Friday, June 01, 2007

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.

No comments: