Scripture


Blessings to all!

This post comes as a response to an absolutely wonderful conversation on my blog following the Ash Wednesday post. It addresses the validity of scripture in the context of the Crucifixion. Imagine this: two people who disagree about the ‘validity’ of scripture and who don’t tear each other’s hearts out! There is reason to be hopeful!

Basically the question that poses itself is: Is the Bible central to the Christian faith? It certainly is for certain denomination. The argument that was presented in a comment by one reader (please read his comment on the post entitled ‘Ash Wednesday’. It is very well presented and extremely respectful – Thank you!) is that the Patriarchs of our Tradition agreed on the Canon and that is what we can consider to be our Holy Scripture. All theological implications that form the basis of our Tradition stem from it.
I always tread cautiously when I speak of theology or Church history. I am a simple person, and although I read a lot, it is so easy to misinterpret or misquote events or scripture. My understanding is that it is still debated whether the council of Nicea (and I believe there were more than one) resulted in the acceptance of the Biblical Canon.  Let’s face it: We have been disagreeing on the interpretation of what Jesus said as far back as the Baptism in the Jordan. We have to go on Faith more than anything else. It’s the only thing I feel any certainty about (I acknowledge the paradox!) But I digress.
We needed a written record of our beliefs and our Story. No doubt. That is why we are still here learning and debating about it. In the context of the times, it was great foresight of the Church fathers to compile such a text. It was also largely a Roman requirement to bring the Church into the New Age of Romanità. We have to remember the context of the first Councils. Christianity was finding its place within Rome and it had to make sense to that new ‘audience’. That is why we witnessed a certain ‘philosophizing’ of Christian theology around that time. To be accepted into the Roman elite, the people of Rome had to understand it. Christianity had to speak its language. The first council of Nicea was summoned by Constantine to quell the division within the Church on various heresies. Constantine could not afford dissension within the ranks of the Church and he basically made the Church fathers sit down and agree. There is a solid Roman influence in the compilation of the Church theology and scripture.
Another problem that I have with accepting the Bible as the only source of authenticated scripture is the fact that the gnostic current and the Judeo-Christian currents were completely absent from the discussion. When you read the gnostic gospels, it is evident to me that these beliefs were also present at the time when Jesus walked the earth. To disregard them is like erasing a part of our history and a part of the teaching we received. I don’t believe that they are any less valid than the Canon gospels.
It’s difficult to study Christianity. You would have to dedicate your life to it. And still, you could only base yourself on ‘what is written’. As an author, I can tell you that it is not because I wrote it that it becomes truth. I am not comparing myself to Paul or any of the evangelists (please don’t misunderstand me!), but we can only write our experience and perspective of the moment. That changes and grows as we become wiser and more compassionate. To freeze something in time and consider it non-negotiable is dangerous. The Bible is our historical document, our best record of the path we have been taking. It is impossible to go into the debate of whether it is accurate or divinely inspired. Like I said before, it all goes back to Faith. The one thing that I think is mandatory if you call yourself a Christian is to love and support your brothers and sisters. If anyone uses the Bible to go against our only commandment, then they shouldn’t call themselves Christians.
This discussion began around the topic of the Crucifixion, the explanation of the Divine sacrifice in the scriptures and the topic of Salvation. Basically, the question posed was “If you don’t believe what Christ and His followers said about Himself (in the Bible) then why do you even care what His teachings were?” I want to expand briefly on this.
First of all, I do care about His teachings. Very much. A fact remains: Christ did not write anything down. He did not come to start a religion. Unless you want to argue the concept of Divine inspiration of the scripture (which I think is un-debatable), I believe that biblical accounts (Canon or gnostic) are a point of view of the authors on the events that took place. The Crucifixion is a central Mystery of the Christian faith. I will never deny that. I have already expanded on what I understand (if ‘understand’ is the right word) of the Mystery.
That being said, the letters of the first Christians were written in a context that we must not forget.  The first communities were under persecution and many died for their beliefs. It is therefore not surprising that Christ’s sacrifice has such a prominent place in the letters of the early Christian communities. There was, at the time, a glorification of martyrdom that inspired the communities to keep their beliefs alive. This can be read in a number of early Christian texts, one of the oldest being ‘The Martyrdom of St-Felicity and Perpetua’. I don’t belittle their sacrifice, for without it, the Christian story might have died in the womb. It is just important to consider that the scriptures may have put more emphasis on the sacrifice of the crucifixion to sustain the communities suffering from persecution.
One last point: the concept of salvation through the Crucifixion as described through the letters of (probably) Paul, is a foundational text of the Apostolic movement. The gnostics did not hold the same understanding of the meaning of the sacrifice and most did not believe in martyrdom. Different point of view, but still Christian.
It is difficult for me to write this post. It shakes the very core of our beliefs and requires very important questions to be asked. The most important of which is: What does it mean to be Christian? As I wrote in my book, that question is infinitely more difficult to answer than what it means to be Pagan. These questions bring up so much animosity, deep-rooted in thousands of years of disagreement. I don’t want to fuel that. It’s not our way. I feel it is important to have open discussions to ensure that we all feel safe in seeking that which makes us more like Our Lord, whatever that may be. I hope that in this, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

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Our journey into the world of traditional teachings continued Friday with the presentation of the pilot project for the Cree traditional health program. We were honored with the presence of Tulshi Sen, who is working together with the Elders and the Cree Health Board to set up this program that promotes teachings of the Elders and empowerment of the youth.

Tulshi Sen is a world acclaimed writer and speaker and his wisdom and journeys radiate from his very being. A hindu boy from Calcutta, as he describes himself, he was classically trained through a Jesuit education. He then traveled the world, gathering wisdom from Elders and masters, stories that he shares with humor and passion.

He opened the day with this story:

He was doing humanitarian work in Nepal when he joined a group gathered around an elder. The elder said, ” Son, you are well-versed in scripture, is that so?” He answered that he indeed was. The elder then asked, “Then, can you tell me why God called Adam and Eve by those names. Why not Jack and Jill or some other name?” Tulshi admitted that he had no idea. The elder scoffed at his lack of knowledge and sent him away without another look.

Tulshi tossed and turned all night. At the break of dawn, he rushed to the elder’s hut, who was waiting for him. He asked the elder, “Can you please tell me the answer?”

“In Hebrew, A- means ‘No’ and Dam means ‘breath’. Adam is the one with no breath. He has no life. And so, God breathes life into his nostrils. Every breath you take in, is that breath of God, of the universe that fills you and gives you life.

Eve, from the word Hawa, means breath. She is the mother of all living things.

What is Adam’s main function? He is the namer of things. He is the vision that brings things into being. But without the breath, without Life, these things are empty. Only when Adam and Eve combine do we have creation. If you have vision for it, Eve will produce it.

So, in his original state, Adam could only name things he could see. So he complained to the snake saying: “I see things and I ask ‘Why?’. To this, the snake answered: “I see things that never were and I ask ‘Why not?'”

So in consuming the apple (which was in fact a pomegranate), they became like God, able to create from the void that which did not yet exist. Theirs was the gift of imagination, to create something new, combining vision and divine breath. Adam and Eve.”

Tulshi ended with a smile. ‘That is why I am Adam and I am Eve.’

At the end of the session, I approached Tulshi to ask for his permission to pass on this teaching. He said, “By all means, pass it on to as many people as you can.”

And so I pass it on to all of you.

Today, I did something good for myself. I spent my 15 minute break attending mass with the residents of our centre. Others go smoke. Why couldn’t I go to mass instead, right? I also went to receive the ashes. As the priest drew the cross on my forehead, he said (in French): ‘Convert and believe in the good news.’

The exact English translation of this passage in Mark 1:15 is ‘Repent and believe in the good news’ As I’ve pointed out before in another blog, I am always fascinated by the subtleties in translation. Even in this simple example, I think it is quite striking that the French and the English convey a different connotation in using ‘Convert’ instead of ‘Repent’. These are the first words Jesus preached when he came out of his forty days in the desert, so I think they are worth pondering over a little. As I sat writing my charts after mass, I couldn’t help but think these things over.

First of all, what was I supposed to convert from? And to what?

Most people would just assume that it means to convert to Christianity and to Jesus. It made me smile that I was even asking these questions. But it just shows me how much my faith has changed over the years. My tradition is built around Jesus first and foremost. Not a Church, not a religion, not an establishment. So when I ponder these words, I wonder what Jesus meant when he said this. He couldn’t have meant to convert to Christianity or to the Church. Those things didn’t even exist. Did he mean to bestow all our faith in him. I don’t think so either. If that’s what he wanted, I think he would have simply said ‘I am the son of God and you should put all your faith in me.’ God honors too much our free will to demand our blind faith in him. So when he says ‘Convert’ or ‘Repent’, I think he is telling us that it is time to change. He says: Look inside. See what’s there. Go to that place and become something new.

The next question I asked is ‘What’s the good news?’ I almost laughed aloud when the question popped into my head. People throw around the ‘Good News’ left and right. Do they actually stop to wonder what that good news is? So what is it? Is it that Jesus comes to take our faults and rise from the dead? Well, in the present context, it has not yet happened. He is just coming out of his baptism and starting to preach to the masses. The Resurrection couldn’t be the good news he refers to right there. Coupled to that first induction to convert, it seems to me that this good news is that we are about to change. We can go within and find that sacred place. We are able to change ourselves. We are no longer bound by social conventions or religious rule or even our own physicality. We can witness God because he is among us, with us and in us. That is the good news Jesus announces. What a marvelous thing!

I believe that Our Lord reveals himself in different ways to different people. When you ask questions, he answers them in a way that we may understand. That is what I understood today. He may bless you with a different understanding, a different vision or story. Please feel free to share your own insights and your own good news.

I was sitting last night on the couch, perusing a book on Christian women mystics that I’m reading for background on the new book. My  twenty-month old little girl crawled up on the couch next to me and looked up at me with that mischievous look she does so well, like she has a secret she doesn’t want to share just yet. I looked at her and couldn’t help smiling. She’s already more little girl than baby, looking at me from under that mop of reddish curls, with those olive brown eyes. Her older brother and her are like the moon and the sun. My son has an even temper, speaks little, observes a lot and senses everything. Behind his stoic facade, he has an enourmous, intense internal life. I always feel the urge to go and make sure he is OK, that his big emotions are not overpowering his little 3 year-old being. My daughter, on the other hand, is all out. She is all happiness or all rage. She tells you what she wants, tells others what to do. She is my spark, born at high noon on Candlemas and we named her Chiara (meaning light in Italian) to honor this light and in honor of the great woman mystic, St-Claire of Assisi. She is so bold and independent that I sometimes feel she doesn’t need me as much as her brother does. Well, she demands different things of me and that is a learning that I have to do as a mother: how to give what each one needs without being unfair to either. I guess you parents understand what I mean.

So there she was cuddling up next to me and looking at me with that “What are you doing?” look. Usually, she would have taken the book away or jumped on me. But tonight she just cuddled as I read my book. It struck me then that we were sharing a special, sacred bond. I was reading about these great women whose teachings have been withheld from us. My daugther had every link to these women, down to her name. She was the essence of those women, bigger than life and strong in conviction. And she would not have to wait to be in her thirties to discover them. That may be my greatest gift to her. She will grow up knowing the names of Thecla, Leoba, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich and countless others. She will grow up knowing that we have a tradition of Holy Women who worshiped Lady-God and who lived a life of service and contemplation to unite themselves with Her. She will know that there were Women who spoke when they were told to be quiet and who wrote their wisdom even at the threat of dying. She will know that she is in the image of God just as much as God is an image of her.  I whispered to her, “I’ll show you everything.” and she looked up with a smug little face. That is our sacred bond.

Give your daughters a big hug today!

Our priest travels twelve hours every two weeks to say mass to our small congregation. At nearly 80, he is surprisingly open minded and I am sure that his 50 years of reflection in the great North has something to do with it.

Two things jumped at me this morning during the readings. I have to tell you that I attend mass in French and that I am much more familiar with the wording of the scriptures in French. I was looking up the same references in English to refer to in this blog, and I find that the actual passages have a very different connotation. I am also less familiar with the different versions, so you’ll forgive me for choosing one of the simpler translations. I chose here the World English Bible.

So, first revelation was Hebrews 11, 1:

11:1 Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen.

A literal translation from the French actually sounds more like this: ‘Faith is the way to already possess what we hope for, and to know the reality that we still cannot see.’ See how language can totally change things? This is the essence of magic: that hope, faith or will, whatever we choose to call it. It is complete persuasion that we already hold that which we intend. It is right there in the scriptures.

Second passage that moved me today was from Luke 12, 35

12:35 “Let your waist be dressed and your lamps burning.

Again, the French translation is slightly different. It reads something like ‘Remain in your work clothes (service clothes) and keep your lamps burning.’ In this there is a connotation of work that is somewhat lost in the English version. Nevertheless, it calls to us as Christians to constantly keep working at the upkeep of the Lord’s house, doing his bidding not because he is there, but because it is the right thing to do. As our priest said today, true Christians do not live in a bubble. They live in the real world and they work in the real world. It is a calling, a mission that we work for. It is a way of life. It is not just a philosophy or a theology. It is very real.

When I merged Christianity and Paganism, it was to remain in the real world. It was to fight in it, to love in it, to serve in it. That’s what Jesus did. He did not retreat to the Temple to teach. He walked in the real world and did real things, like feeding the poor and healing the sick. The passage of the lamp burning had always struck me of impending doom. But today it spoke of something else. It spoke of lighting a light as a sign of commitment to this lifestyle that I chose. Lighting a light to say: I am here and I make a pledge to work for this cause. I am a follower of Jesus and I intend to follow his example to the best of my understanding and my ability. And I do this in the real world, with the powers he has given me.

I will light a candle tonight as a symbol of that commitment and I intend to do so for the rest of the week. I hope you can join me in this. Post a line to have yourself counted in this movement. Someone asked me lately how we could start getting together as Christians and Witches. I’ll come back on that soon. But for now, I think we have to take that first step of stepping up to the plate and making our pledge. I just know that the more candles we light, the more the Great Web will feel our presence and the easier it will be to reach one another. Imagine: a million little flames burning in the night sky, giving light and warmth and hope. For that is what we all are!

Light and love,

Adelina