God Within

A Homily for the Second Sunday in Advent

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The Second Sunday of Advent has traditionally borne the theme of Divine Love, yet in the Christian mythos of the birth of Jesus this Love comes to earth in the name Emanuel, which means “God with us,” or “God in us,” the God within. Since the beginning of the New Age movement the cliches, “I am God” and “God is within me”, in their popularized form, have nearly become a dogma. Dogma comes out of ignorance, out of the expressions of those who have not had the direct experience of this quintessential Gnostic insight of interior being. This is why the ancient Mystery religions were secret. If people get too much information or other’s ideas about the mystery, they tend to get caught up in the dogma of it, rather than the mystical experience of it. So we too must guard against the triteness of such expressions, and move beyond belief structures and dogmatic statements, no matter how popular or politically correct, to get to the real experience and insight of Gnosis.

The idea of “the God within” is very popular right now-egalitarian, politically correct, and ideologically the rigAdventht way to think in many circles, but this is not the Gnostic motive for embracing this expression. The Gnostic embraces it, because it is born out of deeply mystical and transformative experiences of an interior, psychological and metaphysical reality of authentic being. For many, it is still primarily a belief, for some, even a dogma, wherein nothing outside of the tiny, reductionistic worldview of the psycho-social ego is allowed to enter into it.

The Theosophical movement founded by Helena Blavatsky has borne the primary credit for the initial dissemination of the concept of a spark of the divine light within the human being into mainstream Western culture and subsequently into the New Age movement. She discovered similar problems with devotees who embraced the expression of “God within” as a comfortable belief, rather than an experiential insight for which to strive.

In an article published in the journal of the Theosophical Society, Dr Stephan Hoeller, our Right Reverend Bishop, tells the following story illustrating this point. Supposedly one of Blavatsky’s devotees would go about mindlessly repeating over and over again, “I am a spark of the Divine Light. I am a spark! I am a light!” One day She got so tired of hearing these empty affirmations, she quipped, “Hush! I think I hear it snoring.” Madame Blavatsky makes the same point that the early Gnostics made 2000 years before, that a spark of the Divine Light is present within us but in many of us it is asleep. That spark is still sleeping in many people, yet in the mythology of the Dune series by Frank Herbert, “The sleeper must awaken!” In this context, the season of Advent symbolizes the preparation for its awakening. The God within, that spark of the Divine Light, is like a seed sown into the earth of our unconscious, a seed sleeping in darkness, awaiting its germination, its birth into the light, its awakening from slumber. The existential insight of a “God within” must also grow into fruition and be reaped within us; it must awaken, germinate and growing into consciousness, even as the Divine Child of the Christmas story goes through a spiritual conception and gestation in Mary’s womb in preparation for the Birth on Christmas Eve.

The Gospel of Philip uses a similar agricultural metaphor to describe the preparation for the birth of the Divine Light within us.

“Those who sow in the winter reap in summer. The winter is the world, the summer the other aeon. What comes out of the winter is the summer. Let us sow in the world that we may reap in summer. But if any man reap in winter, he will not reap but pluck out.”

This poetry of the Gnosis contains both an internalized and an externalized meaning of how the preparation for and the reaping of this fruit of our spiritual womb may occur. The writer of the Gospel of Philip is particularly fond of agricultural metaphors. In this passage the Summer represents the Other Aeon, the Celtic Summer-Land, the Treasury of the Light, the Heavenly Shore, the Inner, the Spirit. The Winter represents the World, the Darkness, Ignorance, the Outer, the Material. To sow in Winter and reap in Summer is to give up our attention to outer things and bring the light of the divine spark within us into consciousness. We live in a very materialistic age in which the message seems to be for us to sow in Summer to reap in Winter. To reap in Winter, and thus “pluck out”, is to strive to find interior wholeness through giving our attention to the outer and material things of this world in lieu of the Spirit. The point is not that we must give up all attention to our material existence in the world but that we must not do so in lieu of an attention to the interior, spiritual and incorruptible Treasure of the Light, the Divine Spark within us. When we sow in Winter to reap in Summer out of the experiences of our earthly lives spring consciousness, meaning, and a Gnosis of the God within. If we sow in Winter, we can find this great treasure even in our earthly experiences.

The expression “I am God,” as popularized by Shirley MacClaine and the New Age movement is still very much faith in a comfortable belief for many people who cannot conceive of anything transcendent to the psycho-social ego of humanity; it is still very much oriented around Me! Me! Me! God becomes identified with the lesser self, the demiurgic ego, and so the “God within” becomes equated with the unregenerate and demiurgic human ego. Just as the Old Testament Jehovah, we become comfortable in thinking that “There is no other God before Me!” This point of view counsels us to work entirely opposite to the way of the Gnostic; it tells us to throw up our light seeds into the spirit through affirmation and prayer, so that we might reap the material fruits of this world; it tells us to be of the world but not in the world.

The poetic message of the Gospel of Philip tells us rather to be in the world but not of it, to sow our light seeds into the world through providing the Mysteries, through generating art of all forms, through acts of compassion in the world, so that we might reap spiritual experiences and the insights of greater consciousness, whereby we can truly recognize the God within. Nothing is wrong with affirmations and prayers that spring from Gnosis, but when sown from ignorance, the accent is on reaping material things, instead of the spiritual light and fire that are our true spiritual inheritance.

This striving for Gnosis does not necessarily mean the giving up of material things, but giving the light to those in ignorance in very simple, mysterious and unassuming ways. This reminds me how, in the movie of the Season, Miracle on 34th Street, Kris Kringle manifests the light through simple, unassuming and yet very mysterious ways “in the world”, so that people might discover something that is of the spirit and not of the world.

One of my adolescent wishes as a child was the longing to somehow become a real Santa Claus, to make something otherworldly and, yet so real to me, manifest in a world so full of suffering and lacking in spiritual numinosity. The way of the Gnostic to “sow in Winter” and “reap in Summer” is a way for all of us to manifest this wish for ourselves. We give the light to those in ignorance, not through preaching on every street corner or evangelizing the world, but through awakening the spark of light asleep within us through spiritual and mystical experience. As each each one of us awakens and is liberated, as each one of us gains a greater consciousness, the darkness and suffering in the world is a little more dispelled, and that illumination brings us closer to a recognition of the God within.

When we come closer to recognizing the God within, we begin to see our own suffering in the world, yet we also begin to feel a connection between our tiny spark within us and the infinite Source of Light, and a compassionate longing to share that light. This experience of Divine Love, as the theme of this Sunday in Advent, is the bridge between the “Unknown Father, in truth the Mother of all,” and our Indwelling Divinity. It is through our use of this connection in greater consciousness that we sow in Winter and reap in Summer. This is not about sacrificing all or any of our physical health or possessions for the sake of other’s material needs, but the giving of the inexhaustible Treasury of the Light, from which we too may reap according those seeds that we have sown in the world. Such is an externalized meaning of this passage from the Gospel of Philip.

An internalized meaning is no more aptly expressed than in the following passage from the Corpus Hermeticum.

“Cease to seek God in created things on the outside, but seek Him within thyself; and thus learn who it is that takes possession of thee and says: ‘My God, my consciousness, my understanding, my soul, my body.’ Then learn whence is sorrow, and rejoicing, and love, and hate, and being awake, and being asleep, and getting angry against one’s will. Now if thou inquire into these things thou shalt find Him in thyself, one and many, like the atom, and thus thou shalt find the way out from thy lesser self.”

The writings of Hermes Trismegistus give us an essential key for discovering the God within. He counsels to undertake an interior inquiry about ourselves by asking, “who it is that says: ‘My God, my consciousness, my understanding, my soul, my body’?” He also counsels to take inventory of the opposites within us-joy and sorrow, love and hate, waking and sleeping, as well as those resentments and hurts that move us against our will. At the end of such an inquiry, we find that we are not our thoughts, we are not our bodily sensations, we are not even our emotions; we discover that there is something behind, beyond our psycho-social ego, something immortal and unchanging at the very core of our being, in the inmost of the inmosts that is authentically who we are. We find a place within that is not bound by the faults, foibles and limitations of our lesser selves, a place that is not our body, not our ego, not our worldly skills, not our thoughts or emotions, where we can take in the spiritual love of others both incarnate and discarnate, both human and of other orders of being, without danger of inflation. Too often, when we are given love or praise it gets soaked up by our lesser selves, and interpreted sexually, physically or personally, we let our creative and demiurgic egos get all puffed up with our self-importance in the world; we reap in Winter; we pluck out. The love and praise never gets to its effective target, that Self from which all good comes, to awaken our awareness of the Divine Light within. There is an impersonal place of consciousness within us where we can let this light and love in, a core of Divinity that is alone worthy of praise. The messages of the agricultural metaphor from the Gospel of Philip and the Hermetic tractate are both about finding the way out from our lesser self.

As we proceed in our preparation through the Advent season, let us strive through that connection between the Ineffable Greatness and our Indwelling Divinity; let us open ourselves to the memory of who we truly are beyond the shadows of our lesser selves, let us open ourselves up to the larger pattern of the Story of an event long ago and far away, the story of a small child in a simple stall, yet a child as radiant as the light of the sun a thousand times a thousand, the image of that small spark of light within us that glows in the darkness, yet the darkness has never put it out. This we come to adore. Like the star which guided the Wisemen to the place of the Divine Birth, so may we find that star within us, that we might be guided to the place of our own rebirth, to that place where our star still shines, to that place of the God within.

Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.

Seeking the Light

A Homily for the First Sunday in Advent

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. Like Lent, it is a penitential season and a preparation for a new cycle. Traditionally Advent is a time of fasting and praying. For the Gnostic the penitential seasons are a time for quiet introspection and self-reflection in preparation for the great festivals of Christmas and Easter.

Paramahansa Yogananda describes this inner work of preparation as a work of inner cleansing and purification.

“I will prepare for the coming of the Omnipresent baby Christ by cleaning the cradle of my consciousness and sense attachments; and by polishing it with deep, daily, divine meditation, introspection, and discrimination. I will remodel the cradle with the dazzling soul-qualities of brotherly love, humbleness, faith, desire for God, will power, self-control, renunciation and unselfishness, that I may fittingly celebrate the birth of the Divine Child.”

Seeking the light of Gnosis requires a permeability and openness to spiritual experience that is impossible for a consciousness that has not undergone some degree of purification. One of the keynotes of Christianity was the replacing of the earlier Mosaic laws of outward purification and dietary proscriptions with a practice of the inner purification of our hearts and minds, the purifying mysteries of the light. As described in the Book of Sophia:

“Do not desist from seeking by day and by night, until you find the purifying mysteries of the light, which refine the body of matter and make it a pure light very refined.”

It is important that we not externalize what is an interior mystery of purification in our interpretation of this scripture. The key to this mystery is the word “light,” not the “body of matter.” That which we seek is the Light, and these inner mysteries of purification give birth to the body of light, which is also called the “diamond body” in many of the works of Buddhist literature. The refinement of the body of matter is an interior rather than objective perception. Much of this inner perception of the refinement of the body of matter is not all that pleasant. It looks and feels much like the alchemical process of putrefaction, and is rather gruesomely described in Buddhist meditations where one is to visualize the body of matter as a corpse in various stages of decay. Yet out of the putrefied blackness of the Nigredo, comes the purified whiteness of the Albedo, the crimson of the Rubedo, and eventually the royal Aurora, the “diamond body” of light, shining with all the colors of the rainbow.

The cycle of colors so important in the alchemical literature are not missing in the liturgical seasons of the Church either. The seasonal color of Advent is violet. It signifies the qualities of purification as well as royalty. The Gospel of Thomas describes this quality of royalty, the true royal self-hood within each of us.

Let him who seeks, do not cease seeking until he finds, and when he finds he will be troubled, and when he has been troubled he will marvel, and he will reign over the All.

The All in this logion is related to the Greek word for the Pleroma, the Fullness, but refers more directly to the entirety of our inner universe, in which the external and material world is but a part. Before we can reign over the All, we must be troubled. When we begin to seek the Light, like Sophia who longs for the Light of the Unknown Father, we run into something, we experience a Fall, we are troubled. Our first confrontation with the unconscious causes a distress in the psyche, a wounding of the worldly ego as well as the discovery of the wounds we bear in our instinctual nature. In the Grail legends the Fisher-King is wounded in the thighs when he touches a fish. The fish is symbolic of a creature that comes from the watery depths of the unconscious. This initial contact with the unconscious represents the beginning of the process that C.G. Jung called “individuation.” Even so, Advent, as the beginning of the liturgical year, signifies the beginning of the pathway of individuation as exemplified in the mythic story of the Messenger of Light, Jesus. The path of individuation is the journey of the soul, as it seeks its way to the place of apotheosis and rest, where it reigns over the All. In Advent we celebrate the coming of the Messenger of Light, as the Liberator and Wayshower who can guide us from the darkness of ignorance into the Light of Gnosis.

Besides being the color of royalty and the penitential season, violet is also the color most often attributed to the crown chakra, the crown of our true royal self, the center of our spiritual connection with the Divine Selfhood. Focusing on this divine center directs the psyche upward and inward away from external and material things. Advent signifies a period of introversion and preparation for the birth of the inner light at winter solstice. It is also a time of year that we give thanks for and sacrifice earthly and material things, in giving of gifts, distributing to the poor, and concerning ourselves with righting the wrongs that we can and doing good to others.

The penitence of this season is related to its Latin root meaning “to alter” or “to change.” Penitence is not about wallowing in regrets and guilt feelings, nor relinquishing responsibility for developing our own spiritual connection with divinity; rather it is about working on the changes in ourselves and developing the individual conscience that will bring us closer to our indwelling divinity. Neither by following prescribed penances and morality, nor by projecting our faults onto others can we escape the necessity of dealing with our own evil impulses and shadow elements. Penitence is ultimately about Self-knowledge, knowing ourselves with all of our faults and weaknesses as well as our talents and strengths. Ultimately we must confess ourselves to our own divine Self and forgive ourselves in our own contrition. The priestly absolution aids in releasing from our deep instinctual selves this repressed guilt, so that we can get on with the conscious work of repairing our connection with the divine Self and growing along the path of individuation. When we have forgiven ourselves, we will discover a much greater capacity for us to forgive others as well. The mercy and compassion of the Logos and Sophia become a heartfelt reality within us.

Seeking the light requires that we find the purifying mysteries of the light. Forgiveness is such a mystery of purification, as in order to truly forgive another we must let our old world view and ego structures go. This relinquishment of fossilized perceptions leads to a death and rebirth experience. The Tibetan Book of the Dead describes the Clear Light, which is perceived directly after death. People that have had near death experiences report a brilliant light at the end of a tunnel. The Gnostics describe an inner light, an enlightenment, as the Gnosis of our true royal self. We are a part of and we come from the Clear Light. The inner light of our own being and the Great Light at the end of the tunnel are the same. The Gospel of Thomas states, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you and without you.” When we apprehend that inner light, when we experience the purifying mysteries of the light, we begin to see that light reflected in the external world. We begin to see a quality of magic and light in every being and event that we encounter in life. The time before Christmas is at once a solemn and very magical and joyous season. The veils between worlds are very thin. It is a time in the season when we can most easily see the light in nature and in other people.

Gnosis is not only seeing the light within oneself, but seeing the same light in others. We come to simply recognize others who have beheld that light and we are recognized by them. The Gospel of Thomas reiterates, “If you know yourselves, then you will be known , and you will know that you are the sons of the Living Father.” The light that we perceive within shines into the world, not in ostentatious displays of holiness or evangelism, but in charity and compassion to those who come within our sphere of life. Our light guides us on the quest to heal the wound of the FisherKing. We become masters of compassion, not in dwelling on “do goody” behavior, but in recognizing the Grail Castle when we are in it, and bearing compassion for the wound of the FisherKing when we behold it.

During the season of Advent we are most acutely aware of those less fortunate and in need. As we perceive the pain and suffering in the world, we can often feel overwhelmed with the immensity of the divine work of redemption. The Book of Sophia describes this work of redemption in marvelous simplicity, not as an external projection but as an inner mystery.

“Do to all men who come to you and believe in you and listen to your words what is worthy of the mysteries of the Light, give the mysteries of the Light and do not hide them from them. For he who shall give life to a single soul and liberate it, besides the Light that is in his own soul, he shall receive other glory in return for the soul he has liberated.”

The most precious gift we have to give in this work of redemption in the world is the offering of the mysteries of the Light, however we may attest to them, not by street corner evangelism or door to door proselytizing but by doing what is worthy of the mysteries of the Light to those who seek it and come to us. As one by one the Light is awakened in others, then the pain and suffering in the world can be transformed.

The season of Advent is in many ways a troubling season. Yet amidst the troubling we can find the magic of hope and sharing that brings us to that leap into the rapturous amazement of the Pleroma. We can come to know the totality of the Self within us in our seeking and yearning for the divine light. During this Advent season let us kindle a sense of wonder, an openness and permeability to the divine light shining in the darkness of this world. Let us not hide our own light under a bushel, but let it shine on the All.

Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.