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.

Professor Tariq Ramadan holds MA in Philosophy and French literature and PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Geneva. In Cairo, Egypt he received one-on-one intensive training in classic Islamic scholarship from Al-Azhar University scholars. 
Tariq Ramadan is Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University (Oriental Institute, St Antony’s College ). He is also teaching at the Faculty of Theology at Oxford. He is at the same time a Visiting Professor in Qatar (Faculty of Islamic Studies) and in Morocco (Mundiapolis) and a Senior Research Fellow at Doshisha University(Kyoto, Japan). http://www.tariqramadan.com/spip.php?lang=en

I was surprised to see that, in the day following the conference, more mention was made of Professor Ramadan than of the Dalaï-Lama. Apparently he is a quite controversial speaker of the Muslim faith. He was indeed a fascinating speaker, but I did not identify anything remarkably shocking or controversial in his speech, other than being passionate about Islam, which may be sufficient in today’s world to be viewed as controversial. He was an absolutely fascinating speaker and here are a few of the things he shared with us.
Our lives and our faith have to be grounded in a positive discipline. To speak of peace, we have to be able to speak of violence. We have to go back to our traditions and scriptures to see what they say about violence. Conferences on world peace have been going on for decades. The truth is that those who attend are all rather privileged and already sold to the idea of world peace. So the questions we have to ask ourselves is How do we deal with violence? How do we deal with poverty? How do we deal with injustice? Only then do we know how to work for peace.
There are four things we need to pass on to our children to achieve peace:

1)      History. We need to know where we came from, what mistakes we made and what great things we accomplished.

2)      Philosophy: Children need to know how to answer the great questions of our existence.

3)      Religion: To continue a practice that connects us to a greater source

4)      Art: To continue to develop imagination, esthetics and to take time to create

There are some fundamental rights that are common to all religions. Each person should have the right to set up a sacred site from where to practice their religion, no matter where they live in the world.
As a religious person, each one of us has the duty to take position against the injustice and corruption within their own religion. Islamic scriptures do not support the degradation of women. If, as a Muslim, you hear someone use Islam to support the oppression of women, it is your duty to take a stand against it. Same thing goes for all other religions. If as a Jew killing your neighbor is against the Law, then you have to speak up against the conflict in Palestine. Or as a Christian, you must denounce hatred towards minorities and those who are marginalized. This is a sacred duty.

I was priviledged to hear an exceptional speech by Dr. Robert Thurman at the conference on Wednesday. My few words really don’t do justic to his passion and humor. He is the embodiment of the ultimate professor. You know, the one you really want to have. For more on Dr. Thurman, please visit his site: http://www.bobthurman.com/

 Robert A.F. Thurman is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, and co-founder and President of Tibet House US. He writes and lectures frequently on Buddhism, Asian history, and critical philosophy. A personal friend of the Dalai Lama for over 40 years, his latest book is Why the Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet and the World.

 Words from Dr. Robert Thurman

Religion has long been identified as a cause of conflict and war. It is important to understand that it is not religion itself that causes war, but the misuse of it. All religions are united by what Dr. Thurman calls ‘The religious experience’. This religious experience is composed of three things:

1)     An experience of the transcendent

2)     Tangible fruit of this experience, known as love, compassion, truth and so forth

3)     A belief in the immortality of the soul

It is the purpose of all humans (including atheists and agnostics) to find that religious experience and spread the feeling to others. We become citizens of the universe by sharing this religious experience that transcends our own culture and tradition.

 On the subject of interfaith dialogue, the Dalaï-Lama considers two things. First, he aknowledges his own personal excludism in that he has chosen his own personal religion at the exclusion of all others. He believes in the wisdom teachings of his religion and ascribes to its practices. Secondly, he promotes social pluralism. While each person walks within the beliefs of his own chosen religion, there should be a common understanding that each religion upholds the same truth and should be respected and honored. This leads to many traditions walking side by side, instead of having one universal, non-denominational human spirituality devoid of inner complexity and challenge. Our religious tradition is the one best suited to our disposition and the most likely to lead us to that religious experience which unites us all.

An awe-inspiring, soul building day yesterday. I attended the 2nd annual conference on peace through world religions, held in my home town of Montreal.  (http://gcwr2011.org/) Imagine. In one room, a multitude of religions and cultures coming together for one purpose: making the world better.

The guest of honor was his holiness the Dalaï-Lama who graced us with a morning filled with wisdom and laughter. The afternoon was reserved to a talk by well-known author Deepak Chopra and a panel discussion by fantastic speakers from different religious backgrounds. I’d like to share a bit of the wisdom that I received yesterday. Please pass it on! 

Words of wisdom by His Holiness the Dalaï-Lama

The Dalai Lama - Sa Sainteté Le Dalaï-Lama

Religion is supposed to be a source of moral ethic. There are only 2 ways that it can become a source of conflict:

1)      When religion is mixed with the quest for power and economic interest.

2)      When you espouse the belief that there is only one truth expressed through one religion.

The first example is pretty self-explanatory and we have multiple examples of this occurring throughout history.

In today’s world, it is simply impossible to continue to espouse the attitude that there is only one truth expressed by one religion. Back in the day when people lived in isolation, this was possible. We cannot dispute the fact is that there are multiple religions. The Dalaï-Lama gave the example of India and its rather peaceful co-existence of most of the world’s religions. What we need is to come together and express ourselves on our own religions and to learn the value of other religions as well. We have to start talking to each other to discover that we are pretty much all aspiring to the same things.

Rather than thinking in terms of one truth-one religion, we have to come to the understanding of a same truth being expressed by all religions. All religions have the same message and potential. All religion teach truth, honesty, compassion, love. Being religious is living a practice of love and compassion, meditating on selflessness and having faith in God the Creator.  There are people of all religions who do this.

Why did God create so many teachers? You cannot call God ignorant for doing that. Students of Buddha would criticize him for giving contradictory teachings. They would ask him: ‘How can you say this when you just said that?’ To this Buddha would answer that even among followers of one teacher, there are many dispositions. Contradictions can suit people of different dispositions and bring them to enlightenment. It is the same with different religions.

We all need 2 levels of spirituality: we need a general humanism to reach out to others and fight inequity. We also need a religious faith that guides our practice. All religions have good things. Practice includes the reduction of self-centered arrogance and the upholding of moral ethics. If you believe and pray to God, you cannot support corruption, lying, cheating. If you pray, you have to be serious in your belief. When you practice love, honesty and compassion, you pass it on to your family, and they pass it on to theirs and love keeps growing.  To grow in peace, we have to reach out to others and understand what they believe.

A young boy asked the Dalaï-Lama: ‘What do you have to do to save the world?’

You have to work on the individual. You have to make your mind peaceful and keep negative feelings fleeting. You have to train yourself in compassion and selflessness and find opportunities for altruism. There are always troublemakers. We ourselves can be troublemakers sometimes. We have to remember that these troublemakers are also created by God. We have to create inner peace and share with others.

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