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.