Theology


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.

English: Leaving traces on soft sand dunes in ...

I just saw something that shook me up. I crossed into New York state for a training this morning. I passed by a church that had a billboard in the front. The billboard said: ‘God wrote the first Valentine with two boards and three nails.’

Am I the only one that finds that offensive? I don’t see how an act of violence like the crucifixion can be construed as an act of Divine Love. I understand the rhetoric of redemption through Christ’s sacrifice. To me, the act of crucifying someone isn’t the ‘act of God’, but the ‘act of Man’ and I don’t understand why the act has to be glorified. I have sat in contemplation on the mystery of the cross and it has brought me many teachings on a symbolic level: the surrender to divine will, the acceptance of my humanity, the concept of karma and the payment of a karmic debt. The glory of the crucifixion was that our humanity and divinity were combined in one last act and that the Innocent took on the karmic debt of the many. It links many mystery traditions through the depiction of the slain god, pierced and hung from a tree. It is a beautiful symbol. But my tradition is one of love and inner power, and it is a travesty of that mystery to elevate violence and confuse it with love. God’s love has nothing to do with two boards and three nails.

In any case, today is Ash Wednesday. I love Lent. It is a period to reflect about the kind of person I want to be and the lessons I want to learn. We strive to be like Jesus: a perfect combination of humanity and divinity. I get frustrated with myself very often for not being able to move on to that place of Spirit, for getting bogged down with the nitty gritty of human existence. It feels like an invisible wall that I just can’t cross.

The truth of the matter is that no one knows what happened on the road to Cana. No one wrote how Jesus felt before he came into his power. No one knows how frustrating it might have been for him to deal with humanity or how he came know that he could transcend it all. No one knows the road to Cana. No one knows what happened in the desert to transform him. So maybe all this doubt and frustration we are feeling is just our road to Cana, our journey through the desert. Maybe the awakening is coming.

I haven’t decided what I will work on this Lent. But I will reflect on what I need to do in that desert to come out the other side a better person. 

English: Lords Prayer in Aramaic(Syriac)

English: Lords Prayer in Aramaic(Syriac) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This past full moon, I found myself in a hotel room alone up north. Alone! No distractions, all evening to myself to sit in Spirit. Something moved me inside in a way that I had not felt before, something calling me back to my roots.

As I entered sacred space, I veiled my  head. I placed a bread roll and a cup of tea in front of me, which was all I had as means of offering. I lifted them up and gave thanks.

I turned to the north and I saw a huge circular stone. The stone that guarded the tomb of Lazarus. The stone of resurrection. I put out my hand and moved it and it slid open.

I turned to the east and blew out a deep breath. A warm wind arose, whipping through my hair, violent yet warm. The breath of spirit that filled the hall at Pentecost.

I turned to south and there I saw the fires where the weeds are sent to burn. It was angry and strong and purified all in its flames.

I turned to the west and I saw a rising wave: the tide of the flood, the parting of the seas, the purification of baptism.

I came back to the middle and I raised one hand to touch the sky and one hand reached to the earth. ‘As above, so below.’

Then, it dawned on me the Mystery. We are that which joins the Above and the Below. We are the meeting point which connects the two. There is no other species, seen or unseen, that can do that. There is no other species that can simultaneously live in both worlds. That is the next step of our evolution: To become Human, which means to be sentient beings that connect Heaven and Earth and walk in both worlds at all times. That is what we are meant to do. That is what Jesus was.

At that moment, I heard my Lord whisper: ‘You can be what I am. You are what I am.’

I repeated that like a mantra for a long time. It seems that anything else I could write about Christian Witchcraft would be redundant.

I closed my circle, placing back the stone as I finished. I ended with the recitation of the Our Father in Aramaic. Here is a gift of a video for the sung version, which also ends with a audible pronunciation of the prayer.

Abun d’bashmayo….

“I am what I am,

and I am all there is.”

A few hours after writing my last post, I boarded a plane that took me and the family to Poland for three weeks of family time. If you recall, my last post was about the celebration of the solstice and the acknowledgement of the transformation of the sun god figure from Helios to Elijah to Jesus.

As I opened up my meal tray in the plane, I found myself staring at this symbol on a packet of salt:

Image

I closed my eyes and took in this magnificent gift. I felt like I had just said something and the Almighty was just casually talking right back. We often feel like we are doing all the talking. If only God would talk back, right? S/He does. We just have to speak the right language. I felt like It was telling me: ‘You’re unto something there. You are on the right track. Interesting point.’ As if I was talking to a colleague or a friend. We should never doubt that we are in an ever flowing conversation with the Divine. We just have to do as much listening as talking.

The Goddess

Image by LilithSativa via Flickr

I promised to come back on the concept of deity. It is a topic that comes back regularly on the Christian Pagan Fellowship and that evokes the most controversy. I’ve addressed this in my book ‘The Path of Christian Witch”, but surely one small book cannot cover such a wide topic. An entire library could not cover the question we are really asking: ‘What is God?’

I do not claim to have the answer to that question and will not attempt to answer it. The question that is often asked is how do we view God from the point of view of a Christian Witch. How do we deal with polytheism and how do we include biblical figures and mythological figures into our practice? Do we view God as an almighty energy or do we give It faces? Are these two views mutually exclusive? Are these faces really Gods and Goddesses?

I don’t have THE answer. But I have my answer. I see God as a multitude of things and somehow, I feel that all of these can coexist without contradiction. I see God as an action rather than a being. The ein sof, the breath, described in Kabbalah. This is the breath of life that brings things forth all there is from the great Void. But even though I believe in that Essence, I also believe that it does manifest itself to us in very real terms. I feel all representations of gods and goddesses in mythology, our biblical figures and saints and other holy people hold a parcel of that Essence. I think we all come here with lessons to learn and these figures are different ways for God to talk to us in a personal manner. S/He gives us different lessons through these Holy people. Are they gods and goddesses? They are expressions of God, so to me they are divine. Do I worship them? I do in the same measure that I also worship the divine within myself.

 

From a practical point of view, what should a Christian Witch/Pagan do about worship? She can choose to worship the essence of God, the Almighty, the Great Spirit. She may decide that she needs a representation of that Essence either in one figure or in a deity couple that represents our human polarity. She may decide to worship God the Father as we have been taught. She may also worship the Goddess uniquely or in combination with the Father. She may decide to choose one or two expressions of the Divine from any pantheon and walk her path with them to learn the lessons that she has to learn to fulfill her calling. Any combination of this is all right. We will only really know the full expression of God when we cross over, so for now, the best we can do is have a taste of Its many manifestations.

This blog is coming out of a heated discussion on the Christian Pagan Fellowship on Facebook. It is a question that I have been pondering for a while and for which the community has to come together: Is it viable (or even desirable) to organize the Christian Pagan path into an organized Church?

Several issues arise from this topic. First and foremost is the definition of Christian Paganism. Some describe themselves as Christian Witches, Christian Wiccans, Mystics, Druids, Gnostics, Catholic Witches, Spiritualists, non-traditional Christians…. the list goes on. Is there enough common ground to even rally all these traditions together? I will tentatively say ‘yes’, that there is enough common ground to rally people together. After all, a growing number of us are getting together in various ways. However, I do not know if there is enough common agreement in practice at this point to make it possible to structure a liturgy around this. Nor do I think that it would add to the practice. Don’t forget, much of the Pagan community is facing the same challenge. The central topic at this year’s Gaia gathering was the topic of a common liturgy. Pagans in general are very attached to the freedom and flexibility that their practice offers. Many like and need to be eclectic in their practices. But obviously, the call of the group is also a strong one and there has to be some concessions made to achieve a balance between the two. I think that a Pagan practice, whether Christian or traditional, will always have a strong blend of solitary practice and community involvement. The question remains as to how much structure we really want in our community life.

I like my solitary practice. I am probably going to be a solitary all my life. But I wouldn’t have written a book if I didn’t feel the need to reach out to others who shared the same beliefs. What I do not want is a structure that sets my beliefs down in stone and that gives someone the authority to lead my worship. All I want is a place to go to, a place that is sacred and where I can offer my prayers in the manner that is most holy to me. A place where I can be surrounded by my symbols, where I can offer worship to my Mother and my Father and where I can receive and share wisdom and blessings with others of like faith. This may be possible within a structure that is fluid enough to offer freedom to contemplate and to share. Such a structure could be as simple as preparing the sanctuary, making an offering, making time for contemplation, passing on wisdom and blessings and sharing a meal. I could see that work. Much of this can be achieved in a solitary practice. Remains to see whether there are enough others who want to gather in a common place to make group services possible.

If I stop and think about what a Christian Pagan Church would look like, I see something along the lines of what the early Church looked like. I see a network of houses identified with the ichtus where patrons welcomed prophets, priests, disciples and fellow Christians whenever they passed through their town.

I see a house where people gather and perform a simple devotion and share stories and teachings. I also see the organization of the Church to be similar to what the Gnostics did. Members would rotate between the different functions of the service, which was assigned by a draw. This way, it was not always the same person who presided worship. You could be the one to set up the house, or take care of the meal, or do the readings or make the offering. This allowed everyone to be involved and prevented power to be assigned to only one person. That’s the way I think a Church aught to operate.

When the topic of organizing Churches came up, my first reaction was that I would much prefer to have an international gathering of Christian Pagans. This way, we can all start to get to know one another, share what we believe and offer a common prayer. That is my dream for now. I leave the rest in God’s hands.

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