Archive for March, 2013

Stages of Faith – Introduction

At some point I wish to discuss transitioning from a “mythic-literal” stage of faith toward later stages, involving reflection and conjunction (and ultimately unity). But first we have to come to a broad understanding of what comprises a stage of faith. This post is intended as an overview or introduction to the topic.

I wish to discuss the idea of stages of faith because I believe it offers a means of better understanding the depths of our own religious-spiritual practices, as well as opening us to an appreciation of the faith practices of others. I also believe it offers a perspective from which we may better relate to others. I feel each of these aspects is important.

So what is meant by a “stage of faith”?

I find one way of grasping the ideas underlying developing stages of faith, is to think of a parallel series of “stages” with which we are all familiar: we all grow through “stages” as we mature from infants, to youths, to young adults, to mature adults, and as elders in our community.

In fact, observation of our normal psychological developments as we age and mature is in part responsible for the theories of faith development as described by Dr. James W. Fowler in his book, “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning” (which I enthusiastically recommend).

As children we are sponges, soaking up our surroundings, stimulating our neural networks causing these to expand, grow, and become more complex. As a result of this process we are provided the mental tools we require to understand and make sense of the world in which we live. And one of these tools is our faculty for faith. In this sense, “faith” need not be religious. (Fowler explains this in his books. Although, in my blogs I expect I will usually be speaking of the religious-spiritual aspect of faith development.)

The core of the idea involves perception.

First as we develop awareness of ourselves as an individual. Then as we (often unconsciously) learn the behavior, beliefs, and practices of those nearest to us; and later, of those in the wider community in which we live. As you can see, each of these phases expands our perception of ourselves and the world in which we live – our circle of awareness grows larger and larger.

As we grow older and develop more sophisticated means of understanding the world, we begin to consciously adopt “lenses” through which to view the world. Sometimes we evaluate the behaviors and beliefs we “inherited” and choose to modify them. Sometimes we use what we inherited as a foundation upon which to build.

And, some people never seem to consciously adapt their view of the world. From a certain perspective, such people can be said to live their lives unconsciously.

Another aspect of our psychological development is the “direction” of our awareness.

In the earliest stage we are learning to identify ourselves and how we are separate from our surroundings. Then we begin to take on a view of the world very much like those taking care of our daily needs. These early stages are generally one-way views of the world: it is “us” looking out “at” the world in which we are immersed. Like a fish living in water, we don’t at first appreciate we too live “in” our surroundings; we do not at first discern that others see us as if we are an outsider.

But at some point, we “see them seeing us.” We can imagine seeing the world -and ourselves- through the eyes of another. As our faculties of perception become more refined, we “see us, seeing them, seeing us.” We are learning to see the world “reflectively” and with increasing appreciation for detail, perspective, and depth.

Theories quickly multiply and become complex, yet are based upon simple human needs.

Theories of what is happening to us, and how directly we effect our own development, and at what point in our psychological development we are able to effectively do this quickly becomes complex. There are a variety of theories, each with its strengths and weaknesses. None of these theories is perfect.

As you sort this all out for yourself, remember the root of all these systems is quite simple. We are discussing how we each perceive the world. And we are discussing from how many angles we are able to view the world. Some of these may appear to be mutually exclusive. Yet here we are, sometimes believing six “impossible” things before breakfast!

What is next?

I think the next logical step to take is to take a brief look at a few of the more popular systems, or stage development models. Some only model four categories, and some a dozen or more. Some deal more directly with our personal psychological development, and others deal more directly with our sociological development. Some are primarily secular and others are more concerned with our spiritual development. Each has its place and may or may not be the better tool for any given situation. I switch between models, using whichever tool -or “lens”- I believe is most practical for each occasion.

It is up to us to choose the pair of glasses through which we view ourselves and the world. And we may change glasses from time to time!

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What does celebrating the Eucharist mean to me?

QUESTION:    Can you share your thoughts regarding the importance of “celebrating” the Eucharist. What does it mean to you? What is its spiritual significance? Is everyone invited to participate?

For myself?

I am finding the celebration of the Eucharist as an evolving process. I’m still working out my personal meaning on the finer points, and in that sense it is an internal (and esoteric) experiment. My hope is that the process evolves me spiritually. I do feel a sense of Presence when performing the ritual, so I feel certain that something very real is happening.

I really do think it involves a process of working with, and interacting with, Divine energy. Now I don’t objectively think that God needs little ol’ me to bring God into the world. I think much more likely is that we are ourselves benefited by lending in a hand; by the very process of helping out. It is not so much for God’s benefit, in other words, than for our own benefit. We gain something spiritual in the “doing” of the ritual. Most of us learn best by doing. And celebrating the Eucharist helps to better refine our connection to the Holy Spirit, both our sense of this connection, and transformationally on the spiritual-emotional level of our being.

I like to think performing this ritual is refining my spiritual self – my “energy” self or my “soul” or “spirit” – however one wishes to frame that concept. This is very much related to the transubstantiation of the bread and wine. In my view, while these do not literally become meat and blood here on earth, in the spiritual realm their nature *is* changed. (The physical transubstantiation of the bread and wine a metaphor for this higher, spiritual Truth.) So it is the spiritual counterpart to the bread and wine is what is being transmuted, transformed, transubstantiated. So too, with us.

And purely in the physical realm, I suspect it offers us a health benefit, and at times may be physically healing. The Eucharist is clearly emotionally healing to some. (I also believe all healing occurs first in the spiritual body, then in the emotional and physical bodies.)

There is a lot to be said for the power of our beliefs. As we we think, so we are. Taking-in the physical counterpart of the bread and wine into our bodies, most likely activates us on several levels of our being. On one level this helps make this experience real to our bodies. It becomes tangible. Emotionally and spiritually we become more open and more receptive. Most likely, this helps our transference of spiritual energy in the spiritual realm, and from the spiritual realm into the physical realm.

And if nothing else, I find it is a reminder to myself to be more Christ-like. And I can use all those reminders I can get!

What actually happens during the Eucharist liturgy?

I generally ascribe to the Liberal Catholic Church’s view that in celebrating the Eucharist -the Holy Communion of bread and wine- I am helping to open up a little window into the world, encouraging the entry of Divine energy to flow into this world. This spiritual energy – which one might name the Presence of God, or the Holy Spirit – flows into the altar, the chalice and host, into the priest, outward into those present, and continues to spread outward into the world at large. Unseen, there are present angelic beings who strive to facilitate this two-way flow, exchange, or transference, of spiritual energy. We offer our oblations of loving worship to God, and God offers us common-union with the Holy Spirit, and Divine Love.

The bread and wine are especially charged with this spiritual energy/Divine Presence/Love/Holy Spirit. Those who take this into themselves gain additional benefit by closer contact with these spiritually charged elements. This is why healing services are performed following the Eucharist portion of the liturgy, after those present are most fully “charged” with the spiritual energy of the Holy Spirit. In contrast, baptisms precede the Eucharist celebration – but ideally are part of a Mass (due to the higher state of spiritual energy) – because the process of becoming baptized prepares one’s spiritual body for more efficient, effective transmission of this spiritual energy.

What of those present in the ekklesia (the congregation)?

Each person chooses their level of involvement with the ritual. The spiritual energy/Presence flows into those *both* participating and merely present. However, I feel that when attending Holy Communion one best benefits oneself – and all others – by mentally, emotionally, and spiritually engaging in the ritual.

Those “simply present” may increase their participation in the exchange of spiritual energy by placing their awareness – attention, intention, and perception – on what is taking place during the liturgy. As a person better understands what the service is trying to convey, and how the channels are opened between the physical and spiritual realms, each person is able to lend their spiritual heart to this process, encouraging this Divine energy to enter into the alter, the chalice (wine) and host (bread), the priest, to those present – including themselves – and then outward into the world at large.

Specifically how an individual “lends their heart” to the service will vary according to their psychology. One might find visualizing the flow of energy useful, another may hear the singing of attending angels, another may feel rumbling or other sensations, and another may feel the upwelling of emotion and love increasing until it overflows and spills forth into all those present, and outward into the world. Or any combination of the above. Or perhaps through some other modality. How one specifically encourages the process, and specifically in what manner one personally engages in the experience, is far less important than one *does* participate and engage in the celebration of the Eucharist. Ideally experiencing physical, emotional, and spiritual participation.

Alternately, one may just sit there and eat a cracker after an hour or so passes. But I suspect that would be of minimal benefit – yet still of benefit – to that individual.

The Eucharist liturgy is a form of theurgy.

A kinda scary word! Citing Wikipedia: “Theurgy (from Greek θεουργία) describes the practice of rituals, sometimes seen as magical in nature, performed with the intention of invoking the action or evoking the presence of one or more gods, especially with the goal of uniting with the divine, achieving henosis, and perfecting oneself”.

[Henosis (from the Greek: ἕνωσις) means “oneness,” “union,” or “unity.” It is understood as the desire to achieve union with what one perceives as fundamental reality, or Ultimate Power (Source/God/etc). We might observe this concern is related to theosis (which is simultaneously a transformative process as well as the ultimate goal of that process itself, resulting in our common-union with the Divine/God; embodying the Divine essence within ourselves.)]

Ritualized religious-spiritual magic, in other words. And so it is. This view is perhaps colored by my attending seminary, but I do not see “magic” as automatically associated with evil. Liturgy is a structured behavior, giving structure to a worship service. In other words it is a set of ritualized actions and behaviors meant to convey specific meanings and evoke specific reactions within us, and certainly in the case of the Mass, offers oblation to God with the hope, intent of procuring favor at some level. That is engaging in the process of ritualized religious magic: theurgy.

On the other hand, magic is merely what we name a technology we do not comprehend. That may very well be the case here. We certainly do not really understand all the inner workings of the spiritual realm. In the meantime, we just do our best.

Is spiritual refinement taking place?

I do see celebrating the Eucharist liturgy as one means of helping to refine one’s in-dwelling Divine Spirit. The whole point is to make, feel, develop, and extend our connection with The Christ. Another view which I hope may be taking place, is that the ritual may begin to open my spiritual eye to better perceive the Divine Center. So in this sense it is an effort to develop my personal aptitude for mysticism. For feeling a connection to the Divine. And as I say, I do feel some connection. I find this experience is very real. I can feel it. And I do believe this is a form of spiritual refinement.

Building and maintaining the spiritual edifice of the Eucharist.

Then there is the idea of thought-energy-forms. Many people have poured sincere intention into this form of ritual for nearly 2,000 years. That in and of itself builds up spiritual energy. By reproducing the ritual we too connect with that, feed from it, and feed back into it for others in the future. In a very rough way, one might think of this as a type of spiritual battery. I suspect this too is taking place. Seen through this lens we are reaching far back into the ancient roots of our spiritual tradition, deriving real benefit from their service, and we are simultaneously passing forward this continuing spiritual tradition – and effective energy – for future generations.

Is everyone invited to participate in the Eucharist celebration?

In my tradition, yes. Anyone who is sincerely wishing to participate so as to experience a closeness with Christ/Holy Spirit/God is welcomed. It is deemed improper for us as humans to determine which other humans are worthy of taking part in the ritual. (This includes the spirits of any deceased, who may wish to be present.)

In contrast, the Roman Catholic Church officially only permits Roman Catholics (in good standing) to participate in the Eucharist. That said, how strictly this is enforced varies. I recall attending several Roman Catholic Masses in high school, and I took the Eucharist each time. It really seemed like the whole point, and even then I appreciated that aspect of their liturgy. However, I still knew I was really not supposed to be there and that really weakened the experience for me.

Each denomination will have their own rules and individual parish observances on this point. I’m sure there is a great deal of variation, both inter- and intra-denominationally.

I suspect one of the reasons my denomination invites any sincerely seeking person to take part in the Eucharist, is we view this as one of the most powerful, spiritually charged rituals one may celebrate. If we are in fact correct in our assumption that performing the Eucharist celebration opens a positive, beneficial channel between this world and the spiritual realm, isn’t that one of the very best places for a person seeking God to experience a meaningful connection, a “common-union” (Holy Communion) with the Divine? Where better to find affinity with God? Where better to kindle one’s Divine Spark? Why deny someone seeking God’s Presence such an opportunity?

So for all these reasons I celebrate the Eucharist.

Father Erik

Follow-Up Answers to the Holy Supper vs. Sacrifice

Question #1: With regard to the post “Particulars of the Ekklesia Epignostika Church” one paragraph states the Ekklesia Epignostika Church’s (EEC) positions as:

One of the alternative teachings we espouse is the Holy Supper instead of the Sacrifice….The altar is not a place of human sacrifice, thank you very much. Blood atonement is NOT one of our doctrines. Yes, Yeshua gave his life rather than resist arrest and risk his family and students’ persecution and deaths, but he did not give it as a human sacrifice to a blood-desiring Heavenly Father bent on some kind of weird “divine justice” or “payment” for everyone’s sins.

“Doesn’t this sound a bit exaggerated, harsh and confusing? Can you elaborate more on its meaning? Thank you.”

Answer #1: On the Holy Supper

Yes, that is a confusing statement when contained in such a small package. And it comes across as even somewhat polemic. I’m not surprised that it prompts a follow-up. Let’s see if I can unpack that a bit….

To begin with, the concept of original sin and the required death of God’s Son to “pay” for these sins is a strongly dualistic belief. My understanding is this is one of the holdovers we inherited from the early Christian Gnostic movement (and/or we may inherent this strong dualism from Zoroastrianism). So too with the self-abasement and whipping the hide off one’s back, for that matter. In what we now call the ancient Gnostic movement self-hate is normal. Everything of the earth is evil. We are supposed to be spirits, but we have been trapped here on earth. Trapped by an evil god, in fact (often depicted as the G-d of the Hebrew bible – speak of being polemic!). Therefore, anything and everything which has to do with the earth is corrupt and evil.

This is the background which sets up viewing the Garden of Eden story as resulting in Original Sin, from what became the orthodox Christian perspective, at least.

But I feel this is a mistake. When reading a text I think it is important to at least consider the perspective of those who wrote it. In this case we turn to the early Hebrew people, and ask what might they have thought of this story? We cannot be certain of course. But we can ask modern Jews how they interpret the story of creation and the “fall” of man.

The short answer to this is that the world is a good thing.

It is a positive creation. As are we. The earth and everything in it has been created by G-d and is fundamentally good. (The opposite of the ancient Gnostic position that everything is evil.) Furthermore, most modern Jews, and presumably their Hebrew ancestors, do not see any “Original Sin” taking place in this story. And it is a story in the Hebrew bible -not the Christian New Testament- so I give their interpretation a lot of weight.

They say what took place was a mistake. A “missing of the mark” (the meaning of the word from which “sin” is translated). An error. But nothing like the majority Christian understanding of original sin, which is much closer to the ancient Gnostic understanding; this is *not* the Jewish understanding.

Therefore the entire foundation of the idea that God killed his Son to erase our original sin is a mistaken belief. At least if one sides with the Jewish perspective of their Hebrew bible. And, as I said, I am among those who do. So if you look at the story of the crucifixion through this lens, instead of the lens of Original Sin, the meaning behind the statements may begin to make more sense.

Bearing in mind that I cannot speak for the bishops of the EEC because I may misrepresent their intended position, I will only speak of my own understanding of this position. My impression of the reason the EEC differentiates between a Holy Supper and a Holy Sacrifice, is that we prefer to celebrate the ideals of peace and love and the search for transcendent understanding (the way we interpret the term “Gnostic” — the search for spiritual apprehension of the Divine; and very much *NOT* an understanding that the world and G-d are evil). We do *not* celebrate the murder of Jesus. We do *not* believe he had to be slaughtered as a replacement for Temple sacrifice.

This will be one of the major differences between the orthodox Roman Catholic Church’s view of Original Sin and the way the church I am a member of looks at it. And a pretty fundamental difference at that!

One might even observe, this is why I feel it is so important to examine one’s cornerstone beliefs. And the meaning of “Original Sin” is one such example. If you get that wrong, then a bunch of other understandings are going to be misguided. This is what I think has happened in many Christian churches.

Question #2: The post “Particulars of the Ekklesia Epignostika Church” stated that your church believed “in Jesus his Son who came and brought the world salvation!”  What kind of salvation was this?

Answer #2

This is a great question. I cannot say I have a 100% understanding on this point. Coming to an understanding of this question is at the core of my entire spiritual search! But I will share my thoughts, such as they are. As for the church bishops, they’d have to speak to their views. I suspect it is close to the Liberal Catholic Church’s view in that they leave this interpretation up to the individual. And off hand I cannot recall their individual opinions on this point.

Speaking for myself, if the historical scholars are right, and if the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus are accurate (that’s a touchy problem, given the various revisions of biblical text over the centuries, we cannot really be certain of most of Jesus’ sayings are in fact his), then I have a problem because I do not subscribe to apocalyptic teachings. I believe these are best understood in their own historical narrative, not ours some 2,000 years later. So all the groups that point to Revelation as a foretelling of things to come, and the end of the world, I just can’t buy into that.

(The Book of Revelation, perhaps would have been better understood had it been entitled, “Revelation: A Book of Hope!” Because Revelation is really about providing hope to carry us through these hard times, and offer us assurance that following each series of tragic events, ultimately the Kingdom of Heaven/New Jerusalem will come to pass here on earth.)

So I personally hope Jesus was *not* just one of many apocalyptic prophets. If he was, he was wrong, and therefore not the Son of G-d as this is classically understood. Due to this uncertainty as to the nature of Jesus, my favourite Gospel is Mark. In it no one ever really understands who Jesus is, or what his life was all about! Turning to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 16, we find there are several “endings” to this book (quoting from: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%2016&version=NRSVCE), the shortest of which is simply:

8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The Shorter Ending of Mark adds:

And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.

The Longer Ending of Mark adds quite a bit of material:

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

9 Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

Jesus Appears to Two Disciples

12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

Jesus Commissions the Disciples

14 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. 16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

The Ascension of Jesus

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

Footnotes:

Mark 16:8 Some of the most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8. One authority concludes the book with the shorter ending; others include the shorter ending and then continue with verses 9–20. In most authorities verses 9–20 follow immediately after verse 8, though in some of these authorities the passage is marked as being doubtful.

 

I favour the shortest ending. All the others I think are much more likely to have been added to over the centuries because people just couldn’t stand the uncertain ending of the women running away in fear and never telling anyone. However, this missing the main point of this Gospel! It *is* all about trying to work out an understanding of who Jesus was! What was his nature? (And struggling with one’s uncertainty in the face of such questions.)

In line with this questioning search for Jesus’ nature, there is what has been called the “Messianic Secret.” Jesus kept telling people *not* to proclaim who he was. Was this because he knew no one tells things faster than what they have been told not to tell? Or might it be because he knew that people expected a warring messiah? And he did *not* wish to start a revolt. Therefore, he told people not to speak of him so they would be safe. The Romans killed rebels. Ultimately, this is why the Romans killed Jesus (*not* the Jews – the Romans).

And this ties in with the theme of Jesus turning himself in quietly so as not to get his friends and family murdered alongside himself, and is why the EEC honours this form of Jesus’ sacrifice through the aforementioned Holy Supper. This is an *alternate* understanding -which I favour- to Jesus turning himself in so that he could be slaughtered on our behalf; as a substitute to ritual Temple sacrifice; as a blood sacrifice to G-d. As I indicated above, I just don’t believe that G-d has to murder himself to save us from original sin (which didn’t happen in the first place).

My own view of what kind of salvation Jesus offers us is much more mystical.

This is always hard to pin down in words. Or is for me at any rate. I personally think Jesus was speaking of breathing life into the Divine spark we each have within us. One of the sayings which I take to heart is found in the Gospel of John (which is an admittedly poetic Gospel and is meant to be taken allegorically) where Jesus says he is in the Father, and the Father is in him. He then says he is in us/we in him. Could he be clearer? (Apparently so! heheh.) To me this says Jesus found a unity with the Divine, and that we too are part of that Unity.

John 14:20 NRSV: On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

Theosis

So I subscribe to an understanding closer to that offered by the Eastern Orthodox Church’s belief in theosis. This belief is still a vibrant aspect of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, it is just not a form of Christianity we are greatly exposed to in the West. And certainly it is greatly removed from Protestantism as a whole, because it tends toward a mystic interpretation (as does the Eastern Orthodox as a whole), whereas Protestantism is founded upon more literal interpretations of the written texts of the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

[This difference may especially be expected to be felt quite sharply by those who are coming from a largely Pentecostal Church perspective. In such cases, we are pretty much residing at opposite ends of the Christian continuum in many ways. Although I suspect we agree that the Holy Spirit is the active agent in our spiritual lives as well as in the world. A view we share with all “Charismatic Christians” in general, regardless of their exoteric/outer affiliation within the wider Church of Christ. In this wider sense of the word, I too am a “Charismatic Christian.” (Otherwise, I really see little point in being Christian. But that’s just me.) One way to imagine this difference is to see that on the outer sphere of being Christian we have very different understandings of what that means. When we traverse the outer surface of this sphere we seem very different from one another much of the time. But as we turn inward and look toward the center of that sphere, our differences become less and less as we move toward that central point. This center is the point which I have -following others- called the Divine Center, and in the heart of that center lives the Holy Ghost; the Shakinah; the Presence of G-d; Brahma; the Tao; call it what you will. Thus enters a theme of plurality of religions and one way to better appreciate each as a unique means of “finding God.”]

As I re-read my answer, the Book of James comes to mind. Nowhere does James speak of salvation through the death of Jesus, nor of God demanding the blood of Jesus. Instead, James (presumed to be the brother of Jesus, who should know Jesus pretty well!) encourages his readers to do good works. The second chapter of James reads (quoting v. 14-17, but this theme continues through to the end of the chapter, concluding with verse 26, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”):

James (Ch. 2): 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

So for me, the salvation Jesus brought us is found in his example and his loving encouragement that we too find a way to allow that Divine Breath of Life to live though us, and to become vehicles for that in-dwelling Spirit (Shakinah/Holy Ghost) to live in/through/with us.

Psalms 82:6 (which Jesus quoted) reads: “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you”

And one aspect of doing this may be experienced through participating in the Eucharist celebration. I really do believe/feel that is one way to bring us into contact with something Divine. I like to think this results in the Holy Spirit becoming more active in our life, and body, and I hope our soul and spirit.

This is quite clearly another point where my belief is quite different than that of the Roman Catholic Church. And it is one of many reasons I personally could never be a RCC priest (nor would they have me! it is fair to observe). I have never felt that the ideas of original sin, and the blood sacrifice of Jesus made any sense. Why would God Almighty set up the world that way?

It makes more sense to me that we are in a fundamentally good creation, are part of this good creation, and that we are here to learn to grow into beings becoming more resonate with the Divine. I don’t see salvation as something Jesus does “to” us. And it is something more than a philosophical view with which we agree/”believe.” It is our responsibility to follow Jesus’ example, finding a means of letting more and more of the Divine Spirit of the Christ to live in us each day. And there are many ways of doing this. Some days being “closer to the mark” than others.

Such are my thoughts.
Father Erik

Closing Thoughts to my “Answer”

 

Why would one wish to become a priest?

For me there are at least two good answers to this question.

One is very personal and is about one’s private journey in search for the Divine. Part of me is trying to understand how one “finds God.” For me this is much less about the “outer trappings” of religion. Facing East, bowing to the cross, or in which sacred texts I turn for inspiration. It is much more about what is going on inside. It is less about what is in my head and much more about what is in my heart. And for me, for one who is so much “in my head” this is very difficult! Remembering that image of the glass globe, I am much more interested in learning to turn inward when seeking the Divine. In this sense, this is all about me and my spiritual growth and maturity.

But there is another aspect, and that is of service to others. In this regard I view my role as that of a spiritual guide. In this role I see myself more as a chaplain. I am not here to tell someone else how to find God. I am here to help them increase their own understanding of how to encounter God. There is a great difference between these!

Yet I have no idea where this may lead. This is a point I have left to “faith” in the belief that I will somehow end up benefiting others. Stated poetically, one might say I hope the in-dwelling Spirit of Christ might kindle the spark of the Divine in others. And I hope it does for me as well.

Jobs

Note that I did not list vocation or employment in my reasons for becoming a priest. The church I have chosen is tiny. They offer no paid positions – zero! I do hope that someday I might be able to use my training to secure a job more in line with my spiritual goals (my “thinking” mind says hospice care). But I have no idea if this will ever reward me financially.

In terms of an investment in the physical world of Malkuth (a Jewish mystical term for life here on earth), this may be a net loss. Then again, those who seek their riches solely in this world may find they are impoverished in the next. So maybe this is not all that important. One must strive to maintain a sense of perspective (as hard as that is while paying a mortgage and light bill! hehehe).

God is Ineffable

This is one of my dearest apprehensions, which I really try to bring home in my religious/spiritual conversations: God is ultimately ineffable. Which we forget at our peril. Or more practically, at the peril of others! Because as soon as we forget this, we find it much easier to harm someone for holding the “wrong” belief about (the ineffable!) God. Such behaviour simply strikes me as an oxymoron.

Anything we can say about God limits and defines that which has no limits and that which cannot be defined. I Am That I Am-I Shall Be That Which I Shall Be. (In the original Hebrew, the phrase carries both meanings at the same time.) Seeing that rolling within itself, turning one inside out to the other, simultaneously and always in both-neither state, is as good a description of God as any.

Tolerance

And if we truly understand this concept we will easily tolerate the understanding of others. We may not like it, but we will tolerate it. God only knows, they may be closer to an important Truth than are we. I believe we must allow for that possibility. And to the degree we do so, we are better prepared to later accept the differences of others, and perhaps some distant day discover we even appreciate some of their differences. And if we concentrate on this in place of hurting those who believe differently than ourselves, I believe we are working to bring about a better world in which all may live.

I may be mistaken, but I believe it has to be easier to find God in a peaceful world than one embroiled in war. I may be naive -I often have been in the past- but I think this is a standard by which it is worth guiding our own course. So this is why I try to remain open-minded. Why I try to learn about other religious expressions, with the hope that I may be able to help someone else grow in their understanding of God/Divine, as I feel I have been doing.

Eucharist as the In-Dwelling Spirit

I understand the celebration of the Eucharist as an event which fosters the in-flowing spirit-energy of the Divine. I believe one might accurately call this the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. On one hand, observing the Eucharist celebration opens a channel between those celebrating it and the Divine, and through this channel the Presence of God is encountered. Do we open this channel? Or does the Presence of God stand ready to respond to those seeking it? Is there a useful difference between these ways of describing what is happening? (I’m not certain there is.)

This is one of the foundational beliefs of the EEC. When a priest performs the Eucharist celebration, even when alone, they are in fact encouraging a greater connection between this physical world and that of the Divine. And in so doing, all the world benefits. (Admittedly, more so for those present and actively taking part, either as priest or a member of the ekklesia, both of whom play active spiritual roles.)

And I find this a beautiful and inspirational belief!

Offered with blessings, to all who may read this,
Father Erik Weaver

Particulars of the Ekklesia Epignostika (my church)

At long last we introduce my church, heheh! The Ekklesia Epignostika Church (EEC) is the church I have chosen to join, be baptised into, and for which I serve as a priest. The EEC is of the Old Catholic Church (OCC) tradition. After many years of doctrinal disagreement, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the OCC split in the mid-1800’s. The issue they were unable to resolve and most responsible for their schism was that of papal infallability. Both the RCC and OCC trace their roots back some 2,000-years to the same ancient source: The Apostle St. Peter (c. 32-67).
Apostolic Succession

Quoting an EEC document:

Apostolic Succession is the transmission of the spiritual gifts entrusted by Jesus the Christ to his original students (later called apostles) by the laying on of hands. These spiritual gifts have since been passed on throughout history by the act of consecration, the direct laying-on-of-hands, in an unbroken line from the apostles to their successors, bishop to bishop down to the present day. Bishops are said to hold the “fullness” of these gifts. They share their commission in the name of the Christ with priests in their charge for the purpose of serving the community of the faithful and making the sacraments more readily available to the people of GOD Most High. These spiritual gifts insure and preserve the sacred life of the various branches of the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church’s sacramental nature. The word Catholic means “universal” and is an adjective meaning our church is universal. The use of the word “catholic” in the phrase One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church, but to the one larger “church” that is universal and apostolic.

(End quote.)

Esoteric Christianity

The EEC emphasizes the Esoteric Christian perspective. This views the process of developing one’s Inner Christianity as highly important. It understands the internal, spiritual practice of Christianity as a “mystery” religion. To understand this one must first understand there are two broadly different ways of “being religious.”

External/Exoteric Practices

These are the outer expressions of one’s religious practice, which includes the form of worship, and the interpretation of scripture, doctrine and dogma. In a business-sense it also includes the organization and management of “institutional” churches. (Which have gotten a bad name in some circles, but really, serve a valid service.) The external practices of one’s religion would certainly include how one interacts with others within (and without) the religious community. It includes education, ordination, and the sociological aspects of the church.

Internal/Esoteric Practices

There is a cross-over or grey-area in the transition between exoteric and esoteric (outer/inner) expression of religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. But one way to discern the differences between these is to imagine one’s “religion” as a glass sphere. We are each facets on the surface of this globe. But where do we turn to find God? The exoteric looks sideways and outward/up to find God. The esoteric also looks sideways (this is the grey area each perspective shares) but is more intent upon gazing inward, toward the center, seeking common-union with the Divine.

The EEC very much acknowledges this inward-turning as a useful and valid expression of Christianity. In this sense it embraces the “mystery” of our religion. And in turning inward, seeking the Divine Center, we believe we all move closer to one another. Seeking inward, we seek community not only with other Christian religions but non-Christian religions/spiritual observances as well. And this is certainly an important aspect of my understanding of becoming more Christ-like.

Christianity as a Mystery Religion

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esoteric_Christianity. Quote:

Early Christians used the Greek word μυστήριον (mysterion) to describe the Christian Mystery. The Old Testament versions use the word mysterion as an equivalent to the Hebrew sôd, “secret” (Proverbs 20:19). In the New Testament the word mystery is applied ordinarily to the sublime revelation of the Gospel (Matthew 13:11; Colossians 2:2; 1 Timothy 3:9; 1 Corinthians 15:51), and to the Incarnation and life of the Saviour and his manifestation by the preaching of the Apostles (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:4; 6:19; Colossians 1:26; 4:3). Theologians give the name mystery to revealed truths that surpass the powers of natural reason, so, in a narrow sense, the Mystery is a truth that transcends the created intellect. The impossibility of obtaining a rational comprehension of the Mystery leads to an inner or hidden way of comprehension of the Christian Mystery that is indicated by the term esoteric in Esoteric Christianity.

Even though revealed and believed, the Mystery remains nevertheless obscure and veiled during the mortal life, if the deciphering of the mysteries, made possible by esotericism, does not intervene. This esoteric knowledge would allow a deep comprehension of the Christian mysteries that otherwise would remain obscure.

(End quote.)

“Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition” by Richard Smoley

I think that pretty well sums up the “Mystery” aspect of Esoteric Christianity. Although, if one is interested in learning more, among the best books to read is “Inner Christianity” by Smoley. I found it very informative. It was one of the first books which I read that allowed me to think perhaps there was a place for me in the Christian church.

Additional Tenets of the EEC

(Quoting from EEC written material.)

Must be Comfortable with Alternative Christian Teachings & Scriptures

We teach a sacramental semi-gnostic alternative-Christian approach. It is very important to understand that Candidates who become Seminarians with us will need to be able to work well with what the mainstream Church calls “heretical” and “heresy”. We are actually only semi-gnostic here, but many critics and mainstream Christians consider all gnosticism to be radical and heretical. We actually go beyond gnosticism, delving into deep inner Christianity in the esoteric tradition. Gnosticism and gnostics can sometimes be overly intellectual (understatement!) and get hung up on the letter of the law at the expense of the spirit. Theological debates and attitudes of “I know more than you,” are not part of our training or ministry to the public.

Holy Supper (Eucharist)

One of the alternative teachings we espouse is the Holy Supper instead of the Sacrifice. We view the altar as the Communion Table, the Holy Table where Yeshua shared a ceremonial, esoteric, and literal meal with his students and family. The altar is not a place of human sacrifice, thank you very much. Blood atonement is NOT one of our doctrines. Yes, Yeshua gave his life rather than resist arrest and risk his family and students’ persecution and deaths, but he did not give it as a human sacrifice to a blood-desiring Heavenly Father bent on some kind of weird “divine justice” or “payment” for everyone’s sins.

[NOTE: A follow-up question requested I clarify this point. My “Follow-Up” answer will be found in a later post, as it appeared in the original chronology of the conversation.-EW]

Spousal Approval & Age Requirements

We actually prefer our priestly candidates to be married, instead of single, but it is not a requirement. We always ask our married applicants to be sure your spouse is one hundred percent behind you in your pursuit of Holy Orders.  Our experience has told us that anyone whose spouse isn’t behind them will eventually fail to obtain Holy Orders. We encourage spouses to get involved and become ordained as a Deacon.

Family Orientation

The Ekklesia Epignostika is a family oriented church, and our Eucharist celebrations (“Mass”) are organic natural “rituals” very much like the primitive Christians in the first Century A.D. might have celebrated in their house-churches.

Gnosticism

Gnosticism is a positive path, a path of Light, illumination – not self-loathing and world-hating as some critics claim. Walking the Way of Gnosis, or Epignosis in our tradition, is not for the faint-hearted.

Keep in mind we believe in an all-good and loving Heavenly Father, the True God, God Most High, and in Jesus his Son who came and brought the world salvation!  We also believe in Sophia, the Heavenly (and Earthly) Mother. There is much value in extra-canonical literature and Gnostic scriptures, especially the Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Philip.

As for Gnostic writings, we use only the earliest Gnostic Christian scriptures and writings, not the later Gnostic writings, many of which Bishop Katia’s mentor and consecrating Bishop +Christian says are actually “psychotic.” Some of the later so-called gnostic writings make gnosticism seem loopy or downright dangerous. This is why we call ourselves semi-Gnostic and all-the-way Esoteric, Sacramental and Alternative.

We adhere only to the primitive early Gnostic Christian teachings – of light and the Light of the World, Jesus the Christ and his “mother” Sophia.

(End quote.)

Basic Tenets of the Liberal Catholic Church

 

I share a number of apprehensions as expressed by the Liberal Catholic Church (LCC) and the church of which I am a member (Ekklesia Epignostika) shares some of their liturgy, so this too needs to be unpacked to some degree in order to understand why I am a member of the Ekklesia Epignostika, and how this church differs from the Roman Catholic Church.

For a thorough understanding of the basic tenets of the Liberal Catholic Church, Province of the United States, please visit their web site (http://www.thelccusa.org/about/basic-tenets-of-the-liberal.html). Below I will simply share some of my personal thoughts with regard to just a few of their key points. I wish to once again remind readers, what followings is my personal opinion and may not represent the official opinion of the church and seminaries I have attended. And while I share many beliefs with the LCC, I am not a member of their church, and certainly cannot speak for them. For any errors and omissions I claim fault to be my own.

“Before Abraham was, I am.”

This is a statement made by Jesus. To my mind he is speaking of the living Spirit of the eternal Christ, of which Jesus was the embodiment some 2,000 years ago. The Logos made flesh, as it is expressed in the Gospel of John. “Logos” is usually translated as “Word,” although this pales in depth of meaning as compared to the Logos in the original Greek. This is why I normally prefer to use the “Logos” in my liturgies. This eternal Spirit of Christ is seen as a continuing presence to this day. Christ is understood to be present yesterday, today, tomorrow, and through all time. More specifically, Christ is beyond the constraints of Time.

I believe it is fair to admit the use of terminology can become somewhat confusing as we attempt to define the ineffable nature of the Divine. This understanding of Christ shares a great deal with the understanding of the Holy Ghost, which for me represents the Presence of the Divine. In Jewish terms I think of the Holy Ghost as one in the same with the Shakinah. I think both Christians and Jews are speaking of the same Divine Presence when they use their respective terms. I believe these terms are our efforts to label an aspect of the Divine, yet as this is not something we can fully define, so we find our terminology lacks perfect clarity.

Perhaps one day I will have a more refined apprehension of the subtle differences between the terms Christ, Holy Ghost, and the Shakinah. But for the present I am happy to allow these symbols of the Divine to stand half-seen at the edge of the Cloud of Unknowing within which resides Divine Mystery.

For all our lack of perfect clarity, an important point to hold in our mind is that the Christ “lives as a mighty spiritual presence in the world, guiding and sustaining His people.”

The Feminine Aspect of the Divine

I believe we modern Christians are impoverished when we deny God the Mother. The feminine aspect of the Divine is important, as this is the nourishing, life-giving aspect of the Divine. The Mother Archetype is one with which we may all identify. It is an important aspect of our humanity, so to deny this being mirrored in God is, I believe, to our detriment. We are created in God’s image, both male and female.

Why might this be important? The LCC web page offers a useful observation:

“This divine principle is shown forth on earth in the sanctity of life and the mystery of birth and by the sacrifice and love of human motherhood which call forth our deepest reverence and respect.”

Unity of All Religions

A person holding this ideal as important is sometimes called a religious pluralist. At its core is the ideal of Tolerance. I believe we must learn to tolerate others and their opinions and means of expressing their apprehension of the Divine. My hope is from Tolerance I will find I move to Acceptance. A subtle, but important shift. It is of the heart. Once my heart opens to another, I may discover I even Appreciate some of their views or practices, and I may discover new insights which inform and deepen my own apprehension of the Divine. The world is diverse, as are the paths to better apprehending the Divine. And this is a good thing because what works for me may not work for you.

There are many Truths and mystical experiences shared by all the great world religions. These Truths are universal. Promoting peace and love and compassion for one another are good indicators that we are on the proper path. I self-identify as Christian, ultimately because once I realized that when my spiritual back was against the wall it was the Divine personification of Jesus Christ to whom I pray. But this does not mean this is the only way to find God. It only means this is the best way for me to find my way to God.

 

Your path may differ. And that is fine.

A Mystic Interpretation of the Eucharist

I thought I’d take a breath in my 12,000+ word “answer” (beginning with “On Becoming An Old Catholic Priest”) to share my impressions of the Eucharist (aka Holy Communion – the Blood and Body of Christ).

I share the Old Catholic Church position (as well as Methodist and others) that the Eucharist offering of wine and bread is *not* *literally* transubstantiated into the literal blood and flesh of Christ. The wine has never tasted like salty blood to me. And the bread remains bread. I’ve eaten a lot of meat in my day, and the bread does not become meat.

But that is a very limited earthly interpretation, and NOT what I think is important.

A Divine Mystery

A far better question is what may be happening in the spiritual realm, and in what way might Spirit be interacting with our physical realm? Herein is where I believe we may apprehend what it truly important!

For those who may not know, when celebrating the Eucharist, the priest will bless the wine and bread, and in so doing act as a conduit for the spiritual energy of the Divine to flow into the wine and bread. It is this in-flowing of Spirit which “transubstantiates” the wine and bread. Not in the physical realm of the profane, but in the spiritual realm of the sacred.

One way I’ve heard this described is to imagine that each and every molecule and atom in the physical universe has a spiritual counterpart. As the Spirit flows in-and-through the wine and bread (our symbolic offering to the Divine) the “higher” (spiritual) state of the offering is changed. I also believe that we too have a “higher” spiritual counterpart – we too are spiritually effected by taking part in this process. That is the realm in which the transubstantiation takes place.

Creating an Axis Mundi

At the same time, the in-flowing of the Spirit in-and-through our offering continues to flow outward, in-and-through those present (and more fully in those who eat and drink of the spiritual Blood and spiritual Flesh), and then continuing outward into the world at large. We are essentially opening a spiritual door providing a point of entry for the Spirit into this physical world. I find this a quite beautiful image; that by celebrating the Eucharist we are better enabling the entry of Spirit into the world; that each time we celebrate the Eucharist we benefit the entire world, even if only a little bit each time.

Why Does God Need Us?!

Some might say this is kinda nuts! If God wanted more Spirit to enter into the world, why not simply Breathe more Life into it directly? Why are “weak little us” needed to act a conduits?

Well, I really don’t know for sure. I think that is just the way it is. I liken it to the view that angels stand ready and willing to help us. However, we first need ask for their assistance! For whatever reason, this appears to be one of the Divine Laws under which we operate in the physical world. I don’t know why this is so. But it is my apprehension that it is so!

The reason this is the way it is, may be because we need to first indicate our desire to participate. We have free will. Therefore, we are required to utilize our Directed Intention; to engage our Will, intentionally, mindfully. I believe it is our willing participation in the Divine Mystery that God “needs” from us.

Or it may be that by doing so we learn and grow spiritually. We must become active agents to benefit most fully from God’s grace. Perhaps we simply learn best by doing.

So the next time you participate in the Eucharist, I suggest you consider this as both an opportunity to breathe-in the in-dwelling Divine Spirit, renewing your spirit, as well as an opportunity to add your own little extra “oomph!” to help make this a more beautiful, loving, peaceful world.

Basic Tenets of the Old Catholic Church (OCC)

The Eucharist is the Core of the Church

Also known as the Blood (wine) and Body (bread) of Christ, the word Eucharist means thanksgiving. Some call it Holy Communion. In the early house churches of the first century it seems this may have also involved sharing of a communal meal.

The Church is a Community of Believers

The Greek word is ekklesia. An assembly or gathering of persons. Usually it is translated from Greek into English as “church.” But in this sense I believe we are to see the ekklesia as a body of persons more as a family, related in one’s care and concern for the other members of the ekklesia.

As a group unified by the two above ideas, we find that the ekklesia/church is comprised of persons who find a sense of community with one another, and who are united by their desire to worship God primarily through their observance of the Eucharist celebration. In the Old Catholic Church (OCC), the “celebration” of the Eucharist is understood as “thanks-giving” for the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ on our behalf, and is viewed as the most profound expression of God’s love.

Two Understandings of Sin (Missing the Mark)

For most Christians, the idea of “sin” is directly connected to that of Original Sin. This understanding reaches back to the story of Adam and Eve eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and the Knowledge of Evil. The result of which was a permanent separation between humankind and God, and making all human beings fundamentally flawed, fallen beings (some may go so far as to say “evil” by our human nature), who are all doomed for eternity.

However, the original meaning of “sin” simply means “missing the mark” or to err. This is still the typical Jewish understanding of “sin.” God created the world and declared that it is good. *All* creation is good. We are part of God’s creation. Therefore, we are fundamentally good. And we are clearly *not* fundamentally evil. We do make mistakes and err. But this does *not* transform our essential character from good to evil beings. And it is not something we pass down through our DNA to our children.

(There are a couple of additional points I will surely address at a later time. One is the above misapprehension misjudges the Truth contained within a mythos, as if it were a Fact – these are quite different things! Additionally, this is an example of a Christian interpretation of the Hebrew bible making a fundamental error of understanding in the original text. If one is going to adopt another culture’s mythos, it is important to allow oneself to be informed by their traditional interpretations of their mythos. Context is meaningful.)

Seeing “sin” in this light, we find there is no “original sin.” There is no reason to assume we are all totally corrupt at birth. Quite to the contrary. At the same time, we do still need to learn to grow closer to God; seeking greater unity with the Divine; developing that Divine Spark we each carry within our spirit.

Redemption & Reconciliation

We (Old Catholics) experience the celebration of the Eucharist as Christ’s triumph over sin as a redemptive act, and as a process whereby that which is is divided, is brought together. As such, participation in the Eucharist celebration reconciles people, both with one another and with God. “That which was scattered is brought together.” Seen through this lens, we find the “Church” exists to heal broken relations: between ourselves and God; and between individuals.

Apostolic Succession

The Old Catholic Church (OCC) does subscribe to apostolic succession, exactly as does the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). Apostolic succession is conveyed in both the physical (uninterrupted chain) of laying on of hands by bishops, reaching back to the time of Jesus, as well as experienced and expressed through the written scriptures and the sacraments.

Liturgy (Form of Ritual Worship)

The Old Catholic liturgy is itself not significantly divergent from the Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass, and it is generally given in the common tongue. The Old Catholic Church also shares some of the liturgy with the other “high church” forms of worship, including: Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox, Anglicans, and high church Protestants.

Note: “High church” worship is a highly structured, ritualistic form of worship. There is little emphasis on preaching as is typically found in “low church” styles of worship. Low church forms of worship also tend to be much more free-flowing and more loosely structured. Another common difference is that high church liturgy centers around the Eucharist, which is in fact the primary point of the worship service. In contrast, low church liturgy may observe the Eucharist (Holy Communion/Communion) infrequently, instead emphasizing teaching/preaching the ekklesia the meanings found in the written Word of God (Holy Bible). So when you hear the terms High Church and Low Church, think in terms of the degree of structure and organized ritual (High or Low).

Transubstantiation

This is one of the major differences between the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the Old Catholic Church (OCC), and is similar to Orthodox and Methodist understandings of the Eucharist. The Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation and consubstantiation have been rejected as being too literal of interpretations of the experience of the Eucharist. Rather, the Eucharist is viewed as a “divine mystery of communion” beyond explanation of literal concepts, and as *not* being subject to the study of the scientific method. Essentially the nature of the divine mystery is ineffable – as is the Divine itself. Holding this sense of Divine Mystery is preferred to developing a theory of the sacrament.

Some Major Areas of Difference Between OCC and RCC:

  • Old Catholics generally are open-minded when considering most social issues. Such views specifically include:
  • The role of women in the Church: not only allowing them, but welcoming them, to serve as clergy.
  • Married persons may serve as ordained members of the clergy (deacons, priests and bishops).
  • Same-sex relationships are considered moral.
  • One may use contraception or not, following one’s own conscience in this matter.
  • Communion is given openly, to Christians of all traditions. It is felt that no human being may presume to exclude any other Christian from the celebration of the Eucharist.