Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pilgrimage to Heresy: A Novel of Gnostic Discovery

Priscillian of Avila was the first Gnostic martyr, he was executed for heresy by the church. Ironically, he may also be at the end of one of the most famous pilgrimages in Europe since the middle ages.

A number of years ago, Lance Owens, medical doctor, historical scholar, and Gnostic priest, went on a pilgrimage in Spain--walking the Caminio de Santiago, the way of St. James. It was a journey filled with wonder and wonderful companions, from which he brought back enthralling stories. During the journey he spoke with a fellow pilgrim about Priscillian, planting the seed of an idea that has now grown into the novel Pilgrimage to Heresy.

More information is at http://pilgrimagetoheresy.com

Also see the new article on Amapedia

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cycles of Illness

I had intended on getting more work done, both physically and also academically, but illness has returned in cycles. Some weeks I sleep a majority of the day and have almost no energy. Other weeks I feel better than that, but still like I have a constant cold. On rare occasions I feel almost well, and realize just how ill I have been.

It makes work quite difficult. Physical work is out of the question most of the time. Thinking can feel like pushing thoughts through a matrix of jello. What I have been researching and learning are some very interesting things that I would like to write about more, but it will continue to be slow going.

The Gospel According to Jesus: Part 1

ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο ὁ Ἰησοῦς κηρύσσειν καὶ λέγειν μετανοεῖτε ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

From that time began Jesus to proclaim and say, “transform your mind, for near is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 4:17)

The good news of the present (or near) kingdom (or reign) of heaven (or God) as the reason to transform (or convert/reform) one's mind, was the primary message of Christ as reported in the NT. This is the gospel according to Jesus, the central message of his ministry, as opposed to the gospel subsequently proclaimed about Jesus.

Almost all scholars equate the “kingdom of God” and the “kingdom of heaven.” Usage varies by evangelist not by context. Matthew uses "heaven," for example.

This “kingdom” is proclaimed in contrast to the Roman Imperium and its client rulers, and by extension can be seen in contrast to human rule in general. People usually orient themselves to the current human worldly system, the way things are done, how to "get ahead" or at least to "get on" in the world. It's "the way things are," "how things are done," or even the system one might work to change from within.

The use of "heaven" in this context is in contrast to the system of Roman Imperium an ordering or system beyond the world rather than one of the world. Ouranos, "heaven" primarily means, "the heavens," as in the dome or vault of the sky. Though it can also mean the sky-abode of the gods/God. This points to the transcendent nature of this alternative kingdom, its un- or other-wordliness.

Proclaiming the current kingdom of God is a call to change not only pragmatic allegiance, but as the call to transform one's mind (metanoia) points to, a fundamental change in orientation. It is a call to comport oneself to the presence of a relationship to God and what that means in regards to one another, to live as one who is truly and wholly a citizen of that kingdom, rather than to live in a kingdom of human rulers. Such a change is a transformation, and can be considered to be a state of being, or a result of inner psycho-spiritual development.

Beyond the proclamation of this "good news," Jesus' teachings about the kingdom have the quality of the unexpected, the unworldly (non-pragmatic), and the seemingly contradictory (like a Zen koan). In this “kingdom” the seemingly fundamental acts of asserting one's rights, maintaining one's place in society, and stratagems to remain safe from misfortune are alien—the kingdom of heaven does not work that way.

The kingdom of heaven runs counter to much of accepted human psychology. There have been many variations on experiments of our concept of fairness. In one variation of these experiments, two strangers are offered one opportunity to split a sum of money. One proposes the ratio of the split, and the other only has the choice to accept what is proposed or reject it, in which case neither gets any of the money. In a strictly rational approach to this situation, the second participant should accept any split as it represents gaining money. However, if the split is significantly unfavorable to the second participant, it is rejected as unfair, resulting in loss to both. What this shows is the assumed right to half of the money (though slightly less will be accepted), leading to a feeling of loss or being cheated even when it is a net gain.

This response may seem natural in the kingdom of man, but it keeps one from entering the kingdom of heaven. Part of the metanoia is seeing through these illusionary losses to the real gain, and not just the gain for ourself, but for the other as well.

Questions: Finding a Path

"How do you find a religion that's right for you? One you're happy in? Every path I've gone to, I've come away from because it hasn't fulfilled me spiritually in the end. I've been on this spiritual search of mine for ages now, and it's just not going anywhere. I can't find one I 'agree' with about 75%, much less one I totally agree with."

I would say that part of the problem is your theory/understanding of religion. This is by no means a personal criticism, as how you phrase the question shows the standard theory of religion in the modern West. And, it is the theory presented in Religious studies courses. Yet, this very model sets one up for the lack of spiritual fulfillment you have found.

I've actually put together an entire course to help people consciously approach religion, due to the length I can only share some key points.

You can "hear" religious teachings as different voices: instructions to do certain things, instructions to don't do certain things, or instructions to transform, a fundamental act of becoming. The latter is what is often hardest to see. Sometimes is is easier to see it in a distant religious tradition. For example, many in the West can see this only when they look to the East, or modern peoples when they look at premodern or indigenous traditions. Yet it is a part of all major traditions. And it is the way in which there is a spiritual path within religious traditions.

The main thing to find in a spiritual path is a means of spiritual growth and personal transformation. It needs to include spiritual exercises, things that engage oneself in something other than default habitual existence. It needs to challenge you and engage you in an expansive way, not just take up your spare time with studying what other people have said about this or that. If the mythos, scriptures, stories, or symbols don't meet with some inner resonance or "make sense" in a deep way, it is probably not the right path for the long run. (It would require a great deal of preparation, and may end up being understood in terms of one's own cultural religion anyway. This is why the Dalai Lama says to follow your culture's religion).

If you find a path that has a practice, that engages you internally/spiritually, and challenges you to grow, then you need to spend time and work discerning if indeed this path and this particular instance of this path are for you. Most often people will misapply criticisms from their cradle creed, and this occurs long after any other aspect of that religious tradition has been left behind or rejected. So, try to be aware of such issues. If your earliest religion rejected this or that, you will probably reject any path you come across for the same reasons. It doesn't matter what they are: high church, low church, bible version, starting a circle in the West, crosses, crucifixes, Statues, pews, cushions, indoor, outdoors, paid clergy, any clergy, kneeling, silence, preaching, prayer books--you name it. I have seen people try to remake an entire religious tradition to avoid internalized cradle creed criticisms. So, this is a serious issue. If it something that you don't want to take on, then include them in your conscious criteria as comfort issues.

A genuine spiritual path will offer support, comfort, and some guidance, but won't pretend they can do it for you. The metaphor that I find fits the situation best is climbing a mountain. You have to do the climb, but you don't have to do it alone without training, equipment, or guides. Ultimately, you must rely on yourself in that way, but you don't have to go it alone.

Progress on a spiritual path requires commitment and hard work. Often people will feel a certain expansiveness or have a period of spiritual experiences when starting a path, then may leave when they hit the first dry spell. Such cycles are normal, and if you have made progress on a path, continuing makes sense.

The journey is the point, if you feel comfortable, complacent, safe, then it is time to change something in your practice or approach, which doesn't necessarily mean changing paths, but it may. Some religious organizations take people through a particular transformation experience into a state of complacency, which ultimately is not useful.

"It's not about how I view religion; I just don't want to go to a religion which I don't agree with the majority of, or one where I disagree with some parts, which in turn are extremely important. An example of this is not believing in . . . .

"If I can't agree with the main points, how can I feel spiritually fulfilled? I am fulfilled when there is harmony, and the paths I have taken in my time I have not agreed with certain key areas, so I've gone away from that path."

I will still suggest that what you mean by "religion" is a very limited modern Western view of religion. You stress certain beliefs for example. In my tradition, and some others, rigidly held beliefs are a hindrance. You can then say that these aren't "religion" because they don't fit the standard modern Western model, or you can begin to expand your understanding of religion to include them. (This is an example of accommodation, making the model fit the data, as opposed to assimilation, making the data fit the model.)

Other than what William James once called the "healthy minded" personality, I honestly can't think of any serious suggestion that having particular beliefs will lead to spiritual fulfillment, and I have read widely in the subject. Or, framed another way, if it were merely a matter of comfortable or compatible beliefs, then your own beliefs right now should serve as well as any other set. I'm not trying to be glib, just trying to help you see beyond the model of religion that has been given to you, which is a very difficult thing. Many people are much more willing to literally destroy the world than attempt such a task themselves.

You have stated certain criteria of things you want to avoid, yet rejection is really a shaky way to build a religious identity, let alone engage in a spiritual path. Forget the theology, the beliefs and practices, and other aspect of the model of religion, at least for a time. What myths or symbols have resonance for you? What spiritual practice do you find rewarding? If you don't know then explore some. Attend a few services, particularly if they are group spiritual practices rather than lectures, and see what happens inside of you. Try not to think about it all so much at first.

The spiritual life is first of all a life, an experienced livingness. The abstract takes us away from the experience. Once you find one point of connection of that inner life with an outer form, once you have found others like yourself, the rest will take care of itself. For a spiritual path is first and foremost a path of lived spirit, the path you feel more spiritually alive in following. The rest is there to be of service, or to weigh you down or hinder you. Set you feet on the path of life and the rest will follow.

Blessings on your journey.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Harvesting instances of Gnosis

I have been collecting instances of Gnosis, the word itself rather than what it refers to. Have you ever wondered how many times the Greek word "Gnosis" appears (with some context, and not in duplicate texts) in the Coptic Gnostic texts found at Nag Hammadi? 134 times. And that is with clear evidence showing that it was a word that was translated into Coptic. In duplicate texts it is found translated in one version and not in another.

What is much more interesting than a mere quantity is examining the usage in the surviving contexts. To which has been added instances in other texts such as the Pistis Sophia, the Bruce Codex, and so on. With the Greek Hermetica thrown in. Well over two hundred instances all together. Yes, it is a task only a scholar would do, and probably only a Graduate Student. Yet it should make for an interesting part of my monograph on Gnosis. And I can't be accused of not being exhaustive, or exhausted.