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Posts tagged ‘Jesus and Mary Magdalene’

The “Jesus of Faith” Vs the “Jesus of History” part 5:3 – Resurrection

 

Good morning and Happy Easter!

I feel the burgeoning wave of joy and happiness that is resurrected from the womb of human hearts every year at Easter in the wake of the fasting season of Lent and just on the heels of passion Holy Week and sorrowful Good Friday — at least in the Christian sector of the world’s seven-plus billion population. With spring bursting out all over, this is a most appropriate time of the year to celebrate Easter.

(click on the picture to enlarge it)

A study in 2012 estimated Christianity was the largest faith at 2.2 billion adherents or 31.5 percent of the world’s population. The Roman Catholic Church makes up 50 percent of that total, with Protestants — including Anglicans and non-denominational churches — at 37 percent and Orthodox at 12 percent.”  So, nearly a third of the people on earth celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. Little wonder the day is so bright, even as bright as the Sun rising in the East. 

Hmm. I must look up the origin of the word “Easter.” And I did. Here is one item that stands out among all of the hoopla over the pagan roots of this annual Christian celebration:

Because the English Anglo/Saxon language originally derived from the Germanic, there are many similarities between German and English. Many English writers have referred to the German language as the “Mother Tongue!” The English word Easter is of German/Saxon origin and not Babylonian as Alexander Hislop falsely claimed. The German equivalent is OsterOster (Ostern being the modern day equivalent) is related to Ostwhich means the rising of the sun, or simply in English, eastOster comes from the old Teutonic form of auferstehen / auferstehung, which means resurrection, which in the older Teutonic form comes from two words, Ester meaning first, and stehen meaning to stand. These two words combine to form erstehen which is an old German form of auferstehen, the modern day German word for resurrection.

It was the Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 who “ordained that Easter shouldn’t be connected with the festival of another faith. It should stand on its own in connection with the natural world. Hence he ordained that Easter should be celebrated on the Sunday after the first  new moon of Spring.” (David Potter of Oxford University Press.)  So, Easter Sunday’s final resting place is somewhere between March 21 and April 25. The date of Easter Day is usually the first Sunday after the first Full Moon occurring on or after the March equinox.

An issue was also settled at this council concerning the celebration of the Passover by the Jewish Christians, as Jesus’ crucifixion was said to be associated with the Passover. Obviously, Christianity emerged out of Judaism. Thus the consolidation of the two celebrations by Constantine.

Now the Easter egg can be traced back to practices in pre-dynastic Egypt as well as amid the early Christians of Mesopotamia.  From there it spread into Russia and Siberia through the Orthodox Churches. In Christianity, for the celebration of Easter, the Easter egg symbolizes the empty tomb of Jesus. An ancient tradition was the staining of the Easter egg with the color red in memory of the blood of Christ shed during his crucifixion. The egg is also a symbol of fertility.

Significance of the Resurrection

I will now return to my consideration of the Foreword of Stevan Davies’ book The Gospel of Thomas – Annotated & Explained, written by the his Series Editor Andrew Harvey. I will continue from where I left off in my post of April 7th on the theme of “Kingdom-consciousness.”

If all the Gospel of Thomas did was relentlessly and sublimely cham­pion the path to our transfiguration and point out its necessity, it would be one of the most important of all religious writings — but it does even more. In saying 22, the Gospel of Thomas gives us a brilliantly concise and pre­cise “map” of the various stages of transformation that have to be unfolded in the seeker for the “secret” to be real in her being and active though all her powers. Like saying 13, saying 22 has no precedent in the synoptic gospels and is, I believe, the single most important document of the spiritual life that Jesus has left us.

Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples: These infants taking milk are like those who enter the Kingdom. His disciples asked him: If we are infants will we enter the Kingdom? Jesus responded: When you make the two into one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the upper like the lower and the lower like the upper, and thus make the male and the female the same, so that the male isn’t male and the female isn’t female. When you make an eye to replace an eye, and a hand to replace a hand, and a foot to replace a foot, and an image to replace an image, then you will enter the Kingdom.

When Jesus says in saying 19 “If you become my disciples and listen to me, these stones will serve you,” in saying 24 “There is light within a man of light, and he lights up all of the world,” and in saying 106 “When you make the two into one, you will be called sons of men. When you say ‘Move, mountain!’ it will move,” he was not speaking in incandescent poetry; he was describing the actual powers that God gives those who risk becoming divinized, powers that can alter natural law and “burn down the house” of the oppressive power structures of the world.

Fourth and finally, we see in saying 22 the final cryptic sentences of the saying: “When you make an eye to replace an eye, and a hand to replace a hand, and a foot to replace a foot, and an image to replace an image, then you will enter the Kingdom.” What these lines describe is nothing less than the physical transformation that mystical union makes possible, the bringing up of ordinary matter into the living truth of the Light.

The ultimate sign of the Christ is the victory of the Resurrection, which is the marriage of matter and spirit to create a wholly new and eternal substance. Those mystics who follow Christ into union come to know and taste the glory of the Resurrected Body in their own bodies. The pow­ers available to the human being willing to undertake the full rigor of the Jesus-transformation are limitless. What could not be done to trans­form this world by a group of seekers who allowed their whole beings­–psychological, spiritual, and physical–to become increasingly transfigured by the living light?

The greatest of all modern philosophers–Sri Aurobindo — saw that only an “integral” transformation could provide the force and inspiration to change that must occur if humanity is to survive and evolve. Jesus in saying 22 has anticipated Sri Aurobindo’s vision and provided the map to its realization.

There may be very little time left to take the adventure into total being that the Gospel of Thomas advocates with such astringent brilliance and pre­cision. In such a terrible age as ours, it is easy to believe that the dark powers, the powers of that corpse of the world that the Jesus of Thomas so fiercely denounces, have won already, and there is nothing even the most passionate of us can do to turn around a humanity addicted to violence and destruction.

Despair, however, is the last illusion. The Gospel of Thomas and the Jesus who gave it to us continue to challenge us to dare to become one with the Divine and start living the revolutionary life that streams from union and that can transform all things. This worst of times needs the clearest and most unflinchingly exigent of visions to counteract and trans­form it; in Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Thomas and in his living out of their reality through and beyond death itself into the eternal empowering glory of the Resurrection, we have the permanent sign of the Way, the Truth, and the all-transforming Life that, even now, can build here on earth the reality of God’s Kingdom.

As this series  The “Jesus of Faith” Vs the “Jesus of History” winds down, I will return to my desk to write, edit and publish my final post of the series. Until then, I wish you each one a Happy Easter and offer my thanks to you for sharing these considerations with me over the past several weeks.  Until my next post, then,

Be love. Be loved.

Anthony

Photo credit: Craig Burrows “The Invisible Light that Flowers Emit”   Click on the link to see more of Craig’s flowers.

The “Jesus of History” Vs the “Jesus of Faith” part 4:1 – The Kingdom of Heaven

“Jesus said: ‘The seeker should not stop until he finds. When he does find, he will be disturbed. After having been disturbed, he will be astonished. Then he will reign over everything.’ (The Gospel of Thomas)

The Gospel of Thomas, a product of Egyptian Christianity, was one of the collections of codices found at Nag Hammadi in 1945, now popularly called the “Gnostic Gospels.” Gnostic Christianity was considered heretical since the second century. Thomas, however, was not a Gnostic. Harvard Professor Helmut Koester, along with many other scholars, feel strongly that this gospel should be included in the canon of the new Testament. It isn’t for one reason only: it exposes the deception of Christianity which bought into the Egyptian tradition that heaven–the “Far-World”–was a place to visit while we live and eventually go to when you die. Thomas proclaims in his Gospel the revolutionary teaching of Jesus that “The kingdom of heaven is within you and outside of you.” In other words, it is not somewhere up there but right here on earth, and one does not need the Church with its creeds and dogmas to get there.

In his provocative book The Jesus Papers–Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History, Michael Baigent presents the Gospel of Thomas as the contrast to Zealot Christianity that it is.

. . . it is clear that its information comes from a hidden tradition that was passed only to a special few; as its opening sentence states, “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymus Judas Thomas wrote down. . . . It gives fresh information about the “kingdom”–or “the Kingdom of the Father.” Jesus’ disciples ask “When will the new world come?” Jesus replies “What you look forward to has already come, but you do not recognize it. . . . The Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth and men do not see it.”

In the Gospel of Mary of Magdala, another text found at Nag Hammadi, Jesus is recorded to have issued “a warning against looking for physical evidence of the kingdom of heaven. . . . The translator, Professor Karen King of the Harvard University Divinity School, has used a nonstandard expression to replace ‘Son of Man’–she uses ‘child of humanity,’ which is probably a better phrase, avoiding, as it does, the sectarian and dogmatic baggage; for similar reasons she replaces ‘kingdom’ with ‘Realm’ . . . .  ‘Be on your guard,’ says Jesus, ‘so that no one deceives you by saying “Look over here!” or “Look over there!” For the child of true Humanity exists within you. Follow it! Those who search for it will find it. Go then, preach the good news about the Realm.'”

Mary Magdalene was not liked by the apostle Peter simply because she was a woman and “unworthy of the life,” as he said of her to the other disciples, some of whom were irritated by her closeness to Jesus, who favored her over the other disciples, kissing her often on the lips. Peter is recorded by Mary Magdalene as saying “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than all the other women. Tell us the words of the Savior that you remember, the things which you know that we don’t because we haven’t heard them.” As it turns out, Mary Magdalene had received secrete teachings from Jesus. She replies to Peter “I will teach you about what is hidden from you.” This irritated several of the disciples who began to doubt that Jesus ever said secrete words to her and not to them, that he even spoke to a woman in private without them knowing. “Are we to turn around and listen to her? Did he choose her over us?” Peter demands to know.

The disciple Levi defends Mary: “Assuredly the Savior’s knowledge of her is completely reliable. That is why he loved her more than us.” Baigent goes on to conclude that Jesus “taught secrete doctrines that concerned the passing over to the kingdom of heaven–a metaphor, as I have noted, for the concept described by the ancient Egyptians as the Far-World, or by the Greeks variously as the land of the Blessed or the Netherworld. All depict the divine world. The disciple of Jesus who understood his teaching the best was Mary Magdalene….”

It was Mary Magdalene who anointed Jesus with precious oils days before his royal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. She alone knew the significance of this ritual anointing, an important aspect of which is that it be performed “by someone who understands what is being done, and by one who can participate in recognizing the messiah–for the anointment is just the final act of a longer process, the details of which have not been recorded in the Gospels.” Baigent concludes this chapter with these words of appraisal of the Catholic Church:

No wonder the power brokers of Rome wanted to exclude knowledge of this sacred path as well as knowledge of these additional gospels. Unfortunately–for them–they could do nothing about the Gospels that later became the New Testament except to control the interpretation of them–to control the “spin.” The conceit, of course, is that some theologians with attitude presume to understand hundreds, perhaps a thousand or two years later, what the writers meant better than they did themselves. Why ever have we believed this for so long?

Although there were always scholars and commentators who saw through the spin, it is only in recent times that the manipulation and error have come so much to the fore in public. But so far, particularly in the ornate halls of the Vatican, nothing has changed. Power prefers spin to truth.

“Kingdom-Consciousness”

Andrew Harvey, series editor of Steven Davies’ 2002 release, The Gospel of Thomas – Annotated & Explained, writes eloquently and passionately about this Gospel.  He describes the character of Jesus and his revolutionary vision for the world with such authenticity that one might think he knew Jesus personally. I will share much of his foreword in two posts simply because it articulates so well the “alternative” I promised to offer at the start of this series–as well as the primary purpose of Jesus’ mission and ministry. He speaks of a “kingdom-consciousness.”

The Gospel of Thomas is, I believe, the clearest guide we  have to the vision of the world’s supreme mystical revolutionary, the teacher known as Jesus. To those who learn to unpack its sometimes cryptic sayings, the Gospel of Thomas offers a naked and dazzlingly subversive representation of Jesus’ defining and most radical discovery: that the living Kingdom of God burns in us and surrounds us in the glory at all moments, and the vast and passionate love-consciousness–what you might call “Kingdom­-consciousness” –can help birth it into reality. This discovery is the spiritual equivalent of Albert Einstein’s and J. Robert Oppenheimer’s uncovering of the potential of nuclear fission; it makes available to all humanity a wholly new level of sacred power. By fusing together a vision of God’s divine world with a knowledge of how this divine world could emerge into and transfigure the human one, the Gospel of Thomas makes clear that Jesus discovered the alchemical secret of transformation that could have permanently altered world history, had it been implemented with the passion and on the scale that Jesus knew was possible. Its betrayal by the churches erected in Jesus’ name has been an unmitigated disaster, one major rea­son for our contemporary catastrophe.

Unlike the Buddha, or Krishna, or any of the Eastern sages whose wis­dom of transcendent knowledge left fundamentally intact the status quo of a world often characterized as illusory, the Jesus we see in the Gospel of Thomas saw and knew this world as the constant epiphany of the divine Kingdom and knew too that a wholly new world could be created by divine beings, once they had seen this and allowed themselves to be transformed and empowered as he was, by divine wisdom, ecstasy, and energy. What Jesus woke up to and proceeded to enact with the fiercest and most gloriously imaginable intensity was this new life of “Kingdom­-consciousness,” not as a savior and not as a guru claiming unique status and truth–the Gospel of Thomas makes this very clear–but as a sign of what is possible for all human beings who dare to awaken to the potential splendor of their inner truth and the responsibilities for total transformation of the world that it then inspires within them.

Jesus’ full revolutionary vision in all its outrageousness, grandeur, and radical passion is to be discovered in a close reading of the Gospel of Thomas. The greatest of the sayings are like the equations of physicists Werner Heisenberg or Niels Bohr–complex but intensely lucid expositions in mystical and yogic terms of the laws and potential of a new reality, an endlessly dynamic and fecund reality created by our illusory perceptions and their sterile hunger for separation, division, and stasis.

What I have discovered on my own journey into the increasingly challenging understanding of “Kingdom-consciousness” is that as I continue to uncover and develop in my own depths the “fire” that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel of Thomas, reading the sayings by the brilliant light of this “fire” becomes even more astonishing. The sayings expand in radiance, significance, and reach as I expand my own awareness of divinity and of the powers available to all those who dare to risk trans­formation.

What I want to offer here is a linked reading of seven of the sayings that have most inspired me. Through this linked reading, I hope to open up to seekers everywhere the full glory, as far as I understand it now, of what Jesus is trying to communicate through the Gospel of Thomas, not just to Christians but to the whole of humanity. Let us begin with saying 2:

“Jesus said: The seeker should not stop until he finds. When he does find, he will be disturbed. After having been disturbed, he will be astonished. Then he will reign over everything.”

This saying suggests that the Jesus who is speaking in the Gospel of Thomas is not presenting himself as a Messiah with a unique realization and a unique status of mediator. This Jesus–for me, the authentic Jesus–is like the Buddha, a human being who was awakened to the full glory of his inner divinity and so knows the secret of every human being and hungers to reveal it to change the world. The life to which this Jesus is inviting everyone is not one of endless seeking, but one of finding­–finding the truth and power of human divinity by risking everything to uncover them.

From his own harrowing experience, Jesus knows that finding cannot be without suffering; to find out the truth and power of your inner divinity is to be “disturbed”: disturbed by the gap between your human shadow and its dark games, the abyss of light within; disturbed by the price that any authentic transformation cannot help but demand; disturbed by the grandeur you are beginning to glimpse of your real royal nature with all its burden of responsibility and solitude. Jesus knows too, how­ever, that if you risk this disturbance and surrender to the unfolding of your divine nature, extraordinary visions will be awoken in you–visions that will astound you and drag you into what the Sufi mystics call the “kingdom of bewilderment” that “placeless place” where everything you have imagined to be true about yourself or about humanity is rubbed by the splendor of what you discover. And from this increasingly astonishing self-discovery, tremendous powers to influence and transform reality will be born in you. Just as unprecedented energy is unleashed by the splitting of an atom, so through the “splitting” of human identity to reveal the divine identity within it, a huge new transforming power is born, a ruling power, the power that great saints and sages have displayed through gifts of healing, miracles, and undaunted stamina of sacred passion and sacrifice. The seeker that becomes a finder and ruler makes a leap in evolutionary development from human being, unconscious of the Divine hidden within him or her, to an empowered divine human being, capable in and under the Divine of flooding reality with the glory of the Kingdom. To reveal this secret, live it out, and release it in all its radical power, to make “finders” and rulers of us all, is why the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas lived and preached and died.

I will share more of Andrew Harvey’s foreword in my next post. We are headed toward Holy Week and the Easter Season in the Christian world during which I will bring this series to its climatic conclusion with a provocative scenario of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus, a drama that forms the very foundation of the Christian Faith. Until then,

Be love. Be loved.

Anthony

I invite you to visit my HealthLight Newsletter blog at LiftingTones.com.

 

The “Jesus of History” . . . . Vs The “Jesus of Faith” . . . . Part 2: The “Missing years”

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Eighteen years of Jesus’ life are not accounted for in the four Canonical Gospels. The last we hear of his early childhood is the alleged story about him debating with the chief priests and elders in the Temple of Jerusalem at the age of twelve. Where he went after that is a question that has given rise to much scholarly speculation.

Religious historian Michael Baigent has a very intriguing chapter on the missing years of Jesus’ life in his book The Jesus Papers – Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History. Digging deeply and tenaciously into whatever ancient texts and oral traditions he could find—the most resourceful being those of the Dead Sea Scrolls, written by the Jewish Zadokites and Zealots in Egypt, where they were found around 1947-56, and the Nag Hammadi texts discovered south of Cairo in Egypt in 1945—Baigent places Jesus in Egypt where he receives his messianic training in the Egyptian Mystery Schools.

It is in Egypt, Baigent suggests, where Jesus received training in the ancient rituals of Egyptian mysticism that opened heaven’s gate for passage into the Underworld—the “land of the dead,” which was thought more to be the “land of the living”—and re-entry into the physical plane.  Bagent suggests that Jesus was initiated into these mysteries whereby, with the assistance of fellow initiates who attended to the physical body during the soul’s out-of-body journey, one could die to this world, visit the realm of the gods and obtain wisdom, then be resurrected from the “dead.” Not entirely without historical support for his scenario, Baigent’s speculation is quite conceivable and compelling, especially knowing what we know today about “near death experiences” (NDE’s). Was Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection akin somehow to an NDE? Let’s have a look and decide for ourselves whether or not Baigent’s scenario is in the least bit credible, perhaps even likely.

(This is a dense and complex consideration with many political and religious threads weaving through the fabric of the story. I will attempt to condense it into two or three installments. Encompassing the larger part of Jesus’ thirty-three years of life as recorded by the four Gospel writers, it is perhaps the most crucial and important period, as it was his formative years of preparation for the three-and-a-half years of his public ministry, which ended in his personal victory over death—which was the sole interest of the Gospel writers, though not the sole reason and purpose for Jesus’ life and mission, as we will see.)

Where did Jesus live as a young man?

According to three of the four Canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), Jesus was living in the town of Nazareth in Galilee in his youth. Luke says that Jesus grew up there and that he went with his family every year to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. It was on one of those occasions that he was found debating with the learned scholars in the Temple. “Unfortunately,” Baigent writes, “there is no evidence whatsoever that Nazareth even existed in Jesus’ day.” Then, as is his style when he comes upon an inconsistency such as this, Baigent’s critical thinking and suspicions kick in. I love the manner in which he goes about questioning everything handed down as history. Here’s a taste of his reasoning and compelling writing:

The first mention of it appears no earlier than the third century A.D. Could this mention of an exchange at the Temple have been placed here as some kind of cover story for a period in Jesus’ life that was otherwise unaccounted for?

As far as the Gospels were concerned, Jesus appears to have vanished during his youth and early adulthood. But it was during those years that he learned the ideas, the beliefs, and the knowledge that he later taught. So where exactly was he? And why have his whereabouts been kept hidden? Had he been “talent-scouted” by priests or rabbis and whisked away for almost two decades of secret training? Surely the disciples must have known where Jesus had been. But what could have possibly been at stake, what problem could have arisen, through sharing this information? In fact, we cannot avoid asking, what were the writers of the Gospels intent on concealing?

Scholars over the years have speculated about this gap in the account of Jesus’ life. Some believe that Jesus traveled with his family to the East,

“far beyond the jurisdiction of the Romans, to Parthia, Persia, or beyond, to Afghanistan, or India. Even today there are many who believe that the shrine of Yus Asaph in Kashmir is that of Jesus himself who, after surviving the crucifixion, returned home to the East to live and ultimately die. There are also suggestions that he studied as a child under Buddhists—this would explain, it is said, the parallels that can be found between the teachings of Jesus and those of the Buddha. And we have the very early Christian community, centered in Malabar on the west coast of India, which claims to have been founded by the apostle Thomas. Surely where Thomas went then so too could Jesus have gone?

Is it possible that the Great Spirit who incarnated in Jesus is the same Divine Being who was also incarnate in the Buddha some six-hundred years earlier in Nepal, India?  Well, that’s getting a little ahead of the current story. There was no reason for Jesus to have fled Roman jurisdiction as he was not involved in the Zealot’s revolutionary activities against the Romans. Baigent reasons:

Any move he made out of Judea or Galilee must have been by choice rather than by coercion. But where could he have ventured, and why?

There is a single clue in the Bible, one in the Old Testament that is echoed in the New. As we have seen, it was important for Jesus to follow, to act out quite specifically, the predictions made by the Old Testament prophets in describing the coming of the messiah. We have already seen the very literal expression of these predictions during Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem when he finally went public with his messianic claims. We can therefore be confident in expecting that every messianic prediction in the Old Testament would be pressed into use in this manner.

In a real sense these predictions by the Prophets limited Jesus. They provided a set of boundaries within which his messianic mission needed to express itself. A particularly interesting prediction was given by the prophet Hosea (II:I): “When Israel was a child I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt” (emphasis mine). Matthew (2:I5) picks up on this in one of the earliest prophetic predictions he mentions: in a garbled historical account, he records that the Holy Family fled into Egypt when Jesus was still a baby, explaining, “This was to fulfill what the Lord has spoken through the prophet: ‘I called my son out of Egypt.'”

I’ve learned that anywhere in the New Testament when these words “This was to fulfill . . .” are used to preface a Biblical event, one can be sure that what follows is a rationalization by the author(s)inserted into the text in order to connect the event with words of prophecy from the Old Testament. It’s like doing research in order to find something that backs up or proves one’s preconceived conclusion or beliefs.

Why Egypt?

AT THIS POINT, we cannot help but ask, why Egypt? This is a minor detail in Matthew’s Gospel and is treated as such in the Roman Church. But for the Egyptian Coptic Church, which separated from Rome in 451 following the Council of Chalcedon, it is a matter of considerable importance indeed. For almost a thousand years it has maintained a legend about the journey the Holy Family made into Egypt, all the sites they visited or resided at, and all the miracles that accompanied the presence of Jesus. This legend is called “The Vision of Theophilus.” Theophilus was patriarch of Alexandria and leader of the Egyptian church from A.D. 385 to 4I2, but the Vision seems not to have been written down until the eleventh or twelfth century

Given the highly devotional nature of the story and the very obvious use made of it to justify Jesus’ uniqueness and divinity, we can locate its theology far beyond the beliefs of the Jewish community in Egypt—the community that would have been giving refuge to Jesus’ family. What’s more, these same factors place the origins of the theology in an era following the dogmatic decisions of the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. It seems fairly evident that the Vision—at the very least—is a product of Christian thought in the fourth century A.D. or later, and certainly not of Judaism or Judeo-Christianity. It therefore cannot be an accurate account of any such journey, although it may very well contain some elements of a real journey. Thus, we need to ask, whom does the story serve? Who would have benefited from its telling?

No one would have benefited more than the author of the Gospel of Matthew himself, as it added credibility to his Gospel. For less obvious reasons, the Coptic Church in Egypt would have benefited by the story of the Holy Family’s travels to the East. “The Coptic Church has been at odds with Rome for over six-hundred years, and its faith was at least tolerated by the Muslim rulers.” There appear to be political and economic factors influencing Mathew’s scenario.

If the Gospel of Matthew is given greater credence, then it stands to reason that various Egyptian holy places within the story would also be validated, thereby opening up a whole new pilgrim route that would include Egypt. With pilgrims, of course, came trade and gold.

Despite its deficiencies, the tale gives every appearance of picking up on local oral tradition or legend. And local legend is dismissed at one’s own peril, for local memories are long. There has certainly been a very ancient and widespread Jewish presence in Egypt—extensive enough to justify the story’s telling well into Islamic times.

There was a legitimate and functioning—although controversial—Jewish Temple in Egypt during the lifetime of Jesus. It was founded by the Zadokite high priest, Onias III, who built it upon the ruins of an old Bubastis temple in the Egyptian delta on the same design as the Temple of Jerusalem.

Onias III, a Zadokite priest, was forced to flee Israel to Egypt when Jerusalem was attacked by the Syrian ruler, Antiochus Epiphane in 170 B.C., and the Temple in Jerusalem was taken over by non-Zadokite priests allied with Epiphane. The Onias Temple with its Zadokite priest became the only legitimate Jewish Temple in the region. That is until his son, Onias IV, a military commander in the Egyptian army and a non-Zadokite priest, succeeded his father as high priest. This made the Onias Temple in Egypt illegitimate, a diminishing of status by Josephus that was used as his rationale for excluding it from serious academic consideration, by Josephus himself as well as by Philo of Alexandria—both of whom had friends in high places in Israel to placate; friends in the upper class wealthy Jewish sector as well as in the ruling class. Both groups wanted to put distance between them and the Zadokites and the Zealots associated with the Onias Temple in Egypt as well as the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Onias Temple was on the road that Jesus and his parents would have traveled from Judea to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt in order to avoid the strongly-influenced Jewish communities in Alexandria and Naucratis to the west. They would then have traveled south along this road that passed by Onias’ temple, where they would most likely have stopped and settled. Baigent reasons:

And it is highly unlikely that Jesus and his family, raised in a Zealot environment, one that hoped and prayed for a reinstatement of a Zadokite priesthood in the Temple of Jerusalem, would have just passed by this Egyptian Jewish temple. All of these observations lead naturally to the thought that the Temple of Onias served as the initial training site of Jesus. It was here perhaps that he received his introduction into the politically active world of the Zealots.

In a sense, we can see the temple as an overseas branch of Galilee where Greek-speaking Zealots could learn their trade. It would have also been a good place for Jesus’ family to bring him so that he could learn what it would mean to be the Messiah of Israel, for all the texts and commentaries on the role of the messiah would have been available there. So we do now have a good reason for the Holy Family to have traveled to Egypt, and a reason for Matthew’s brief comment, disguised as a flight from the dangers posed by Herodian infanticide. In fact, it would seem not to have been a flight at all but rather a positive action undertaken in order to allow Jesus to grow, to study, and to teach away from the troubles in Judaea and Galilee.

Despite his training in the Zealot cause, Jesus, as we have seen, at some point secretly took another path – one revealed only after he had been anointed as messiah [by Mary of Bethany, who was also Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ wife and companion], when it was far too late for anybody to challenge him. That path was a more mystical path. Yet where in the Jewish world of Egypt could he have learned such a path? For the answer to this question, we need to look at one of the mystical groups of the time, one described by Philo of Alexandria.

In my next post I will consider the Therapeutae healers in Egypt with whom Jesus may have studied and developed his own gift of healing. I will also consider a most enlightening chapter of Baigent’s book that tells about the mysticism of Egypt and the rituals of initiation into the Mystery School and what was called “incubation,” a most interesting and exciting consideration that may shed light on what really happened on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. So, stay tuned.

Anthony Palombo

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The “Jesus of History” . . . . Vs The “Jesus of Faith” Part 1

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“WHAT IF EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW ABOUT JESUS IS WRONG?” – From the cover of Michael Baigent’s book THE JESUS PAPERS – Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History.  Michael Baigent is a religious historian and leading expert in the field of arcane knowledge.

I received a number of “likes” and a few comments on my last post, which I always love receiving. One comment came from a niece that I thought is worth sharing here, since she sent it to me on Facebook rather than posting it to my blog. She says:

“Thanks for having the courage to educate us all about the history that so many choose to ignore. You will probably be burned in effigy…lol. My belief is that we need not be ashamed of our history unless we refuse to learn from it.”

My belief as well. I am not convinced, however, that we have learned from our history – or even explored it at any length so as to know what it is we need to learn from it.  Thus my exploration, which I am somewhat tentative in sharing in a public forum such as this. Some of my readers may, indeed, burn me verbally in effigy, as my niece said, and if that should happen, I extend love and compassion ahead of such time that this may indeed come to pass. Bless you and forgive me for exploring my own Italian/French/Irish Catholic roots, which I’ve taken for granted.

With that said, I will continue my exploration of information that has come to me in a thoroughly researched and well documented book by Michael Bagent entitled The Jesus Papers – Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History. My purpose in reading his book – for the second time – is to arrive at a better understanding of who exactly Jesus was and what actually occurred during his brief life and public ministry. Again, from the cover of his book:

In The Jesus Papers, the author reveals the truth about Jesus’s life and crucifixion. Despite–or rather because of–all the celebration and veneration that have surrounded the figure of Jesus for centuries, Baigent asserts that Jesus and the circumstances leading to his death have been heavily mythologized.

One of these myths is that Jesus founded Christianity and that his apostle Peter founded the Roman Catholic Church. Nothing could be farther from the truth, according to Baigent. The “elephant in the room” in any discussion of the origins of Christianity is the obvious improbability that a Jew would be founding a Christian religion. Christianity was not even a concept in Jesus’s mind.  Judaism was the religion of his time, along with paganism. And the apostle Peter did not found the Roman Catholic Church. That was the Roman Emperor Constantine 325 years after Jesus’s time. (More about this episode later.) Baigent helps us look at the political setting into which Jesus was born and in which he lived and ministered to the Jewish people.

Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian

Jesus was born during warring times. The Zealots, a Jewish sect, were battling the Romans over the city of Jerusalem and the Temple that had become a “den of thieves,” as Jesus described it when he drove the merchants and money-changers out of the temple with a whip. They wanted priests in the temple who were descendants of Aaron. They also were looking for the Messiah to appear and restore the kingdom of Israel, as foretold by the prophets. Baigent depicts the setting in which Jesus assumed his messianic role, entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey:

There is no getting away from it: Jesus entered Jerusalem quite deliberately, pressing all the right buttons in order to put himself forward as the chosen Messiah of Israel, the anointed king, whose arrival had been foretold by the prophets. He knew it. He was open to it.

Jesus was born a Jew from the seed of Joseph, who was a descendant of the House of David. Yes, he had an earthly father who knew his mother, Mary, in the Biblical sense of that word, and brought him forth in the same manner as any other normal birth. It was the Church later on, with its hang up on human sexuality and its “obsession with perpetual virginity and celibacy” that fabricated the scenario of the virgin birth. Jesus had to have Joseph’s genetic heritage from the Line of David in order to be the promised Messiah, along with his mother’s priestly bloodline.

The author goes on to describe how Jesus was groomed by the Zealots from childhood for this role, only to have him later betray them and their revolutionary cause:

Imagine the problem: the Zealots, whose entire focus was the removal or destruction of Rome’s hold over Judea, had organized a dynastic marriage between Joseph, a man of the royal line of David, and Mary, of the priestly line of Aaron, in order to have a child, Jesus–the “Savior” of Israel–who was both rightful king and high priest.

Whether or not the Zealots “organized” Joseph and Mary’s marriage, what is factual is their inheritance of the royal bloodline of King David and the priestly bloodline of the High Priest Aaron. The Jews knew that their Messiah had arrived and all that was left was for Jesus to fulfill the prophecies of Holy Scripture and restore Judea as a nation by driving the Romans from the Holy City of Jerusalem and replacing the priests of the Temple with a High Priest descendant from the line of Aaron.

The big let-down that led to Jesus’s crucifixion

As it turned out, Jesus did not go about fulfilling their expectations. To the contrary, Jesus let them down royally when he failed to excuse them from paying taxes in that pivotal moment when he wisely answered their loaded question about paying taxes by suggesting they “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Taxes were one of the chief contentions between the Jews and the Romans. Their refusal to pay Caesar’s taxes did not sit well with Caesar, as one can imagine. Then there was the issue of Jesus’ failure to be their temporal king and leader of their revolution. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus had told them on more than one occasion, and repeated it at his trial before Pontius Pilate. “They had to get rid of Jesus and find a leader more amenable to their agenda, such as his brother James who was leading the community of messianic Jews in Jerusalem after Jesus was out of the picture.”

We must take note here that it was the Zealots and not the Jewish people in general who were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. If they couldn’t have a temporal king, they could at least have a martyr.

The origins of Christianity and Catholicism

Returning to the subject of the origin of the Christian religion, as I stated earlier, it was the Roman Emperor Constantine some 325 years after Jesus’s life and alleged crucifixion who, in a grab for power and control over an increasing Christian populace, and for the sake of unity in his empire, decreed that Jesus was the Son of God and the founder of Christianity. He simply made Christianity the official religion of Rome to unify his empire:

Constantine . . . called the Council of Nicaea to oppose the ideas of the heretic Arius. The aim was to get support for the idea that Jesus Christ was “of one being” with God the Father, a claim that Arius and others disputed; for them, Jesus was not divine. As Princeton’s Professor Elaine Pagels dryly observes, “Those who opposed this phrase pointed out that it occurs neither in the Scripture nor in Christian tradition.” But the objections proved of no consequence to the politically ruthless theologians who traveled to Nicaea with a set agenda in mind.

By this decision, the Council of Nicaea created the literally fantastic Jesus of faith and adopted the pretense that this was a historically accurate rendering. Its actions also established the criteria by which the New Testament books would later be chosen. The Council of Nicaea produced a world of Christianity where a code of belief was held in common. Anything different was to be deemed heresy and to be rejected and, if possible, exterminated.

Enter the “Inquisitors”

What followed is a bloody chapter in the history of early Catholicism. Baigent retells this bloody history of the “Inquisitors,” who became “the Church’s killers — their army of secret informers,ruthless interrogators, and cold judges, all acting in the name of Christ.” Pope Damasus I (366-84) hired a group of killers to spend three days massacring his opponents.”

The next bloody chapters started in the 12th century and lasted over a thousand years of what was called the “Holy Inquisition” by which hundreds of thousands of non-believers – heretics and witches – were massacred, many burned alive for not embracing Constantine’s and Rome’s version of Christianity. The Dominicans played a central role as the Church’s killers. “The Inquisition boasted that over the course of 150 years it burned approximately thirty-thousand women — all innocent victims of a Church-sanctioned pathological fantasy.”

One particularly bloody chapter was the extermination of the Cathars of Languedoc in Southern France. These were

“holy men and women who embraced a life of renunciation, spirituality, and simplicity — les Bonhommes, they called themselves, ‘The Good Men’ or ‘the Good Christians.’ They served a population who craved personal religious experience but whose needs were hardly served by the established church, which had abdicated its spiritual role for one more commercial and venal.”

The fault line between belief in and knowledge of truth

During the Second Century AD there was a “basic fault line that separated two strong traditions…: on the one side were those who sought knowledge [Gnostics], and on the other were those who were content with belief. It is important,” Baigent writes, “that we distinguish between the two since this fault line is one of the primary forces that ultimately crystallized the orthodox Christian position.”

Today we are seeing the emergence of something quite similar to what was then called “Gnosticism” as the truth again emerges through the quagmire of a spiritual revolution in which people the world over are awakening to the realization that we are divine, made in the image and likeness of God – gods incarnate in human form to co-create a Heaven here on Earth, fulfilling Jesus’s sole mission and purpose for incarnating two-thousand years ago. And this is my offering as a worthy and believable alternative to living in a system of belief that has too long denied the truth that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, within us and all around us. We are finally repenting – literally turning around – and seeing with new eyes that this truth is true and all is well. Unconquerable Life is prevailing over centuries of lies and deception.

I will end this post on that note, because this does present a worthy and believable alternative to Christianity, which is based on the Jesus of Faith rather than the Jesus of History.

In my next post, I will explore the historical records that shed light on the “eighteen missing years” of Jesus’s life of which there is no Biblical record. Until then,

Be love. Be loved.

Antony Palombo

Read my Health Light Newsletter online at LiftingTones.com.

On Human Relations . . . . part 6: The Path of Romantic Love, page 4

My Chorale PicIn chapter seven of her powerful book MARY MAGDALENE – Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity, “Reclaiming the Path of Romantic Love,” Episcopal minister Cynthia Bourgeault paints a much different picture of the spiritual path Jesus walked than the one painted by Christian orthodox interpretations of the four gospels. Continuing from where we left off in the previous post, Cynthia speaks to the question “Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene lovers.” I will let you read directly from the final two pages of this chapter.

Having described Jesus’s spiritual path as being anything but celibate, an “enstatic” path of conserving pranic energy, Cynthia makes her case against traditional Christian concepts and beliefs to the contrary.

By contrast, the path that Jesus himself seems to teach and model in his life, and particularly in his death, is not a storing up but a complete pouring out. His pranic energy is quickly depleted; on the cross, as all four gospel account affirm, he does not hold out even until sunset, but quickly “gives up the ghost.” Shattered and totally spent, he simply disappears into his death. The core icon of the Christian faith, the watershed moment from which it all emerges, is not enstatic but ecstatic — love completely poured out, expended, squandered. In contrast to clarity, it is the arche­typal image of purity, the complete self-giving of the heart.

THE PATH JESUS WALKED

And right here, I believe, we come to the fundamental problem with these celibate models of transformation. It’s not merely their monochromatic viewpoint or the implicit devaluing of a whole other stream of Christian spiritual wisdom whose roots are in passionate human love. Rather, it is the fact that at key points they seem to be slightly out of kilter with the path of transformation that Jesus himself walked and taught. One might say that this model points us toward John the Baptist rather than Jesus: to­ward those ancient and time-honored practices of renunciation, asceticism, and self-concentration through abstinence, whereas if we really look closely, we see that Jesus himself seemed to be con­stantly pushing the envelope in the opposite direction — toward radical self-abandonment, reckless self-outpouring, and the trans­mutation of passion in complete self-giving.

But it is right there, at the center of that cognitive dissonance, that a window of opportunity opens up. Rather than trying to smooth it over and pretend it does not exist, as the church has done for nearly two thousand years, we need to tune in and listen to it very carefully, for it gives us exactly the tool we need to proceed.

Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene lovers? To date, nearly everyone seems to be trying to solve that riddle from the outside, like good investigative journalists. It’s all about finding new evi­dence: secret documents and societies, new gnostic gospels, purported lost tombs, hidden mathematical messages embedded in the lines of existent texts — some new piece of data that would settle the issue one way or another. Equally, those who are ap­palled by the very notion of a romantically involved Jesus build their case by recourse to doctrines and templates that did not exist until three or four centuries after he had left the planet. It’s all external logic.

But there is another possibility, which has been sitting there right under our noses all along yet so far seems to have been consistently overlooked. That is to evaluate the evidence from the inside, on the basis of the path itself. For Jesus was, after all, a teacher, and the teaching itself is there to be consulted. Once one has compensated for the negative set and drift of the celibate current, it is merely a matter of asking a single question: In the light of what Jesus actually seems to have been teaching, is there anything in the teachings themselves that would have precluded such a love relationship?

If Jesus were indeed walking the path of classic monastic brahmacharya, then the answer is obviously yes; celibacy is an essential requirement of this path, and to diverge from this requirement would violate his integrity and sabotage his spiritual power.

But what if in fact he was walking a different path? A path difficult to identify because it was so close to its own headwaters that it was missed by nearly everyone both then and now? What if he was not an ascetic at all, but was in fact following a whole new trajectory, previously unknown in the West and with its own ways of understanding integrity and purity? Along this other trajec­tory, it might indeed be conceivable for him to be in a human love relationship, although that love would probably not look like what most of us are familiar with.

Let’s see what the teachings themselves have to say.

Thus ends chapter seven with a segue to chapter eight, and to the rest of Cynthia’s provocative treatise, for that matter. The title of chapter eight is “The Great Identity Theft.” Who was Jesus and how was his presentation of himself perceived by the world he came to save from itself?  There are two brief paragraphs midway through this chapter that speak to these questions.

In the Aramaic language of Jesus’s immediate followers, one of the earliest titles given to him was Ihidaya, “the Single One,” or the “Unified One.” In context, it speaks unmistakably of this state of inner oneness; it designates the anthropos, the fully realized human being: the enlightened master of Eastern tradition, or the monad or “undivided one” of hermeticism.

The “great identity theft” to which the title of this chapter refers is that in remarkably short order this term, which was so clearly intended to designate Jesus’s attained state of inner oneness, should come to be interpreted as “singleness” in the sense of being unmarried, “the celibate one.”

Jesus was not necessarily monastic nor ascetic, which leaves him available to a romantic relationship. Actually, according to Islamic scholar Ibrahim Gamard, monasticism was not mandated by the Koran. In a letter to the author in 1998, Gamard shared the insight that “in the Islamic tradition monasticism was disapproved of in the Qur’anic verse which states that the monasticism of the followers of Jesus was invented by them and was not something commanded by God.” As I said, this leaves Jesus with the option at least of having a romantic relationship with Mary Magdalene as his wife and partner in a shared service to Humanity: personal transformation via a path of romantic love.

I will leave it there for now and continue with “The Path that Jesus Walked” in my next post . . . . or not. This series seems to be complete, so I may let this be the concluding post to the series on Human Relations. We’ll see what the Current of Inspiration brings us for exploration. Thanks for sharing this consideration with me. As always, your comments are welcome.  Until my next post,

Be love. Be Loved

Anthony

Read my Health Light Newsletter online at LiftingTones.com for helpful information about health and wellness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Human Relations . . . . . part 6: The Path of Romantic Love, page 3

“Without the quicksilver of eros nothing transforms . . .”

My Chorale PicIn the previous post I presented and considered the first two of four propositions, or myths, that are all “firmly rooted in the soil of celibate spirituality–that together have subtly sabotaged our ability to see romantic love as an authentic path of spiritual transformation” presented by Cynthia Bourgeault in her boldly provocative book The Meaning of MARY MAGDALENE — Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity.  In this post I will present and consider the third and fourth myths and share some of Cynthia’s thought provoking views and commentary from her book — which I highly recommend to my readers.

Myth Number Three: Human love is inherently different from divine love

This is what has been handed down through Christian church teachings. Actually, it was Plato who classified love by types: agape and eros — although he didn’t attribute agape exclusively to divine love nor eros exclusively to human love. After all, the Greeks had their riotous gods who were capable of both human and divine passions. Rather, agape love to Plato was impartial, disinterested love and eros desiring love, which both the gods and humans were capable of experiencing. Plato’s delineation, non-the-less, set the foundation for such discussions for two-and-a-half millennia since, writes Cynthia Bourgeault.

It was a Swedish Protestant theologian in the 1930’s by the name of Anders Nygren who relegated eros to human desiring. His “monumental” three-volume work Agape and Eros, in which he writes “eros is man’s way to God; agape is God’s way to man,” had a powerful and pervasive influence on contemporary Christian spirituality. Cynthia writes:

According to Nygren, eros is by its very nature filled with desire and neediness, hence impure; by contrast, God’s way of loving is free, clear and impartial, motivated only by the goodness of the giver. With one deft stroke of the theological scalpel, Nygen essentially divided the core energy of love into two separate species and assigned to erotic love (the only love humans are by definition capable of) a permanent second-class status that essentially negates its value as a spiritual path. It is hard to escape the implication that if one is following a path of passionate commitment to a beloved, one is on an inferior spiritual track, or no track at all. This despite love’s unassailable record as the most potent force at our disposal to unify the heart and transform the soul.

Fortunately, the damaging pronouncements of Nygren has impacted only the modern era. Earlier generations of Christian teachers considered eros a “wellspring” of transforming energy that one simply had to learn to work with in one’s spiritual path. Cynthia quotes John Climacus’ sixth-century writings to exemplify this historical fact:

“I have seen impure souls who threw themselves headlong into physical eros to a frenzied degree. It was their very experience of that physical eros that led them to interior conversion. They concentrated their eros on the Lord. Rising above fear, they tried to love God with insatiable desire. That is why when Christ spoke to the woman who had been a sinner he did not say that she had been afraid but that she had loved much, and had easily been able to surmount love by love.”

The goal of “surmounting love by love” for a thousand years formed the heart of the Christian mystical program of transformation, culminating in the twelfth century in the magnificent “monastic love mysticism” of St Bernard of Clairvax and those following in his wake (and notice that whenever eros is mentioned in a text, the figure of Mary Magdalene hovers right in the background). To the extent that it still conceives of God as an object that one can “concentrate one’s eros” on, it ultimately falls victim of that same dualistic fallacy we have already seen in the first myth. But it is far, far better than what has been served up today in the name of religious and psychological health; a gutless, passionless numb “agape clone” that goes nowhere at all. Without the quicksilver of eros nothing transforms: a secret which I believe Jesus himself knew and worked with in his teachings in a profound way, only at a unitive rather than a dualistic level.

Now, of course, if you were fortunate enough to escape such indoctrination in your upbringing, then none of this serves you very much, excerpt perhaps as an educational piece at an intellectual level. I am intrigued by perspectives on historical events that shed light on the path I have traveled over the last seventy plus years. You see, I was born into a Catholic family, groomed for a priestly vocation — which was more my father’s desire for me than my own — and educated in the hallowed halls of Roman Catholic seminary. Only the halls of Catholic seminary were not so hallowed as they were hollow and empty of any transforming energy. Eros was a path to a life of mortal sin, the punishment for which was eternal damnation and separation from God. So, it thrills me to have someone like Cynthia Bourgeault articulate so eloquently some of the undercurrents that were churning beneath the turbulent and confusing terrain upon which I spent the formative and developing years of my life, as well as their origins in history.

Don’t worry for me, however, for the Church’s brain-washing, for some strange reason, seemed like water poured over a duck’s back. It didn’t penetrate the core of me. My guardian angel was apparently protecting me. However, I did not escape the damage to my human psyche and the spoiling of my physical enjoyment of a fully enfleshed life of healthy sexuality as a young man. That came later after awakening to the truth of love and of life.

But enough about me. Let’s look at the fourth myth, the one that lured me into the seminary and, ironically, disillusioned me at the age of 21 and sent me in search for the truth of love in human relations, both with the divine and with one another, a search that would last only seven years. Let me share some of her thoughts and perspectives right from her powerful book.

Myth Number Four: Celibacy is a state of greater purity.

The mistake here–and it is one commonly made in spiritual teaching — is to confuse purity with clarity. Clarity has to do with attuning the mind. Purity is about awakening the heart. The two can overlap each other, but they are not synonymous.

I enjoy her distinction between purity and clarity. She goes on to give a little history of the practice of celibacy.

In Hinduism, where the practice of celibacy as an applied spiritual technology (known as brahmacharya)  arose more than three thousand years ago, the objective has to do with conserving and concentrating prana, the vital energy or life force, so that it can be utilized for spiritual transformation. The modern Hindu master Swami Chidananda has restated the traditional wisdom by explaining it in this way: “Prana is the precious reserve of the seeker. Any sense activity or sense experience consumes a lot of prana [the sex act most of all, he claims] . . . The highest of all goals in life, spiritual attainment, requires the maximum pranic energy on all levels.”

For Swami Chidananda, the practice of celibacy harnesses pranic energy much like a dam harnesses the force of water for the purpose of turning huge turbines, and like a lens concentrates the rays of the sun to burn whatever they are focused on. Cynthia continues:

In the most ancient and powerful understanding of the practice, celibacy belongs among practices that can be classified as enstatic — those that have to do with conserving, collecting, concentrating. The positive side of this kind of practice is a significantly enhanced clarity — a relative freedom from the energy-consuming turmoil of the physical lusts and emotional passions and thus a greater capacity to stay present to the higher frequencies of spiritual energy.

For exactly this reason — that celibacy is a “storing up” process — its shadow side is avarice. One must be alert to a subtle tendency to withhold or “preserve”oneself, to hold oneself back from full engagement in the human sphere in order to have access to those higher realms of truth and light. Under all the aura of “selfless giving” with which the practice of celibacy generally cloaks itself, there can be a subtle spiritual acquisitiveness at work, betrayed in the very phrase “spiritual attainment.” Which “I,” one wonders, is this “I” who attains?

Cynthia gives her reader pause to consider what’s really at work in spiritual attainment. She then turns toward the life and death of Jesus in a most remarkable portrayal of him as being anything but enstatic in his public ministry.

By contrast, the path that Jesus himself seems to teach and model in his life, and particularly in his death, is not a storing up but a complete pouring out. His pranic energy is quickly depleted; on the cross, as all four gospel accounts affirm, he does not hold out even until sunset, but quickly “gives up the ghost.” Shattered and totally spent, he simply disappears into his death. The core icon of the Christian faith, the watershed moment from which it all emerges, is not enstatic but ecstatic — love completely poured out, expended squandered. In contrast to clarity, it is the archetypal image of purity, the complete self-giving of the heart.

Such is the character of unconditional love: “. . .the complete self-giving of the heart.” This reminds me of Jesus’s words to his disciples during his sermon on the vine and the branches: “Greater love hast no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.”  He was giving them all that he had to give, and for a truly selfless reason: “. . . that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” (John 15:13)

The joy of giving fully of oneself is like no other joy.  It’s a joy that utterly sets one free. This, I believe, is what’s really behind the mad rush to buy presents for loved ones and friends at Christmas time every year. We do get much joy out of giving.  I’ve actually read of a tribal community where there is no word in their language for “Thank you.” Such is their awareness that the pleasure and joy of giving are the giver’s as much as, if not more than, the receiver’s. I love Cynthia’s portrayal of this great Teacher as one who spent himself fully during his three-and-a-half years of public ministry. It is the Jesus that I can easily hold as a hero and model of true manhood.

In my next post I will share Cynthia Bourgeault’s view of and commentary on “The Path Jesus Walked.” So, stay tuned for more inspiring posts on my Healing Tones blog.

Wishing for you a Happy New Year and a healthy and happy 2016!

Anthony

Read my HealthLight Newsletter online at LiftingTones.com.

 

 

On Human Relations . . . . . part 6: The Path of Romantic Love, page 2

My Chorale PicFar from keeping one earthbound, romantic love, not celibacy, was exemplified and touted by Jesus as the highest path to spiritual enlightenment and union with the divine. From the very Genesis we were created male and female so that through our union as one flesh we could bring forth life. That was the original template.  We’ve obviously altered and thwarted the original template for the creation of human beings and produced a species of human doings who put achieving ahead of being and compete with one another in a “battle of the sexes.”

I’m in my second reading of THE MEANING OF MARY MAGDALENE – The Woman at the Heart of Christianity, a most provocative book written by episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault, in which she weaves the scenario of a romantic human relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. That alone should give you a clue about its provocative subject matter. To write this series of posts I dove right into the book to share poignant excerpts from chapter seven: “Reclaiming the Path of Romantic Love.”

In my last post I left my blog followers and readers with four options offered by the author to consider and choose from. They are:

1. That Mary Magdalene was Jesus’s mistress;

2. That theirs was a politically arranged marriage, strictly for dynastic purposes;

3. That they were sexual consorts in some Gnostic Mystery religion, ritually reenacting the sacred hieros gamos, or union of the opposites;

4. That the whole story is purely archetypal, a great Sophianic myth depicting the integration of the masculine and feminine within the human soul.”

I chose the third option. Here’s what Cynthia offers:

Sex, power, cult, or myth: not a great set of choices.  I have yet to see considered what in a sexually healthy culture would surely seem to be the obvious possibility: that they were faithful beloveds, whose lives were joined together in a fully enfleshed human love which was a source of strength and nurturance for both of them; which far from diminishing their spiritual integrity, deepened and fulfilled it. Why is it so hard to go there?  Well, obviously: because that is the one possibility our celibate template will not allow us to consider.

The “celibate template” of which she speaks is the scenario handed down to us by a patriarchal church and its celibate priesthood that portrays Jesus as a celibate bachelor, who had a virgin birth, and who gave himself utterly and completely to God and his mission without the “distraction” and high maintenance of a human relationship. Obviously, human sexuality has been a problem for the church for the past two-thousand years.

In this post, I will present the author’s four “propositions” or “myths”– all “rooted in the soil of celibate spirituality — that together have subtly sabotaged our ability to see romantic love as an authentic path of spiritual transformation.” Handed down as “gospel truth,” these myths in fact have “little or no scriptural authorization in the teachings of Jesus himself but instead draw their credibility entirely from the circular logic of his presumed celibacy.”

MYTH NUMBER ONE — Celibacy is the preferred means of giving oneself entirely to God

This myth as been promulgated and fostered by the church almost from the beginning of priesthood and monastic life.

Like so much else in church’s teachings on human sexuality, its scriptural origins lie in Paul’s oft-cited admonition, “The unmarried man cares for the Lord’s business; his aim is to please the Lord. But the married man cares for worldly things; his aim is to please his wife; and he has a divided mind” (Corinthians 7:33). Clearly this is a highly effective recruitment tactic for the religious life. Virtually every Christian monastic I know has entered upon the vocation espousing some variation of Thomas Merton’s impassioned outpouring: “I want to give God everything.” Of course, from an operational standpoint Paul is quite correct: being in partnership makes the logistics of spiritual discipleship a good deal more complicated.

But the theology underlying this principle, if you really consider it, is monstrous. In fact, it seems to be saying that the wholehearted love of God and the wholehearted love of another human being cannot coincide; as our love for a particular human being increases, our love for God is proportionately diminished. Not only is this a theological nightmare; it is also a flat-out contradiction of Jesus’s own dual commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind . . . and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Whatever the difficulty in juggling these sometimes contradictory demands, collapsing the tension between them is not an option.

I love her articulate way of stating the obvious in her writing style.  What she writes next, and the way she turns the usual perspective on its head, sends a delightful burst of sunshine into my heart:

The real solution to this paradox, I believe, comes in the gradual discovery that one cannot love God as an object. God is always and only the subject of love.  God is that which makes love possible, the source from which it emerges and the light by which it is recognized. Thus, “love of God” is not one love among others, not love for a particular “one” to whom my saying “yes” requires that I say “no” to another. Rather, God is the all-encompassing One who unlocks and sustains my ability to give myself fully to life in all its infinite particularity, including the excruciating particularity of a human beloved.

. . . God is the divine giving, who flows out and through our human expression to manifest love in all its fullness.  And so the way to give oneself fully to God would be to give fully of oneself

MYTH NUMBER TWO — Love divides the heart

The notion that erotic love divides the heart is so deeply engrained in monastic spiritual formation that renunciation becomes not only the imperative course of action but even a spiritual opportunity: the direct route to spiritual wholeness. The modern Jesuit John S. Dunne reflects this traditional view when he writes: “If I set my heart upon another person, then I cannot live without that person. My heart becomes divided. On the other hand, if I give my life to the journey with God, then my heart becomes whole and I can be whole in relationship with another.’ [Dunne, Reasons of the Heart].

. . . And yet the question remains: does love divide the heart? If God is considered an object of one’s love vying with other objects, then the crucial premise on which this theology hangs is true: yes, love would divide the heart. But if God is the subject of love, the place from which love emerges, then one could more reliably claim—as poets, mystics, and lovers have claimed throughout the ages—that love does not divide the heart, but is in fact the sole force strong enough to unite it. What divides the heart is not the love relationship itself but the passions: the strong emotions and shadow side that are always present when love runs strong. But these are not grounds for renunciation; rather, they are grounds for purification.

This story Cynthia shares next my wife and I can personally relate to, as she has spent the larger part of this year undergoing chemo therapy for breast cancer. Our hearts have been opened wider by this crisis so that we have been able to easily and gratefully give fully of ourselves to one another in a mutually loving and caring way. We have both been transformed in this challenging crisis so that we don’t see cancer as an enemy to fight against and conquer. Rather, by embracing it, the tumor has become a messenger bringing us an opportunity to grow spiritually and more intimately together in life . . . as well as to realize how many wonderful friends we have surrounding us and holding us in their love and prayers.

In closing this consideration, Cynthia writes:

What this purification might look like is captured with wrenching power in the memoir “Grace and Grit” by the contemporary philosopher Ken Wilber. In this remarkable autobiography he shares the story of his own love and transformation as he and his wife . . . wage a five-year battle against her ultimately fatal breast cancer. As their ordeal intensifies, one watches them each being melted down and refashioned in the refiner’s fire of their love for each other. Egotism, clinging, resentment—and other, darker shadows—rise to the surface and are released. Particularly in the last six months of [her] life, Wilber writes, “We simply and directly served each other, exchanging self for other, and therefore glimpsing that eternal spirit which transcends self and other, both ‘me’ and ‘mine’”

If this sounds like something you recall Jesus saying in the gospels, you’re right.

I do enjoy Cynthia’s style of writing and her bold expression of truth in the face of her own congregation and of the larger religious field in which she ministers. Fearless is perhaps the appropriate word to describe her writing. She is clearly in love with love leaving no room for fear of criticism and sanction.

The next two myths: “Human love is inherently different from divine love” and “Celibacy is a state of greater purity” I will leave for the next post. See you in a couple of weeks. Until then,

Be love. Be loved.

Anthony

Read my Health Light Newsletter online at LiftingTones.com. 

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