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.


Marsha+ said...

Father Troy+

So wonderful to see that you have resumed your posting again. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.

Jonathan Cid said...

Rev. Troy,

Loved what you said about not getting involved in the politics of a church. I go to a Roman Catholic traditionalist parish where I need to keep that in mind! God bless you and the Ecclesia Gnostica!


Jonathan Cid