Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

The Voice Crying in the Desert

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”as the prophet Isaiah said.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Today ends the last day of the Epiphany Season, commonly called Shrove Tuesday ,or, as familiar to most in North America Mardi Gras. A moveable commemoration is determined by Easter. The expression “Shrove Tuesday” comes from the word shrive, meaning “to absolve”. While many in the United States and elsewhere are enjoying the final night of the Carnival or Mardi Gras season, tonight is the night where we hear the call of John the Baptist saying, ““I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord!” Tonight we are called toward repentance.

It may seem strange to some, so close after the joyous celebration of the Epiphany season, to be called into repentance. It wasn’t two months ago that we witnessed the full presence of the Lord amongst us: the honoring of the Lord by the Three Magi, His baptism in the river Jordan by his cousin; Christ selecting Philip to join amongst the apostles, the beginning of his Galilean ministry and the subsequent selection of the other apostles, the casting out of the unclean spirit by the possessed man in the synagogue, and many other miraculous events.

During this time, we are drawn into the narrative of Jesus, an accomplished and evangelical preacher and miracle worker. We follow him as he selects his disciples and starts his earthly ministry. We walk with him, sharing in the wonder and awe of this charismatic who touches us to the core.

This past Sunday, we beheld him in full glory, climbing the mountainside with John, James and Peter to pray and meditate. After what would have been at least half a day’s trek. While climbing up this steep and dangerous mountainside, far removed from civilization as they know it, possibly praying along the way or talking about their ministry, Jesus stands before them glowing with a supernatural whiteness – at his side the great patriarch Moses and Elijah at his side. These sons of thunder and Peter struck down in awe before Jesus suddenly appears again as himself, the poor preacher from Nazareth. And now, the light grows dim, just a flash before our eyes before we are invited into the desert once again.

The period of Lent which starts tomorrow is a period of repentance. Now, for many this conjures images of self-denial, fasting, or at the very minimum just giving up some kind of enjoyment or vice. The Greek term often used for repentance in the Greek gospels is metanoia. Metanoia, far from covering one’s self in sack cloth simply means, ‘to change one’s mind’. After the holiday season and throughout Epiphany we’re focused on the external appearances of things and external activities. In the reading for today, John calls us to make straight the way of the Lord into our hearts and minds. Yet, how do we do this and what does it mean?

On an external level, moderate fasting can be healthy, yet when taken to extremes it puts us out of touch with our own bodily needs – the body in which the Spirit comes to sit. Anyone who’s been involved in heavy academic pursuits, long and irregular work schedules, or athletics knows how hard it can be to balance things – especially their spiritual life when things are too busy and one hasn’t eaten properly. It can also be a symptom of what some have termed spiritual pride – a self-righteous sense of being more holy than one’s neighbor well illustrated by the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector in Luke’s Gospel. If one is going to fast, how will it turn one’s focus on the path you’re making straight for the Lord to enter?

Another traditional practice is alms giving. Since the time of the apostles and to the present day charity is a great practice whether it be giving one’s time in volunteering or money to the church or organizations. Yet, if one feels compelled to give – especially in this tough economic climate where money and time are concerns- and can’t, that doesn’t help them set clear their path but can actually make a person feel worthless and like they’re not able to participate alongside their sisters and brothers.

While abstinence, fasting, prayer, repentance and service are all traditional Lenten practices, I would like to suggest something perhaps less traditional that is still in the spirit of the Season. Do something more and fine tune what you’re doing.

From birth until death each of us carries within themselves something to offer the world. For some, this is a propensity for music. If that’s the case, take this time to fine tune your talents, offer each practice session to God and your community. If it’s athletics, maybe work out a little bit harder or perhaps invite a friend who’s interested for improving their game or whatever physical activity they do. If it’s finances, maybe dedicate time to learning how to best use your money to benefit someone other than yourself and maybe teach others to do the same. If you’re a deeply spiritual person, maybe re-examine what’s working and what’s not in your practice, streamline it or find a new way to express your devotion and support others spiritually. There are many other examples that with a little bit of thought can be put into practice.

It is important, though, to also add a spiritual dimension to your activities. If you can, take some time for daily prayer and attend services with your own or other spiritual communities. Pay attention to what the Spirit is saying whether at work, in personal reading, or at church and see how you can make it apply to your life in this period and see if can be carried through the rest of the year. And, most importantly, be good to yourselves – don’t make comparisons between what you’ve chosen to do or not with that of other people, instead, rest in the knowledge of the transforming power of the Divine Beloved.

Alessandro_Allori_-_The_Preaching_of_St_John_the_Baptist_-_WGA0183


Assumption of Mary

Today we commemorate the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, celebrated in the Orthodox and Eastern Church as the solemnity of the Dormition. Throughout the history of Christianity, Mary has been an inseparable part of Christian and Gnostic devotion. In my own tradition, she is revered in many diverse ways – come viewing her as a manifestation of the Holy Sophia, others taking a more conventional devotional angle to her as the bearer of Christ or Theotokos.

assumption

As we enter the Sophanic half of the year, the year of subtle turning inward and nuturing the divine within and furthering our own spiritual dialogue with the Divine Beloved. This self-emptying of the ego or kénōsis may seem strange to many people, but it is precisely at the moment that we empty ourselves, we are able to be filled up with divinity in the same ways as Mary came to bear the Christ within herself saying,”Yes!” to the angel Gabriel and bringing forth God into the world.

Even in a culture so full of longing for spiritual fulfillment, it’s often-times difficult for us to say, “Yes” to the Divine as we know it. To open ourselves up is also to make ourselves extraordinarily vulnerable. Imagine if you will the reaction of Saint Joseph when Mary anounced her experience with the Angel Gabriel:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matt. 1:18-21

It would have been very easy for Joseph as the bridegroom of Mary to simply walk away increduliously at the suggestion that his bride to be was with child. Instead, Joseph as well made that emptying of the self to the will of the Divine and today is well remembered as the devoted foster-fother of Jesus and husband of Mary.

Mary’s own devotion to her son and to the emerging Christian community is most evident in her standing beside him even unto his death on the cross where she became not just the mother of Jesus, but also the entire Christian community along with John the Apostle who became her devoted son even standing beside her as she lay peacefully, falling asleep in the Lord before being raised up heavenly three days later, according to pious tradition mirroring the three days of repose before the resurrection of her son.

Dormition

Interestingly, as a modern Gnostic, I recently became aware of a tradition in action Greece that takes place around the octave of this curious solemnity. Near the 15th of August in the Greek village of Markopoulo on the island Cephaloniaat the Church of the Panagia, one can see snakes slither towards a particular church, the island has many churches but the snakes only go to this church, on the actual day, the 15th they slither on the icon of the Virgin Mary as the church becomes filled with people. In spite of the priest, clergy and people holding the service the snakes show no sign of fear.

According to pious legend, as the island was under the assault of pirates, the nuns at this particular church begged to the Virgin Mary to be saved from what presumably evil fate would befall them at which she turned them all into serpents. Conversely, one thing I may suggest, is that this tradition may also be reflective of an earlier tradition pre-dating the formation of what would become orthodoxy:

“This fellow Epiphanes, whose writings I have at hand, was a son of Carpocrates and his mother was named Alexandria. On his father’s side he was an Alexandrine, on his mother’s a Cephallenian. He lived in all only seventeen years, and at Same in Cephallonia was honoured as a god. There a temple of vast blocks of stone was erected and dedicated to him, with altars, sacred precincts, and a museon, The Cephallenians gather at the temple every new moon and celebrate with sacrifices the day when Epiphanes became a god as his birthday; they pour libations to him, feast in his honour, and sing his praises. He was educated by his father in the general education and in Platonism, and he was instructed in the knowledge of the Monad, which is the root-origin of the Carpocratians’ heresy.” Clement, Stromata.

“And thus, if ungodly, unlawful, and forbidden actions are committed among them, I can no longer find ground for believing them to be such. And in their writings we read as follows, the interpretation which they give [of their views], declaring that Jesus spoke in a mystery to His disciples and apostles privately, and that they requested and obtained permission to hand down the things thus taught them, to others who should be worthy and believing. We are saved, indeed, by means of faith and love; but all other things, while in their nature indifferent, are reckoned by the opinion of men–some good and some evil, there being nothing really evil by nature.” Iranaeus. Ad. Haer.

The cult of the snake as a familiar spirit would have been very common in ancient Greece as in Rome, interestingly, there also appears to have been some continuation of this in other Gnostic sects, most notably the Ophites and Nassene gnostic communities. While we know very little from the Carpocration literature beyond the Mar Saba letter and Clement’s Stromata, it is known that the Carpocrations were a dominant force on this very island in the Second Century of the Common Era and it may be possible that even to this day some element of their presence may remain on the island.


The Way of the Heart and the Way of the Cup

Handed down from master to disciple in an unbroken chain of succession, the prayer of the heart as a spiritual discipline was fixed in writing by the eleventh century Byzantine, hesychast monk Symeon the New Theologian who taught that humanity could and should directly experience theoria, or direct contemplation of the experience of Godhead. In the Orthodox tradition, the preparation for vision of God takes place in two stages: purification, and illumination of the mental faculties. Without this it is impossible for man’s selfish love to be transformed into selfless love and unceasing prayer, as praised by the Apostle Paul who exhorts us in Thessalonians to, “Pray without ceasing.”

Though never achieving much currency in the West, the way of the heart as an esoteric discipline would become a central principal in the writings of the French philosopher, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin who, in his Theosophic Correspondences shares with us, “The inward or centre is the principle of everything; so long as this centre is not open, the greatest external wonders may seduce without advancing us; and, if I may venture to say so, it is our inward which ought to be the true thermometer, the true touchstone, of what passes without. If our heart is in God, if it is really become divine, by love, faith, and ardent prayer, no illusion can surprise us.” In Saint-Martin’s teachings, through similar meditation on God, one may undergo a spiritual process of reintegration with the Divine.

The way of the heart, in both hesychast and esoteric doctrines, is ultimately a form of theurgy. For Neoplatonists such as Iamblichus, the goal is henosis, or unity with God; in the Orthodox East, it is theosis, or the absorption into a divine way of life. I would posit, similarly, that in the esoteric doctrine of the West and the principals of the teachings of Saint-Martin, the achievement of reintegration is a form of spiritual and evangelical salvation of the soul at home with the universal Mind which, after its descent into the innermost core of being, must spread outward in all directions in a like manner as Christ, having experienced at a pivotal point in time descended into Hades and, upon ascent, drew them likewise out of the depths and later, again, spread outward in the form of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost imbuing the Apostles with the same knowledge of doing the same.

Although penitential in tonality, the way of the heart does not contradict Iamblichean principals of theurgy, but indeed does “[enlarge] very greatly our soul’s receptivity to the gods… and accustoms [our] eyes to the brightness of divine light, and gradually brings to perfection the capacity of our faculties for contact with the gods.” (De Mysteriis 5.26.18-40) Similarly, Saint Martin writes: “I think they would do better to call it the sentiment of the presence of intermediate agents doing the will of God. I believe we always perceive this reaction of the Virtues whenever we seek the Verb, not outside of us, but within, looking with intelligence at the temple in which He dwells.” My personal preference for keeping Saint-Martin’s usage of the ‘Verb’ adequately presents the activity of the divine as opposed to the rather abstract and now poorly understood Word, or Logos.

It occurred to me recently that this process is a form of eternal liturgy resulting in the fractio of our limited selves into the chalice representing the fullness of both our hearts and minds. Joining together these two species into one sacrament and consuming it, we experience joy of heaven on earth and partake of the ecstatic ‘Verb’ or action of Godhead. Far from the melancholy, the way of the heart teaches us to live in accordance with our intellect in the very real here and now instead of trying to escape to some indeterminate eschatological future. This bliss and this ecstasy, open to all, brings us not only contemplatively closer to Godhead, but is a challenge and affirmation of our own divinity and active co-participation in the Creation of a redeemed Humanity.

Sacred Heart doves Chalice


An End to the Crisis of God

Jesus is gone.

Forty four days ago we all conspired to shed his blood and put him to death. Some of us conspired through betrayal, some through denial, and others through inaction, false witness, and a myriad of other ways. We denied his humanity, we desecrated his divinity, we tied him up, led him in chains, affixed him to a beam of wood, nailed him to the cross, pierced his side and turned our backs even as he cried to the heavens and released his soul unto death.

Forty days ago he returned from death and nobody who saw him recognized his face even though he had only been in the tomb for three days. Not even his closest companions recognized him. He came back and found us all drunk and stupefied, forgetful of everything he shared with us for the years that we followed him around pretending to learn eagerly at his feet and seeing our distress, stayed with us for another forty days to assuage our grief, to instruct us of the mysteries which lie beyond and then, like the putting out of a candle, his light was absorbed into heaven and once again, Jesus was gone.We were left without him.

But he left a promise.

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Thursday of Mysteries

“When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of their feet before the supper, the impious Judas was darkened by the disease of avarice, and to the lawless judges he betrayed You, the Righteous Judge. Behold, this man because of avarice hanged himself. Flee from the insatiable desire which dared such things against the Master! O Lord Who deals righteously with all, glory to You!”
– Troparion (Plagal Fourth Tone) of Holy Thursday

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“Knowing that Judas was reflecting upon something that was exalted, Jesus said to him, “Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal. For someone else will replace you, in order that the twelve may again come to completion with their god.”
– Gospel of Judas

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“It is not permitted to hold love, as they are called, in the, or Churches, nor to eat and to spread couches in the house of God.”
– Canon XXVIII, Council of Laodicea

Lastsupper-Chartres

“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old; you shall take it from the sheep or from the goats.”
-Exodus 12:5

john the beloved

 

“Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos”

IOHANNES XIII:xxxiv


Dust in the Wind

 

AshCross

Today, Ash Wednesday, marks another return to the liturgical season of Lent, a period oftentimes associated with fasting, self-denial, and penance in many churches. For many post-restoration Gnostics, however, the meaning of this season shifts from one of denial and self-deprecation to an opportunity for engaging in deeper, more attentive, inner contemplation and meditation. Though the external symbols may appear the same, the penitential mood of this season has more in common with alerting us toward our true natures and our frequent inability to remember who we are and “whereto we speed[1]”, as opposed to attaching ourselves to guilt.

Scripture reminds us that we are in fact extensions of the eternal Godhead; immortal, incorrupt, made in the image of eternity[2]. Yet, due to the vast temporal distance from the initial moment of Creation, it is difficult for us to remember this truth and instead wander around in a more or less amnesiac state either bemoaning the gift that has been given us or, conversely, reveling mindlessly in temporal delights without pausing for a moment to recognize that material pleasures are fleeting and not intrinsically meaningful.

During this time of introspection, we are called to make a conscious effort toward remembering our own unique divinity and the divinity we share with the whole of Creation. Far from being a period of denial, Lent is an opportunity for radical engagement with ourselves and the world around us, an exercise to see things as the Godhead intended them to be. By saturating our experiences with meaning, we are able to rediscover the original moment of Creation as continually unfolding around us at all times, in all places and in all things.

The liturgical season of Lent is concrete marker for us to focus on what is ultimately an abstract process that each of us are going through individually in our spiritual process. By infusing this season with meaning, we encounter other markers along the way that can help us better focus our wandering minds. Ash Wednesday changes from penance and the negative religious mood of self-denial to being marked for stronger spiritual training [3]and casting off those things hindering our process and making us mentally and spiritually more capable of putting our experiences into a wider perspective as Jesus did in casting aside the temptations of using his messianic mission for worldly ends instead of offering an example for experiencing and exercising our free will[4].

Echoing my post from the previous year, the primary importance of Lent is to help us grow in our experience toward the divine in whatever form we may honor it. The goal is complete transformation and is unique to each and every one of us and there is no external litmus test for success or failure, only the intent and the rewards of being able to slowly see things as they are and receive being open to experience of our own dynamic divine nature.


[1] Excerpta ex Theodoto

[2] Wisdom 2:23

[3] Asceticism (from the Greek: ἄσκησις, áskēsis, “exercise” or “training”).

[4] Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13


A Mass of Candles (and a little Beeswax)

The Presentation of the Lord

As I noted in my entry last year, Candlemas, also known the Feast of the Presentation, is one of the Twelve Great Feasts and is celebrated by Christians world-wide in commemoration of the gospel account of Mary and Joseph’s presentation of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem to complete Mary’s ritual purification forty days after birth in accordance with the Law of Moses.

The tradition of purification following childbirth was something that, unsettlingly to many in our contemporary culture, survived well into the modern era in the Catholic and Anglican practice of churching new mothers forty days after childbirth wherein a blessing is given to mothers and prayers of thanksgiving are offered for the survival of the child, which with higher infant mortality concerns was a major reason to give thanks.

brighids-flame

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the Feast of Candlemas became deeply syncretized with the Irish quarter celebration of Imbolc which, even in modern Ireland, is considered to mark the beginning of Spring and is a festival fundamentally associated with the ancient goddess Bríg or Brigid, who may be fundamentally considered the same as the Christian Saint Brigid of Kildare whose feast occurs traditionally on the first of February. At this point, it’s hard to say which celebration and traditions influenced one another but in practice they have become so fused that to this day many modern Pagans celebrate it as one of their major yearly celebrations however the tradition of setting lights and keeping vigil are maintained.

Western ecclesial practice for this day maintains the tradition of blessing bees-wax candles to be used in church and by members of the community throughout the year. According to some traditions, the candles used by the faithful put to flight the assaults of evil spirits or faeries and have the additional advantage of warding away the harmful effects of storms. The emphasis on beeswax is something that deeply interests me in light of the current ecological disaster facing many beekeepers with the current die-offs as well as being someone who grew up in an agricultural community where bees are essential to daily life. The connection between liminal (cross-between) times, prophesy, and enlightment and the bee is something I find fascinating, in particular as a modern Gnostic.

tholos

Throughout the ancient Levant, the bee was believed to be the sacred insect that bridged the natural world to the underworld. Tomb decorations, in particular the Mycenean tholos tombs, were even shaped like bee-hives, likely in reference to the ancient goddess Potnia whose name simply means, “mistress”. Her title and epithets were also inherited by classical and Mycenean Greek and applied to many goddesses, including Kore in her role in the Arcadian mysteries of Eleusis.

The bee was also connected in many of these cultures with the gift of prophesy, elements of which are also apparent 1 Samuel 14:24-30:

“He [Jonathan] extended the staff that was in his hand, and dipped the tip of it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes brightened. Then one of the soldiers said, “Your father strictly charged the troops with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food this day.’ And so the troops are faint.” Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land; see how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if today the troops had eaten freely of the spoil taken from their enemies; for now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.”

The Biblical connection between honey and prophesy continues in the account of the prophet John the Baptist who was said to wear clothing of camel hair and feed on locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4, Mark 1:6) as well in the Apocalypse of John (Rev. 10:9-10)

Although the Romantic notion of a connection between a supposed Jesus Dynasty flourishing in France such as those popularized in the fictional books Holy Blood, Holy Grail and the The DaVinci Code, has been definitively disproven, golden bees (or cicadas!) as a symbol of royalty were discovered in 1653 in Tournai in the tomb of Childeric I, founder in 457 of the Merovingian dynasty and father of Clovis and were resurrected in usage by Emperor Napoleon of France in his coat of arms. Interestingly, as Father Donato+ points out in his speculative essay:

“[A] few days before his imperial coronation, Napoleon met with the Roman Pontiff in secret. This was the social and political backdrop of Dr. Fabré-Palaprat’s discovery of the Lévitikon in Paris that same year. The secretive meeting between Napoleon and the pope took place in Paris, but not as a State visit. During their private talks, the pope reportedly pressed Napoleon to sign a document in which Louis XIV “disavowed the articles of the declaration of the clergy in 1682, which was drawn up by Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet as the foundation of the liberties of the Gallican Church… The pope was asking that Napoleon sign a document repudiating the authority of the French Monarch to his extraordinary authority over the established Catholic Church in France, which was claimed – and never relinquished legally – by Louis’ successors. Here, it is important to recall that after Louis XIV, his nephew, Philippe d’Orleans, served as regent for Louis XV. This Philippe is the Duke of Orleans who was appointed Grand-Master of the Order of the Temple, and reformer of its statutes. In name alone, but still by intention, this made Philippe and his successors the Johannite Patriarchs – privy to the secrets and the succession of St. John and everything that entailed. With a renewed monarchy, such as the one Napoleon was about to create, all of these prerogatives would eventually fall into the imperial lap. And the pope knew it.”

Although speculative, for Johannites this connection between the bee and its relevance to the mysteries of John may prove something fun to think about.

symbolique

This Saturday Holy Paraclete Community will be celebrating the Vespers service of the Apostolic Johannite Church, a central part of the ceremony being the lighting of the lucernarium. Traditionally, it would be during the vespers service that the candles would be blessed however, in absence of a priest; I plan on distributing candles to the community out of symbolic solidarity.

For me personally, the morning of Candlemas will be spent in contemplative meditation and participation in Teo Bishop’s Solitary Druid Fellowship’s February Cross Quarter liturgy. Though not pagan myself (in spite of what P. Sufenas Virius Lupus may say), the emphasis on ecological awareness and integration as well as spiritual enlightenment and transformation found in modern druidry appeals to me very much and, in honor of the Brigid’s might not be a bad opportunity to help focus on the Sacred Flame within all people and all paths.

artOfStonehenge_PD204

 

note: in the original post, I had erroneously called Imbolc and Irish ‘cross-quarter’ celebration. As PSVL notes in the comments: “Imbolc is not a cross-quarter day for the Irish, it’s a quarter-day. The whole notion that Imbolc, Beltaine, Lugnasad, and Samain are “cross-quarter days” comes from Wicca, not from Irish tradition. This is the first day of Spring for the Irish, just as Beltaine is the first of Summer, Lugnasad the first of Autumn, and Samain the first of Winter.”


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