Saturday, March 16, 2013

On the shape shifting Jesus - Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

- Wm. Shakespeare, Hamlet

May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton’s Sleep!

- William Blake

Responding to comments about an interesting recently-translated Egyptian text (you can read about it here), Bishop William Behun of the Apostolic Johannite Church, at Miracula Rei Unius, wrote:
The desire to dismiss the miraculous with a single sweep of the hand is a misbegotten one. It is an attempt to make the universe smaller and less interesting. I don't trust people who can chalk every miracle up to "somebody lied". They want to cram the universe into a little box rather than experience it in all of its wonder and complexity. And that makes me sad.  On the other hand, I don't believe that scientific inquiry robs the miraculous of its power.  Thinking isn't the enemy of faith. Thinking is a gift. Anyone who tells you that to be right or to be good or to be a member of their club you have to not think is by definition your enemy and an enemy of everyone. There will always be things that call on us to think, to understand more, and experience what we do understand more profoundly. Miracles are just a reminder that the world is bigger and more beautiful than we understand.

So, I like my shape-shifting Jesus.  I don't have to believe that the universe's laws were suspended, but neither do I have to believe that people are lying to me from 1200 years ago.  I just have to believe that the universe is really amazing, and that it is worth witnessing and understanding, and that it's never a good idea to slam my mind closed.

I have the privilege of celebrating the Mass with our community in New York City, and I remain in awe of the transformation that happens each time.  While some seek to dissect and explain what happens with Aristotelian language about "substance" and "accidents," and others reduce it to some sort of Jungian role-playing, I think that this is one of those times where it is wise to follow the counsel of  the poet Rumi, who advises, "Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”  What happens there is bigger and more awesome than our formulas and theories.

Sometimes, the insights of Gnosis lead us to say, "I don't know."  There's a reason that Gnostics tend to discuss the Ground of Being with words like "ineffable" or "the Depth."  Or, as the Apocryphon of John says, "How am I to speak with you about him? His aeon is indestructible, at rest and existing in silence, reposing (and) being prior to everything. For he is the head of all the aeons, and it is he who gives them strength in his goodness."

This doesn't mean that we throw out reason or empirical investigation, it just means that there are times to push "pause" on that part of the psyche and to simply stand in awe of a universe that is bigger and more wonderful than the limits of our understanding.

In Reinitiating Initiation? An Open Question for Traditionalism, Lucian W. Stone, Jr. discusses the shift to a logos-centric (as opposed to mythos-centric) world view and how that shift has given rise to the modern twins of narrow fundamentalism and anemic, relativistic secularized religion.

On the role of logos and mythos, he quotes Karen Armstrong:  "We tend to assume that the people of the past were (more or less) like us, but in fact their spiritual lives were rather different. In particular, they evolved two ways of thinking, speaking, and acquiring knowledge, which scholars have called mythos and logos. Both were essential; they were regarded as complementary ways of arriving at truth, and each had its special area of competence."

King writes that mythos is "…primary; it was concerned with what was thought to be timeless and constant in our existence. Myth looked back to the origins of life, to the foundations of culture, and to the deepest levels of the human mind. Myth was not concerned with practical matters, but with meaning. Unless we find some significance in our lives, we mortal men and women fall very easily into despair. The mythos of a society provided people with a context that made sense of their day-to-day lives; it directed their attention to the eternal and the universal."

The disconnect from mythos, and the resulting modern tendency towards scientism, psychological reductionism, and relativism, yields a world where meaning is determined by quantity rather than quality, and where our understanding is often limited by our own narrow viewpoint rather than drawing from a deep comprehension of:

"...who we were,
of what we have become;
of where we were,
of wherein we have been cast;
of whereto we speed,
of wherefrom we are redeemed;
of what birth truly is,
and of what rebirth truly is."
(from the Excerpta Ex Theodoto)

I don't know if the story of the shape-shifting Jesus is literally true, but I do know that the viewpoint that dismisses it with a sneer is spiritually impoverishing and dangerously wrong.


  1. "The heart of a phantom is beating! The heart of a phantom is beating!" -- THE RESURRECTION, Yeats

  2. "The heart of a phantom is beating! The heart of a phantom is beating!" -- THE RESURRECTION, Yeats


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