s high time we as a community implement such things.

Before I embark on making my own list, I do want to thank Mr. Farrell for his willingness to come to the table as well as Mitzy for her willingness to dialogue. I hope that this peace that has been made endures and, as at the start, becomes another part of a fruitful dialogue that all may benefit from. I would also like to thank everyone else who threw in their two bits into this discourse as it keeps us as a community engaged.

11150919_632347436866534_6176740297529604321_n


Nick Farrell and Spiritual Abuse

Disclaimer: It has come to my attention that some people may have willingly misinterpreted my post as being specifically a smear campaign against Mr. Farrell. I would like to adamantly state that this is not the case while reserving my observations that his original post is indicative of fostering a culture of abuse. In no way do I equate him with Robert Zink or Kenny Klein, but provide the two as examples of abusive situations that have occurred that were handled poorly and all too late. I do not think that Nick, himself, is guilty of such atrocities, but provide examples of what could happen when communities do not pay heed to warning signs and refuse to engage in meaningful dialogue.
– 5/6/15

While I generally try to stay away from the drama department in my esoteric pursuits, occasionally something comes up that I have to speak out against. Recently occultist and author Nick Farrell published an entry in his personal blog ‘Ten Tips for Young Occultists’ wherein he manages to squarely place the blame of the state of modern occultism on the younger generation of occultists who simply can’t respect their elders. Apart from coming across as an ageist screed, I would like to propose that each of Nick Farrell’s tips are actually advocating religious abuse.

Religious abuse refers to abuse administered under the guise of religion, including harassment or humiliation, possibly resulting in psychological trauma. Religious abuse may also include misuse of religion for selfish, secular, or ideological ends such as the abuse of a clerical position. While we are more often familiar with the abuses of organized religions, esoteric orders and fraternities are not excluded from having the capacity to cause grievous spiritual harm to individuals. There are a variety of ways in which this can manifest organizationally as well as individually.

In his first tip, ‘Realise you know nothing’, Farrell in speaking from an authoritative position first belittles potential students and practitioners by denying their basic human dignity by informing them that until they meet some abstract ‘age of reason’ their experiences are unimportant. In doing so, he also manages to foster some form of submission to teachers without any avenue for personal disagreement, this also continues more blatantly in his second tip, ‘Stop talking’.

His third tip, which is seemingly innocuous enough, he encourages students to listen to the experiences of other teachers. While this is generally good advice, he invokes the power of having esoteric knowledge that is too advanced for students. This, naturally, creates an imbalance of power and presumes that the teacher or adept ultimately knows more than the student and has power over them.

Farrell’s fourth tip, ‘Do not use questions to assert your own ignorance’, presumes that the student’s ignorance is to be taken for granted and once again fosters unquestioned allegiance to the teacher. While he does include, “Good teachers allow questions and debates because that is how they learn. Unquestioned teachers make emphatic statements which will have to be challenged later” he doesn’t provide a litmus for the very real possibility of abuse in this particular dynamic.

In ‘Realise that you are unimportant’, Farrell not only manages to patronize the reader but removes them from any chance of dialogue in complete contradiction to his previous statement. Here he also manages to foster an environments of exclusivity, dismissing criticism on the purported basis that the assessment, opinions, and criticism of the critic is invalid because he/she does not understand or rejects the unorthodox nuances of the belief system or magical teaching.

Tip number six, ‘You can learn a lot from some real cunts’, places the blame directly on the student should they eventually have the unfortunate event of a falling out with other occultists or even their teachers. This removal of consequence from the teacher and displacing it onto the student – also continued in tip number seven – is highly irresponsible.

In tip number seven, while it may be that traditional that teachers place upon their students certain obligations or have expectations, the student/teacher dynamic is, well, dynamic. The student should definitely be able to prove their understanding of whatever curriculum they’re enrolled in, but their learning and experience doesn’t develop without the guidance of the teacher who should be there to engage in dialogue without belittling the self-worth of the student. Submission to spiritual authority without any right to disagree is ultimately a form of intimidation which is antithetical to the learning process.

Tip number eight, ‘You will project your weaknesses onto your teacher’ is particularly troublesome in the number of presumptions that it implies. While a degree of transference is to be expected in any interpersonal dynamic, it’s also equally true that the teacher may project their expectations and fantasies as well as fears and insecurities unto their students.

In tip number nine, ‘Don’t just sit there help’ I must repeat Mr. Hillier in his refrain of, “Help put out the chairs???” Seriously, having held back for a bit I’m a little disappointed in the inclusion of that, but on a more serious note it also could be that inclusion may also be an aspect of demanding servant-hood from their students while remaining aloof in their own personal involvements.

Finally, tip number ten is the bulk of the iceberg that nobody could have seen coming, ‘Never challenge the leader’. Seriously, I don’t really know where to begin with this one other than it really speaks for itself. Having gone through the whole process of cultivating dependence on the teacher, demanding servant-hood, buffering himself from criticism, and fostering exclusivity, all the while belittling the student, the expectation that students should essentially sit down, shut up and learn is rather unbecoming of any person who engages in authentic spirituality.

Having looked at all these ‘tips’ I’m left with little room but to suggest that Mr. Farrell is fostering a culture of spiritual abuse which, as we’ve seen recently here and here, often goes unremarked in the greater pagan and esoteric communities. Unless he cares to elaborate further on his position, I’m left with no choice but to strongly advise any potential students away from his mentorship as they would be subjecting themselves in proximity to the possibility of spiritual abuse and exploitation.

Not-fit-for-human-consumption


An Interlude for February Twenty-Fourth: Lent

Христос в пустыне (Christ in The Desert) Ivan Kramskoi, 1872. Oil on canvas

Христос в пустыне (Christ in The Desert)
Ivan Kramskoi, 1872. Oil on canvas

“Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? But with whom was he angry forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”

– Hebrews 3:12-19


Temptation on the Road to the Heavenly City

“I was glad when they said to me,”Let us go to the house of the LORD.” Now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.”
– Psalm 122

I didn’t get to writing this until late last night, and it was largely on my phone, so I apologize both for the brevity.

The second Psalm reading for the evening is one of my favorites. Also called Lætatus sum, it is one of the fifteen Psalms that bear the title, ‘Song of Ascents’, also commonly called ‘Gradual Psalms’. It is believed that these particular psalms were sung by the worshipers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavout, and Sukkot – a time when Israelites living in Judea would make a pilgrimage to the Temple of Jerusalem.

In many ways, this particular psalm calls to mind the scene of Christ in the wilderness where the Adversary tempted Jesus with food, domination, and all sorts of worldly powers only to fail. Probably the most poignant scene where the Adversary takes Jesus to the top of the mountain, tempting him with control of all the kingdoms of the world – if only Jesus bow down and worship the Adversary. Personally, I don’t believe in a singular, monolithic ‘devil'; but I think that the struggle of Jesus in the Desert speaks to each of us and our own dealings with the Adversary.

Throughout Lent, we’ll all have our moments of temptation. Maybe we had a bite of meat on Friday when we swore it off. Maybe we forgot that we weren’t going to have candy and took a piece of toffee from the bowl at the waiting room. In and of themselves, these things aren’t bad, but they’re not good either. In Jewish thought, humanity is said to have two naturally occurring inclinations – the yetzer hara, or, evil inclination; and the yetzer tov, a good inclination.

Since these things are naturally occurring, it’s difficult to put an entirely moral dimension to them, but they can be conveniently spoken of as psychological and spiritual realities which eventually we must face, sublimate or avoid. When I read the story of Jesus’ temptation, I see it personally as one of the best examples of a person struggling with these urges. In the Berakhot 32a, the Talmudic sages clearly give an example of the evil urge which is not unlike that what Jesus was tempted:

“To what is it like, the evil inclination in man? It is like a father who takes his small son, bathes him, douses him with perfume, combs his hair, dresses him up in his finest accoutrements, feeds him, gives him drink, places a bag of money around his neck, and then goes off and puts his son at the front door of a brothel. What can the boy do that he not sin?”

– Sages of the Talmud, Berakhot 32a

Many of us I imagine, often forget that while fully divine, Jesus was also one hundred percent human, and struggled with many of the same problems that we struggle. It could have been very easy for Jesus to give into his evil urge and done a great many more worldly things that we could begin to imagine, yet, at the end he chose the narrow gate and submission to the Good.

In a few weeks, we’ll witness Jesus’ triumphant arrival into Jerusalem as he ascends through the gate not on a noble horse, but on a mule, yet greeted none the less as a king and shaking the religious and social authorities to their knees. Until then, like the psalmist writes, we wait in silence on the the loving kindness of God, in the midst of the Temple. If we make any errors in the instance we’ve made a mistake in something we’ve given up, or something that we’ve knowingly done that might draw us slightly away from the path. Don’t be angry with yourself, but like a pilgrim, pick up your staff, dust off and continue on the road to the heavenly city.

Jerusalem-center-detail


Keeping Covenants

Another weekend has come and gone. Lest one think I was slacking in my commitment to write, the simple fact is, is that I wasn’t near any reliable internet where I could make my posts. That said, today I will be posting my reflections from Saturday and Sunday, as well as today’s reflection later on this evening.

Part One: SATURDAY

“My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God; when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?”

– Psalm 42:2

One of the interesting aspects of Lent is the preference for readings that many Christians today might find at least a little uncomfortable. We see many references to the legal codes such as Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and other texts which seem to make one wonder about how much God is really a god of love and not some sort of tyrant who’s worshipers suffer some form of religious Stockholm Syndrome.

In today’s first reading, God speaks to the Israelites first about how much E loves Eir chosen people and, seemingly in the next breath, discusses how E will destroy those who displease Em as well as gives instructions of religious intolerance that would likely offend the most devout warmonger:

“If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. The LORD your God will do the same to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. Moreover, the LORD your God will send the pestilence against them, until even the survivors and the fugitives are destroyed. Have no dread of them, for the LORD your God, who is present with you, is a great and awesome God. The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to make a quick end of them, otherwise the wild animals would become too numerous for you. But the LORD your God will give them over to you, and throw them into great panic, until they are destroyed. He will hand their kings over to you and you shall blot out their name from under heaven; no one will be able to stand against you, until you have destroyed them. The images of their gods you shall burn with fire. Do not covet the silver or the gold that is on them and take it for yourself, because you could be ensnared by it; for it is abhorrent to the LORD your God. Do not bring an abhorrent thing into your house, or you will be set apart for destruction like it. You must utterly detest and abhor it, for it is set apart for destruction.”

– Deuteronomy 7:17-26

Not exactly an uplifting lesson. On one hand we are assured that God will be with Eir people though things may not exactly seem entirely optimistic, and then instructs Eir people to destroy the religious objects and essentially dehumanize their neighbors and their social order, yet in some ways this can be viewed apart from its very real social and historical context and be applied as a meaningful commentary and warning of the real dangers of idolatry and temptation of literal and spiritual materialism.

As many of my friends know, I have a deep and abiding appreciation for sacred art. Whether it come in the form of Byzantine iconography, ex votos, or statues; sacred art is a way in which we engage with the Divine – it speaks to our needs and wants as well as providing a window into the soul. One of the oldest debates within the three monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam almost always seems to come back to the problem of idolatry. Within Judaism and Islam, this resulted in the creation of aniconic sacred art employing diverse forms of calligraphy and geometry. Christianity from a very early stage contested with this problem as well.

In Christian circles, iconoclasm has generally been motivated by a literal interpretation of the second of the Ten Commandments, which forbids the making and worshiping of “graven images.” This is clearly a misinterpretation of the Decalogue because if one continues to read through the Book of Exodus one would encounter the command to Moses to build the Tabernacle: a visible icon of the invisible God. In 730, Emperor Leo II the Isurian banned the use of icons of Jesus, Mary and the saints as well as commanding the destruction these images. The Iconoclastic Controversy was fueled by the refusal of many Christian residents outside the Byzantine Empire, including many Christians living in the Islamic Caliphate, to accept the emperor’s theological arguments. St. John of Damascus was one of the most prominent of these. Ironically, Christians living under Muslim rule at this time had more freedom to write in defense of icons than did those living in the Byzantine Empire. St. John of Damascus’s teaching centered around his clarification and distinction of the terms worship and veneration, teaching that we worship God, depicted in the icon, and simply venerate the icon itself as an image of the Prototype. In his defense of icons he wrote, “I do not worship creation over the creator.”

The point made by Saint John of Damascus is important here. It’s revealed that the objects themselves are not the problem per se but rather the temptation toward coveting things that are not of use to the Israelites and could tempt them away from God’s providence and love. How often do we set up ‘false gods’ in our lives? When do things such as work overtake our lives and prevent us from engaging meaningfully with our neighbor and God? Similarly, how many times have we wasted more effort than we should have arguing about one issue or another on social media? When these things divide, we have set up idols or patterns of behavior that distract us from love for one another and the devotion we owe to the Divine in whatever form we perceive it.

Our second lesson strikes this even deeper home:

“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure. I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone. But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned. When I send Artemas to you, or Tychicus, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Make every effort to send Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way, and see that they lack nothing. And let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive. All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with all of you.”

– Titus 3:1-15

In his letter to Titus, Paul instructs us to pay heed to that which is most important and that is aiding one another and society toward greater harmony in service of the Divine. When speaking of being subject to rulers and authorities, Paul here was most definitely referring to rightly-led civil leaders; obeying these powers is indeed important, but the key here is that in a society, the yoke must go both ways – we should be obedient, but also the powers should be obedient to the eternal law which is love of one’s neighbor.

While meditating on this passage, the presently famous song by Hozier, Take Me to Church, came on my play list. The song itself definitely speaks to a number of the problems of living in a society which becomes oppressive – specifically speaking to the plight of LGBTQ persons and their equal person-hood. Two particular verses struck me to the core, as I was preparing to go on a further discourse of Epiphanes’ sermon On Righteousness which speaks to our paradoxal state:

No Masters or Kings
When the Ritual begins
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin.

In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am Human
Only then I am Clean
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

On one hand, we are to obey authority, but in living out the Lenten Mysteries, there are no masters or kings: patriarch and priest, king and president, generals and lawmakers – everyone – is leveled down. We are all sinners. We have all missed the mark. There is a beauty about this, though in a round about way. While the song itself was likely referring to the ‘sin’ of being homosexual, I would be hard pressed as a human being to view someone lesser for who they love – especially being queer myself. We shouldn’t be quick to judge one another for what we perceive of as their state of sin, but rather work together toward a greater and more loving dialogue with one another, and that dialogue can only happen when we are completely and totally naked with our hearts and minds and, in cleansing our perception, come a step closer to beholding God in our fellow beings.

In 813CE, Emperor Leo V (reigned 813–820) instituted a second period of iconoclasm which seemed to be somewhat less severe than the first period of iconoclasm and having fewer martyrdoms and public destruction of icons. Leo was succeeded by Michael II, who was succeeded by his son, Theophilus. Theophilus died, leaving his wife, Theodora the Iconodule, regent for his minor heir, Michael III. Like Irene 50 years before her, Theodora mobilized the iconodules and proclaimed the restoration of icons in 843. Since that time the first Sunday of Lent in the Orthodox Church is celebrated as the feast of the “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”

We return in our Gospel reading to a similar scene which we saw on Friday. Jesus is in Galilee and approaches Philip telling him, “Follow me”, at which point Philip turns around remarking to Nathanael, telling him that he found the person who was spoken of in the writings of Moses and the Prophets, to which Nathanael sarcastically remarks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

– John 1:43-51

To contextualize Nathanael’s snarky comment to Philip, the Gospel of Luke describes Nazareth as ‘a city of Galilee’ and the home of Mary. Following the birth and early epiphany events of chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel, Mary, Joseph and Jesus ‘returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth’ where Jesus grows up. Interestingly, Nazareth is not mentioned in pre-Christian texts and appears in many different Greek forms in the New Testament. There is no consensus regarding the origin of the name. One conjecture holds that “Nazareth” is derived from one of the Hebrew words for ‘branch’, namely ne·ṣer, נֵ֫צֶר, and alludes to the prophetic, messianic words in Book of Isaiah 11:1, ‘from (Jesse’s) roots a Branch (netzer) will bear fruit.’ One view suggests this toponym might be an example of a tribal name used by resettling groups on their return from exile. Both of these possible etymologies seem somewhat appropriate to the Lenten season.

As during Advent we journey with Mary and Joseph through the wilds of the desert into Egypt, we find Jesus coming out of a place associated with exile and into his public ministry. One of the striking things about this chapter is how often the words ‘seek’ and ‘find’ are repeated over and over again in a variety of forms. How often do we find ourselves lost, unable to find an answer to what we’re looking for and, how often when we find that answer we immediately reject it because it doesn’t fit our preconceived notions? Nathanael’s remarks to Philip are exactly that. During this season, stripped of our notions of self-may we slowly embark on that process of coming to see things plainly as they stand right before our own eyes and seek to follow that image and come before the presence of the living God.

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Part Two: SUNDAY

“All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies”

– Psalm 25:9

While we may consider Lent to be something that ultimately we go at alone for contemplation, one of the things that scripture constantly assures us of is that we are not at all alone. Our first reading today alludes to that in talking about the importance of God’s covenant with us. At the most basic, a covenant is an agreement typically denoting some formal process of exchange. In the Bible, the word most commonly used in the Hebrew Scriptures is ‘Berith’ (ברית), referring to a legal disposition or pledge which may or may not have the character of agreement; this particular term may be familiar to us from the word ‘bris’ which is preserved amongst observant Jews as a ritual practice of setting apart in comemmoration of Genesis 17:10-14.

In the Greek, the word most commonly used for covenant is ‘diatheke’ (διαθηκη). In the Septuagint διαθηκη is regularly used as the translation of the covenant of God (berith), rather than the apparently more available word συνθηκη. In this there is already an expression of the fact that the covenant of God does not have the character of a contract between two parties, but curiously that of a one-sided grant.

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,”As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

– Genesis 9:8-17

The Covenant laid out in this chapter carries no stipulations, and it has the character of a one-party guarantee. It does of course require the faith of man, but is in its fulfillment in no respect dependent on the faith, an it is validly in force for all coming generations, believing and unbelieving (cf. Gen. 9:9). And in the making of the covenant with Abraham, too, in Gen. 15, the fulfillment of the law is in symbolical form made to depend wholly upon the divine deed – it’s entirely a gift. As a reminder, God places in the heavens the symbol of the rainbow in the clouds.

To those of us who are familiar with Western Esotericism and the Kabbalah, below the ethical triad of Chesed (Mercy), Geburah (Strength) and Tipareth (Beauty) there is depicted in some instances a rainbow that is referred to as the Veil of Paroketh, alluding to the Covenant made between God and humanity. It is this veil which separates our egos from our true and beautiful spiritual natures. Rainbows, as we know, are optical phenomenon caused by reflections, refraction, and disperson of light in water droplets which result in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky – they are optical illusions and cannot be physically approached.

In a similar way, the separation between God and humanity can ultimately be said to be illusory. Throughout Genesis we have multiple instances of humanity separating itself from God because we become to self-centered instead of listening to God’s gentle calls. When we stray too far, we are forced to face the consequences of our actions which take us away from God who is paradoxically always there to remind us of our own innate goodness. In setting up the rainbow, we have a reminder of the manifold mercies God has for us, if only we take a moment to reflect on them.

“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.”

– 1 Peter 3:18-22

In the epistle, Peter addresses the various churches in Asia Minor recalling the covenant with Noah and offering a glimpse of a greater mystery. While many various movements practiced forms of ritual purity that could be comparable to baptism, Peter here makes a marked separation between the physical act of cleanliness and introduces the concept of moral purity, which if we are attentive, leads us through the veil of the illusions we’ve created of ourselves and reminds us again of God’s mercy and beauty. Eight is an interesting number in Christian thought and doubly so in Gnostic thought referring to the Ogdoad.

The earliest Gnostic systems included a theory of seven heavens and a supercelestial region called the Ogdoad. Astronomical theories had introduced the concept of seven planetary spheres with an eighth above them, the sphere of the fixed stars. In this sphere we have our primordial origins. Through contemplating on these mysteries, we are subsequently purified and able to ascend back to our origins and put to rest in Christ our lower natures that prevent us from seeing who we really are.

Our gospel reading today is rather interesting. Again we find ourselves on the river Jordan, but unlike John’s Gospel accounts, things seem a little bit off, if a little rushed even:

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

– Mark 1:9-15

As in the previous gospels, we’re called toward repentance but this time it is Jesus making that call instead of his cousin. When the scene begins, Jesus is baptized and the heavens open up with the Holy Spirit descending upon him in the form of a dove. For those who were present, I would imagine it would be an astounding scene – which it is meant to be. In the Greek New Testament, the word used when referring to the clouds opening up is not a gentle one, so we can rest aside the beautiful Renaissance paintings of billowing clouds. The word used is “schizomenous” – a violent tearing, and one that appears later again when Christ’s earthly mission is complete and the veil in the Temple is rent in part.

The root of this word may be familiar to some people as found in modern psychology, ‘skhízō’ – the same one as found in our word ‘schizophrenia’. Schizophrenia, as we know, is a mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, auditory hallucinations, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and inactivity. Naturally, schizophrenia is a very serious disorder and people with it need to be treated with common human dignity, but for the purposes of this let us consider our own bewildered states: our own false beliefs, expressions, confused thinking, and delusions when it comes to our own personal spiritual lives.

In the Gospel, the Epiphany of Jesus seems to have had a major impact, otherwise it wouldn’t have found its way into each of the synoptic gospels. Along with the transfiguration, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension, the Baptism of Jesus is one of the major milestones in the gospel experience. In Mark’s gospel, though, instead of Jesus staying around and preaching he immediately goes into the desert and faces the temptations of the Adversary before coming back and preaching.

The order of events is rather stunning, and the proclamations in Mark’s gospel mirror the account we read earlier in Genesis. God reveals Emself to Humanity and initiates a covenant. The preaching of Jesus, in this account, can in many ways be said to be the start of a new covenant – the Greek for what we in English call the New Testament, Hē Kainḕ Diathḗkē, can be translated as “The New Covenant” which calls us, like the dove which descended upon Christ, to listen to what the Spirit is saying to God’s people and follow Christ together in our own personal journey.

25


Come and See

“Attract them by the way you live.”
— Saint Augustine

Many of us are familiar with the old adage, “If you build it, they will come” made famous in the film, Field of Dreams where in the opening narration, our protagonist, Ray, explains how he had a troubled relationship with his father, John Kinsella, who was a devoted baseball fan. While walking through his cornfield one evening, Ray hears a voice that whispers, “If you build it, he will come.” Ray continues hearing the voice before finally seeing a vision of a baseball diamond in his field. Annie, his wife, is skeptical of his vision, but she allows Ray to plow under his corn to build the field. But as months pass by and nothing happens in the field, Ray’s family faces financial ruin. However, Karin eventually spots a uniformed man in the field. Ray discovers that he is Shoeless Joe Jackson, a deceased baseball player idolized by Ray’s father. Thrilled to be able to play baseball again, Joe asks to bring others to play on the field. He later returns from the cornfield with the seven other players banned in the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

Estranged from his father at the time of the opening, Ray’s vision led journey leads him on a number of remarkable set of discoveries which eventually lead him at the end of the film to reuniting with his father in spirit. I’m sure in some ways this could be relatable to some of us in our lives’ journeys – paralleled in some ways by the parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke in which a father gives his two sons his inheritance before he dies. The younger son, after wasting his fortune, goes hungry during a famine. He then returns home with the intention of begging to be employed and renouncing his kinship to his father. Regardless, the father finds him on the road and immediately welcomes him back as his son and holds a feast to celebrate his return. The older son refuses to participate, stating that in all the time he has worked for the father, he did not even receive a goat to celebrate with his friends. The father reminds the older son that everything the father has is the older son’s (his inheritance) but that they should still celebrate the return of the younger son.

There have been many times in my life where I’ve walked away from both my very real family as well as God thinking that I’m more important, or perhaps not worthy enough. We’ve all had similar experiences, I imagine. It’s easy to loose sight of what’s important in our lives, whether that be our familial and social responsibilities, our spiritual path, and numerous other things. One of the things that Lent gives us the opportunity to do is reflect on what really matters.

In today’s gospel reading we are called to, “come and see” the hope we so earnestly seek:

“The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).”

– John 1:35-42

Taking off from the previous day’s reading, once again we have John the Baptist immediately after the baptism of Jesus exclaiming his Godhood with the Beloved Disciple witnessing the whole event. As the sun would have been slowly going down from its apex and settling into the balmy warmth of the afternoon, we have Andrew declaring, “We have found the Messiah.” I would imagine Simon-Peter’s reaction at first being one of incredulity. How could he, just a simple fisherman, be standing in the presence of the Messiah? It’s often hard to recognize things that are standing right in our midst and that, in many ways, is what Lent invites us to uncover.

Many of us, myself included, have this bizarre idea that when God wants something of us that we’ll get the hint in the form of some fiery angel announcing God’s will, a transfigured Christ, vision of a Saint or Mary, or any number of things. As we find in today’s Gospel, sometimes these things are standing right before our eyes but because of our expectations, our egos, we fail to see them standing right in our midst. Part of the repentance we’re called to in Lent is a process of clearing up and reorienting our positions. As Paul speaks in Corinthians:

“For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end… For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

– I Corinthians 13:9, 12-13

It is by clearing up our perception that we are better able to be receptive to those little epiphanies. These may not come as bright flashes of light or voices, but most likely in seeing connections in everyday events and relationships. In order for this to happen, though, we have to take time every now and again to follow the advice of the Delphic oracle and know ourselves for who we truly are; the brightness of God’s everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of Eir power, the image of Eir Goodness, one and indivisible, bearers of the Sacred Flame. In our daily actions let us just remember that. The process needn’t be arduous nor need it be filled with the expectation of anything else than the gentle knowing that we have the ability – each and every one of us – to come to a gentle understanding of ourselves as part of something else that is already within our midst and, like the prodigal son, realize that in the times that we walk away from the things that are important to us, our true home is only a heart-beat away from us, if we just stop for a moment to listen and look around us.

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