Category Archives: Spirituality

Spiritual practice, meditation, witness, insight, awareness.

Eden for grown-ups

"Caduceus Loft" by Jim O'Connell

The third basic rule — that sex is delightful and sacred — still stands. The Song of Songs embodies it. The Song points both beyond the childish Eden of the past and beyond the sad history that followed Eden; it points to “Eden for grown-ups.” In the Song, bodies are no longer shameful, as they became after the mistake of Eden; the earth is playful, not our enemy; and women and men are equal in desire and in power. God is no longer Father/Mother as in Eden, giving orders, but — unnamed — is inherent in the very process of life, as our parents become when we are fully adult.

God’s name never appears in the Song of Songs — because the entire Song is the name of God.

Same-Sex Marriage: The Emerging Torah” By Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The dancer dancing

"Omani Free Stylers" by Herbet Fernandes

Liturgy also reminds us of the powerful deeds of God in Christ. And being reminded we remember, and remembering we celebrate, and celebrating we become what we do. The dancer dancing is the dance.

Robert F. Taft, “The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West”, p.345

…something is happening here that God is doing for us

[…] liturgy, properly entered into, has nothing whatever to do with me and what I do, it’s not about worshipping God in the first place, it is about worshipping God, obviously, but not in the first place, and I think the problem that a lot of us had, certainly that I had and still do, with a lot of what passes for liturgy, is that we put ourselves first, we think that it’s about what we are doing for God and we are worshipping God. Obviously that’s something we do.

Well what I discovered in the monastery is that in the first place, what happens in liturgy if your mind and your heart, and indeed your body is open to it, is that something is happening here that God is doing for us. Not just for me, but for us. And to enter into that space is hugely transforming, that enables me to respond by worshipping God and indeed by enabling my brothers and sisters to worship God but in the first place it is what God does for us. It is as I’ve said elsewhere, sheer grace of this pure gift. Out of that flows our response.

Drasko Didzar on “The Spirit of Things”. Thanks to Sister Trish for the tip.

An observation on the life of James Michael Denton

To anyone who had an intention of helping James, he was a terribly frustrating and annoying person. So often taken up with physical or emotional distress he seemed to me completely unwilling to take almost any advice, follow any helpful suggestion or in any way perturb his normal lifestyle in the service of feeling happier or healthier.

For those of us who have made our way through life trying to fix the problems of others, this insistence he had on being so completely, imperturbably himself was extremely irritating. Normal methods of guile, bullying or cajoling had as much effect as wind on stone.

I know I am not alone in trying to help nor in my frustration nor in noticing what I was left with in the face of James’ implacability.

When you can no longer pretend that you’re fixing or helping or mending someone’s distress you’re left with all there is left to give: Love.

James in his dogged insistence on ignoring all my advice left me with only one avenue to take: to simply love him. The one thing he’d accept from anyone really, was Love; which perhaps helps explain why James was one of the most lovable people most of us have ever met.

With most people there’s a sense of bargaining around the giving and receiving of Love. James didn’t negotiate. He simply was himself and thus inspired such great love from so many people.

If there’s a lesson to take from the life of James Denton, then perhaps it’s got something to do with that.

Rest in Peace, my dear friend.

Topical Thomas

Reblogging from Prof. DeConick

Jesus said, “If you have money, do not give it at interest. Rather give [it] to someone from whom you will not get it (back).”

Gospel of Thomas 95.1-2

Cutting to the chase

It seems remiss of me not to point to my dear brother Donald’s rather excellent, pithy, poetic statement of what Johannite spirituality is about. If you want to cut straight to the punchline, here’s Donald. Neither he nor I are making official statements on behalf of the AJC.

Saint John the Beloved disciple of Jesus fostered an affirming catholic and apostolic communion, universalist in outlook, rooted in the mystical core of Christianity and the tradition of St. John the Baptist. Johannite spirituality was handed down consciously and through the secrets of liturgy and chivalric orders within the Church. By the 18th century, some Roman and Anglican clergy openly celebrated the Johannite Communion using the languages of mystical Catholicism, Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry and Hermeticism. Today Johannite priests, ordained by the hands of Apostolic Succession, are active building parishes on three continents, keeping the doors open and the candles lit for anyone who wishes to explore the Sacred Flame. All Johannite sacraments are open to all people.

Contribution to a eulogy for Kathleen Mansfield

Rather than get one person to give a eulogy for my Mum, we asked her friends and family to contribute their perspective to a collaborative picture of her life. This is what I wrote.

I’ve been thinking about what I owe my Mum. Or maybe the thing to think about is what of myself I owe my Mum.

My mum didn’t cook with salt, didn’t give us soft drinks and fed us fruit instead of candy and left me with healthy eating habits I’ve only succeeded in overcoming after years of sharehousing.

My mum has been a voracious, insatiable reader who taught me to read and fostered in me a love of reading.

My mum has been a lifelong learner who never seemed happy unless she was learning something new, she taught me that our minds grow constantly or begin to go stale.

My mum has been an eccentric original thinker who taught me to trust my own opinion first, even if my view isn’t popular.

My mum has had a passion for justice and taught me to always seek to understand the other side of the argument I was making, often to my immense frustration.

My mum has been intensely curious about other cultures and taught me to inquire ever deeper into how other people thought, prayed, loved and lived their lives.

My mum has always valued peace and quiet and has taught me to let my brain settle down long enough to hear the gentle murmur of nature.

My mum has always been a secret mystic who taught me to value the quiet voice of God within over rules and regulations.

In her final days, Mum could only muster about five facial expressions and I’ve noticed myself doing every one of them at some time or other.

My mum has fought to maintain her dignity even as she lost control of her life and taught me that even at the end of days we can learn to love and respect each other more and to be truly present to each other even through great distress.

Now my mum’s spirit, soul and body have disentangled and gone their separate ways and who she was lives on in us, by us, with us, as us.

Farewell, Mum. I’ll miss You.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Adonai; et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Market and Competition

Rev Troy dropped in yesterday to point out that the kinds of “inclusivity” I described in my earlier post aren’t unique to the AJC – all modern Gnostic churches share the same approach.

I realised after reading his comment that I hadn’t been trying to define what makes the AJC different from other Gnostic churches – since I don’t see our churches as being in competition: we’re in different geographical areas and we’re all mostly aiming for the same thing, there doesn’t seem to be much sense in competing.

I thought I should also point out a little about my method. These posts are a way of me feeling my way towards what makes the AJC (and particularly our church in Sydney) unique for people I’m talking to. Each of the posts highlights something I think is distinctive or interesting and my intention is to synthesise a USP from the set. This may take a while, but hopefully it means that I’ll get better at communicating the church and you, gentle readers, may find out more than you already knew.

The final thing I wanted to note is that using a marketing approach like this supposes a market of consumers and some good and some scarcity (of money, time or attention) which causes competition among providers. It isn’t totally clear to me that among potential spiritual seekers there is a real scarcity, but certainly people need to allocate their time among a large set of possible activities and spiritual seekers among a large set of possible groups and practices.

Given where Saint Uriel’s is in the world, we compete with TV and going out to drink with friends, we compete with the local Buddhist meditation group and with the Roman Catholic cathedral. I think I’ve been thinking about these posts in terms of laying out what makes us distinct from other churches, so perhaps some of this might be useful for clergy and lay ministers in other Gnostic churches who are probably facing similar competition.

Inclusivity

In this series of posts, I am exploring aspects of the AJC that I believe contribute to making it a unique church. None of these posts are official church statements, they are my own views and observations as a member of the communion.

One of the distinctive things about the AJC is our inclusivity. This manifests in several ways.

Usually the first way that strikes people when meeting the church is the last statement in our statement of principles:

We recognize the Sacred Flame to be present in all Beings and therefore our Offices are open to all humanity without discrimination on the basis of gender, race, social status or sexual orientation.

This seemingly anodyne statement, nudged into the list right at the end, has a range of radical consequences which painlessly locate us as a church in the current era.

We ordain women and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folk as deacons, priests and bishops. This isn’t something we’ve struggled with and come to tolerate; it’s a natural, effortless consequence of our founding principles. No argument required.

We marry any two people who are prepared to commit to making a marriage together. Simple. (EDIT: That is, any two people who are of a legal age to marry, who aren’t already married to someone else, who the celebrant is convinced are making a genuine commitment – we simplify the gender stuff, not the rest of it)

We offer the Eucharist to any person prepared to receive it, baptised or not, Christian or not.

I believe there is a pattern underlying the way these norms arise that we see manifest in various ways in the AJC. My way of describing that pattern is: it’s more important to maintain clarity about the centre than it is to merely police the boundaries. We certainly do police boundaries from time to time, but clarity about the centre means that’s a lot less necessary.

In this case, the centre is the experience of the Sacred Flame present in all beings and an understanding that our role as a church is to point out the Flame, to foster an individual’s experience and awareness of it in their own being and to get out of the damn way.

Obviously, those three consequences (inclusive ordination, simplified marriage, open communion) are some of the advantages that arise from being an organisation founded in the third millennium. We get to choose what aspects of Being Church we draw out of history rather than being the captive of organisational norms and cultural prejudices stretching back to the feudal era in Europe.

While we are a young organisation, we also embed an ancient tradition. In the next post, I’d like to explore some consequences of inclusivity in our tradition and the way the Clear Centre pattern plays out in how we engage with theology and scripture.

i wanna be next to you

"Milky Way, Jupiter and Scorpio" by Alireza Teimoury

Apropos of nothing in particular, I’d like to share a flawless piece of pop by Sam Sparro called “Black and Gold” (video). It’s a desperate, despairing love song hiding within dancey electro-pop, but the pleas for certainty don’t seem aimed at a simply human lover. Ah, actually he’s just said it straight up.

Well, so much for my musings about spiritual secrets hidden in plain sight. Instead, let’s hear it for the Hafiz of Australian electrofunk-soul.

The fish swam out of the ocean
and grew legs and they started walking
and the apes climbed down from the trees
and grew tall and they started talking

and the stars fell out of the sky
and my tears rolled into the ocean
now I’m looking for a reason why
you even set my world into motion

’cause if you’re not really here
then the stars don’t even matter
now I’m filled to the top with fear
but it’s all just a bunch of matter
’cause if you’re not really here
then i don’t want to be either
i wanna be next to you
black and gold
black and gold
black and gold

i looked up into the night sky
and see a thousand eyes staring back
and all around these golden beacons
i see nothing but black

i feel a way of something beyond them
i don’t see what i can feel
if vision is the only validation
then most of my life isn’t real

’cause if you’re not really here
then the stars don’t even matter
now I’m filled to the top with fear
but it’s all just a bunch of matter
’cause if you’re not really here
then i don’t want to be either
i wanna be next to you
black and gold
black and gold
black and gold