Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lost Faith

Something that I have wondered about for quite some time is the role of faith in contemporary Gnosticism. Often, in mainstream Christian traditions, faith is used as a noun and is synonymous with the religion itself, e.g. "the Faith".

My impression is that faith is viewed somewhat as a naughty word in some Gnostic circles. Who needs simple belief in a thing when you already have a knowing of the thing, after all? I would agree, if the faith spoken of is a blind one. Blind faith is a mindless faith. It doesn't require examination, but simply adherence.

So what is faith to the Gnostic? For what purpose does it serve those who already know? I think of it in these terms: If gnosis is the lightbulb, "aha" moment, faith is why you reach for the light switch in the first place.

With any religion, I believe, you must make certain assumptions and hold to certain core ideas and principles for the process to have meaning. Why do I strive to maintain a praxis? Why do I continue to search out these things? Why do I seek for gnosis? I would have to attribute the answer to some level of faith, both in myself, and in the process.

I came across a translation of a section from the Gospel of Philip (Valentinian) today, on the blog of Dr. April DeConick, as translated by her:

The world's farming relies on four things. A harvest is gathered into the barn because of water, earth, wind, and light. God's farming likewise relies on four things - faith, hope, love and knowledge. Faith is our earth in which we take root. Hope is the water with which we are nourished. Love is the wind by which we grow. Knowledge is the light by which we [ripen].

I think this expresses the role of faith perfectly. It is my opinion that rejecting faith, a faith in context with love, hope, and knowledge, is anathema to the process of inner and spiritual growth.

I reserve the right to be entirely wrong, but I think we all start out with faith, that what we are doing is what we should be doing, so we keep doing it until we know. Once we know, faith remains as a map to the inner path. We keep looking to it when we are not sure of where we are, even if we know the ultimate destination. And so we trudge on.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Biblio

I got a copy of "The Other Bible", edited by Willis Barnstone, today. It's in the same vein as "The Gnostic Bible", edited by Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, which is not surprising. There is a wider net cast by Barnstone here, in that he includes Jewish, Christian, and Pagan sources along with the Gnostic elements.

I'm not deeply into it as of yet, but it looks promising. I was actually looking for Bentley Layton's "The Gnostic Scriptures", but I didn't find it in the local bookstore. I did see a copy of Robinson's "Nag Hammadi Library", but I was more interested in some of the content of "The Other Bible". I might be interested in said Robinson book in the future as it is. I was surprised to find anything overtly Gnostic at all, in all honestly. I suppose you do find a gem every now and then.

As for whether it was worth the investment, I suppose that remains to be seen, but I think it will be. I still have "The Gnostic Bible" to get through before I really jump into it, though!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Down to Earth





The above is a performance of "Isaac", by Madonna, during her Confessions tour. I had a bit of a moment when I viewed it earlier. Think what you will about Madonna, the artistry was superb. The visuals, along with some of the lyrics, and the singing by Yitzhak Sinwani in Yemenite (the words apparently mean "If all of the doors of all of the generous peoples' homes are closed to you, the gates of heaven will always be open. The creator is living above the angels, and they are all nourished from his spirit"), there were times while watching it where I certainly felt moved. The liberation of the dancer in blue held a tinge of metaphorical recognition, definitely. Also, I like me some catchy pop music.

For more there's an article from Billboard of an interview with Madonna, where she discusses the song, here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thirsty

I've been thinking a lot lately about where I am drawn spiritually. Obviously the pretext is that of Gnosticism, not just of gnosis, but of the larger Gnostic Restoration that began in the late 19th century and was reinvigorated with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library in 1945.

Having had an individual journey so far, I don't really find easy placement within the larger community, which I feel is one predominately of organized ecclesiastical communities (Apostolic Johannite Church, Ecclesia Gnostica, Alexandrian Gnostic Church, et al). I whole-heartedly believe in and support what these organizations are doing and hope to one day participate in them, but that is not where I am right now.

My jaunty little path is, right now, a solitary movement of one. This is true of all Gnostics when we are alone with our own minds, to be fair. Certainly, also, I am connected with the broader community through the shared understandings of what gnosis and Gnosticism are, at least at its core. These are explored at the Palm Tree Garden forums in the form of the "Four Point Plane", which outlines the core priniciples that most Gnostics (at least those involved at the PTG) would likely agree upon:

1. Emanations cosmology (Becoming is an extension of Being)
2 Immanent Pneumatology (Spirit is "veiled" in matter and can be "unveiled")
3. Gnostic soteriology (The experience of gnosis is what saves one from the realms of imperfection)
4. Sacramental Praxis (Gnosis is achieved by a variety of practices which seek to make the imperfect realms "holy" or sacred-- the eucharist, contemplative practice, etc.)

Those core ideas expand when you come to individual Gnostics. The many shades shift from Buddhism, to ceremonial magic and the Hermetic, to a more goddess-oriented approach, and all of this is not even to mention the differences and nuances between the various classical sects of Gnosticism (Valentinian/Sethian/etc).

All that considered, I have been thinking about what I am drawn to, what inspires me. What shades color my vision of Gnosticism? Surprisingly I have to say that I feel most attuned with the more Christian Gnostic aspects.

Not originating in Christianity, gnosticism can be quite varied even when it has been embraced within Christian contexts. Clear evidence of this is seen from any exploration of the Valentinians, to the Mandaeans, and later the Cathars. By their nature these are all gnostic movements to varying degrees, but they each express the common thread of gnosis differently. Indeed, there are major differences between some of these groups, and there is some disagreement as to whether all are properly Gnostic.

There was a point when I was adamantly anti-Christian. I rebelled against what I was lead to believe Christianity was, when what I knew of Christianity was actually more like an old teapot, covered in years of grime, dust, and neglect, dented and scuffed, blackened with age. My Gnostic perspective has allowed me to re-examine this old teapot, and as I scrub away at the layers of obfuscation, I can see the brilliant shining beneath.

I am afraid that there will always be remnants of that outer layer on the figurative teapot that I can never fully get rid of, but the truth is, I don't need to. I know what is behind it now, and I happily anticipate the nourishment I can gain from this old teapot, no matter what flavor of tea I taste or what cup I drink from.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Yitzhaq (He Laughs)

"Strive to enter the shrine within you and you will see the shrine of heaven, for the one is the same as the other and a single entrance permits you to contemplate both. The ladder leading to that kingdom is hidden within you, that is, within your soul: cleanse yourself from sin and there you will find the steps by which you ascend."
-- St. Isaac of Syria, 7th ct. Nestorian Bishop of Nineveh, hermit, and mystic

Saturday, February 9, 2008

On a Date

I've been working on another blog I created some weeks ago, although it's not a blog in the classical sense of the word. I'm using it as a personal liturgical calendar. I am also using it as a tool to learn about subjects that are important to my understanding of what being a Gnostic means, and how it is expressed.

For the most part I am going off the liturgical calendar of the AJC, with some dates from the EG, OA, and other dates that I think are personally relevant. This is more of a long term project, in that I pick a date from the calendar and I research subjects or events honored or celebrated on that day, and then summarize as a post in chronological order (it requres some manipulation of the timestamps, heh) in the blog. As you can imagine, with a calendar of 60 - 70 days, there's a lot to read through and become familiar with.

I'm finding it fairly fulfilling, personally. It's allowing me to become more aware of not only Gnostic references and ideas, but also overtly "mainstream" Christian ones, and how they relate to each other. I was raised Protestant (Southern Baptist, specifically), abandoned the church in my late childhood (I was so over it at 9 or 10, I thought), and am now drawn to more Catholic and Orthodox shades of Christianity within a Gnostic mindset. It's quite a learning experience.

Right now I work on it when I feel motivated and so far I have been choosing entries around the actual date. Currently I am working on the entry for Valentinus, honored on February 14. I know relatively little about Valentinus, certainly no more than the very basic understanding (began the Valentinian school of Gnosticism, was influenced by Platonism, wasn't very popular with Irenaeus et al, could have been a contender [for Bishop of Rome] etc). My exploration of the topic is opening up an entire umbrella of related subjects, the study of which will go on long after I finish the entry in my little calendar.

It's all very fascinating, to say the least!