A Homily for Candlemas
by Bishop Steven Marshall
Candlemas comes at a time in the year that certainly reflects its spiritual meaning for the Gnostic. In early times, the Celts knew this feast day as Imbolc, the first day of the month by that name in their calendar. During this time of year the days were still sufficiently short that the evening meal was often prepared and eaten by candlelight or torchlight. It is also the season of the first spring lambs being born from their mothers; and so the time for the milking of the ewes to supply what was needed to bolster the dwindling supplies of food put away for the winter. We no longer live in such an agrarian society and these metaphors from the past may not relate to us as they once might have, but we can use these images and metaphors to open a window to something else, something transcendent to the world in which we find ourselves.
The image of the candle lit in the darkness can signify to us the kindling of a spark of the light in the darkness of our material existence. In this metaphor, what we really need to focus on is the kindling, the kindling into flame, not just an affirmation or comfort in the idea of our being sparks of the divine light. A spark merely abides in itself; it does not give give forth any useful light or warmth. A flame, on the other hand, shines out in light and warmth for others, yet the light that shines out also allows us to perceive and so receive consciousness of those things that were obscured by the darkness. The means of kindling this spark into a flame is again a great paradox, the paradox of individual effort and the receptivity to grace, the paradox of the oneness of the result and the means. The kindling of the spark into flame occurs through a connection, a contact, with something higher and transcendent to the simple system of just the spark and the fuel. In physical terms, the system requires a breath. When you make a fire from a spark thrown off by a flint and steel you need to supply breath to kindle it into flame. The paradox exists in that the ability of the individual to effectively reach up by seemingly our own efforts is in itself a grace, a permeability to the grace that is the response to that effort. The perception, the reception in consciouness of the greater realities obscured by the material and psychological obfuscations in our material existence are both the results of and the necessary means for the contact with that greater reality. How can we exercise a means that requires a result that we do not yet have? How can we kindle a light which first requires the perception of that which the light would illumine? We require help, the help of a mystery. We need a helper that is in touch with that mystery. We require a breath from the ineffable greatness to fan the spark into flame.
We do not need to make or build a connection to the ineffable greatness, as it preexists. What we require is to become conscious of it. We can become more conscious of this connection to the greater reality by using the connection that we have been given, by striving for that which transcends our ordinary state of consciousness. The greater consciousness required to become more aware of this connection can only come from outside the limitations of the ego personality and its personal agendas, it must come from the Greater, it must come from on high.
It is not enough to believe that we are sparks of the divine light; for then we are still but sparks. We must become lights. We become lights through an increase of consciousness, consciousness of our connection with the Divine Reality. In the mythology of the Gnostics, we each have a twin angel, a twin flame that is with Sophia and which she carries about her as a train of stars. In Blavatsky’s telling of the myth of Sophia, she describes a cord of light that Sophia fashions to connect each human spark with that star of greater consciousness. This is the connection that we must straighten out. As proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” But when we are in the chaos, the wilderness, and shuffled this way and that by the tides of the world, how can we straighten out this mess. The answer is that we can’t. We cannot straighten out the chaos of the world, until we find that highway, that way to the higher. What we can straighten out is our aim. Our journey through this world may be a long and winding road, yet the aim of the Gnostic is always straight and true. The aim of the Gnostic is always straight—to the source, to the origin, to the beginning. What we must do to straighten our aim is to begin to remove the distractions that constantly seek to deflect our aim. These distractions come in many forms: “If only I had more material possessions, more sexual satisfaction, more people agreeing with my ideas, then everything would be straightened out.” Even if we manage to obtain all these things, we have not gotten any closer in touch with our connection to the Divine Source. These are all distractions, attachments to things either material or psychological that are outside of our connection to a higher reality of being. The words of the prophet Isaiah contrast the ephemeral and transitory nature of these objects of attachment with what is really enduring and everlasting. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the (Logos) of our God shall stand forever.” The Logos is the revealer and the messenger, reminding of us of the Source. We must constantly keep our sights on the Source, which alone is eternal and changeless.
Finding the way to the Source is also a question asked by the first disciples of Jesus. In the Gospel of Thomas the disciples ask of Jesus, “Show us the place where thou art, for it is necessary for us to seek it.” Jesus answers, “Whoever has ears let him hear. Within a man of light there is light and he lights the whole world. When he does not shine, there is darkness.” When the disciples ask him to show them where he is, he responds not with a place but a condition of being, a state of consciousness. He describes to them the man of light, and implies that they must become this being of light, this Christ, to perceive where he is. We obtain this perception by an increase in consciousness. We enter into the place where the Christ is by becoming more conscious, by increasing our awareness of the transcendent reality from which we have come.
Most often the way to the Door of the Gnosis seems a long and winding road. There is a great journey to get there. The lighter we travel the easier the journey. Yet, there are also experiences, sometimes painful, often troubling, that we must go through to remember the light from whence we came, like Dorothy in the land of OZ, who has to journey to the Emerald City to see the wizard, though she had the power to go home all along. We too are lost in a land ruled over by wicked archons, always stiving to get possession of our way back to the Light. The divine spark within us is our pair of ruby slippers that has the power to take us home to the Land of Light. Before we can go there we must first realize that there is no place like home, our true home beyond the chaos and limitations of this world. Yet we cannot really know this, until we have received something of that greater reality, until we perceive the place where the Christ is. For this we require divine aid and assistance. The “highway for our God” is not only the way for our God-Self to return to the Light, but for our divine helper to come to us.
The spark requires an awakening in order to become a flame. The divine helper is the awakener who, like an Abraxas rooster before the dawn, chants out the clarion call to remind us of our connection to the Light. In order to hear and recognize that call we must develop a faculty of interior hearing, what might be called the ears of the nous, the listening of enlightened mind. So the Logos prefaces his description of the man of light with, “whoever has to ears to hear, let them hear.” This faculty of the nous is developed by turning the soul from outer things, whether material or psychological, and turning inward to the center where lies the divine spark, the Spirit, the Self. We accomplish this not by negative attachments nor by repressing our attractions to outer things but by invoking something from above to displace these attachments. We must invoke the helper who can feed us the drink and meat of Gnosis, which takes away the thirst and hunger for material distractions. For this reason, the helper has often been symbolized as a divine shepherd.
“He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” (The Book of Isaiah)
The gathering of the lambs reminds me of Mani’s description of the gathering of the sparks of light from the sea of forgetfulness. And yet this is a distinctly individual process; it is not a group phenomenon. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says, “I shall choose you, one out of a thousand, and two out of ten thousand and they shall stand as a single one.” We are called individually. Our connection to the Light is individual and in uniting with the light we remain individuals, single ones. The temptation of many is to interpret this scripture in terms of focusing on who is chosen and who is not. This is not the point! The point is that our spiritual connection both vertically and horizontally is within us individually. We must come to that center point of individuation for our individual spark to become a flame that unites us with the greater reality. That point is our intersection with the collectivity, the objective psyche which Jung referred to as the collective unconscious, where we perceive the divine reality united as a single one. Our circle of compassion widens; we find our connection with all other souls. Opportunities begin to arise for sharing the light with others in very individual, unselfish and unassuming ways.
As we become more and more conscious of our spiritual heritage and origin, as we increase our consciousness of who we are and why we are here, we become beings of light. The way to dispelling the darkness of the world is not in attempting to enlighten others with our personal ideas, or taking up crusades in some particular cause, but in becoming beings of light ourselves. By letting the authentic light of our spirit (our divine breath) shine through our consciousness of who we really are and why we are here, we can light up the whole world. As we shine with a greater light, there occurs a change of perception, we begin to perceive almost on a feeling level beautiful patterns of light behind all of the manifestation of the material world. When we shine, we can perceive this Land of Light; when we do not shine we are in darkness.
Our light shines when we perceive that the source of the Light is from above. It illumines the path before us. The highway that seemed rough, winding and hilly, evens out and becomes straight. As proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah, “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.” We shall see the highway made straight before us; we shall hear the call that opens our eyes to wakefulness, that illumines our way in the darkness, like a torch struck from a mighty flame. “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Amen.
Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.