Friday, June 29, 2007

The Chat Website that Saved the World

It really is amazing how easy it seems to be to think what you have set out to do is actually being accomplished, if only someone else agrees. If a dozen people agree, then you have ultimate confirmation—you are saving the world by chatting on the Internet. Who you are chatting with is those dozen other people who agree with you. And how you are saving the world is by chatting with the same dozen people and the occasional interloper, who generally either needs to be asked to leave, or leaves of their own accord shortly thereafter.

The stuff of fantasy? Of course. But I would hate to try to guess how many places on this world wide web are following this pattern today.

It is easy to fool yourself, and some situations make it easier than others. We often ask our friends about what we are doing. Some people actually use the phrase that they are making “a reality check” in doing so. By this we hope to get another perspective, one more objective about ourselves than we can be by ourself. Real friends help each other, caution against destructive unconscious behaviors, deflate egos, put things in perspective, and so on. They often risk the friendship by doing so with things we are not willing to see. Their ability to do so comes from their knowing us—this is the type of knowing that in Greek is gnosis.

What happens when you only know someone through their self-representations? For one thing, you probably won't be able to help them see what they are unable to see for themselves. You probably will not see it, because you only have a self-representation to go on. Or, if you do see it, there is no other knowledge about them that you might use to help them come to the realization for themselves. Simply telling someone that they seem to have a major problem with an inferiority complex, is generally not beneficial. If you know more about them (gnosis again) you might be able to help them to see a pattern in behavior that may lead them to learn about themselves (gain self-gnosis).

What is generally missing in the vast array of connections on the Internet is gnosis. And in the absence of gnosis we don't generally assume that we don't know, we generally construct a fantasy in which we do know. This can be seen in the image we construct of others that is never even close to the real person. We automatically construct an image, for example, with people whose work we read, or whose voice we hear. It requires conscious effort to try not to mistake this imagination for knowledge.

Therefore, you have the situation first described above. Interaction with a few others who agree that what we are doing is not only terribly important, but is changing the world. When you check your circle of friends about what you are doing, those are the circle of friends and they are people you “know” and who “know” you without much if any gnosis, and who already agree with you. You can then construct your own social (un)reality and support each other in your mutual importance, regardless of the lack of facts or facts to the contrary. You will, of course, check with each other over such things as facts or results and reinforce your current situation. It is an almost perfect closed system.

The reason for the “almost” is gnosis. Gnosis provides the means to escape from any false cosmos. That is what our ancient ancestors in Gnosis knew and practiced. They stress the urgency to seek self-gnosis, to wake up from both dreams and nightmares. If we seek real liberation, then it isn't to be found in creating a false cosmos within the larger cosmos and fooling ourselves that we are accomplishing something there. Such a path leads to ego inflation, or respite from feelings of inferiority or inadequacy, but it isn't a path to liberation.

We must seek not to fool ourselves either individually or in groups, but seek the Gnosis that liberates us, that frees us to truly act, that enables us to really change the world to some extent through being free and awake in it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Fine Edition that makes a Fine Addition

If you already own the previous edition of the Nag Hammadi Library in translation, and are wondering if it is worth it to buy the new edition—it is.

The Nag Hammadi Scriptures is more than simply a new edition of the old work, it is in many ways a different book altogether. The contents will be familiar from previous translations, though more readable and less technical in many word choices. Many of the names familiar from the previous edition where involved with this edition.

The formatting in the new edition is a vast improvement. It makes the text more readable, and it is easier to find the passage you are looking for. It includes actual footnotes, a very useful formatting feature too often replaced by pernicious endnotes. The end commentary material now consists of short overview essays on the various traditions within the larger Gnostic tradition.

The new edition also includes Coptic texts found after Nag Hammadi, such as the Gospels of Judas and Mary Magdalene. Although for texts found before Nag Hammadi you will need to refer to the older editions by G. R. S. Mead. (Perhaps I should say “the venerable Mead.”)

Unlike some other collections of scriptures that you may read through and then shelve, this edition is the one you will keep close at hand. My copy has already become a frequent companion.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Questions: Matter and the Cosmos

Does gnosticism hold that matter is evil? This seems to be the view of one particular writer... that even the beauty in the world, such as a sunrise or a rose, is a deceptive, thin patina that the demiurge uses to cover over the ugly reality of this world.

Do you think that the aim is to realize gnosis and then leave this cosmos entirely (when we die), or do you think that the purpose is to realize gnosis and thus bring the light and love of the pleroma into this cosmos to transform it? In other words can this reality be redeemed or is it so inherently flawed that this is not possible and that the only way is out (so to speak).
The flat statement "matter is evil" comes from the heresiologists not the Gnostics and is intended to be a polemical statement. There are differences in the way that various Gnostics viewed matter from the writings that we have. In some they do seem to view it as a very bad if not terrible condition to be in or a part of. This is different than viewing it in the polemical dualism of matter equals evil, the immaterial (spirit) equals good.

The majority view from Gnostic texts seems to be more of equating matter and material things with ignorance, or lack of consciousness, or distance from the divine. It is not a black or white or binary understanding, but rather a continuum—a more spiritually-oriented condition being far better than a more materially-oriented one. I really have a hard time with the notion that ancient Gnostics were all that concerned about matter itself, or of the physical world playing such an important role for them in and of itself. In scriptures it is more one's attitudes, goals, consciousness, participation, and most importantly Gnosis that are the concern. Liberation does not requires the end of material existence, but rather individual transformation through Gnosis.

To only judge the ugly as real and so judge the beautiful to be an illusion seems as big of a mistake as doing the opposite. Beauty occurs. It can be found even in the midst of the darkest tragedy, and also just where you expect it to be. It is better to simply see what is in front of our faces, as Jesus says in Thomas, than try to make it into evidence of some kind. An aesthetic experience is simply an aesthetic experience. We are always a part of such experiences whether they take place as a result of human action or as a result of natural action. Is there a need for a creative artist of nature? The photographer creates art by seeing it and capturing what is seen. We as conscious beings are able to see and experience deeply. In Jung's view, consciousness is the means by which all that is comes at last to know itself. When we experience beauty we are not mere observers, we are participants.

The way that seems to sum up the Gnostic attitude is viewing the cosmos as a mixture or mixing of spirit and matter or of light and darkness. In this realm the sparks of the divine are within the limitations of matter and the danger is that they remain in ignorance of that divine reality and their connection to it. The precosmic creation stories tell how this situation came to be, and the salvation stories tell of how this ignorance can be remedied.

Your articulation of bringing light into the cosmos is correct, and we are to do this in our lives here and now. There is no indication in any of the texts, and nothing from modern experience to suggest that a spirit attaining liberation upon death would return to the Fullness and then come back into the cosmos. My thought about it is that any return would not be possible, being something like trying to fit your grown self into the same crib you slept in when first born. Part of the specialness of Christ is his being able to make the sacrifice to come into the limitations of matter for our sakes.

However, there is good evidence from scripture and modern experience that we as Gnostics are to bring light into the cosmos through our own growth in Gnosis. The resurrection is an inner spiritual event that occurs in this life, and all of the mysteries including the redemption/liberation and the bridal chamber are intended to be accomplished here. This is our highest task as Gnostics. The awakening of an individual is a cosmic event. Within the person of light there is a light that illumines the cosmos, as Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas.

However, there is no indication that I am aware of where this leads to some complete transformation of the cosmos. Ultimately, the cosmos is a system with the limitations of a system. Some of those limitations are the nature of time itself, and the constant increase of entropy. To have the cosmos be otherwise would mean it isn't the cosmos or wouldn't be the same place we live now. It is something like wishing someone you love had no flaws and no limitations and so on, so that they would not be the same person that you love anymore. The cosmos is in so many ways simply different than the Fullness. But I think that it too will continue in some way having had its interaction with the spirit here and now, that coming to a fuller consciousness here means that we will return something of it as a part of ourselves when we return. It is like the Hymn of the Pearl, there is something that has been transformed here that will be returned with us. The transformation itself may be thought of as the treasure sought after here and returned with us to our true home.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

On the Road

I'll be on the road tracing a vaguely triangular path through the South Western United States. First, a little over a week in San Francisco for a conference, then about a week in Los Angeles. All together adding about 2000 miles to the odometer.

See some of you along the way, and some of you later.

PS: I will have a few prints of Gnostic "iconic" art from the 2007 Gnostic Calendar for sale.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Questions: Seeking Certainty, Finding Gnosis

What does it mean to "achieve Gnosis"? I gave up all things on the basis of a series of very powerful spiritual conversion experiences. Are you suggesting that Gnosis is a permanent state of this spiritual state? I don't know If I could survive such a level for a long period. ... There is a God, or there is not. There is a hierarchy of Gods or there is One. If all beliefs are in some way "true", even when contradictory, ideas must in some way be reconciled.

If you are seeking certainty, you will not find it at the level of doxa, of opinions, beliefs, or assertions. Although there is a long tradition of clinging to such things and acting as if they were certain as means to convince ourselves that they are. This is the strategy of "faith" as it is generally understood. Even while it seems to close the question and give that desired certainty, it never really does. It requires the construction of a system of constantly reinforcing beliefs, or an unconsciousness of the process. Once we are aware of, conscious of, the process involved, it usually cannot satisfy. The exception seems to be the construction of the elaborate and rigid systems of modern fundamentalist movements. We all seek certainty, and this is not to denigrate those who try this strategy, who are many, just to point out its fundamental limitations. It has its price and its remaining elements of uncertainty. But that is a struggle and path that most have been on to some degree and so know. It is like the line from the Matrix, you've been down that road, you know exactly where it goes.

Rather than tying to find certainty, it seems more possible to find trustworthiness. And that requires a different type of approach. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says, "do not cease seeking until you find. When you find you will be troubled. When you are troubled you will marvel and will reign over all."

Gnosis is not a mental state, or any set of mental states. Such things change. If we feel happy today, we may feel sad tomorrow. If we feel an epiphany today, we may feel half-asleep tomorrow. That is the medieval wheel of fortune. It goes round and round. There is a tendency to use the term "Gnosis" as an "acceptable alternative" for terms like mystic or spiritual, for example; but, that isn't the proper use of the term.

At a recent conference I was at dinner with a group of people who where mainly of an Eastern spiritual orientation. One of the individuals was Buddhist clergy as well as a psychologist. He was trying to describe the process of enlightenment, saying that the focus wasn't on the enlightenment experiences, the higher states of consciousness that are experienced, but was rather on the time in-between of day-to-day life. I told them that this was the difference of emphasis in the Gnostic tradition, that Gnosis is the knowledge that is psycho-spiritual development in that day-to-day life. When people compare the two traditions, they want to equate Gnosis with these higher states, when it is focused upon the overall growth that is seen in-between these spiritual experiences. These states and transformative experiences are a part of the journey, but Gnosis is knowledge that is knowledge that we are, that we have gained by being on the journey. Often when we go on journeys in the world, what we bring back is a greater knowledge and understanding of ourselves and the world. That is the type of knowledge that is gnosis.

When you find, you will be troubled. It is a part of the process. When we truly seek, we find the limitations and failings of the answers we have been given, the strategies we have tried. External authority claims to offer certainty, but it is a certainty that requires belief, that is, it requires certainty. It is supposed to work, yet it doesn't. And this same strategy is to be found in many places once one recognizes the pattern, has gnosis of it. It feels like the foundations have been pulled out from under you. It is disturbing and troubling. There is a hope that, maybe, if there were a different source of authority, the same strategy could be tried again. A hope that, maybe, it would work this time. Probably (almost certainly) not.

Yet we do not stay in such a state. All states are transitory. There is another strategy, and this one is very different. It involves a big shift in perspective. We can find trustworthiness in something other than doxa with the backing of authority. Rather than base the trustworthiness on something external, or upon something internal but changeable, we can base it upon our Gnosis. In that way we might say that we know God because we have experienced God, our spiritual growth is towards God, and we have been transformed by God. But this "God" is not an idea, not an abstract entity that we can logically construct, but rather is what we know from our own limited Gnosis.

While one can create a long list of positive attributes for the God of theology, the God of Gnosis is generally a negative list, a list of things you can't say about God. Yet there is no doubt of existence, anymore than you doubt the existence of anyone else you know in the world. The interpretation, the understanding is provisional and incomplete. It is not an idea we can hold in our minds, but a reality we know from our deepest experience of being.

While this may not be intellectually satisfying, it is not subject to doubt. We can doubt the expressions of Gnosis, and recognize that all expressions are preliminary rather than final. But Gnosis is a part of who we are, not something we need to be convinced about. And in that way we reign over all, our Gnosis is the ordering principle of our approach to everything.

By its nature, Gnosis is difficult to communicate. We can only tell stories and use symbols even about Gnosis itself. Yet we all have Gnosis to some degree, and we may recognize it in these stories. I would suggest that you are passing through a state of being troubled, as in the passage from Thomas. If you refrain from seeking certainty among the opposites, you will find the trustworthy and the truth that frees—because they are within you. It requires a metanoia, a turning about of the mind. Be patient with yourself, and trust in your own process when things seem unclear. No state is permanent, yet one can cycle through states without apparent end. Seek the center.

Questions: Myth, Meaning, & Gnosis

I have been reading "Gnosticism" and it seemed to be completely weird since my paradigm was that of doxa. I was scoffing: "I am expected to believe in a lion-headed god who has sufficient understanding to organize worlds and yet does not ask where he/it comes from?" Even humans ask that question. Now understanding that the myth is illustrative, not realistic, accurate, but not precise, has put a whole new face on it.

Seeing myths as literal is how the heresiologists completely misunderstood the Gnostic approach. Ireneaus has endless scorn for myths that he viewed with a physical literalism. And, such an approach would make for a very weird if not downright kooky religion. (Of which there are a few contemporary examples, unfortunately.)

Even though we have only a smattering of ancient Gnostic materials, we have examples of exegesis (commentary) on the Gospel of John by Heracleon. From quotes preserved by a later commenter, we can see that for Heracleon there were three ways to consider scripture: physical, psychological, and spiritual. The physical, or historical, approach was considered the least useful if not actually misleading, and this was the relatively straight-forward story of the Gospel of John taken by many people today to be the literal historical truth. He saw the spiritual meaning of the Gospel as being a means to liberation. As essentially being realized within the spiritual development of the seeking reader. So, there is a strong tradition of viewing myths/stories as tools for gaining insight or moving towards Gnosis, rather than statements of fact or literal/physical histories.

Not only can we consider myths on multiple levels, we are not stuck with a single interpretation or understanding. So, the demiurge can be seen in the contradictions of the cosmos, in the limitations and grandiosity of the human ego, as the way of understanding the limitations placed on a "God" by most believers, as a way to separate the notion of a God-image from the experience of the divine, as a pattern of human development, and so on. The element of divided or compartmentalized consciousness you've described is a part of that. It is a pattern that aids in recognition or diagnosis, a tool for developing Gnosis. With that Gnosis, we can then recognize it in different contexts, leading to a growth of insight into the original descriptions as well as into the contexts. 'Recognition' being a common translation of gnosis.

Can myths mean anything at all? There must, in the end, taken to a logical (or even illogical) conclusion, by analysis, by synthesis, by any systematic way, be a real truth.

Heraclitus wrote of the tendency to "run to the opposite,” enantiodromia in Greek. (I don't think it was the opposite he frowned upon so much as the haste.) It isn't the case that myth has to either mean one thing or mean anything and nothing. Looking at it that way evades the meaning of myth itself. Rather than seeking one meaning, or any meaning, it is more useful to consider it as a pattern with many applications.

A deep understanding can be expressed as a myth, as a story, and we can learn from the deeper lessons than merely learning the story itself. This is the value of literature, for example. We experience King Lear not so we can take a quiz on its contents, but so we can understand something about ourselves, and also our world.

To say that something has many applications, or even innumerable/infinite ones, is not to say that it can have any meaning. An example of this is number. We can apply number to any type of thing by counting whatever it is. Yet, regardless of what it is we are counting, from the concrete to the abstract, the application of numbers and of arithmetic will apply in an entirely non-arbitrary way. Because we can count literally anything doesn't mean that the numbers mean anything or nothing. They remain the same regardless.

It is this type of insight into numbers and their relationships that was at the core of the Pythagorean tradition. Numbers were the archetypes, or "primal shapes/patterns" of the system of the world. It is a bit hard to get to the profundity of that with our modern minds. We think of numbers as the most rational of our tools, and they often are. We are also usually presented them in an abstract way, as a system of rules. But looking at the world itself and seeing the universal application and validity of these patterns of numbers and their relationships is amazing. It is a leap from the particular to the universal. Newton could have accounted for the level of mechanics he was working on with a limited theory of gravitation, but he saw it not as a way to account for forces, but as a part of the order of the cosmos, and his theory of gravitation was a universal one.

One shouldn't "run to the opposite" here either. (A gentle stroll gives a better view.) Jumping from a particular to a universal is a really big jump and in general is just not recommended. Describing mythic patterns in this deeper sense is a part of what the ancient Gnostics were doing with their myth-making. Gnosis is that type of knowledge, we can translate it as recognition or acquaintanceship. A knowledge of such things as these patterns. Though not limited to them. That type of knowledge can only be transmitted indirectly through story and symbol. So that, becoming familiar with the story or symbol might help to recognize that pattern in our own experience.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Questions: Personal Gnosis & Religion

If all that we need is personal gnosis, and that is signified by a "life changing" experience, then why do we need to move to a gnostic tradition, except for sociality? ... The reason we have left our previous traditions were doctrines that supported a religious dictatorship, and problems with overbearing leadership.

The "life changing experience" or conversion experience is how religion is approached as a system of beliefs or opinion. That is, a little experience or gnosis, to accept a lot of doxa (opinion, belief). This is one of many differences between approaching religion with a paradigm of gnosis and the standard paradigm of doxa. You can find religious groups using the terms “Gnosis” and “Gnostic” that operate in the usual doxastic paradigm, or approach and framework, of religion. However, in doing so they divorce themselves from the foundation of gnosis. We are not one of them. If someone is seeking a pre-made system to adopt, it isn't Gnosticism they are seeking.

Gnosis isn't a "one time event" and it isn't such experiences as epiphanies or apocalypses. Those are spiritual experiences and may lead to Gnosis, however Gnosis is a transformative or spiritually developmental knowledge. It is knowledge that you are, rather than knowledge that you have. It is also a spiritual knowing through spiritual growing. Remembering an epiphany or a conversion experience is not Gnosis. Asserting a memory or a remembered lesson from an experience is actually doxa.

Doxa (belief, opinion) is what most of what we call religion is made up of, either held individually or collectively as a group or society. However, as a method of spiritual inquiry and growth, doxa is very limited. It is one way a tradition is passed on, (other ways are myth/story and symbolism), it can provide a starting point, it can aid with gnosis indirectly, by learning categories of recognition or diagnosis. But it will always remain doxa: opinion, belief, assertion.

The difference in paradigm is the main difference of Gnosticism. In essence, it is this difference that is Gnosticism, a radical change in the foundation of spiritual knowledge. It may be that I am misreading your questions, but you seem to want an orthodoxy, a correct opinion or belief that is simply different from those held by other religious groups. If that is the case, we won't be of much help. We do not follow the paradigm or structure of orthodoxy because we are concerned with gnosis not doxa.

Completely shifting perspectives (paradigms) in such a radical fashion can take some time. That is to say it can take quite a while before the new perspective becomes the natural or default one in new situations.

The hierarchical portion of the EG is liturgical, that is, the church services themselves. This is on the order of what is an official EG service, going through proper training and formation to celebrate liturgical services, and serving in a mindful and ethical manner. In contrast to other religious groups, there is as little control and collective determination of the individual as possible. The all-encompassing framework of most churches is completely alien to us. Liturgical services are provided as a service, there are no requirements to participate. For example: you do not need to profess any belief, complete some form of membership, or renounce any prior or continued membership or participation in any ethical spiritual path. Formation is available for those called to serve as clergy. It requires a higher level of involvement, and eventually, of commitment to this spiritual path and tradition. Obviously, to expect otherwise would be to disrespect this path and tradition, to treat is as an esoteric merit badge rather than a process of personal transformation that leads to being able to serve others in their personal transformation. The spiritual path is walked alone, and in the Gnostic paradigm, religion exists to serve and support that process.

If you are looking for support, insight, and some companionship in your journey, then we may be of service. However, if you are looking for a group with a correct opinion or belief on some issues, we are probably not what you are looking for. What we do is not based on correctness of belief, but on what pragmatically aids in spiritual growth rooted in the ancient tradition of Gnosis.

None of this is intended as a criticism, and I may be wrong in how I am understanding your questions. My intention is merely to aid you in discernment in regards to Gnostic tradition and practices. It is a tradition that rests upon continual inner growth and development that is manifest as Gnosis. And so is founded and centered on that individual Gnosis, rather than on any correct beliefs or ortho-doxia.

Questions: The Catholic/Anglican Uniform

Your uniform looks quite Catholic/Anglican. What is the basis of this? The Cathars (at least) seemed to be very simple in their approach, as did Christ. I thought this type of ecclesiastical clothing only began after Nicea.

Bear in mind that everything we do has a form. The Gospel of Philip says that "Truth did not come into the world naked, but came in types and images."

The style of clericals and liturgical vestments we use is that of the Western Christian tradition. The Gnostic Eucharist follows the structure of the Eucharist in the West, as well. All of which had a long development until it reached its zenith in the eleventh century. The other main style or form of high Christian liturgy is Eastern Orthodox. While we do incorporate some elements of that style on occasion, we primarily follow the Western forms.

Gnostics of all times are primarily pragmatic in that they work with what they have and use what works. The Eucharist form has developed over centuries as a richly symbolic experience—a mystery of transformation. Since the Gnostic approach is to learn from spiritual experience, it makes sense to use a highly developed and symbolic form to evoke inner experience. We are not re-enactors of ancient history, but contemporary seekers of Gnosis. Our general view is that all of this isn't strictly necessary, but it really does help. The first time I attended a service I wasn't expecting much and had largely dismissed it intellectually, yet the experience was such that here I am over a decade later providing opportunities for others to regularly experience it also.

"Gnostic" wasn't an ancient denomination, but rather a very different approach to religion and living spiritually. An approach founded upon inner spiritual knowing and growing (gnosis) rather than upon conforming to correct belief or opinion (ortho-doxia). A separate ecclesiastical structure wasn't necessary for the Valentinians to follow the Gnostic approach. Yet, it was for the Cathars.

The focus on Gnosis, the radical difference of basing religious and spiritual knowing upon Gnosis, is what makes an approach gnostic. Focusing upon correct belief and opinion, and basing religious knowing upon that body of correct belief and opinion, is what makes an approach orthodox. To be grounded in the Christian expression of the Gnostic tradition you really only have the two choices, Eastern or Western Christianity. For historical and practical reasons our tradition follows the Western form.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Questions: Gnostic Hell

I've been reading about Gnosticism and I'm confused. Do Gnostics believe in Hell or do they believe that Hell is on this earth? Do they believe that it's temporary or permanent?

This is one of the areas where there is a unity of thought in the Gnostic tradition. There is no literal hell in the Gnostic tradition. It is a state that exists for people here. No state of being is permanent here. Hell is a state of ignorance and suffering from being subject to the forces and powers of the world. Ancient texts use metaphors of being a slave, being asleep in a nightmare, of being drunk, and even of being dead. They saw that one could be redeemed from that state to some extent while in the world. That is why it isn't accurate to say that being in the world is being in hell. One of the sacraments/mysteries listed in the Gospel of Philip is the Apolytrosis, a word meaning to be redeemed, to be bought out of slavery. There are also texts that speak of the resurrection as something we experience here and now.

It is a good question as to whether any of the early Christians believed in hell. Certainly, they did not believe in anything similar to the concept as it exists today. It had a long development in Christian culture both in art and literature, and in preaching and theology.

Back to San Francisco, then hopefully Los Angeles

Next week I'll be driving back to San Francisco for a conference. From now on it will be at least a twice a year trip. I am more ambivalent this time. For one, it seems like I was just there. It had been the better part of a decade before my last trip, it will be only be a couple of months this trip. For another, money has actually been tighter since starting school again, despite the vast sums I am borrowing to finance it. Having to pay for two conferences in one term just makes it all the tighter.

I also plan on making this trip into a triangular one by heading to Los Angeles after the conference. Yes, it is still tentative, which, is another source of ambivalence. I really want to go to LA. And if I could only chose one, that's the one I'd choose right now. Hopefully, I'll still make it. That's the good part about driving — plans remain flexible.

So, for local folks, after this Sunday I'll see you when I get back in a few weeks. I plan on being back in time for the celebration of a Mandean Vespers service in honor of John the baptizer on the 28th. For folks in SF, I'll have a few days before and after the conference (11-17th) if there is interest in getting together for a chat. I may make it to the EGM service on the 10th. For the LA crowd, I plan on being there for the service on the 24th, and a few days before and after. Also, if you are interested in purchasing Gnostic silverwork, prints of Gnostic icons, or Gnovena candles, let me know.

GnosCast-Homilies: Gnostic Audio Homilies

I've put in a lot of hours to get almost caught up on podcasting the homilies I've delivered in the past few months. There are currently 62 homilies of good quality in the archive (with seven recorded earlier on a somewhat broken mp3 player), totaling over 19 hours of actual content. So, yes, you could spend almost an entire revolution of the earth just listening to homilies I've delivered, recorded, edited and made available for free. But, I don't think the homilies podcast gets as much traffic as the two other podcasts, and I'm not sure why this is so.

What is a homily? You may ask. Why isn't it a sermon? You may also ask. The practical difference between a homily and a sermon is generally one of focus and one of brevity, the larger difference comes from a difference in liturgical practice and focus.

The Eucharist consists of two larger parts, like acts in a play. The first is the liturgy of the word, or the mass of the catechumins. Anciently, it was the portion that could be attended by those who weren't initiated. Eastern Orthodox liturgy still includes the command to the catechumins to depart. The second part of the Eucharist consists of the mystery of communion, and this was only attended by those who had been baptized, had been initiated into the mystery.

What happened at the extreme ends of the Protestant Reformation, was a complete break with the ancient mystery elements of Christianity. The Eucharist was striped down to the first portion only, and the mystery was replaced by biblical commentary.

People are more familiar with sermons, and many equate religious services with sermons, maybe with some music thrown in. Sermons are given as the central focus of religious services in many traditions. They are, reportedly, why people go to these services. A sermon is a prepared speech that follows a theme. As such it may include many passages of scripture as focal points.

This form of religious service grew out of the Protestant Reformation, and the subsequent exclusive focus on the texts of the Bible. Since the only thing important in their view was learning the text and interpretation of the Bible, religious services essentially changed to become bible classes with prayers and maybe some singing.

A homily is different in that it isn't the central focus of the religious service, it focuses upon the scriptural readings for that particular service, and is generally much briefer. It is also not essential to the service, you can have the service without a homily being given at all.

The place of the homily within the larger service varies with tradition. Many place it at the end of the liturgy of the word portion of the Eucharist, perhaps for that reason, though I suspect it is more so that you can't sneak out after communion and skip the homily.

In our own tradition, we deliver homilies at the end of the service. As such, it doesn't break up the flow of the service. Yes, there is a flow, a deep transformative aspect of liturgy that works on a psychological level and on deeper levels than that. As people of Gnosis, we don't see the point of liturgy as being a repetition or a ceremonial observation, it is an opportunity for personal transformation through deep participation. As such, the setting, the structure, the aesthetic, and the flow of liturgy are very important. We also emphasize inner experience, and switching to a discursive mode in the midst of a service, really at the point where you are prepared to go deeper, isn't conducive to that.

The other main reason is so that the homily comes from the service itself. Sure, you need to prepare before the service. You need to read and reflect on the passages of scripture that are the readings for that service, and consider the intent of the service. Relate them to your own considerations, to your own history. Perhaps, remember how you thought about them in previous years when you came across them in reading or in a service. You also need to prepare what you plan on saying. Work out a narrative structure or two, remember or look up a rusty reference or two. Yes, you need to do all of that. But, it is only an aid to delivering a homily. The homily you give is not the homily you planned: often they share some elements, sometimes they are completely different.

Giving a homily at the end of the service means that you are in an altered state of consciousness from the transformative effects of the service. It also means that your most immediate experience is the service you just participated in. In my experience, you actually prepare a homily not so you can deliver what you've prepared, but so you can take that with you through the process of transformation. You can gain different insight from the liturgy and its symbolism by approaching it with something in mind. New insights come, and previous insights are momentarily forgotten in the process.

The homily is then delivered in relation to the participants. This is a post-communion atmosphere, and there is a felt sense of communion. This can allow for a deeper wisdom to emerge, though in my experience it doesn't always happen. However, often in the act of speaking, of not really knowing what I'm going to say next or where all of this is going, things come together with a focus I never expected. And, since I have been recording and listening again in the editing process, I have found the homilies I've delivered to be valuable for myself, they contain insight that, if it is mine, I don't connect to directly.

If you haven't listened to the homilies because you didn't know what they were, or the first ones had poor quality, or because you didn't know they existed, I invite you to listen to a few and see if they are of use to you. I would like to be able to continue to make them available regularly at no direct cost, I just don't see that as a possibility. The sad facts of life are, I either need to spend a lot less time on them, or get some money for them to support the parish. So, at the time I'm writing this, there are 62 or so homilies, with 19 or so hours of content freely available. The future will probably change that.