Gnosis and the Body

Talk Gnosis asked me back to talk with Father Tony Silvia and Jonathan Stewart about how our body (maybe bodies) play a role in spiritual life. It’s a fun, open, exploratory conversation and we cover a lot of ground. Mr Stewart wrote a blog post summing the whole thing up, if you’d rather read than listen.

In part one of our four part conversation about bodily Gnosis with Bishop Timothy Mansfield we compare the concepts of the body, the mind, the self, the brain, the heart, the soul, and the spirit. Phew! What a complex topic. We discuss these subjects through the lenses of Gnosticism, the kabbalah, and eastern religions. How did the ancient Gnostics view the body and the material world? What were the Valentinians really talking about when they divided humanity up into three types? Then we close things out by exploring how the body and the mind experience meditation, and how to use that knowledge to enhance your spiritual practices.

Part 2 of 4 finds us once again with Bishop Timothy Mansfield of the Apostolic Johannite Church discussing some bodily Gnosis. How do awareness and meditation techniques apply to the body? How did a 17th century fringe Christian theology called Jansenism have a profound impact on the development of world religions? The body and the passions are blamed for a lot wrong with the world, but are we really meatbag automata incapable of controlling our thoughts and actions? How can asceticism help us to grow spiritually?

Part 3 of 4 of our bodily Gnosis conversation with Bishop Timothy Mansfield crosses the thin barrier between psychology and spirituality, addressing the very real problem of spiritual materialism, or how people use the trappings of spirituality to stroke their egos. We give some suggestions for some spiritual practices you can do with the body in mind, and we wrap things up with a discussion on queer issues in Gnosticism.

The fourth and final part of our talk with Bishop Timothy Mansfield about bodily Gnosis delves into some esoteric anatomy and some spiritual practices that relate to it. Where do the emotions actually reside? How do we experience the emotions energetically? And we put to bed the discussion of reincarnation once and for all.

 

Talk Gnosis is an amazing show from Gnostic Wisdom Network. You can check out their web site here and if you want to support them, they’re on Patreon here.

A little Gospel of Thomas

Back on Talk Gnosis to chat with Deacon John Digilio and Father Tony Silvia about three sayings from the Gospel of Thomas – logia 25-27.

25. Jesus said, “Love your friends like your own soul, protect them like the pupil of your eye.”

26. Jesus said, “You see the sliver in your friend’s eye, but you don’t see the timber in your own eye. When you take the timber out of your own eye, then you will see well enough to remove the sliver from your friend’s eye.”

27. “If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the (Father’s) kingdom. If you do not observe the sabbath as a sabbath you will not see the Father.”

Talk Gnosis is an amazing show from Gnostic Wisdom Network. You can check out their web site here and if you want to support them, they’re on Patreon here.

Temple Theology on Talk Gnosis

I dropped into Talk Gnosis to talk about Dr Margaret Barker’s “Temple Theology” which has been obsessing me a little recently.

Bishop Timothy Mansfield joins us for an enlightening conversation of the Temple Theology of Margaret Barker. The origins of Christianity might be very different from common understanding, with some profound implications for us Gnostics. This fascinating theory takes a little unpacking, though, but Bishop Tim and Jonathan are just the folks to do it.

Talk Gnosis is an amazing show from Gnostic Wisdom Network. You can check out their web site here and if you want to support them, they’re on Patreon here.

Women At The Edge: Female voices in innovative Christian theology

I gave a talk in 2014 at the AJC Conclave in Chicago about five women theologians who have particularly influenced me. Here’s the original description:

In the last twenty years, some of the most interesting, challenging and spiritually enlivening work in Christian theology has come from women. Initially, in challenging patriarchal traditions in theology, feminist theology has opened greater space for the participation of all people in the discourse of the tradition. Recently, women, particularly women contemplatives, have opened further space at what has classically been the edge of acceptability with thinking and approaches characterised by a fiery courage and a willingness to challenge orthodox thinking.

This talk will give a brief overview of five contemporary women theologians who have touched my own journey: Cynthia Bourgeault, Bernadette Roberts, Maggie Ross, Mary Coloe and Margaret Barker. Each of these women simultaneously reaches deeply into the history of Christian tradition as well as generating a sense of the freedom and possibility of genuine newness. I hope to share some sense both of the richness of their thinking as well as the effect they have had on me and my view of the tradition.

 

Advent – Fruition

I felt very blessed to share the Eucharist and a potluck with some friends on the final Sunday in Advent. Since St Uriel’s started, we’ve usually celebrated a Christmas liturgy a few days before Christmas so that regulars can share the Eucharist with each other before returning to their families for Christmas day. It means we have the sense of starting Christmas a few days early and it’s pretty relaxed, but I also love it because it’s the one time of year where everyone knows the tunes for the hymns, so we can sing.

In this last year, I’ve revived a practice from the early days of our community, before I was ordained, which I call a “Circle Homily”. It’s a simple idea – rather than having me deliver a sermon as a lecture, I start by giving a few thoughts and offering some questions about the readings; then each person has a minute or two to offer their observations or interpretations or ideas; I try to draw out some themes and wrap up things up at the end. We’re a small community, so this doesn’t tend to drag on and people get the idea that it’s good to be concise. I’ve found it a wonderful practice – the diversity and depth of perspectives always brings the themes of the week to life and offers me a different way to see things. I hope it lets us all see each other more richly as well.
This week the readings were all about the Nativity and the circle was particularly rich. What leapt out for me from the conversation was the image of God’s vulnerability – the Logos incarnate as a tiny child, needing care and love and protection – not the image of Christ the World-Maker or Christ the King, but the fragility of the Divine. The second aspect of the nativity story that draws attention is the incarnational focus – God becoming a flesh and blood human being – not by stepping into a meatsuit like a spaceman, or by taking on the image of humanity but staying unincarnate, but by actually being born to a human woman in extremely humble circumstances. The third thread for me was the sense in which the birth of the Divine in our own selves, the indwelling of God, has this fragile, vulnerable character.
In my last letter, I noted that adventus refers to the physical arrival of an important person and in the outer, literal sense offered by the nativity tale in Luke’s gospel we see the physical arrival of the Logos as a human being in Bet Leḥem. The three threads from our conversation on Sunday night point to another, inner, more personal meaning of the story. Perhaps the story reminds us that the Divine is eternally born within each of us – given birth by our own pure, virginal spirit, in the humble surrounds of our own life. At first, the flickering spark of God might seem fragile, tentative, tiny and yet with love and care the gospel story offers us the possibility that it grows to be a world-changing fire, transforming everything.
For many of us, contact with the Divine is an inward experience of vision or light, but the suggestion of the tradition – implied by the word “advent” is that the Logos also arrives in us physically, transforming not just mind and heart but body as well. This is certainly the vision of many of the Fathers and Mothers in the eastern traditions, like St Symeon – whose (perhaps over-quoted) poem I’ll include at the end.
May this Christmas time grant you the grace to witness your own inmost nature and, even without the benefit of angels tipping you off, recognise that tiny spark for Who it is wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in the manger of what might seem like a very ordinary life. May you raise your sights and see all around you other virgin spirits nursing the very same Child. May you guard it with your life until the world is afire.
Merry Christmas!
+Tim

We awaken in Christ’s body as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ.
He enters my foot, and is infinitely me.
I move my hand, and wonderfully my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him?.
I move my foot, and at once He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous?
Then open your heart to him,
and let yourself receive the one who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him, we wake up inside Christ’s body
where all our body, all over, every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him, and He makes us, utterly real.
And everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us
dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged,
is in Him transformed and recognized as whole, as lovely.
And radiant in His light, we awaken as the Beloved in every last part of our body.

– St Symeon the New