Archive for the 'Esoteric Christianity' Category

Thin Places: Opening the Heart

Modern Celtic cross at cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris

Modern Celtic cross at cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris

 

My title is taken from the eighth chapter of Marcus Borg’s book “The Heart of Christianity” which prompted my thoughts for this essay.  This is a moving, thoughtful book which I enthusiastically recommend.

 

Thin Places

The image of Thin Places occurring throughout the physical world is often attributed to the Celts.  And while the Christian tradition may attribute the term to the infusion of ancient Celtic influences, we should recognize that the concept, and more importantly the experience of Thin Places, is far older than is Celtic Christianity (dating from the third century CE).  Thin places are in fact reported in all spiritual traditions of which I am aware.

A closely related concept is that of the axis mundi:

Axis Mundi (Merriam-Webster)  turning point of the world; line through the earth’s center around which the universe revolves

Everywhere the divine realm meets the earthly realm in which we live, that intersection becomes an axis mundi.  Frequently these locations are sacred mountains (Mount Fuji, Mount Olympus, Mount Hermon, Mount Sinai) or sacred trees (Bodhi tree, Yggdrasil, The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil).

A church, temple or an altar may also become an axis mundi.  Less obvious to many Westerners, one’s home may become an axis mundi (as in the practice of Feng shui).  Our physical body may also become an axis mundi:  the chakra system common to Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the practice of Yoga and Tai Chi, are all rooted in the understanding that the human body forms a pillar between heaven and earth (an axis mundi).

Within the Judeo-Christian traditions we can easily recognize the shared concepts of the axis mundi and of Thin Places in the telling sacred stories such as Jacob’s Ladder, Moses’ encounter with the burning bush, and the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor.

We may also recall that Jesus often sought out a special place to commune with God (Mark 1:35, Matt. 14:13, Matt. 14:23, Luke 4:42, Luke 5:15, to name just a few).  Among the more memorable occasions are his 40-day fast in the wilderness,  praying in the garden of Gethsemane,  and the aforementioned transfiguration upon Mount Tabor.

While we seldom refer to Jesus as seeking out Thin Places, it seems obvious to me that the gospels tell us he did so with great frequency;  only the words used to describe his experience differ.  Thus, seeking out Thin Places, or a private sacred space in which we may seek an encounter with the divine, is as authentically Christian as is Jesus himself.

By whatever name we give it, persons from all cultures have sought an experience of the divine.  Thus, we may quite properly observe seeking Thin Places in which one may encounter the divine is a shared human experiences, common to all religions.  It is as much Christian as Buddhist;  as much Muslim as Hindu;  as much Jewish as Taoist;  as much Shinto as Native American.

It is true that the highly personal and subjective nature of the encounter with a Thin Place makes it difficult to convey to others.  And for those who have not had their own experience, it is also very easy to deny that it ever happens.

For those of us who have not had our own Road to Damascus experience, we must rely upon testimony of persons trying to share something of their encounter with the divine, however limited by language their efforts may be.

In 1931, during a trip to England, Mahatma Gandhi was asked to record an address.  He chose his essay “On God” which opens with the following lines:

     “There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything, I feel it though I do not see it. It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.”

One may note that Mahatma Gandhi was speaking of a personal encounter, somehow perceiving a presence, which he identified as God, yet transcendent to his senses.  Near the end of his address, he states, “I confess that I have no argument to convince through reason. Faith transcends reason.”

I suspect another way of saying this, is to observe that having had the experience of encountering the divine, one no longer questions the existence of the divine.  But one may never “prove” the divine exists to a person who has yet to have a similar experience or encounter.

In this we are all alone:  we perceive the world only through the lens of our own sense experience.  Anything we have not yet experienced, we may only appreciate through the testimony of those who have gone before us, those who may light the flame of our own imagination.

And we choose to accept or reject their testimony.

“Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. That is not just fable or a nice story. It is true. If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God shows Himself everywhere, in everything ― in people and in things and in nature and in events. It becomes very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without Him. It’s impossible. The only thing is, is that we don’t see it.”
― Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, in a 1965 audiotape

 

Opening Our Closed Heart

Marcus Borg observes that our heart closes as a result of the very natural process of growing up.  As we mature psychologically, we grow more deeply into a sense of “us.”  We become increasingly aware of the lens through which we observe all that lies outside of ourselves;  in fact, we perceive ourselves as that lens.

I am convinced Borg correctly identifies this process as “[t]he birth and development of self-awareness [which] involves an increasing sense of being a separated self” (page 153, “The Heart of Christianity”).

It is this self-awareness which creates the sense that we are separated from the rest of the cosmos.  And this sense of isolation and disconnection is what must be overcome, at least to some degree, if we are to begin opening our hearts.

This is part of what it means to be born again (or born from above).  I am convinced the author of the Gospel of John is alluding to a psychological-emotional-spiritual process ―although they would not have used that language 2,000 years ago― which brings about a reforming of one’s state of consciousness.

  •      (For a deeper discussion of the psychological and spiritual aspects of the Gospel of John, I recommend Bishop Spong’s book “The Fourth Gospel” and John Sanford’s book “Mystical Christianity.”)

Opening our heart is a process, and one which requires a daily effort.  We must seek out ways of opening our senses to the sacred, of feeling that presence of which Mahatma Gandhi spoke, or as Thomas Merton intimated, of forgetting ourselves enough that we may see that divine light shining everywhere into the world.

Perhaps it is useful to hear how we might recognize when we are failing to open our heart.  Borg gives us a stark example (“The Heart of Christianity” page 154):

     “When I stand in a supermarket checkout line and all the people I see look kind of ugly, I know that my heart is closed.”

 

Thin Places Facilitate the Opening of Our Heart

We truly are creatures of habit.  If we never seek out a Thin Place, we are unlikely to find one.  Yet if we make it a habit to seek Thin Places, thresholds where the divine crosses over into the physical world are increasingly likely to be revealed to us.

There is no guarantee this will happen, but I do believe it becomes increasingly likely over time.  (Especially if we are attentive to how we are being affected by our behaviors;  see Newberg in the Recommended Resources.)

Thin Places may be physical locations.  I have been in places where I felt something which may be described as a presence.  I suspect there may be some merit to the argument that we may encounter something like a “spiritual battery” if we enter a physical space which has been regularly used for spiritual and/or religious practices.

  •      ( And if this is true, we may ask whether the religious relic makes the shrine holy, or whether the heart-felt prayers of pilgrims sanctify it. )

But I am not suggesting we seek out a specific physical location.  One may, of course, but I suspect this is of secondary importance.  I am suggesting of primary importance is that we seek inwardly for our Thin Place.

A Thin Place may be encountered wherever we happen to be.  It is a matter of changing our state of consciousness.  It is a matter of training our body to trigger certain mental, emotional, and psychological states so that we become sensitive to the existence of a Thin Place being created within us.

This may happen any where.  It may happen at any time.  It may happen to us unexpectedly.

But I firmly believe we may also engage in certain behaviors which make the experience more likely, and increasingly so over time, with practice and iteration of our behaviors.  I see this as one of the practical functions of ritual.

Practical examples include:

  • Attending regular places/modes of worship
    Sermons (although words tend to be least effective)
    Liturgical ritual
    Liturgical language
    Liturgical time (Easter, Christmas)
    Study of the bible and other sacred texts
    Contemplation of the bible and other sacred texts
    Internal, silent prayer (especially wordless, feeling-based)
    Communing with/in nature
    Participation in the sacraments (especially the Eucharist)
    Music, hymns, poetry
    Speaking/chanting in tongues
    Dancing, drumming, chanting
    Praying the rosary, or other prayer beads

 

Getting Thin

Getting “Thin” is about entering a psychological-emotional state in which we are more receptive to the Divine.  Intention is also important.  I believe fostering a sense of love is key to improving our spiritual health.

And we need travel no farther than where we are to do so;  provided we travel within.  We certainly may travel to a sacred place, but this is not required.

The specifics of the process are best tailored to the individual.  My best triggers may leave you unaffected, and vice versa.  Experimentation is required, and sufficient time so as to develop a sensitivity to the technique in question is recommended.

In trying to decide what practices may be more likely to bring about results, I suspect that C.G. Jung is correct in suggesting those behaviors which diminish our strongest conscious psychological functions, while supporting our unconscious psychological functions are the better choice.

But I do not think it matters whether one takes a quiet, subtle inward-directed approach (meditation and contemplation, for example) or whether one takes a louder, active outward-directed approach (singing and dancing, for example).

One approach to developing a trigger, is to so thoroughly engage either the active or quiet portions of the mind, that the neural networks supporting these areas of the brain saturate, and create an over-flow or cascading effect which ends up triggering both the active and quiet portions of the brain-mind simultaneously.

  •      ( To gain some insight as to how this may take place, I refer you to Dr. Andrew Newberg books, “Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief” and “Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience.” )

 

The Practice of Esoteric Christianity & Christian Mysticism

All of the above is part of what I understand to be the practice of Inner (Esoteric) Christianity, as well as the practice of Christian Mysticism.

In addition to reading classics on Christian Mysticism, one may study Dr. Newberg’s material on neural-theology as well as Neural Linguistic Programming (NLP).

I believe Dr. Newberg’s material offers valuable insights as to what is happening in our brain as we seek to enter transcendental states of consciousness, providing a useful over-view of what physical-psychological states we are trying to induce in ourselves.

NLP offers a number of very practical suggestions as to how we may “speak” to our own brain, so as to be understood most effectively.  NLP communicates to us the importance of appreciating various “states” of physiology and consciousness, as well as how they are related.

Some of the elemental aspects of NLP include understanding triggers, state, and modes of perception.  I believe each of these are very useful concepts with which to be familiar as we attempt to travel into Thin Places.  (See “Frogs Into Princes” by Bandler and Grinder.)

And, as described above, I do believe travelling into Thin Places is one means of Seeking the Divine Center.

 

May the Lord bless and keep you,

Erik+

 

Recommended Resources:

Bandler, Richard; Grinder, John:  “Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming”
http://www.amazon.com/Frogs-into-Princes-Linguistic-Programming/dp/0911226192/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417408101&sr=1-1&keywords=frogs+into+princes+by+bandler+and+grinder

Borg, Marcus:  “The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith”
http://www.amazon.com/The-Heart-Christianity-Rediscovering-Faith/dp/0060730684

Gandhi, Mahatma:  Spiritual Message (“On God”), 1931
http://youtu.be/EtWr04MBGYI
http://www.gandhiserve.org/information/listen_to_gandhi/lec_1_on_god/augven_spiritual_message.html

Newberg, Andrew:
http://www.andrewnewberg.com/
“Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief”
“Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience”

Sanford, John:  “Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John”

Spong, John Shelby:  “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic”

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Seeking Consonance with the Transcendent

William Blake's "Jacob's Ladder"

William Blake’s “Jacob’s Ladder”

Do you see an apparent contradiction in the following statement?  In my previous essay, I wrote:

  •      “I understand the inner (esoteric) religious experience to be concerned with personal transformation, so as to bring ourselves into increasing consonance with that which transcends our human experience.”

 

If the Transcendent is truly transcendent, then by definition it is beyond our ability to experience.  How then, is it possible to bring oneself into consonance with something one posits must exist outside our universe and experience?  

 

This is the point I will address in this essay.  But first, let’s refresh our memory of certain terms, and provide a frame of reference for this discussion.  The following are the best definitions of “transcendent” when I use terms like “Uncreated/Divine/God” and “Transcendent-Ineffable”:

  Transcendent

  •     Being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge;  being beyond comprehension (Merriam-Webster);
  •     Beyond consciousness or direct apprehension;  beyond or before experience (a priori);  having continuous existence outside the created world (Collins English);
  •     Being above and independent of the material universe (American Heritage);
  •     Not realizable in human experience;  referred to, but beyond, direct apprehension; outside consciousness (Kernerman Webster’s College);

 

The view that “God” (the Uncreated-Divine-Transcendent-Ineffable) is to an indeterminate degree Unknowable, is one of my radical (meaning, foundational) theological tenets.  (I addressed this point in a previous essay).  I find it to be the most certain positive statement I may make concerning the Divine;  more than this, everything else one wishes to say of “God” must reside within the shadow of this observation.  (We forget this at our peril, and the peril of others, as history is replete with examples.)

 

Negative theology (also known as Via Negativa, “Negative Way”) seeks to clarify this point by stating we are unable to make *positive* assertions as to the nature of the Uncreated/Divine/God.  This is because the divine realm is completely unavailable to our human senses.

When using negative theology, we limit our statements to observing what the Uncreated/Divine/God is *not*.  The intention is to specifically limit our statements to that of which we *do* have experience, namely:  objects, events, and persons of this world.  Simultaneously, we assert the Divine always exceeds that which is limited to human experience.

Thus:

  • Our experience is limited to the world in which we live
  • We assert there is a divine world, which transcends our world
  • As human beings, we are unable to directly experience the divine world *
  • Therefore, we are insufficient to the task of describing and defining the divine world
  • But we are able to describe experiences we have as human beings
  • And we may acknowledge human experience is insufficient to fully describe & define the Divine
  • This leads some to the adoption of the Negative Way:  limiting ourselves to stating what the Uncreated/Divine/God is not **

*  This is not to say that the Divine is unable to enter our world;  I believe it may.  But it is to say, that in so doing, what the Divine reveals of itself to us is limited by our ability to perceive it.
**  I am not aware of anyone who thinks the Negative Way adequately reveals the Divine to us.  Primarily it is an exercise designed to make us mindfully aware of our limitations in attempting to describe that which is outside the meaning of time and space, or any other categories of understanding we have access to as human beings.

 

But God Can Do Anything!

I frequently hear the argument that God can do anything, including reveal the entirety of the divine to the mortal.  I disagree.  The problem is this:  we remain mortal;  human.  Anything revealed to us must *still* be filtered through our perception and then cognitively processed by us.  We have bodies, sense organs, and a brain;  and these present limitations.  And so long as we remain human, we will always face limitation.

 

  •      The limitation in receiving divine revelation is not God (the Source), but ourselves (the Receptor)

 

If we use the metaphor of radio waves, the Uncreated sends forth a vast array of radio waves -we may even posit an infinite range of frequencies- but we as the radio receiver are only able to perceive those frequencies which our antenna and filters allow us to receive.  Psychologically, we may also consider more human corollaries.  There have been cases of persons born blind, who later gain vision;  but they cannot make any sense of what they are seeing, because their brains never developed the ability to make sense of the photons hitting their retina.

 

  •      As with one born physically blind, we are all born spiritually blind, in terms of directly seeing the divine realm.

 

The Claims of Mystics

Mystics, however, report experiencing something which they interpret as an aspect of the Divine.  But they have difficulty relating their experience to someone who has not had a similar experience.  Invariably, such experiences lose a great deal when transmitted by the spoken or written word.  A great deal of mysticism struggles with exactly this problem.

Mystics tell us they are able to push their perception to some degree beyond those most persons experience.  For those wishing to explore this more deeply I believe it is helpful to distinguish between perception, comprehension, and apprehension.

Perception is both physical and psychological;  it requires the ability to receive raw input, and it requires the ability to be aware of the input.  Comprehension is a cognitive process;  this is making sense of the raw data we are receiving as input to our perceptions.  Comprehension is a conscious endeavour.

Apprehension is more subtle.  Apprehension is linked to instincts and intuition.  I suspect it is also linked to the human collective unconscious;  which may in turn be linked to the what we might call the divine collective unconscious.  (I believe there is an interesting Jungian argument here, which I will not explore in this essay.)

Thus, through apprehension, we are able to exceed our purely physical (sensory) and psychological (cognitive) limitations.  Through apprehension, the mystic seeks connection with the Divine, pushing back portions of the veil which separates the mortal and divine realms.  And I suspect many mystics would agree that the Divine may simultaneously pull back this veil.

So I do believe the Divine is both willing and able to assist us.  (Which leads to a future discussion regarding the immanent nature of the Divine.)  And I do believe that given sufficient desire, trial, and effort, we may gain greater access to what may be a “shadow” of the divine realm.  Yet there remains a radical, fundamental difference between the divine and human which cannot be fully bridged.

Not even God can fully bridge the gap between the divine and human.  Because to do so, we could no longer remain human.  And we are not capable of being fully human and fully divine.

 

  •      This also opens the door to a discussion about “Christology” -the study of Christ- and theological debate surrounding the questions of Jesus being fully human while simultaneously fully divine.  It took several hundred years for the Church to address these and related questions.  These are extensive discussions and are beyond the scope of this essay.  Christology may be the topic of future essays.

 

Healthy Humility

Developing a healthy sense of humility is very important.  In fact, I believe this to be critical for our spiritual maturity.  This is my starting point when contemplating the Divine.  It may sound strange at first, but I believe having severely limited access to the Divine may actually be beneficial to our spiritual growth.

 

  •      Knowing that the ultimate nature of the Divine is unavailable to human experience, is a very healthy and peace-affirming theological position to assume.

 

After all, if everyone were to admit the greatest depths of the Divine are totally unavailable to our comprehension (that the Divine is in fact “transcendent”), each of us would be *unable* to assume the position that *I* understand the Mind of God –and most importantly– therefore, *you* *lack* this understanding.

 

  •      To believe and accept there are depths of the Divine beyond our ken, is a significant step toward eliminating the religious persecution and victimization of others.

 

It is a sad indictment of humanity to observe this would be a giant step forward.  It would be the end of religious war, and the end of murdering in the name of God!  (The greatest of sins, in my opinion.)  If for no other reason, this makes it an extremely worthwhile theological tenet to adopt (even if only provisionally).

 

Are We Then Bereft of God?

If we can never have any experience of, and are unable to have any contact with, the transcendent elements of “God” does this mean we have no access to any part of the Divine?  Does this mean we are utterly alone and alienated from that which we believe is the Source of existence itself?

Not at all.  We do have the ability to access those parts of the Divine which are manifest in this world.  But we should be mindful that this is only a partial understanding, and affords us an incomplete view of the Divine.  But there are steps we may take to mitigate these difficulties.

Religious Education

In the outer, exoteric sense, this is the role of religion in the public sphere.  This is a beginning point.  We attend public worship, meetings, and study sessions.  Largely, I see this as an effort to educate ourselves.  In this “exoteric” category I would also include private bible study and seminary studies.  We are trying to better understand our own religious tradition, the roles persons play within that tradition, and where we fit into our religious tradition.  (We may further benefit by including the study of other religious traditions;  how they both differ and are similar to our own.)

Public Mysticism

There are also more mystical encounters which take place in the public sphere, which are not about educating ourselves, but are instead focused upon *experiencing* the Presence of the Divine.  In my opinion, facilitating our connection (with what we may experience of) the Divine is the role of the Holy Spirit  (which I equate with the Shakinah in the Jewish tradition).

Several very different examples which immediately come to mind include:  Catholic Eucharist;  Whirling Dervish;  and very active forms of worship, such as Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Appalachian Snake Handling services.  Of these, the Catholic Eucharist is the most introverted expression of public mysticism.

Private Mysticism

For me, this is the deeper experience.  But I may simply feel this way because I am strongly introverted, therefore I have a natural inclination to this path, and a natural disinclination toward being part of a “public spectacle.”  I will point out that each of us should endeavour to be aware that what *we* find natural, may or may not be what another person finds to be a “natural” means of entering an experience of the Holy Presence.

Judge not.  Whether one sits quietly, mumbles under their breath, chants, drums, dances, or whirles in dizzying circles, it is the state of entering a sense of rapport with the Divine which is important, not how one achieves this state.  And this is an internal state, which only the person entering it may judge to be effective or ineffective.  Therefore, use whatever approach works for you.  And feel free to experiment with different means of entering this state.

Inner Mysticism

Inner mysticism may also be called esoteric mysticism, because at its core it is an internal event and experience.  One may enter this state through a public event (Eucharist, Pentecost, etc) or one may enter this state through a private event (contemplation, meditation, drumming, chanting, etc).

The point is that the encounter itself is internal to the person experiencing it.  Whether this encounter takes place in a public space or within a private space is secondary.  Another way of saying this, is that our body just happens to be wherever it is occupying physical space;  however, it is our spirit, that is engaging the mystical experience.

For this reason, I believe the inner-esoteric experience is properly called “spirituality.”  Here we seek to bridge the gap between our (lower case) spirit and the (upper case) Divine Spirit.  In this essay, I will suggest we may think of this process as trying to attain “resonance” with the Divine.  This is an intermediate step (it was preceded by the educational process, and as we shall see, may eventually may lead to a state of “consonance” with the Divine).

Attaining resonance with the Divine, repeated over time, leads to an even deeper connection.  Terms which I find useful in describing this state are establishing a “rapport” with the Divine, or of attaining “consonance” with the Divine.  Both terms are useful.  Rapport is very useful when speaking of the neural-linguistic processes taking place within our body, brain, and mind.  Consonance offers a beautiful musical metaphor for the experience, which also lends itself to the concept of participation in the “Field Theory” of the Divine.  By whatever name one wishes to use as a label for the encounter, the active attempt to bring oneself into a state of rapport/consonance with the Divine is the primary objective of mysticism.

Each of these processes builds upon and refines that which precedes.  First an outer-exoteric religious experience, followed by a spiritual attempt to bring oneself into “resonance” with the Divine, followed by a deepening “consonance” with the Divine.  While the terms used to describe these processes vary, all great religions acknowledge them.

 

Achieving a State of Consonance

It is understanding the role of mysticism as a means of establishing rapport with the Divine which I wish to discuss in this essay.  I propose this may be thought of as a two-step process.  First we determine how to enter a state of resonance with the Divine.  Once we have learned to enter a state of resonance, we refine the process over time, through repetition and exploration.  Ultimately repetitive states of resonance results in achieving a state of consonance.

Resonance & Consonance

The following are the Merriam-Webster definitions of resonance and consonance:

Resonance

  • The quality or state of being resonant
  • A vibration of large amplitude in a mechanical or electrical system caused by a relatively small periodic stimulus of the same or nearly the same period as the natural vibration period of the system

Consonance

  • Harmony or agreement among components

 

Tightly stretched wires which share the same fundamental frequency will vibrate in sympathetic response with one another.  If you have access to a piano or two tuning forks of the same frequency (or a harmonic thereof) you may easily test this for yourself.

If you strike a C-note on a piano, every other wire in that piano tuned to a C will vibrate in resonance with the one you struck.  In fact, the same effect will take place with other musical instruments in the vicinity.  This is an example of sympathetic harmonic resonance.  Sound waves are transmitted by air molecules between the strings, tuning forks, or other musical instruments.

Related effects are well known in modern physics.  Gravitational waves are a form of field effect, electromagnetic field effects are integral to many mechanical and electromagnetic systems, and at the subatomic level, field effect semi-transistors control the flow of electrons in the computer you are using to read this essay.  Thus, we see examples of resonance throughout nature, at all scales.

Consonance is a particularly useful term as it is used when describing musical relationships, because it speaks to an artful impression of which we become aware when listening to a beautiful piece of music (there is also dissonance, which describes the opposite effect).  Personally, I find resonance to be a more abstract, sterile term than consonance.  Consonance conveys a sense of beauty and heart-felt appreciation.  Thus, we seek “consonance of the heart” when seeking union with the Divine.

 

  •      One may measure resonance with a frequency meter.  But one experiences consonance in one’s heart.

 

Is there a “consonant field effect” connecting us to the Uncreated/Divine/God?

I am asking whether the above examples of field effects in the physical realm -gravity, sympathetic harmonic resonance, electrical and magnetic fields- may serve as analogies for a similar “field effect” existing between the human spirit and the Divine Spirit.

 

  •      Might a “spiritual field effect” comprise a subtle connection between the physical and divine realms?

 

I suggest that such a connection does exists.  Further, I am suggesting that understanding our connection between the human and Divine realms as a form of spiritual “consonance” is instructive for a number of practical reasons.

 

First and foremost, it affirms we have access to some aspects of the Divine Spirit while we exist in the physical-human realm.

People who have not felt any indication of such a connection are often doubtful of this assertion, but those who have felt it, no longer question that it exists.  They may question a great deal more, about its nature and meaning, and what to do with/about it;  but this connection itself, has become a part of their personal experience;  thus, it is not a theory, or an article of faith, it is something they know/feel to be as true as the wind upon their face.

It is important to emphasize, this does not mean they also understand or comprehend it.  Being certain a thing exists, is not the same as knowing all there is to know about it, or even assurance one knows anything about it, beyond its existence.

 

Secondly, it suggests we may gain access to the Divine Spirit by conforming ourselves to become first “resonate” and then “consonant” with the Divine Spirit.

This point is critical.  This is what spiritual practices are all about.  Whether one is a whirling dervish, speaking in tongues, or practicing kataphatic and/or apophatic contemplation, all are means of placing oneself in greater resonance with what one perceives as the Uncreated/Divine/God.

And as one deepens one’s spiritual practices, from this preliminary state of *resonance*, one is increasingly likely to develop a resulting sense of *consonance* with the Uncreated/Divine/God.  And mystics indicate this in turn promotes a deepening sense of peace within, which is reflected upon the outer world through the experiences of richer, more peaceful relations with others.

 

  •      Divine Light is engendered in our heart, fills it and cascades, shining forth into the world as the ray of Love

 

How might we engender this sense of consonance within our experience?

We must first discover which of the many ways of experiencing a sense of the Uncreated/Divine/God in our personal lives is effective for us.  This will likely differ from one person to the next.  I suspect our individual psychology, and cultural influences are major contributing factors for such differences.

The uniqueness of our individual psychological and behaviour development influences whether we respond well to active dancing and chanting, or prefer quiet, solitary contemplation/meditation to enter an open spiritual state.  This is a case where the “how” is subjective, and completely secondary, to being able to achieve the state of connectedness with the Divine.

Once we discover one or more ways which promote -for us- this state of connectedness to the Divine, we must determine specifically under what circumstances this effect is experienced.  Equally important is learning what discourages this sense of connection.  Both are effected by our development as individuals:  culturally, socially, psychologically, and spiritually.  We should also be aware that we may discover certain methods are more appropriate given different circumstances.  We each may cultivate multiple means of connecting with the Divine.

 

Participating in the Kingdom of God

Over time, we should anticipate changes within ourselves.  These internal changes lead to behaviour modification, leading to changes in how we interact with other persons.  These mental, emotional, and behaviour changes which take root and blossom within our hearts is the “personal transformation” I speak of as one of the two major goals of leading a spiritual life.  The second major goal of leading a spiritual life takes place when our personal transformation is transferred to our interactions with others.  This is integral to the “transformation of society.”  In fact, I believe it is the only means of transforming the community in which we live.

It is my belief these transformations -personal and communal- are vital elements of what Jesus referred to as the coming Kingdom of God.  It is already present:  in potential.  But it requires our personal, individual, mindful participation to initiate the process.  And we do so by living appropriately spiritual lives;  spiritual lives which over time bring us into closer consonance with the Divine.

 

And how are we to judge whether we are living appropriately spiritual lives?

I believe we find this guidance in the ideals of selfless love, compassion, and loving-kindness.  These become our daily measures of success.  All great religions speak of these ideals.

We should also acknowledge we will trip and fall at times.  To err is human, after all.  The key is to get back up and recommit ourselves to the principals of selfless love, compassion, and loving-kindness, to whatever extent we are able.  It is a moment-by-moment, day-by-day continuing process.  It is a process of spiritual cultivation which we will practice for the rest of our lives.

I believe this is the process of “becoming more fully human” which bishop Spong speaks of in concert with his appeal for us to “love wastefully.”  And if we can remember only a single thing, if we may hold onto only a single thought throughout our daily lives, this is certainly a wonderful, transforming thought:

love wastefully!

 

Selected References:

Art of the Religious Experience

earthrise-NASA
Modern science is a predominately progressive endeavour.  Those of us living in the developed nations, not only anticipate new discoveries, we normally embrace such change as beneficial.

We have become accustomed to the idea that pretty much everything is subject to revision and refinement.  This is among the identifying features of living in a technology-based society.  Everything changes, and over the course of time, generally for the better.

In contrast, true art reaches something deep within us, something which is timeless.  In Jungian terms, one might say true art resonates with a counterpart in our deep unconscious;  this may reach even deeper, into the depths of our collective -shared- unconscious.

Art awakens within us a desire for -and facilitates a connection to- that which is timeless.  Likewise, profound religious-spiritual experiences bring us into an awareness of this timeless dimension of reality.

In thinking about the religious experience as a form of art, I am suggesting there are unchanging elements of human nature, which activate archetypal resonances.  One may even argue whatever these elements are, they reach across species.  After all, why did Neanderthals bury their dead, with apparent concern for their continuing care, even in death?

But how might we identify what in our religious experience is timeless?  And how might such experiences differ from secular (non-religious) experiences?  I would begin by suggesting we consider two broad categories of experience:

  •   External (Exoteric)
  •   Internal (Esoteric)

External / Exoteric

In this view, external experiences govern our interactions with others.  The application of morals and ethics within our society serve as examples.  These concerns may be both secular and religious.  While it is possible to live to a high moral and ethical standard without holding a religious conviction, both the secular and religious norms seek to instruct us how we are to live with one another.

The central difference between the two are found in the “whys” of doing so.

Secularly, such reasons may range from, these are the regulations handed down to us from our rulers, to these are the means of finding personal happiness;  if we are more ethically mature, to allowing others to also find their happiness;  and for those embracing very mature ethics, to actively assisting others find their happiness.

What of the religious dimension?

I believe the shift from the secular experience to the religious experience is revealed in the transformational qualities of that which we seek.  The call of the secular is of a more limited nature to my ear.  At its best, it calls for us to live in peace, and live our life so as to be happy, and helping others do likewise.  But where is the terminus, the end?  For the secular, that ending point is here, on planet earth.

If we care only about ourselves, it ends with us, here and now.  If we care about our children, it ends with them, and their children.  If we care about the children of strangers, we extend our concern greatly.  But all these concerns are limited to the continuation of life on this planet.

It is not that seeking to live a life filled with happiness is a bad goal.  It is not that seeking out ways of helping others to do the same is a bad thing.  These are objectively beneficial goals to hold throughout one’s life.  But they are goals limited to our worldly realm.  Thus, their nature is secular.

Positive transformation of society is a good thing, but by itself it falls short of being a religious experience because it limits itself to the “horizontal” axis of our lives.  Time is the horizontal axis in which we all live in this world.  We are by our physical nature creatures subject to time;  we are captured within its boundaries.

Vertical Axis of the Eternal

But there is also a “vertical axis” which the religious experience affirms:  the eternal;  that which is outside of time;  that which is unconstrained by time;  that which transcends time, and by extension, everything found in our vast universe.

This contrast and interaction between the horizontal and vertical aspects of our existence is part of what is symbolized in the cross.  The horizontal arm symbolizes our physical, material, time-constrained presence in the mortal world;  the vertical arm symbolizes our connection to the eternal.

I believe we may think of our desire for the eternal as what Joseph Campbell called “finding our bliss.”  And I believe Bishop Spong invites us to “love wastefully” because we are best in alignment with the vertical component of our nature when we live in a state of love.  And I believe this is what St. Augustine was aware of when observing that our weight is our love (in whatever we place our love, that acts like gravity, drawing us ever-nearer to it).

What have these views in common?  They are transformative experiences, because they encourage us to live for more than merely the horizontal dimension of our lives;  they point us toward the timeless, vertical-spiritual axis of our being, which transcends our mortal experience.

Internal / Esoteric

Internally -esoterically- the religious experience is about living in the vertical axis.  Here we meet what we may of that which transcends our human condition.  This experience is as limited or profound as is our state of consciousness.  The timeless-transcendent is always available to us;  *we* limit how much of this we may drink.

The objective of this encounter is to experience the numinous in our life.

  Numinous  (Merriam-Webster)

  •     Having a mysterious, holy, or spiritual quality
  •     Supernatural, mysterious
  •     Filled with a sense of the presence of divinity :  holy
  •     Appealing to the higher emotions or to the aesthetic sense :  spiritual

The numinous encounter is what I see as the primary goal of mysticism.  And I see the numinous as a unifying force across many -perhaps all- religions.  This is what draws their mystics of differing religions closer to one another, even as they are sometimes distanced from non-mystics within their own religious tradition.

  •      There is a tension between persons within each religion, of the mystic/esoteric and the non-mystic/exoteric, persuasion.  This may be symbolized by a circle with a dot in the middle of it:  persons experiencing the exoteric nature of their religion, traverse along the outer perimeter of the circle, and quite accurately, note differences among the various religious traditions;  meanwhile, mystics experience the esoteric nature of their religion, and move ever-nearer to the central dot, which represents the Transcendent, and in so doing, note their experience is becoming increasingly similar to other esoterics, regardless of their exoteric religious tradition.

I understand the inner (esoteric) religious experience to be concerned with personal transformation, so as to bring ourselves into increasing consonance with that which transcends our human experience.

In Christian and Jewish terms, these transformational experiences are conveyed in the teaching of the Greatest Commandment, which St. Augustine presented as:  loving God with all that you are, and loving others in such as manner as to best foster their ability to love God with all that they are.  This is why Augustine said our love is our weight, meaning:

  •   …as gravity draws a rock to the ground, so too, that in which we place our love, to that we are drawn.

The Art of the Religious Experience  

I believe the Art of the Religious Experience is about Transformation:  of ourselves;  of our communities.  We are to transform first ourselves and then our community in such a manner as to bring us into consonance with what we identify as our Ultimate Concern (God, Oneness, or Love, for the religious;  perhaps Happiness or Love, for the secular).

I further believe all great religions may be understood as using the ideal of selfless love (or compassion, or loving-kindness) as our daily measure of success in striving toward this understanding of Ultimate Concern.  I would further observe this is the process of becoming more fully human which bishop Spong speaks of in concert with his appeal for us to “love wastefully.”

The opposite of this is also true.  Should our Ultimate Concern become Hate, we transform our communities into machines of war and destruction.  We turn from mystical unity with all, toward isolation, rejection of all that is not “us” (tribal thinking), and we project (transform) our hatred upon others to alienate them, so as to more easily cause them harm.  This is the corruption of the religious experience, and the rejection of the numinous.

Yet we may hope to learn from the great mystics of all religions, who seek to reveal to us the light they have encountered in presence of the timeless, eternal.

  •    It is up to each of us to choose that which shall become our Weight, our Gravity.

We each carry the dichotomies of Love-and-Hate, Eternal-and-Worldly, in our hearts.  The choice between Love and Hate is present in our interactions with others;  in each thought we harbour;  in each feeling we allow to linger within us;  in each look we cast upon another;  and carried in each word we speak.

We cannot be perfect, and we would drive ourselves mad were we to set such an impossible standard.  But we each may strive toward more frequently nourishing loving thoughts, feelings, and interactions with others.  This is a critical first- and continual-step in our spiritual maturity.  And I believe this is common to all true religions, when lived in their deepest, most spiritually transformative expression.

We should give ourselves permission to be gracious to ourselves when we fall short of this ideal.  And we should be gracious with others when they too fall short of “loving wastefully.”  Forgiveness, as with all things human, begins within us.  It is OK to be human.  It is OK to fall short of our ideals.

What is important is that we get up again;  that we start anew.

  •   It is never too late to recognize the vertical axis in our lives.
  •   It is never too late to embrace this spiritually transformative process.
  •   It is never too late to promote compassion for others.
  •   It is never too late to pick ourselves up after a fall.
  •   It is never too late to recommit our lives to transforming ourselves, and our community.
  •   It is never too late to be happy.
  •   It is never too late to love.

These are all important aspects of the Art of Living the Authentic Religious Experience.

“My weight is my love”: Sin, Free Will, and Universal Salvation

Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne

Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne

 

My weight is my love.  Wherever I am carried my love is carrying me.
Augustine, Confessions 13.9.10

 
The above is a well known quote of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 ce).  The image Augustine is painting for us, is that we are attracted to what we love;  much as the earth’s gravity pulls us toward it.

Thus, in whatever we place our love, to that we are drawn.  If we place our love in Godly things, we will be drawn toward Godly things.  If we place our love in earthly things, we are drawn toward earthly things.

 

Consider the nature of Godly things, verses earthly things.

Specifically, consider the nature of existing within time, verses existing outside of time.  Earthly things exist within time;  they always fall apart, fail, and if living, eventually die.  Augustine calls this corruption.  Everything in time becomes corrupt.  Not so, however, for that which is outside of time.  That which is outside of time is eternal;  incorruptible.  Thus, Godly things are incorruptible;  eternal.

Augustine’s suggestion is that if we choose to place our love in earthly things, we are placing our love in things which must fail, corrupt, die.  And we will never find ultimate happiness loving things subject to corruption.  This is one reason why Augustine counsels us to place our love in eternal things;  Godly things.

  • (There is a Buddhist corollary:  attaching ourselves to things of this world always results in suffering, because such things are illusionary;  whereas attaching ourselves to that which is eternal frees us from suffering.)

 

Free Will is our ability to choose.

Do we choose to place our love in that which is eternal, or that which becomes corrupt?  The choice is ours.  However, even if we steadfastly choose corruption, Augustine offers us the hope that unlike a rock which once fallen to earth remains at rest, we are always subject to the attractive force of God’s love for us.

Love flows in both directions:  from us to God, and from God to us;  from the temporal (in time) to the eternal, and from the eternal to the temporal.  Thus, we may hope that the Grace of God will draw us to Him, no matter how strongly we resist this attraction.  If God’s Love for us is eternal, we are eternally carried upon that Love, toward the Divine Center/God.  I find this offers a beautiful, hopeful image.

 

What about sin?  

Augustine teaches that God is Good.  And all that God creates is also Good.  Thus, the world and all that has been created, is also Good.

Does this mean that sin is also Good?  Augustine does not go that far.  He teaches that sin actually lacks essence, being, or being-ness.  God has be-ing (more than this, God *is* the *source* of all be-ing).

We too have be-ing.  And my shirt has be-ing.

However -and this is the key point- the *hole* in my shirt does *not* have essence or being-ness.  The hole in my shirt is a lack or deprivation or privation.  This is easy to see in the case of a shirt:  the shirt is made from some material;  should a hole be torn in the shirt, in some sense we can say the hole “exists” because we can see it after all.

But in another important sense, the hole lacks being, because the totality of its apparent existence is comprised by the material no longer being there;  thus, that which comprises the hole, is without essence.

 

  •   The shirt has positive existence:  it exists because it has essence;  the material of the cloth.
  •   The hole has negative existence:  it does *not* have essence;  it is defined by the missing material.

 
So too, sin has negative existence.  Sin lacks essence or being-ness.  Augustine teaches that sin is the absence of God’s Goodness.

And this is related to our Free Will, because we choose into what we invest our love.  As we choose eternal, Godly things, we are attracted toward God;  and as we choose temporal, earthly things, we are attracted toward corruption;  and one manner in which corruption manifests is as sin (depriving ourselves of God’s Goodness).

We should, however, *not* take the next logical jump and say there must be Good and Evil.  Remember, Augustine teaches that *all* is Good.  There are different degrees of Good, to be sure!  But in the created world everything that has existence has some measure of God’s Goodness, be that measure great or small.

Thus, even Satan retains some degree and measure of God’s Goodness!  Try as he might to fight against this and deny it, Satan was created as an angel, and was created Good.  A long series of Free Will choices (placing his love in that which is ungodly, or anti-God) has been drawing Satan farther and farther away from God.

And yet, we may hope that God loves all of his creation eternally.  If this is so, God’s Love, even for Satan, will inevitably, ineluctably, eternally be drawing Satan back to God.

 

  • (Sidebar:  To my mind the personification of Evil in the person of Satan is an allegory.  At times it is convenient to use this language, of Satan vs. God, but I do *not* take it literally, because I find to do so leads one down the path of strong dualism, and the battle of Good God vs. Evil God, which I believe we inherited from Zoroastrianism, c. 500 bce.  I find this to be a destructive line of thought – especially when literalized.  For those interested in this subject, I recommend reading Elaine Pagels book: “The Origins of Satan.”)

 

Universal Salvation

God’s eternal Love for all of his creation is one way to frame the concept of Universal Salvation.  Augustine was a Latin-speaking Roman, and while this concept of Universal Salvation exists in the original Greek (see “Universalism” by Dr. J. W. Hanson), it had been almost entirely lost in the West by the time of Augustine.

Augustine was able to provide us the tools to arrive at the logical conclusion of his argument:

 

  •   Everything God creates is Good.
  •   God’s Love is eternal.
  •   Therefore, God eternally draws all of His creation back to Himself.

 

But Augustine did not officially take this position.  (Obviously, we cannot know what Augustine thought, but did not write or teach.)

Yet this teaching of Universal Salvation has never completely disappeared.  While it has never become an official Church doctrine (teaching) a variety of theologians have said we may still hope it is true, including the recent Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis.

 

Offered with blessings,
Erik+

Is God an Outside Job or an Inside Job?

Whether God is an Outside Job or an Inside Job, is a fundamental question which strongly effects how -or even whether- one might seek a mystical experience with the Divine.  It requires us to question how we anticipate God acting in the world.  Answering, requires that we reflect upon our understanding of the ontology of God.

(Merriam-Webster.com defines ontology as:  1. A branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being;  2. A particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence.)

  •   What is God’s nature?
  •   What is our relationship to God, in terms of relative classification or “kind” of being?

I believe Theologian Paul Tillich is correct in observing that the Western perception of God is most commonly described in one of two ways:

  1.   An outside force, divorced from humanity (this is the “invading” God of which bishop Spong speaks).
  2.   A living force, which flows up from our depths of being (an aspect of Tillich’s “ground of being”).

The Outside God is always alien to us;  a God from which we are forever separated due to our nature;  God is radically Other.  For those seeking a mystical apprehension of the Divine, perhaps the most important point to note is that -due to our very nature- we can *never* attain Unity with the Divine.  The separation between God and Humanity is devastatingly, categorically absolute.

The Inside God, in stark contrast to the Outside God, is of the same nature as are we;  we share an essence of the Divine;  we have access to the vitality of the Divine;  some even observe the Divine *is* the very life we carry.  In this view, each of us contains an “inner spark of the Divine.”  Some view this spark as innate, others as potential.  (Is it a flame or a seed?)  We may be removed from God by various degrees, but because we and God are of the same root nature, ultimately of the same Source -because ultimately there is only One- we are always potentially able to attain (or return to) Unity with the Divine.

Among the major contrasting themes are:

  •   Separation vs. Unity;
  •   Alien vs. Intimate;
  •   Exterior Force vs. Interior Force;
  •   Acting Upon Us vs. Acting From Within Us;
  •   Transcendence vs. Immanence.

And there is a direct corollary to how this effects our understanding of the bible (or any other sacred text).  These two very different perspectives from which to view God, the bible, and humankind may be illustrated by asking ourselves two questions:

  1.   Did God write the bible?
  2.   Or are the texts of the bible representative of the human effort to apprehend God?

These are very different things!  If God wrote the bible we must struggle with why God hates some people and loves others.  Why does God demand genocide?  (Bishop Spong answers this quite simply and effectively:  the god of hate represents a tribal god;  tribal gods always hate who we hate.)

Once we recognize that sacred scripture is written as a human attempt to explore our apprehension of the Divine, we are able to see instances of tribal god worship contrasted against worship of a Universal God of Love.  Which expression of the Divine is nearer our human heart largely is a question of which stage of faith we predominately occupy spiritually.  (For a discussion of stages of faith, see earlier blogs of March, June and July of 2013.)

Are we derivative of the Divine?

I suspect we are.  I suspect we flow from the Divine Source.  I certainly do not think the Divine flows from us:  through us, yes;  but not from us, as if we are the Source.

At least, in so far as we presently exist.  But I also suspect the question is more complex.  Our views are constrained by concepts such as Time.  If one is able to imagine a view which does not include Time, one might find questions such as who is derivative of whom to be without meaning.

For reasons such as this, I believe we are well served by maintaining a certain “looseness” in our thoughts and apprehensions.  I have long suspected that after our physical deaths we may very well discover that a great many of the questions with which we are so concerned, will not be found to be right or wrong, but rather so thoroughly misapprehended, as to be without meaning.

Yet we must begin where we find ourselves, and work with what tools we have.

I call this Practical Mysticism.  The subject of mysticism and of seeking union with the Divine is so broad and deep that I suspect we will never take its measure in one lifetime.  Severely complicating matters is our inability to express the experience through language.  This inability to share the subtle nature of the experience of the Divine limits our ability to learn from the experience of those who travelled before us.

Great mystics have left us clues.  Impressions, however vague, of their apprehension of the Divine.  But such works are nothing like engineering texts describing how to build a bridge or rocket.

Thus, to a large degree we each must plot our own course into the Unknown.  And it is all too easy to loose our bearings.  It is my opinion we should attempt to fix, as best we may, certain points to serve as light houses, or constellations, by which we may sail into the Cloud of Unknowing, which surrounds and obscures the Divine.  Yet we must always remain aware these are relative bearings only;  they do not, and are not meant to, literally limit the Divine to the confines of our puny intellect.

As I now apprehend the Divine, It is both Transcendent and Immanent.  And ultimately, Ineffable.   Merriam-Webster.com defines these terms as:

Transcendence

  •   The quality or state of being transcendent.

Transcendent

  •   Extending or lying beyond the limits of ordinary experience;
  •   In Kantian philosophy:  being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge;
  •   Being beyond comprehension.

Immanence

  •   The quality or state of being immanent.

Immanent

  •   Indwelling, inherent;
  •   Being within the limits of possible experience or knowledge — compare transcendent.

Ineffable

  •   Incapable of being expressed in words — indescribable.

There is an aspect of the Divine which will always remain to the human mind and heart utterly Transcendent.  We forget this when we squish God into a box and define who God loves and hates, and are so arrogant as to explain why.  This aspect of the Divine is incomprehensibly alien to us.  This apprehension of the Divine informs us that we know so little of the Divine, as to know nothing.  We should be incredibly humble in face of this profound state of ignorance, which we all share.

Yet, simultaneously there is an immanent aspect of the Divine, one which bubbles forth from our own depths!  (And from all life, for that matter.)  This is the aspect of the Divine which we may come to know as a part of ourselves, intimately.  This is the inner-divinity of which all mystics speak, yet are unable to fully express.

We might consider the implications of the ineffable nature of the experience which mystics seek.  Having had an experience of “Mystical Union with the Divine” it is consistently related as being an experience which is incapable of being expressed in words.  Imagine “seeing the face of God” and being unable to relate that experience to others, except in the most impoverished terms.

Many find this frustrating.  However, I believe we should consider reframing our perspective.  While we may not be able to share in the experience others have had, we are able to draw inspiration from the event itself:

  •   we too may aspire to share a similar sense of Union with the Divine!
  •   if they can do it, so may we!

 

With blessings,

Erik+

Infallibility & Inerrancy

Infallibility & Inerrancy:  Do Words Have Meaning?  Who Decides?

This is an addendum to my evaluation of two Statements of Faith in August 2013.  As is often the case with theological discussion, one must be careful to define the terms one is using, and to be aware of the definitions others are using.  One of my bishops observed that it seems I made a mistake in assuming the dictionary definitions of two particular words were being used, when it is much more likely their theological definitions were intended.  Now I believe these represent fairly minor points in the respective documents, however I do wish address this point for two reasons.

  • First, I think it may be a useful illustration of how important it is to be aware of the meaning of the specific words.
  • Second, it underscores how easily we can fall into the trap of assuming we know what another person means to say, only later discovering we may have been mistaken.

The following are representative of the definitions I found in online dictionary listings:

Infallible (Merriam-Webster.com)
1 : incapable of error : unerring [an infallible memory]
2 : not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint : certain [an infallible remedy]
3 : incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals
Inerrancy (Merriam-Webster.com)
: exemption from error : infallibility [the question of biblical inerrancy]

Inerrant (Merriam-Webster.com)
: free from error

Merriam-Webster defines these words quite closely, in fact, one of the definitions of inerrancy is infallibility.  I suspect this is the root of my assumed meanings conveyed by these words, as I expressed in the previous evaluations in August of 2013.

However, upon reading the definitions more closely, one might discern that inerrant is a more limited term.  A text may be determined to be free from error, but one may think of this as a technical description of the competency of the editing, publishing, and printing processes.  A key point is that inerrancy may not speak to the truthful, or even the factual, quality of the premises which the document asserts.

Regarding inerrancy, Wikipedia offers the following….

  • (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_inerrancy)
  • Biblical inerrancy is the doctrine that the Bible, in its original manuscripts, is accurate and totally free from error of any kind; that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact”.[1] Some equate inerrancy with infallibility; others do not. [2][3]

The obvious problem with this proposition is the “original manuscripts” no longer exists.  So logically the argument is of no use as any kind of proof.  But this is a different argument, and not the one I wish to pursue in this addendum.  A greater difficulty is this definition is already slipping into the realm of infallibility, which is a highly subjective measure.

But it appears we are in good company with regard to being confused over this question’s fine points.  In the Roman Catholic Church this question has been debated in Vatican II, and the decades since;  without resolution as near as I am able to determine.  The following is a short quote from an interview with Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George:

  • The question, finally, is what kind of confidence can those who hear the Word of God proclaimed from scripture have that it’s the truth? Fundamentalists would say that it’s all literally true, so we have every reason to be confident. But that ignores what exegesis has done for us in the last 200 years, identifying the different forms of literature in the Bible, the contexts of the communities in which it was written, and all the rest.
  • You’ve still got the problem, however, of the affirmation in faith that inspiration and inerrancy go together, so that what is inspired is also inerrant. At the same time, you have to discover what inerrancy means when you’re not reading a newspaper, but you’re reading poetry, or a myth of some sort, or a fable or a parable. We can make that distinction more easily in the New Testament, when Jesus is speaking in parables. It’s harder sometimes for us to make those distinctions in the Old Testament.
  • http://catholicism.org/biblical-inerrancy-revisited-but-not-revised.html

Please note the Cardinal’s observation that we must distinguish the type of prose we are reading.  This is critical.  Reading a newspaper speaks to a different kind of truth than does poetry and parable.  I have tried to make this point in some of my past writings.  I have found the late Prof. Ron Miller expresses this better than anyone else I have yet heard (most likely in his “Unpacking the Parables” talk, given to the Theosophical Society).

Elsewhere in the short except of Cardinal George’s interview, he states that one view of the understanding of biblical inerrancy is that the bible speaks to our salvation:  it is our salvation which is ultimately held to be inerrant;  not the literary forms of expression;  not the authors understanding of geology nor of astrophysics.  I find this very easy to believe.  On the feet-on-the-ground perspective, it is obvious to me that our understanding of science and the nature of the universe has evolved over the centuries, and it is unreasonable to try to force a mind of the 1st century to fit the molds we have developed in the 20th century.

Much more intriguing to me is the conversation surrounding the inerrancy of salvation.  I have to assume that Cardinal George is speaking from the dominate position of the Roman Catholic Church, and not that of the early Church Fathers, such as Clement and especially Origen, who spoke of Universal Salvation.  Personally, I find the early understanding to be much more sensible;  but I must also admit, it is also a better fit to some of my formative spiritual understandings, which may bias my evaluation.  However, I still think the question of Universal Salvation withstands serious and objective investigation.  (Those interested in pursuing this line of thought should consider reading Dr. J. W. Hanson’s book “Universalism:  The Prevailing Doctrine Of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years.”)

Another view Cardinal George shares is the understanding that inerrancy means the central teachings of the biblical authors which were inspired by God are inerrant, whereas the cultural influences surrounding them (“zeitgeist, the understanding of the world at the time”) are not inerrant.  Here, while I agree with the proposition in theory, there are remaining difficulties, which I find renders this an untenable position to maintain:  it presumes we are able to discern that which God wishes to become Inspired;  it presumes God as Active Agent, periodically “invading” the world;  and I read this as merging with the definition of infallible, whereas I would prefer to define these terms separately, as I find this offers a more practical, rational use of language and cognitive tools.  (This is already a difficult conversation to pin down in detail.  Therefore, we should attempt to refine our definition, as opposed to diffuse our definition, of key terms.)

The arguments about God, God’s Inspiration, and “invasion” into the world are critical points.  These will be discussed later.  For now, I wish to set them to the side, and simply observe they are not required, and not highly useful, in defining our terms inerrant and infallible;  nor are they very useful in discerning the differences between these two terms.  So I set them aside for the time being, not because they are unimportant, but because I do not find them useful in refining the definitions of inerrancy and infallibility.

Regarding infallibility, Wikipedia offers….

  • (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_infallibility)
  • Biblical infallibility is the belief that what the Bible says regarding matters of faith and Christian practice is wholly useful and true. It is the “belief that the Bible is completely trustworthy as a guide to salvation and the life of faith and will not fail to accomplish its purpose. Some equate ‘inerrancy’ and ‘infallibility’; others do not.”[1]

I also wish to offer additional views discussing the subject of biblical infallibility.  Should readers wish to peruse these sources, I believe they will find a deeper appreciation for the lack of clarity surround the questions of biblical inerrancy and biblical infallibility.  Efforts to closely define these terms is difficult.  Agreeing upon how they are best employed in aiding our understanding of sacred scripture, has yet to occur.

  • http://catholicism.org/apologetics-infallibility.html
  • This web page covers a lot of ground, including the doctrine of papal infallibility (which I have no intention of discussing at this time), not all of which pertains to our current discussion.  But it does offer a broad view of a number of points of divisiveness surrounding the topics of inerrancy and infallibility.
  • http://catholicism.org/vatican-ii-some-clarity-please.html
  • This web page presents an interesting summary of a debate between two distinguished Roman Catholics, who none-the-less draw opposite conclusions in their close readings of a particular Vatican II document (I believe it was “Dei Verbum” (Latin for “Word of God”)).
  • http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/bets/infallibility_lewis.pdf
  • This PDF document offers an objective discussion of meaning and language.  Across pages two and three there is a table with the heading: AN ANALYSIS OF MEANING AND LANGUAGE.  I found their comparison between meaning and language informative.  It appears to me that among their points, meaning is divorced from written text.  This is a point I have heard before, and to which I agree.  Words are just comprised of symbols written by one person to later be interpreted by another person.  A thoughtful author attempts to convey their intended meaning as clearly as possible.  However, the words they use (and images, if included in the document) must be interpreted in the mind of the person reading the document.  And we all bring our own life experiences to our reading;  to our understanding of the world;  to our understanding of words.  There is an unavoidable barrier between one human mind and another.  (The gulf between the human mind and the Divine Mind is greater still!)

The above discussions, while interesting, for the most part take a different line of questioning than I intend to engage in at this time.  Let’s begin by returning to the Merriam-Webster definitions, and from there transition to a discussion about our means of discernment.

Infallible (Merriam-Webster.com)
1 : incapable of error : unerring [an infallible memory]
2 : not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint : certain [an infallible remedy]
3 : incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals

Inerrancy (Merriam-Webster.com)
: exemption from error : infallibility [the question of biblical inerrancy]

Inerrant (Merriam-Webster.com)
: free from error

In my opinion the differences as defined by Merriam-Webster in meaning are subtle, and of only minor significance in the scope of my evaluations of the previous Statements of Faith (see August 2013).  But as we have seen above, if we begin to parse out the relative meanings of these words as defined by various theological sources, we find greater differences emerge.

I see much of this as the result of failing to distinguish between qualitative and quantitative interpretations.  Most basically:  a qualitative measure is subjective, and a measure of quality;  a quantitative measure is objective, and a measure of quantity.

For example, how I feel about the color blue is subjective and qualitative, whereas the measurement of the frequency of its wavelength in nanometer is objective and quantitative.  The first requires I make a subjective judgement regarding “quality” of the color;  the second only requires a properly designed and calibrated machine to measure the “quantity” of light.  Each of us may find the shade of blue chosen evokes different feelings;  but each of us must come to realize the measurement of a meter is always the same, and that our feelings regarding the measure of a meter in no way effects its length.

A silly example perhaps, but I think instructive in helping us recognize two very different methods of biblical interpretation.  And should we confuse one for the other, or fail to recognize there are multiple methods of “measuring” sacred scripture, we are doomed to failure before we have begun our efforts.

My opinion is inerrancy is an objective measure, and therefore quantifiable.  It is a measure of the words employed in the text, and in the accuracy in duplicating a text.  If we wish to instead discuss the *meaning* of the words employed in the text, we have then entered into the realm of the subjective and qualitative;  such discernment falls within the definition of the word infallible, but not inerrant.

The question of “inerrant” we may dismiss immediately, because we may demonstrate there are factual and logical errors to be found in the texts of the Hebrew bible and Christian New Testament.  This has been discussed in my previous evaluations of the respective Statements of Faith, so I will not spend much time with it here.  I will however mention a few points for consideration:

  • We may observe that where there are multiple copies of manuscripts (hand-written books) no two have been found to be entirely identical (small fragments excepted).
  • This is not to say that all hand-written copies of sacred texts are wildly different from one to the other.  Most errors, or differences, are quite minor and easily detected.  Poor spelling is the most common “error” but given that the dictionary had not yet been invented, we can forgive such minor differences.
  • Larger differences include skipping lines, or omitting words, or citing quotations from scripture improperly (and in some cases, in correcting previous errors of this type), or in mistakenly incorporating an earlier margin note into the body of the text.
  • So we find that some of these differences are quite minor.  Some differences are more significant, but still readily detectable, provided one has a sufficient number of additional manuscripts for comparison.  However, in no way can one state the body of work is “inerrant.”  For this to be true, all manuscripts must be identical.

“Infallible” is a more resilient term because it may simultaneously distance itself from “inerrancy” while pairing itself to what one subjectively considers to be the proper spiritual or moral interpretation of the text.  And this is a qualitative judgement, frequently claimed by virtue of one having been granted Divine Inspiration.  “Because God told me” is clearly a less objective measure than pointing to a printed text and claiming that the reproduction of the document is without error.

My problem with this line of argument is the word “infallible” becomes increasingly slippery.  This seems to my mind to be shifting the question to an ever-receding point.  And I want to answer the question of whether and to what degree do we entertain sacred scripture is literally true?  Metaphorically true?  Allegorically true?

If one grants that the bible is not inerrant (my apologies for the double negative), but that it remains infallible, what is the scope of this claim?

Does this apply to every single verse? Every sentence?  Are all sentences describing the same event equally infallible?  My belief is this puts too fine a point on the measure of “infallibility.”  If we do so, we witness a precise, functional meaning of infallibility slipping from our grasp.

Beyond this, how do we resolve irresolvable and incompatible differences between texts?

For example, did Jesus die on the day of preparation for Passover, or on Passover day itself?  He only died once, so it must be one or the other;  Jesus cannot have died twice, on consecutive days.  How do we explain this from the perspective that each gospel is infallible?

I find the best answer to this kind of question is to recognize that each author wished to emphasize a different point.  The four gospels are each different in certain respects exactly because each author was trying to highlight a different understanding of what the life and ministry of Jesus meant to them.  This is why it is useful to better understand the context in which each book or letter was written:  written by whom?  to what audience?  for what purpose?

Seen from this perspective we realize that sacred scripture may be objectively incompatible, yet subjectively coherent.  The measure of infallibility has eluded our grasp yet again.

Might holy scripture be infallible, yet errant?

To my eye, to say that the bible is infallible, yet subject to error (not inerrant), is to say that while specific facts may be found to be in error, or that technical errors, omissions, and contradictions take place in the text, when it comes to critical matters of theology, the truth being related is infallible.

I feel this is the strongest claim one may make for sacred scripture.  But will this position survive scrutiny?

Obviously, this leaves as an ongoing question, of what specifically are these “critical” matter of theology.  Whether the bible is infallible on specific points of theology one must examine each point.  And this is a complex process, even limiting the scope of the theology to the Hebrew bible and New Testament, let alone if one extends the scope to underlying truths common to all religions.

This is also deeply steeped in subjective judgements regarding the content of the scriptures.  I have very little faith that people will be able to agree on the details of such subjective, yet to many of them highly emotionally charged beliefs.  I see no hope for consensus in determining exactly what words would be used in printing any single “infallible” edition of the bible.

And to do so in modern English is an impossible task.  There are too many choices that must be made when interpreting the oldest and best (least errant) Greek manuscripts.

So where does this leave us?  For my part, the best I believe I can honestly offer is that holy scripture offers us inspiration.  I’ll leave this important word hanging until I address the topic of mysticism, for they are closely related.

Is sacred scripture infallible or not?

I do agree that scripture may be argued to be infallible.  However  -and this is a giant however!-  in no way do I believe we are capable of arriving at a consensus as to what this actually means once we begin discussing the text in a close, critical reading.  Sacred scripture is infallible only in theory;  but not in any practical sense which we may objectively put to use.  The degree of personal interpretation required in digesting holy, sacred scripture pushes any such consensus beyond our mortal reach;  therefore, infallibility is always a subjective standard.

  • As an aside, for the purposes of this discussion I read no significant difference between the words holy and sacred.  Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines, in part, these terms as follows:

Holy
1:  exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness
2:  divine [for the Lord our God is holy — Psalms 99:9 (Authorized Version)]
3:  devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity [a holy temple] [holy prophets]
4a :  having a divine quality [holy love]
4b :  venerated as or as if sacred [holy scripture] [a holy relic]

Sacred
1a :  dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity [a tree sacred to the gods]
1b :  devoted exclusively to one service or use (as of a person or purpose) [a fund sacred to charity]
2a :  worthy of religious veneration :  holy
2b :  entitled to reverence and respect
3:  of or relating to religion :  not secular or profane [sacred music]

More to the heart of the matter, why should we think the bible (or any sacred scripture, for that matter) is inerrant or infallible in the first place?  I think it is important to consider this question mindfully.  The root of such questions is the critical -yet often unstated- question of exactly who wrote the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament…

  • God or human beings?

If one believes God wrote the scriptures (which requires resolving the large problem of defining exactly what that means) *then* we may be able to sensibly ask whether or not the scriptures are inerrant and/or infallible.  (But if they fail either of these tests, we must ask:  How?  Why?  Does such a failing devalue the entire body of work?  If so, to what degree?)

But if the scriptures were written by human beings, I do not think the question is even sensible.  The problem is this:  only perfect human beings (or those who have perfect knowledge, even if “limited” to the subject of the Divine, of all things), can write an inerrant or infallible book of sacred scriptures.  And no person is perfect.

And one must remember we are not speaking of one perfect person, we are speaking of a long chain of such perfected persons over thousands of years of human history.  This just seem completely implausible to me;  completely beyond credibility.  Ludicrous, to be brutally honest.  Especially given we have a perfectly reasonable and logical alternative model.

I packed a lot into the previous three paragraphs.

Perhaps a way of making my thoughts more clear is to ask what mind composed our sacred scriptures?  Is sacred scripture a product of a Divine Mind or of a human mind?  I believe this is at the core of the question with which I am struggling in this blog, and which lies at the heart of determining if sacred scripture may be inerrant or infallible.

What if God is the author of sacred scripture?

Does this offer a better solution to the questions of inerrancy and infallibility?  Clearly not in any literal sense.  What of the error?  What of the contradictions?  Once again, the question of inerrancy is a non-starter.  I believe, in and of itself, this precludes any chance that “God wrote the bible.”

What of infallibility?  If God did not literally “write” the bibles (Hebrew and New Testament) did God “inspire” them?  Did God inspire these scriptures in such a manner as to install infallibility into the writing -and copying and editing- of these scriptures?

We have returned to very slippery ground.

But I’ll add another perspective to the question.  For the sake of argument, let us grant that God *has* provided, through human devices, the perfectly inspired, infallible set of texts.  Even if this is true….

  • human beings are unable to discern it!

Why?  Because we do not possess the Mind of God.  While I do believe we may be inspired to greater degrees of clarity and understanding, and while I do believe epiphanies take place,  our comprehension is limited by the nature of our humanity.  God must speak to us in terms which we are capable of understanding.  And our human limitations leave us short of grasping perfection – and almost everyone who makes this argument also asserts God, by definition, is perfect.

What of apprehension?  If our comprehension is too limited to grasp the Mind of God, then perhaps we may perfectly intuit God’s Message?  I do suspect this is one of our best means of experiencing the Divine in the fullest degree of which we are able.  But I do not believe this offers complete or perfect connection with the Divine.  To say we may be able to maximize our human experience of the Divine, is not to say a human may experience the maximum degree of all that is Divine.

Expressed another way, to say we may be able to completely fill our senses and perception with that which is Divine, to become totally immersed in the Divine, in no way means that we have experienced the totality of that which is Divine.

This concept may be more obvious when presented as an image:  imagine a small circle and an extremely large circle;  you and I are the small circle;  that which is Divine is the extremely large circle;  even if we reside entirely within the Divine, there is much more of the Divine than we occupy.  We are simply too small.

I do believe there is an overlap between the human and Divine.  I even believe there is a Divine Spark within each of us (which we may either nurture or ignore).  But the entirety of the Divine is incapable of being contained within that which is human.  I believe this is why the Hebrew scriptures say we cannot see the Face of God – to do so would be to metaphorically burst us into flames, reducing us to ash!

And this leads us to the “perfectly reasonable and logical alternative model” which I believe provides us an answer to these, and many other, theological questions:

  • Quite simply, the bible is *not* a Top-Down document.
  • The bible is a Bottom-Up document.

The bible is not God speaking to us.  It is a bunch of human beings working out an increasingly refined understanding of the Divine, over a period of thousands of years.  Instead of revealing God to us, the bible reveals our human perception of God.  And these are two very different things!

Furthermore, this is an evolving perception.  It does include inspired insights as to the nature of the Divine, but it also includes some horrifically human-centric ideas which show how we have objectified and brutalized one another in the past.  (And, sadly, as we continue to do to this day.)

That we humans wrote the bible, and not God, I find a great relief!

We need not ponder why “God” desires to slaughter entire ethnic groups, or pours out a flood in an effort to wipe out nearly all of humanity (to say nothing of the rest life teeming on the planet).  Instead we are able to appreciate the slow advance of human compassion and our growing spiritual maturity over the course of thousands of years.  Ever-so-slowly we are learning to leave behind the tribal god, who hates everyone we hate.

We are creatures of intellect.  Our ability to reason is that which has raised us above all other animals on this planet.  But intellect has its limits.  Intellect can be cold and devoid of love or compassion.  Intellect is a tool – an important and wonderful tool, in fact.  But this tool is not the spiritual imperative which drives us to develop and use that tool.

Beyond simple survival of the fittest, we discover a drive for spiritual enlightenment.

To be made in the image of God means that we have the ability to reason logically and to behave rationally.  But we are also creatures of the heart.  To be made in the image of God also means that we possess emotional and spiritual aspects which are every bit as important as our rational abilities – perhaps more so.  It is these qualities of the heart which we desperately need to develop.

We like to believe we have very effectively put on the Mind of God.  We have libraries filled with books of theology, comprised of many religious traditions.  Yet we cannot live in peace with one another.  Love for that which is Other remains largely beyond our reach.

We need to focus on living in the Heart of God.  We need to learn that where hatred and murder reside, God does not.  Where we are to find God, we will find tolerance, acceptance, and love for self and others.  I like to think that many of us are learning to live in our heart, and beginning to discovery therein resides God.  Ever-so-slowly we are moving toward embracing God as a unifying source of empathy, compassion, and love.

Love is the measure of the Divine.

But how might we get there?  Or at least get started heading in the right direction?  For me, this is where Inspiration enters the picture.  We are all “inside jobs” and God is to be found within our hearts.  God is not the whirlwind bearing down upon Job, or the column of fire destroying our (tribal) enemies.  God is made manifest through each of us, flowing into the world through how we choose to live our lives.

This is what the great mystic spiritual traditions tell us.  And each religion offers its internal, mystical connection with the Divine.  They tell us we find God within our own hearts, and we are the vehicles through which God chooses to become manifest in the world.  

Why?  I suspect it is because we are operating under an imperative to to become More.  We are drawn to the Divine because we sense we may enter into common union with something which is greater than ourselves, and our small human existence.  What draws us toward it, is what some call the Inspiration of the Divine.

In Christian terminology this is the Holy Spirit.  This may be thought of as the “energy” or Active Agent of the Divine in the world.  But for whatever reason, it enters into the world through each of us.  Our active participation is required.  We each have been granted free will.  In many small ways each day we are invited to choose between love and hate.

I am reminded of a well known Native American story.  A youngster has had a falling out with a friend, and is feeling conflicting emotions as a result.  On one hand they want vengeance and retribution for perceived wrongs done to them.  On the other hand, they do love their friend, and want to wish them well and enjoy their company in the future.  Their grandfather explains this is an internal battle we each face our entire lives.  We each have two wolves living within us.  One seeks to harm others.  One seeks to love others.  One will only bring us pain and loss.  The other joy and love.  Considering this, the youngster earnestly looks to their grandfather and asks, “Which wolf will win this battle?”  Grandfather answers, “The one we feed.”

In what way have these 5,000-words brought us any closer to answering the questions surrounding inerrancy and infallibility?

Asking if sacred scripture is either inerrant or infallible is to miss the larger point.  The text is literally neither.  It is certainly not inerrant, because it contains errors.  Nor are we able to determine that it is infallible, because we are unable to agree upon what this means.

At best, sacred scripture offers us instruction and inspiration.  At best, we are each “inside jobs.”  We each must take a long, deep look into our own hearts, seeking Divine Inspiration, apprehending what we may, so that we might learn to express ever-greater portions of the Divine through how we choose to live our lives, and in how we choose to interact with others.

God does not “invade” the world from the sky, like Zeus hurling lightning bolts.  The Presence of the Shadow of God enters into the world subtly;  through our ability to love those who hate us;  by our loving others as if they were ourselves;  by loving ourselves as if we were living expressions of the Divine acting in this world.

“Why?”  This is a Divine Mystery.

Erik+

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.)