Here in Salt Lake City we are blessed with the use of a beautiful one hundred year old chapel that was donated by the sisters and de-consecrated by the Roman Catholic Diocese when the Holy Cross Hospital was sold and became the Salt Lake Regional Medical Center. This has meant that one of the major hurdles for Ecclesiastical Gnosticism, that of having chapel space, hasn't been a problem for us for a number of years. The other side of the blessing is that celebrating high church liturgical services in an historic Roman Catholic chapel, one gets mistaken as RC.
Though I've never heard it, I can't imagine that it hasn't happened that people have come to check out Gnosticism, and looked in through the glass doors and wondered why there was an RC service going on instead. It has even happened that people have attended the entire Eucharist service and apparently been oblivious to the difference. Of course, this is Utah, and like many places, most people here have had no exposure to high church liturgy of any kind.
In this context, and in the setting of a hospital where the processes of life and death are constantly at their most intense, I have often wondered how Gnostic I should be with people who wander in. There are times when only a somewhat contrived misunderstanding will serve the needs of those who come in from the hospital. For example, a few weeks ago an RC fellow came in after the Eucharist, and asked to receive communion. There was a sign, and there was the December page of the Gnostic Calendar that I handed him. Yet I had the sense that he just wanted to have it go unsaid, and receive communion. So I obliged. I am, after all, there to serve.
Tonight, I set about preparing for the Healing and Sophia service with the expectation that I would be the only one in the Chapel. In years past I have not held one in December since, generally, no one else attends. But I like to think I have matured as a priest since then. As I was setting up, a pregnant woman from the hospital entered the chapel crying and took a seat on a pew to pray. Although people seek compassionate human contact in their grief, they are often shy about being approached by a priest. I offered her the service books as a neutral form of contact, and, as she did not indicate that she wished to talk, I went on with the services.
The Healing Service is like the Eucharist, Gnostic in content, traditional in form. When I asked, she indicated that she wanted to receive unction and communion. However, the Sophia service is not even traditional in form, and I had some concern that it might disturb her, and undo the benefit she seemed to receive from the healing service. I needn't have worried, for even if some of the phrases struck her as being odd, the whole flow of the service seemed to be just what she needed. I heard her crying again, a little, as I sang the Litany of Love, in which love is sent forth to all: passersby, enemies, even demons and dark angels. I broke through some idea that was holding me back, and now I am unapologetically Gnostic, proud to carry on a tradition in which God as Love has no bounds.
I am reminded of an address given by Rev. Sam Osborne, about how the Gnostic view is the view of the downtrodden and oppressed. That in his work with the poor they seemed to already have elements of the Gnostic world view. And even if this isn't so in a particular case, it is the Gnostic view that will aid them in their oppression. In the Gnostic view there is no blame for those who are in any state be it poverty, illness, or despair. Nor is there some “test of faith” to be overcome in suffering. This is what we have to offer, and having it come from someone in a clerical collar may give it some extra force for liberation: for it is not what is expected.
We are truly all in this together. We are all in the darkness seeking the Light. We are the children of that Light—brothers and sisters all.