Christianity · Theology

Easter Origins – the myth that will not die

Once more unto the breach …

The meme of Easter as stolen from the spring celebrations of the Pagan Goddess Eostre was alive and well this year. I can’t spend much time with this, but do hope somehow, somewhere, what emerges here is useful.

Now, I am not whitewashing the “pagan” antecedents and influences on early and later Christian traditions. Everything (us included) has antecedents. It’s just the reality is far more complex than the “Christians stole it from the Pagans” meme suggests. And, of course, this is not to denigrate modern Paganism at all, simply to suggest that memes like this do Paganism no justice. Paganism does not need to define itself against Christianity.

Reference to the Goddess Eostre is found in a single source, De Temporum Ratione (On the Reckoning of Time) written by the Venerable Bede (672/3-735 CE) in 725 CE. He writes:

“Hrethmonath [March] is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time. Eosturmonath [April] has a name which is now translated ‘Paschal month’, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.”  (https://online.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/doi/book/10.3828/978-0-85323-693-1 )

And with that the source material dries up. Modern scholars of medieval studies are uncertain about Eostre’s existence:

“It is not possible to say, as it is of Woden, for example, that the Anglo-Saxons definitely worshipped a goddess called Eostre, who was probably concerned with the spring or the dawn.” (Cusack, Carole. “The Goddess Eostre:Bede’s Text and Contemporary Pagan Tradition(s).”Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, vol. 9, no. 1, 2007: 28)

eostre_rising_by_areeya-dzb938With such uncertainty about the historical existence of Eostre (which does not negate Her existence for modern Neo-Pagans), we simply cannot assume Her presence and celebrations had any influence on Easter at all. There remains a possible linguistic connection, given the etymology provided by Bede.

However, a more crucial stumbling block to any possible influence emerges when we simply examine the dates.  Pascha (Easter) was celebrated by the early church by the mid second century at the latest. The dating was contested between different churches and a computational method endorsed by the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. This is centuries before the conversion of the Saxon kingdoms which began through missions sent by Pope Gregory I in 596/7 CE. The ergo here is easy : if Christianity celebrated Easter before it moved into lands where Eostre may have been worshipped, then She cannot have been the source for the celebration.

It remains logically feasible that the Easter celebrations throughout medieval Europe could have been dramatically influenced and changed by Christianity’s encounter with Eostre (if She existed). However, the evidence is clear that this did not occur, and the central motifs of Easter remained (and remain) intact and unaffected by Christianity’s expansion into the Germanic lands. This is hardly surprising since, even from Bede’s account, there are no motifs attached to Eostre which could have influenced anything at all. So, as wonderful as Eostre may have been, and is for modern Pagans, it is absolutely clear She had no influence on Easter at all. We are free, as modern Pagans do, to develop wonderful and meaningful spiritual connections from scholars’ speculation on the existence and symbolism of Eostre. But we are not free to assert Her celebrations are the historical foundations of Easter.

But the date …

Connected with the Easter stemming from Eostre meme are two other issues: the timing of Easter being derived from the Spring Equinox and thereby having connection with a range of near eastern dawn Goddesses and Jesus as one of several dying and rising near eastern deities.

The existence and importance of dawn Goddesses in the ancient near east is not at issue here. What is important is how these Goddesses and their motifs may have influenced the date and celebration of Easter. The evidence is again clear: the date for the new Christian Pascha derives from the Jewish celebration of Passover. Passover is usually based the Jewish calendar which ultimately comes from the Equinox. That does not however make it Pagan or show any link to dawn Goddesses. And when we think about it, this is obvious – a time of the year or of the day has no inherent religious significance to the exclusion of other religions.

Passover was a spring festival and some sources show its connection to the ripening of barley. Does all this make it Pagan? Only if the theological interpretation of a festival date influenced by ripening barley and the Equinox is Pagan itself. And for Jews, at the period in question, it was not. The One God of Israel caused the ripening of the barley.

The Jewish religion at the time of Christ was monotheistic. It was not always exclusively so, and references to the divine assembly and other deities remain in the Jewish scriptures. But the temple tradition that Jesus encountered was monotheistic. So, for example, the Pagan theological interpretation of the Sun as a deity who caused the ripening of the barley, was long removed from Judaism at this point. The sun and moon were labelled as the greater and lesser lights in the writing of Genesis, because the Hebrew words designating them were also the names of solar and lunar deities in the ancient near east. This monotheistic hermeneutic ran through the entire Jewish religion of the time.

So, the question then becomes, is there evidence that motifs and symbols derived from ancient near eastern dawn Goddesses, despite the monotheism of Judaism, influenced the celebration of Passover, which in turn influenced the Christian Pascha?

The history, symbols and purpose of Passover do show non-Jewish and non-monotheistic influences and antecedents including, probably, apotropaic magic. However, and this is the crucial point, by the time of Christ all of these had been reworked and subsumed into the core motif of the liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt by the One God of Israel. And this is the tradition the early Christians grew up in. As they later developed Paschal celebrations to commemorate Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection at the time of Passover, it was this monotheism that was reworked and developed upon. Not Pagan antecedents already lost to the tradition.

Dying and Rising

ifrazer001p1The popular and academic spread of the concept of the dying and rising deity owes a lot to the work of folklorist James George Frazer (1854 – 1941 CE). His articulation of Jesus as another of these deities was part of the project to disenfranchise Christian exceptionalism (not that there is anything wrong with that). Since his death, most scholars no longer find the category and concept as universal or as useful as he promoted it to be.

Christians will also point out the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, as attested by the majority of scholars. Of course, one may affirm that the dying and rising God motif, if we want to continue to use a flawed concept, was later affixed to the historical events, creating the myth of Christ’s death and resurrection. The purpose of this affirmation? Like Frazer, it is to remove Christian exceptionalism and frame Christ as simply another near eastern deity.

If we were, however, to posit the dying and rising God motif as abroad and alive in Palestine and the near east during the time of Christ, there is no evidence that the followers of these other Gods saw their deities in the way Christians saw Christ. That is, within the temporal and historical events of the day and as the Incarnation of a monotheistic God. All the other Gods within this disputed concept were seen as part of a larger polytheistic pantheon.  Their myths were not placed within ordinary time and space as part of the historical narrative. These are key points of difference.

At the very least, we can say that the fact that Christians saw Christ as different to other Gods makes Christians different. Cos no other Pagans saw their Gods in the same way. And it is this view of the Christ as different to other Gods, and the insistence of the promulgation of this view, that led Christianity to become the dominant religion of the Empire, as Bart Ehrman explores in his wonderful The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the WorldWe may not like this, at all, at all, but it seems to be the actual historical reality.

Eggs

Easter eggs are often assumed to be a pagan symbol and practice adopted or stolen by “the Christians”. The idea of something being “stolen” requires (1) a thief, (2) a victim of theft and (3) a conscious program of theft. This would require identifying a discreet group of Christians in early Christianity who targeted pagan religions to plunder their symbols and practices. There is no evidence of this. In reality, the presence of older religious symbols and forms in a newer religion is most often because of organic cultural diffusion and syncretism. There is no theft involved.

Eggs were part of African and Ancient Near Eastern religious symbolism prior to Christianity. It seems clear however that early Christians in the Mesopotamian region used the egg in unique ways to symbolize the tomb of Christ and, through dying, the colour of his blood. This was the prototype of the “Easter egg”. So, yes, an association with older “pagan” motifs of death and rebirth, but uniquely linked to and drawn into the central Christian mystery. This, to me, makes the egg, as it is used in Christianity, Christian, not a Pagan interloper. Of course, the egg when used in Paganism is Pagan … and when eaten is a nutritious breakfast 🙂 Thanks.

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Christianity

Formation

True story.

I woke up exactly at midnight with Sinead in my head. But it was one of the few songs of hers I do not like:

“It’s been seven hours and fifteen days”.

*Sigh* I was wide awake and could not go back to sleep … the same line constantly over and over. This is not unusual in itself, though not very common for me. Just now, as I finally started this blog, to try and “explain” my experience of Formation, what was unusual edged into my consciousness.

I checked online, and yup … at midnight it WAS exactly seven hours and fifteen days since the start of Formation. My unconscious … or God … has sense of humour.

I had suspected this during Formation orientation week when I wrote on my Facebook page:

Reflecting after the third day of Formation and my mind supplies slightly altered Sinead: “I’m not supposed to be here at all now / It’s all been a gorgeous mistake / Sick one or clean one / The best one that God ever made.”  :/ so something is happening …

Perhaps my mind is using Sinead because she has been (and continues to be) a person of change and spiritual transformation, from one path, seamlessly, to another. Or maybe her music is just so good.

I’ve tried writing this up properly, (with references and all) to get it clear. No good. Heck, I’ve even tried poetry (def no good). So this is the best I can do. And it has to be enough, or I will crack.

In Formation I (and I suspect the other candidates) are being acted upon. I felt it strongly at times in Enquirers also. But that was a like a puff of air compared to the whirlwind.

It is not the training, and it is not the knocking about and knocking off barnacles of our minds, our preconceptions. And it is not personal spiritual unfoldment in the Divine. It is wholly other.  I can’t explain it.

Of course, we are there to be formed. I know, I know … But I now suspect that this forming is a mystery in itself, something unique and impossible to experience anywhere else. It is this sense of the other, which is not simply the Divine, yet is the divine acting upon us, that is unique for me. And it is this which is different – and the concept of difference is completely inadequate here – to any of the spiritual training and esoteric fellowships I have been a part of before.

This paraphrase from poet Stephen Parr expresses some of it:

we have not looked,
but something is walking with us

This other is not called, nor sent. Nor was she always there, like a cat in the shadows, and neither has she spontaneously appeared. I can’t explain it. Like the Pleiades I can’t look at her directly, and yet she is always there and fully alive. I can’t say she is making us more “utterly, real”, as Symeon the New Theologian would put it. That’s our unfoldment. This is something different and there is no way to say what …

Christianity

Difficult Customers

I am between semesters at the moment, so have a little bit of time for this blog at lunch rather than reading furiously 🙂 This is not a reflection on liturgy per se, but on what occurs in liturgy, in church.

A while back I attended the Armistice Day service at the Cathedral. We were running a parallel Peace Making Conference in the Hall next door, so I came in late and sat at the back, the Cathedral already full. Stacks of plastic chairs were made ready for extra people. You know the sort I mean; they were old when I was a lad, type things. I sat one of these, near the stacks themselves, making them available for latecomers.

downloadAbout 20 minutes into the service, an elderly woman slowly and painfully walked in looking for a spot. The Cathedral ushers cast sideways glances and ignored her, and she them. I surmised she may be “known” to them – a “difficult customer”. She hobbled over to our direction and I stood up to offer her a chair from the stack. Now they were all brown, cheap plastic, identical in design, size and function. But a few were lighter brown than the rest.

I lifted the top chair – generic dark brown. She paused and then vigorously shook her head in disdain. She wanted a light brown chair and stabbed her walking stick at such a one, several layers down in the stack. Yes, a difficult customer: a chair is a chair, after all.

I proceeded to unpack six chairs from the top, grab the chair she wanted and re-stack the chairs – not an easy thing to do at the back of a crowded cathedral. Having obtained the favoured shade, I placed it down for her to sit. In moving closer to her, our eyes met, and I fell in love.

I did not know her name, her background or anything about her. But I could tell from her struggling gait, arthritic hands, tremors and lined face she had suffered in life. Yet here she was, someone our society has dismissed – elderly, sick, difficult – somehow finding the strength to insist on getting what she wanted. In that moment she displayed strength and beauty I will always remember. She asserted herself, her personhood, her divine right to be, to live to be in communion with the world. Compared to that, me having to move six chairs was nothing.

And this happened because of the Church. It made room and gave this imago dei the space to be herself. These moments of grace do not, cannot, happen in places where there is no room for the difficult customers. My rector once told me a story of complaining to her Archdeacon about another difficult customer. He came occasionally to her church, a loud, opinionated bigot who people naturally were repelled by. She wished he wouldn’t come to church. “But”, said the Archdeacon, “if he can’t come here, where can he go? Who will have him?”

And so it is.

Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

The Greeting of Peace

One of the most important parts of the Eucharist is the Greeting of Peace. Its significance, however, is often overlooked. Which, together with the Anglican tendency for  Brownian motion when giving the Peace, I find a tad off-putting.  So, let’s briefly examine some of the theology of the Peace, using the Second Order for Holy Communion of A Prayer Book for Australia (APBA). This will probs also apply to many other Western orders for Holy Communion.

The importance of the Peace is shown within the structuring and division of the rubric. This is not based on length, but theological and liturgical importance. The Greeting of Peace is of short duration, but of profound importance theologically and so is allocated its own section heading. Within this section is also the Presentation of the Elements , which links the Peace to the Great Thanksgiving to follow. The Presentation has its own rich theology, but all that concerns us here is that Presentation is made by the people who have been united by the Peace.

The theology of the Eucharist, and thus the Peace, cannot be separated from the theology of the church and the ecclesiology of the church. This centres on the Patristic identification of Church with Eucharist through the Bishop as a symbol of the unity of the Church.[1]  The bishop is heir to the apostles, commissioned and empowered by Christ to ‘remember’ (not-forget) Christ through the Eucharist until Christ comes again (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The bishop, and through her oversight, the priests in her stead stand therefore in place of the Apostles representing Christ to the people of the Church. Christ is present in the Church, the presidency of the Eucharist and the Eucharist itself as one unified symbol and mystery. None of the theology of the Peace described below makes sense unless it constantly refers to this reality.

Some of this Eucharistic theology is embodied in church architecture and liturgy. Here is a simplified plan of a church building (diagram 1). Upon the plan we may map several important binaries or polarities (depending on your theology), diagram 2.

church layout
Diagram 1.
Church Layout with polarities
Diagram 2

We see here the idea that once passing the liminal state of the doorway, coming out of the world, the people of God, the holy church, are within a perpetual journey, from our human nature to the divine nature, from our sin and separation to theosis, from death to life. This is a graphic representation of the understanding of the Church Militant as a church in exile, still wandering through the wilderness. You may like to keep this diagram in mind as we proceed.

When we structure the rubric of the order for Holy Communion (and that of the Peace), we see a core theological feature of the service: the people participate in the liturgy, mostly through a process of responses to actions by the liturgical team. At the Peace:

(1) AFFIRMATION OF THE BODY

Priest: We are the body of Christ.

Response: His Spirit is with us.

(2) RESPONSE TO THE BODY OF CHRIST

Priest: The peace of the Lord be always with you.

Response: And also with you.

(3) RESPONSE TO THE GIFT OF PEACE

The people give the Sign of Peace and RESPOND to that Sign.

The theology of this call-response is a sign of a response to God’s call, as she calls the people out to form the ekklesia. The people respond to God’s call and also call to God, who responds via the priest, representing Christ to the people.[2] The call of God and our human (and collective liturgical) response to God is part of our unfoldment in God, being called to be the person God created us to be as Trinitarian imago dei.

“Christ’s presence in people as they respond responsibly to God’s call reconstitutes their individuality in a transformed orientation on God and others.”[3]

This Eucharistic structure of participation via call-response at the Peace is transformative. This transformation, however, is towards personhood, not individuation, since it is initiated by God and as a response to God. The Peace has a flowing three-fold structure. (1), the church is affirmed as the Body, that is the visible, manifest aspect of Christ in the world. (2), this affirmation then allows the priest, as persona Christi, to mediate the Peace, the great Shalom, balance and harmony, to the people. (3), the people then affirm this back to the priest, strengthening the relationship between them and Christ, with peace as the medium.

This is a point where the people should initiate the action. Nowhere in the rubric does it indicate the Priest should call the people to act, though many priests do (“Let us offer one another a sign of God’s peace”).  The initiative of the people is very significant. Just as they have received the peace, they have to, from their own motivation, give that peace to the world. Theologically the persons they share the peace with represents the entire world, and thus there is no need to wander around the church giving peace to everyone. Your friend is two pews up, and next to you is someone who give you the Heebie Jeebies? Good. The peace is not personal. I mean … srsly? 🙂 🙂

the-peace (2)

The people are reflecting the peace they have been given via the priest as persona Christi. As such one person should offer the peace with “peace be with you” and the other should respond with “and also with you”. This exchange mirrors the people receiving the Peace from the priest, who represents Christ. This theological mirroring is totally broken if both people initiate, “Peace be with you”.

Via this mirroring, the people are drawn into acting themselves in persona Christi with other people and to see each other as Christ. This is why, theologically, the Peace is one of the most important parts of the service. The Peace is thus a sign of the renewed community that Christ sought to establish on earth, particularly see in John’s Gospel. The Peace is a physical action and sign that the people obey the command to love one another. By doing so they, as a unified community, may be ready to encounter the presence of Christ as body and blood.

Thanks 🙂

[1] Zizioulas, John, Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop during the First Three Centuries. Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, Mass, 2001: part one.

[2] Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium. Solemnly promulgated by His Holiness

Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964: chapter 3, paragraph 28. Accessed at: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

[3] McFadyen, Alistair. “The Trinity and Human Individuality: The Conditions for Relevance*.” Theology, vol. 95, no. 763, Jan. 1992, pp. 10–18, doi:10.1177/0040571X9209500103.

 

Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

Humanity and Creation II – a sermon given Sunday 9 September 2018

Text of a sermon given at St Hilda’s Anglican Church, North Perth, Sunday 9 September 2018.

Genesis 1: 1-31, Psalm 33: 1-9, John 1: 1-14.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

For many churches September is the season of Creation. And many churches this month will focus on both the beauty of God’s earth, and the ongoing damage being done to her. A single example of such damage revealed this week was release of coal-laden water near the Great Barrier Reef.

While it is easy to reject such environmental vandalism, which leaves our seas, rivers and forests polluted and degraded, it is harder to see that the root cause of this vandalism lies at the heart of such benign activities as eco-tourism and even nature documentaries.

In both cases however, the environment – the Land – is seen as separate to humanity, to be used as we see fit. The first, for short term private economic gain, the second for a short-term private experience of ‘nature’.

Such an impoverishment of Creation, I would argue, may be well be considered as similar to blasphemy.

For within our scriptures there is an unexplored understanding of Creation which, if it was fully embraced would change our world, utterly, completely and irrevocably.

font
9th or 10th century Anglo-Saxon font from St Hilda’s.

In our first reading from Genesis, God famously declares Creation as good. Everything, from the tiniest spore of fungus to the great, overwhelming panoply of galaxies that surround us – all created, completely out of exuberant love, by God as his ‘good Creation’.

Crucially however, humanity is not created separate to Creation – to despoil or to enjoy. In this first account of Creation we are created as an image of God, on the sixth day as part of the sweep of Creation. The single stated purpose for our existence; to be stewards of Creation.

Genesis continues with another account of Creation where we are formed from the dust of the ground, Adam the earth creature, formed from Adamah the earth herself. Our reason for existence – to tend a garden.

And what is the nature of this ground, this Land, this earth we are created to tend and are formed from? – Our psalm today is clear:

The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

The earth beneath us right now – full of love. The soil we dig our hands into as we garden – full of love. The food we eat – grown within and out of steadfast love.

Christianity enthusiastically declares that we are not just connected to the earth – separated but linked entities. It says boldly and clearly that we are formed of the world, as part of Creation, as part of the land. And this is why even activities such as eco-tourism, which may reinforce the separation of humanity and Creation, need to be considered with care.

We are of the earth, we are part of the seamless tapestry of the unknowable economy of Creation. Here in Australia we are blessed to learn this truth by listening to the voices of our Aboriginal sisters, brothers and companions who have lived it for 60 000 years.

One of those voices is the Reverend Lenore Parker, a Yaegl elder from the country we now call northern New-South Wales. She is responsible for the beautiful and powerful prayer. “A thanksgiving for Australia”, included in our prayer book. I’m sure this has been prayed here more than once, you probably know it. It begins “God of holy dreaming, Great Creator Spirit’ …

I heard Aunty Lenore speak last year at the Whadjuk-Bibulumum day at Wollaston Theological College. One of the many things she said has remained with me. Speaking about the church, our church, she said, despite its name, the church would remain the Church of England in Australia unless it opened itself and welcomed the Land into the church.

Note, she did not say welcome our first nations peoples into the church – which is another story – but the Land itself.

What would this look like? Our church filled with the Land? I am not sure, but I expect it would be very good.

And our Gospel today gives even more Good News – that all things – all of Creation – including you, and me and everyone we know, was brought into being through Christ.

Without him not one thing came into being

This means everything within this amazing 90 billion light years span of space, full of galaxies, stars, planets, comets, mountains and lakes, and … us. We are ALL brought into being through Christ, created to tend and to garden and …

Well, the reading goes onto to outline our destiny our telos, our endpoint,

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

So … here we are, gardeners of Creation, formed from the earth herself, made in the image of God and destined to be children of God. It really cannot get much better can it?

God however, only gives us the power to become children of God. We are not fully formed, we are not yet fully perfected as she wishes us to be – we still have work to do – in the garden! And we still have to unfold and become the person God made us to be and calls us to be at every moment of every day.

Our tradition teaches that we become more the person God calls us to be through communion. Communion with God as Trinity, communion with the redemptive love of Christ through body and blood, communion with each other, and communion with Creation.

Creation is inextricably linked with humanity’s spiritual growth, as we are creation also. And again, this is something our Aboriginal sisters, brothers and companions can provide much insight into. We cannot fully understand this mysterious economy of salvation; but we trust that as we participate more in the life of God, Creation itself is affected by that participation. And as creation itself unfolds in its God created purpose, the more we unfold.

Being made in the image of God, as we love and care for Creation we help bring Creation towards what it is meant to be. This is why we’re the gardeners. Since we are made in the image of God, God can be present through us, through our conscious choice – and so, through us, God may tend to her Garden of Creation.

So as followers of Christ, we worship God; As followers of Christ we are one with Creation and as followers of Christ we bring Creation to its fullness. Our life as Christians and as sustainers of Creation cannot be separated, since our God who is One, made us for this purpose.

Amen.

Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

We Worship on Stolen Land: a short reflection

australian_aboriginal_flagThe other day I attended another protest rally for Aboriginal justice. The scope and scale of the injustice explored by the speakers is too great to detail here. Suffice to say not a lot has changed since my first rally in the 1980s.

One of the keys areas that white Australia* does not seem to understand is the Aboriginal experience of Land. I am deliberately avoiding the term ‘connection to the Land’ as this implies, linguistically at least, an equivalence with New Age workshop experiences where one ‘connects to the Land’ before going off to sip a café latte. The concept of connecting to the Land implies two separate entities, one connecting to the other. While I cannot speak on Aboriginal experience of land, being a white Australian*, I suspect something different is involved.

Personally the closest I can come to an understanding is my own ongoing, intense connection (consciously using that term here) to the Land of my birth and childhood. The intensity and beauty of this felt normal as a boy, and it was only after leaving that I realised what it was. This is so intense I have consciously made decisions not to visit, because I fear I could never leave again and Perth is where my home and family are.

And this is nothing like the lives of the first nations people here.

As a kid, I accidently stumbled on woodland paths that I found out later were parts of old faery stories echoing a past time, perhaps like aboriginal peoples, when myth and story were sacred and explained the living features of the land. I was not the recipient of an ongoing culture of the Land, from conception onward, embodying 60 000 years of unbroken civilisation.

So, as white invaders^  we cannot understand the importance of Land for the first Australians*. At each gathering of first nation peoples I am privileged to attend, I am exposed to the barest understanding of the pain suffered by dispossession of Land and  forcible relocation to other Lands, particularly dying outside one’s own Country.

As white invaders, our culture and religious background cannot encompass the reality of the Land as lived by the first peoples on this continent. Our conceptual, legal and cultural framework of ownership creates an impassable barrier. Our cultural religious tradition has a foundational myth of divinely mandated dispossession  and genocide of first nation peoples. I will not go on …

It does seem to me, however, one thing we can do, as Christians and others of faith, is tell the truth:

WE WORSHIP ON STOLEN LAND

The Land where we pray, where we go to church, where our cathedrals, chapels and private sacred spaces are built, is stolen. Sovereignty was never ceded: it always was, and always will be, Aboriginal Land. As Peter Garrett sang on behalf of all white invaders over thirty years ago:

The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back.

Recently as part of my own spiritual practice, I have begun adding words to reflect this truth. As well as acknowledging the original owners of the Land where I practice, and inviting the Spirit of the Land to be present, I acknowledge sovereignty has never been ceded. That I stand on stolen Aboriginal Land.

How would such truth telling – for that is simply what it is – look in our churches, in our liturgy, in our lives? I am not sure, but we need to find out.

Always was, always will be,
Aboriginal Land.

 

* The country we now call ‘Australia’.

^ I use this term in a the present tense, since even if not actively involved in ongoing dispossession of the Land, we all benefit from that dispossession.

Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

A Quick Note on Ordination

Sometimes a blog is inspired, gestates and finally comes to birth because a blogger got annoyed. This is one of those times.

The other day a university lecturer was addressing folk training towards Ordination. She’s an ordained minister herself in a non-Anglican church*. She asserted one needs to work out whether ordination (A) makes an ontological difference to the person ordained, or if it is (B) a ceremonial recognition of, essentially, a job. She then compounded this by saying, admittedly playfully, we need to decide if there is ‘magic’ done at the ceremony which changes the ordinand.

We can see where she is coming from. No matter. What concerns me the most is not her opinion, option B, ‘job’, but rather the method of framing the choice at all. Oh, and the magic.

Let’s deal with the magic first.

There is no magic involved in ordination. Magic centres on the will of the magician. Ordination is concerned with the will of God. I know that from a phenomenological perspective there is little difference between religion and magic: Toby has status ‘A’, undergoes a ceremony and now has status B. This happens with ordination and with magical initiation. However, from a theological and ecclesial perspective the two are polar opposites. This is because, theologically, it is the will of God which changes the ordinand, not the will of the people. This is not convincing as it stands, just words really, but please attend to the deeper concern I have with how my lecturer framed the question.

ordinands1

Personhood Constantly Being Called into Trinitarian Being

From a Christian ontological perspective we are not individuals. We are persons. And as such we are not separate, atomised selves, but are in fact constantly called into being by that mystery we label as ‘God’. Moreover we are called into being in her image; that is in the self-effacing, eternal relating of the Trinity. God is not a being but is being itself. In the text book set by lecturer herself it states that we are “creatures that are ceaselessly spoken by the Creator”^. We are not fixed but are called into being every moment of every day. This is why some Christian traditions recognize the tragic end of those people who have consciously and decisively rejected this calling into being by God – as a cessation of existence, or since we are made imago dei ‘forever’, an eternal state devoid of God’s presence. Uber sad panda.

While we are all called into being by God, the Christian traditions (at least the Catholic ones) recognise that the church itself is also established and called into being by God – to do her work for all people and especially the baptised. The church is the mystical bride of Christ and embodies the work and telos of God through its ecclesial structures. See Michael Ramsay’s The Gospel and the Catholic Church and my next but last post.

As such then one of the aims of baptism is to bring the person within the church on the inner and outer levels. The person, once baptised is now also brought into being at each moment by God through her church. This is what is meant by a being a member of the Body of Christ. Baptism changes us forever – and the metaphors of an indelible mark or stamp work only to convey the timeless grace the sacrament brings. There is no form to the soul, no individual, ghostly, independent ontological entity which may receive such a mark. It is a metaphor. The ‘mark’ is the Cross, and baptism, since it brings the person into being also through the church which embodies the Cross, makes our lives cruciform.

And so for ordination. My lecturer makes the modern mistake of assuming an individuated, self-existing, autonomous soul. The Reverend Sarah Coakely, systematic theologian is quite clear: “Autonomy does not exist. It has never existed and it is a modern fallacy that it does”.

And so there is no separate ‘soul’ there for the ordination ceremony to perform its ‘magic’ upon. There is only a person who God has chosen to now bring into being, moment by moment, in a different manner than before. An ordained priest or deacon never functions alone, only as a vessel for the corporate action of the Church. As people they are not given any ‘ability’ to preside over the sacraments. That WOULD be a magical point of view.

In the sacramental role, clergy are merely the servants chosen by God and the church to empty themselves and stand in Persona Christi on behalf of the Church. This is why the priest serves only at the pleasure of the Bishop who acts on behalf of the Church. Clergy are still brought into being within the church as the baptised, as the Laos, but are now also brought into being for a corporate purpose, of God, embodied in her church. Without the church they cannot perform their priestly role, and this is one of the reasons why in Anglican tradition the Eucharist cannot be performed alone, but always with the people.

Ordination is not magic, and it is certainly not a job. What a choice! And we will misunderstand it completely without understanding the radical nature of personhood Christianity teaches – that we are members of one another, in Christ. ‘Nuff said.  Thanks. 🙂

* Yes, this is an attempt to create a new Anglican hegemony 🙂

^ McIntosh, Mark A. Divine Teaching. p.25.

Christianity · Theology

The Five Anglican Marks of Mission and the Pentagrammaton

I’m knocking this up in my lunch break, so please excuse its rough nature.

My new job intersects my spirituality beautifully and sometimes throws up interesting connections. Today after meditation and preparing to work on a document concerning the Anglican Marks of Mission I saw a link between the Five Marks and the Holy Pentagrammaton, the name of Jesus.

The Marks of Mission are:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
  3. To respond to human need by loving service.
  4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

http://www.anglicancommunion.org/identity/marks-of-mission.aspx

I do not for a second think the Anglican Communion developed this schema with reference to the Holy Five-Lettered Name of God, YHShVH, which is an esoteric, post-reformation symbolic adaption of the Hebrew name for Jesus.

However, sometimes things do cohere and I am very capable of seeing meaning in all sorts of things 🙂 It is interesting to note the history of the Marks though. Originally four and then quickly expanded to five (to include care of Creation). There was also a movement to enlarge the schema to six marks, but in the end the fourth mark was expanded keeping the schema intact. Some folk (myself included) see poetic significance and resonance with the Five Wounds of Christ. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The Pentagrammaton has rich resonances, among which are the four ancient elemental principles (plus spirit) and the Worlds of the Qabalah. It is often displayed as a pentagram (which was a Christian symbol long before modern Neo-Paganism adopted it).

The Pentagrammaton also connects with the Five Marks:

Letter of YHShVH

Element Wound

Mark

Yod Fire Foot To transform unjust structures of society.
Heh Water Hand To respond to human need by loving service.
Shin Spirit Side (heart) To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
Vau Air Hand To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
Heh (final) Earth Foot To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation.

On the Pentagram:

pentagrmmaton and marks of mission

  • The proclamation of the Kingdom obviously relates to the Spirit – it is from this that all other Marks follow. It is the heart of the matter, which is why it relates to Christ’s central wound, whence flows blood and water for the sake of the entire world.
  • Teaching and baptising is the extension of the church and Christ to the person. It therefore relates to the extended and open hand which draws one into the Church (baptism).  In the scheme of the elements it relates to Air, the use of the airy intellect in teaching and guiding one towards Confirmation and beyond.
  • The response to human need by loving service relates to the depth of the Watery Heh. Again, this is an action of the hand, extended in love to the other.

We now move to the communal and the letters here relate to the feet, movement and action in the world, for the group not just the person. Perfect for the two basal points of the diagram 🙂

  • Transformation of society and the purging of injustice relates to Fire, the power of the Christian message to change all things throughout the world.
  • Caring for God’s creation obviously relates to the element of Earth, another communal endeavour.

It is of course significant that the Spirit in this diagram, the proclamation of the Kingdom connects directly (right and left) to social justice (Fire) and ecological care (Earth), both communal processes.* This shows clearly the Kingdom is corporate and not individual. In Christ, there are no ‘individuals’. There is only the person, existing within and interdependent on Creation and the Social (bottom left and right).

OK? Enough now, back to work!

* It is also kinda neat that my job concerns these two areas directly 🙂

 

Christianity · Liturgy

The Holy Name of God, the Orders of the Church and the Golden Dawn

One of the things that I love about the Anglo-Catholic tradition is that, as Ezra Pound would say, “it all coheres”. For example, the four Orders of the church (or the three types of Holy Orders and the laity). These are the:

  • Laity (us regular folk)
  • Diaconate (deacons)
  • Presbyterate (priests)
  • Episcopate (bishops)

Things to note before we proceed: We are ALL part of the laity, even if we’re an archbishop. The origin of the word is from the Greek λαϊκός (laikos), “of the people”. Officially in some churches the laity are actually those who have been baptised. However, the point is all church folk are laity, even if they also have been ordained or consecrated into other orders. At my local church we occasionally have the pleasure of a diocesan Bishop, when not engaged in official duties, worshipping in the pews with us, as it is her home parish. In this capacity she is ‘of the people’.

Another point to note is that throughout much of the Anglican Church in Australia the liturgical role of the deacon is now performed by the liturgical assistant or lay pastoral minister. They may be licensed but they are not ordained.

The church’s roots in Judaism are useful to explain some of the symbolism of these orders. In the analysis to follow I am not suggesting the early church consciously organised like this or when the orders were instituted there was conscious recognition of the links I make here. Only that in drawing from a spiritual framework and tradition (Judasim) and being open to the inspiration of the Spirit results manifest that cohere. In any case, to quote a widely accepted authority on the early church, “The three-tiered system of one bishop in one city, with presbyters and deacons, was attained in the second century without controversy”. (Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, revised edition, 1993, p.51).

The Holy Name of God in Judaism is represented by the letters YHWH ( יהוה). Jewish and particularly Hermetic Qabalah does a lot of exegesis on these four letters, ascribing them to Four Worlds, the four Elemental principles, and the Sephrioth on the Tree of Life among other things. We can assign them to the four orders thus:

Letter of YHWH

Order

Meaning of Order

Yod | Y | י Episcopate (bishops) “overseer”
Heh | H | ה Presbyterate (priests) “elder”
Wau | W | ו Diaconate (deacons) “servant”,
Heh final | H | ה Laity (the people) “of the people”

Once we have done this much makes sense. The final Heh of YHWH in Hermetic Qabalah relates to the material universe and the element of earth, which is said to be comprised of the synthesis of the other three elements. It contains all within it, so YHW are said to be reflected in the final Heh. Similarly as mentioned already, the laity, contains all – bishops, priests and deacons and the baptised together as one. As we will see, just as the final Heh is the most important of the letters, allowing God’s creation to be manifest, so too is the laity the most important order of the church.

Ideally at each service or Eucharist all four orders would be present, the coming together of the entire church and the four letters of the Holy Name. This rarely happens and rarely happened either in the developing church where there were a fair number of presbyters with deacons and people aplenty but only one bishop per city. Thus developed the custom of comingling where a small piece of the host consecrated by the overseeing bishop was sent to all the churches under his charge. This was known as the fermentum (leaven) and was placed by the presbyter into the chalice and “commingled” with the blood of Christ. In this way the Episcopate was seen to be present. This custom is the origin of the practice of some modern priests who place a portion of the fraction into the wine at their own Eucharist, thus symbolically making present the Episcopate.

The episcopate is of course the order that holds, contains and transmits the apostolic succession. Without a bishop there can be no priests, no deacons and no laity can be served. They themselves hold authority and lineage of the church, functions easily attributed to the first letter of the Name, Yod. They function in some way as the head of the whole schema, much the way Yod is the head of the Holy Name.

Continuing to look at the orders from within the frame of the Holy Name we see the division between the first two orders (bishops and priests) and the second two (deacons and laity) reflects the division articulated in the Qabalah between YH and WH. The first two are primal, noumenal forces, the second two phenomenal. This division is why bishops and priests can consecrate the bread and wine, can stand in persona Christi, that is take on a noumenal blessing, and the other orders cannot.

Looking at the Eucharist further we see the episcopate as the instigating force, embodied in the local bishop, again something attributable to Yod of YHVH. The bishop transmits authority and licence to the ‘passive’ (under oath of obedience) priest in order to perform the sacramental duty of the church. Again we see how the Presbyterate relates to the passive and receptive first Heh of YHVH. It is the combination of roles, the Yod moving into the Heh that allows the priest to stand in persona Christi so the sacraments may be performed.

And here is where the Hermetic Qabalistic poetic redaction of the name of Jesus as YHShVH הושהי (historically spelt as ישוע‎) comes into its own. Yod of YHVH, the bishop, empowers and transmits blessing and authority  to Heh, the priest, so the bread and wine may become the body and blood of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. In the name YHShVH the Holy Spirit is symbolised by the central Shin, Sh. So we see YH coming together with Sh to consecrate the bread and wine to serve the deacons and the people, WH. It all coheres!

It seems likely to me that those Anglo-Catholic priest and bishop members of the historical Golden Dawn would have seen or felt a reflection of all this in the organisation and practice of sacred ceremonies of that Order. To wit:

Letter of YHWH

Order

Golden Dawn

Yod Episcopate (bishops) Chiefs
Heh Presbyterate (priests) Hierophant & Inner Order
Wau Diaconate (deacons) Officers
Heh final Laity (the people) Members

All folk, including chiefs are members. The officers serve in the operation of the sacramental rites headed by the Hierophant like the deacon does for the priest. No meeting can take place without the presence of one of the Chiefs, if only symbolically. There is a division between the Chiefs and the Hierophant (YH) and the Officers and the members (WH) – entry into the second Order where on encounters the Christian mysteries. ‘Nuff said 🙂

As mentioned before, the laity are the most important order of the church. At the conclusion of the Eucharist it is they, who containing with them all other orders, blessed by the presence of Christ’s body and blood take the blessings and mystery out into the real world beyond the church in the power of the spirit. Symbolically this is the presence of the second mode of hermetic redaction of the name of Jesus, YHVShH, with the Holy Spirit symbolised by the letter Sh placed next to the final Heh, the laity. This form of the name is known as a ‘grounding’ or ‘earthing’ form, spirit adjacent to earth, and this is apt here for the laity about to enter the world, remade in Christ. For it is the laity who make real the mystery of faith, it is they who will enable Christ to come again through themselves via their love and service. Thanks. 🙂