Thursday, July 12, 2007

Questions: Liturgical Participation & Spiritual Practice

In your opinion, would you think it would be counterproductive to be active in the Roman Catholic Church while retaining a Gnostic point of view in my worship? Is there some other more optimal way to explore the path of Gnostic Christianity?
There are a number of people I know who participate in Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, and other forms of worship, and are Gnostic at heart. This is something that goes back to the dawn of the tradition. Gnosticism didn't start out as a denomination with distinct liturgical practices, and an identification as “Gnostic” has never been the point. Of course, in their earlier forms the mysteries were more direct and experiential everywhere they were celebrated. And, they didn't include elements designed to be barriers to Gnostics either. Yet, the barriers depend on us to make them work, so they have never really worked.

In many churches, the Roman Catholic most recently, the Eucharist has gone through a process of rationalization. Every element has had to be defended only on grounds such as biblical mention and theological argument. This has left most with outer forms that are stripped down at best, and with inner forms that make them harder to use as spiritual practice. Yet, even a difficult spiritual practice is better than no practice. There is no substitute for experiencing the rich symbolism and participating inwardly in the mystery of transformation. Yet, even going to a service where you are given space to consider and are directed towards spiritual participation regularly, is helpful. It serves as an anchor point for other aspects of spiritual practice.

Just know why you are there. Participate as deeply as you can, participate inwardly. Don't get caught up in participating outwardly in the political nature of a church. I've seen people get lost in the process of seeking to recreate an orthodoxy to be more in line with their views. Yet, the best one could hope from that would be the same system with a slightly different policy. Be a passerby, be a guest, a thoughtful and polite guest. People are people, they come to church for different reasons, and some will be similar to yours. There are others with some Gnosis that you may connect with, though they may shrink from being considered “gnostic” or stop short of making Gnosis their path.

Liturgy, public worship, is central but not the only aspect of spiritual practice. Finding other practices that work for you, that aid and perhaps add balance or fill in gaps in liturgical practice, is key. It doesn't have to be of a particular form, or even something that you think of as spiritual practice. What turns us towards the life of the spirit, towards God, will serve—if it has purpose and intention, and is done with regularity. Traditional forms of spiritual practice have proven valuable to many people over the centuries, and having community aspects of practice is valuable. As is having a guide with some experience when starting out. This is generally more readily available through Buddhist practice groups and many have benefited from such training and practice. Contemplative practice is more in line with the Gnostic approach, but is usually hard to come by.

Questions: Children and Liberation

If Gnosticism sees the world as a kind of prison from which one seeks liberation then how should a person view his children? It seems on one level a rejection of the world should involve a rejection of those things which bind oneself to the world. Is it consistent with Gnosticism to love one's children and still be on the path to Gnosis and ultimate liberation?
There is a current that goes against having children in the history of Gnosticism. However, there isn't any such current opposed to loving and caring for the children that you have. And, neither of these short statements is all that meaningful without more context—for Gnostics, the answer doesn't lie at the level of the physical.

In one view, if humans are imprisoned here then we shouldn't take part in that imprisonment. "I have sown no children to the rulers of the world," is in keeping with this view. The world is an often harsh place, and at times and places is much more so. If bringing about more people will perpetuate misery and slavery, it is certainly something to consider. In general, acting consciously and with consideration is a good thing all around. I think the main issues Gnostics have taken with bearing children, is that we often do so unconsciously, perpetuating unconsciousness, and we focus on physical reproduction that is often seen in an egoistic way. Either in seeing the child as the parent's property, as the parent's immortality or legacy, or fulfillment of the parent's hopes and dreams.

However, it is not human bodies or human forms that are imprisoned, but rather human spirits--sparks of the divine. And, depending on how the story is told, we could take another view in which being incarnated, even in a prison, can be an opportunity for a spark of the divine to seek liberation. Yet, there is a greater responsibility, a responsibility towards the divine within the child. It is a responsibility to nurture not only a child, but if at all possible, a conscious human being capable of self-determination.

Love, duty, and affection can be manipulated into chains that bind. Parents also have their responsibility to follow the path to their own liberation, in addition to responsibilities towards children. And, the same is true for children, they must seek their own path even if it is quite different from what their parents wish. In a larger deeper sense, as scriptures continually tell us, ultimately we are not parents and children of each other, but are all children of God. This is a model for nurturing each other in loving-kindness, and treating one another as self-determining individuals with a deep kinship.

The tension between ties as binding us together or of being bound up in them, is one that runs through all human relationships. Yet it is not a quality of our relationship with God. In developing that relationship, we gain gnosis that helps us with our other relationships.

People often fear that if those they love were to be free in their love, then they wouldn't choose to love them back. Yet love without freedom isn't really love. In Gnostic tales it is the Demiurge who commands love and obedience. While the highest unknowable God does not force our love, but loves us freely and completely.

Just as we shouldn't serve the Archons (Powers) blindly in any other circumstance, we shouldn't serve someone else's inner-archons blindly, even out of love for that person. For in doing so, we bind not only ourselves, but them as well. Indeed, serving the divine within someone else may require uncompromising determination against being manipulated by the other forces within them. We can see this clearly in addictions and self-destructive behaviors, but it runs deeper than that. To not be a slave nor enslave on a psychological level can be a difficult attitude to maintain.

So, I would say the Gnostic attitude towards conception is less clear, and would certainly involve consciously considering the deeper responsibilities. While the attitude toward children is to value them. Love them deeply, care for them as children of God, and aid them towards growing into people capable of being free to seek their own liberation. To not fall into the trap of feeling that we own them, or that we are owned by them.

We must always seek to follow our own path, it is a vital part of who we are, we cannot put it off. If we are on a path of growth and transformation it has effects on those around us. Change may be perceived as dangerous and sometimes freedom is scary for others. We must be mindful of this, but not try to stop our growth for anyone else. We must also be mindful that it can take time for us to integrate the changes we go through, and so not make decisions that effect those around us before we can grow into a change—before we attain gnosis from it.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


I am back home again. I actually arrived back over a week ago. Yet, traveling back to Utah from California requires a longer mental decompression or social quarantine than the eleven hours it generally takes to drive back.

It really is like one of those novels where someone is split between two worlds, when you are in one world the other fades and doesn't make sense. Combine that with the usual surreal atmosphere I most often feel here, and it makes for some difficult transitions.

Yes, I was born here and have spent most of my life here, but that doesn't cancel out the oddness. Mostly what experience does is help you cope by muting your expectations. You learn to not expect things to make sense in any direct correlative way. You get used to “the look.” So, you are only disoriented for a moment by a family on television looking so recognizably Mormon that they couldn't look more so by singing LDS kids songs in front of an LDS temple with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir accompanying.

I'm not saying that conformity is a common occurrence here, I'm saying it's ubiquitous. Even non-conformists tend to conform to a narrow range of non-conformist conformity. That's why some people joke that to set your clock to local time, you need to set it back fifty years.

Let's call it chronic culture shock. Sure, I can help minimize it by not watching local news, or leaving the house. And, yes, if I look out my window a sad number of my actual neighbors could serve as extras in a low budget film set in the deep south, but that effect is ruined when they talk and sound like the kids I grew up with.

I understand that I'm especially sensitive to the peculiarities of the locals right now, that I'm giving in to stereotyping, and that there are other people here with lifelines that stretch out across the vast deserts and mountain ranges of the continental divide that separate us from the rest of the world. There are others that aren't too deeply entrenched in the psychological cultural social religious divide that morphs just about everything here. Yes, there are such people. Mostly, they hide it well.

So, although I arrived back at my place of residence four days before Sunday, I didn't arrive back to anything approximating home. I arrived back to dead and dying plants, the proliferation of weeds, an ambitious gopher, a small insect invasion in the chapel, aches and stiffness from so much time spent on the road, and many more tasks and chores I could bore you with. There was so much to do that I hardly slept Saturday night, only catching a couple of hours between tasks to get the chapel ready. I thought about canceling the service, I had little chance of getting things done, along with the little sleep.

But, the Eucharist is very important to me. It is my central spiritual practice. And offering it to people here is the most important thing I can do for them, although they most often don't see it that way. So, I managed to make it, barely—hopping out of the shower as the first person arrived.

I was celebrating the Eucharist not in the lovely chapel in LA with assistants and a full house of people deeply participating, but in my poor thinly attended chapel here in this odd region. And then it happened. As the service moved towards the consecration, I was finally home. Offering myself, my life here and now, to be a conveyance of transformation just as the bread and wine are offered.

There is nothing particularly special about the bread and wine. Non-fermented wheat flour and fermented grape juice. Yet in the offering they are given up to be transformed. In the consecration they embody that transformation. And, in the communion we incorporate that transformation.

Where the Eucharist is celebrated, there is home. That is the reality that bridges and transcends both irreconcilable worlds.