A Homily for The Second Sunday in Lent
by Bishop Steven Marshall
The season of Lent bears an overall character of introspection and self-examination. When the attention of the psyche turns inward, one finds an initial sense of alienation and emptiness, a yearning for something only vaguely formulated that we intuitively know would bring true wholeness and fill the emptiness we feel. Such, for the Gnostic, is the yearning for God. It is the longing for the healing of a separation that is felt on both a personal and a collective level. The healing of this separation is symbolised in the image of the Bridal Chamber in the Valentinian writings and the union with the Light-Twin in the stories of Mani. The Gospel of Truth, the one gospel of the Nag Hammadi collection thought by scholars to be the authentic writings of Valentinus himself, describes the yearning and the healing thus:
“This is the manner of those who possess something from above of the immeasurable greatness, as they stretch out after the one alone and the perfect one, the one who is there for them. And they do not go down into Amente nor have they envy nor groaning nor death within them, but they rest in him who is at rest, not striving nor being involved in the search for the truth. But they are themselves the truth; and the Father is in them and they are in the Father, being perfect, being undivided in the truly good one, being no way deficient in anything, but they are set at rest, refreshed in the Spirit. And they will heed their root. They will be concerned with those things in which they will find their root and not suffer loss to their soul. This is the place of the blessed; this is their place.”
In the symbol system of the Gospel of Truth, Truth is described as a feminine emanation of that immeasurable greatness that contains and penetrates everything that exists. Truth is like the rim of the circle whose center is nowhere and whose circumference is everywhere as the Hermetic philosophers have described. In the Great Book of the Mandaeans that Truth is again described as that Divine Soul to which the yearning of the Gnostic heart becomes directed when it turns inward:
“From the day when I came to love the Life, from the day when my heart came to love the Truth, I no longer have trust in anything in the world. In father and mother, I have no trust in the world. In brothers and sisters I have no trust in the world. In what is made and created I have no trust in the world. After my soul alone I go searching about, which to me is worth generations and worlds. I went and found my soul – What are to me all the worlds? I went and found Truth, as she stands at the outer rim of the worlds.”
In this Mandaean hymn we find the repeated litany: “I have no trust in the world.” This phrase summarises one of the essential insights of the Gnosis. Such an insight comes with the force of a revelation, the meaning of which is that the redemption, the wholeness for which the Gnostic consciously longs for, cannot be gotten from this world-it comes from another place. All the things of the world: family, property, physical health, material wealth, and even the human relationships that we feel would bring us wholeness, fulfilment and rest turn out to be paltry substitutes, counterfeits, deceptions for this yearning for the Spirit and God. In the Biblical Gospels St John the Baptiser, the redeemer figure for the Mandaeans, shouts as a voice in the wilderness: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” In the Gnostic framework this is not a call to conversion to any particular religion, as it is popularly interpreted, but a call to preparing an interior way of entrance for the Spirit of Truth to enter the psyche.
One of the cries of the Gnostic in the world is a nostalgic sighing for something greater, often only vaguely and intuitively recognized. The Demiurge does not want us to sigh, or to long for anything outside of the worldly oriented ego and its socio-political system. The demiurge wants us to be happy and satisfied with the things of this world: the generation of family, material accumulations, mental and emotional pursuits. And after all these things are achieved we are still not relieved or free of the constant treadmill of wants, desires and anxious attachments-we are still empty, unhappy and unfulfilled.
In the Declaration of Independence the pursuit of happiness is a maxim for freedom. We cannot approach wholeness until we are free. The Buddhists describe the means for getting free as a detachment from the world, a way of getting out of the chains of our addictive attachments to the things of this world. If immersed in and identified with all of the extroverted stuff out there, whether material, mental or emotional, we are not free, and our soul suffers violation by the material powers, the archons of the world. This act of freeing oneself from the world is sometimes called fasting from the world. Now, this does not mean that we must ignore all of our responsibilities in the world, but that we can be “in the world” yet not “of the world.” Fasting from the world does not mean repression of our physical and emotional needs, for repression is not but a negative attachment to the object of one’s attachments. Fasting from the world is related to the Greek root for “ascetic.” It comes from the Greek word “askesis,” which means “skill.” So fasting from the world is the practice of a skill, learning the skill of overcoming and consciously utilising the powerful forces of desire in the psyche. Asceticism is a skill to be learned and practiced for a particular goal, not a way of life for the Gnostic. For an example, if we abstain from sex for a certain period of time, we can learn that there is more to love and our yearning for wholeness than sexual and emotional gratification. If we live a simple life of poverty for a certain period of time, then we may learn that there is more to our yearning for wholeness than the pursuit of material wants and desires. Fasting from the world is a step in a process, not a goal in itself. When we have gleaned the insights and increased consciousness that this practice of detachment can bring, then we can gain freedom and make our way to wholeness. We can find that for which we truly sigh.
The nostalgic yearning for God, the sigh of the Gnostic, is no more poignantly and timelessly expressed than in the Farewell of Galadriel from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings:
“Ah. Like gold fall the leaves in the wind, long years numberless as the wings of trees! The long years have passed like swift draughts of sweet mead in lofty halls beyond the West, beneath the blue vaults of Varda wherein the stars tremble in the song of Her voice, holy and queenly. Who now shall refill the cup for me? For now the Kindler, the Queen of the Stars, from Mount Everwhite hath uplifted her hands like clouds, and all paths are drowned deep in shadow: and out of a grey country darkness lies on the foaming waves between us, and mist covers the jewels of Calacyria forever. Now lost, lost to those of the East is Valimar! Farewell! Maybe even thou shalt find Valimar. Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!”
The yearning for God, is the yearning for the Beloved, the Redeemer, the Light-Twin with whom we are united in the Bridal Chamber of the Light, and it is the longing for our true estate in the Fullness. This yearning is not only personal but also collective, like the description of St. Paul of the whole earth groaning and travailing as in the throws of childbirth for the Redeemer to come. This is the Soul of the World, the Anima Mundi who cries out from the earth for redemption. When the collective of humanity is thus redeemed, then only shall the whole earth be redeemed.
The personal coming of the Redeemer has been metaphorically described as a union with a twin spirit or Light-Twin. This unification is described most poetically in a short story contained in the Book of the Pistis Sophia:
“And Mary, the mother of Jesus according to matter, said: When Thou my Master wert a child, before the Spirit had descended upon Thee, when Thou wert in the vineyard with Joseph, the Spirit came down from the height, and came unto me in the house, like unto Thee, and I knew him not, but thought that he was Thou. And he said unto me, ‘Where is Jesus, my brother, that I may go to meet him?’ And when he had said this unto me I was in doubt, and thought it was a phantom tempting me. I seized him and bound him to the foot of the bed which was in my house, until I had gone to ?nd you in the ?eld – Thee and Joseph. It came to pass, therefore, when Thou didst hear me saying this thing unto Joseph, that Thou didst understand, and Thou wert joyful and saidest, ‘Where is he, that I may see him? Nay I am expecting him in this place.’ And it came to pass, when Joseph heard Thee say these words, that he was disturbed. We went together, we entered into the house, we found the spirit bound on the bed, and we gazed upon Thee and him, and found that Thou wert like unto him. And he that was bound to the bed was unloosed; he embraced Thee and kissed thee, and Thou didst kiss him; and ye became one and the same being.”
When the Redeemer may come for us personally cannot be determined by the concrete conceptions of the mind nor can it be predicted by external signs. The Redeemer may come in this instant for some or not at all in this lifetime. No one can say when for any particular individual redemption will come, but like the wise virgins of parable (Matthew: Ch. 25) we must keep our lamps full of oil and lit for that coming.
These wise virgins represent the faithfulness of Pistis Sophia whose name means Faithful Wisdom. In her story she languishes in the bitter chaos of material existence, yet throughout her suffering she remains faithful to the Light and cries out her repentances in the form of praises to the Light. This story contains three keys to fulfilling this yearning for God: the first is faithfulness, a trust in that light and presence which transcends this world of suffering; the second is repentance, which means to turn back, to turn back to our origin in the Light; and the third is the thankfulness expressed in praise, thankfulness for the light that we have received, no matter how small, leading us to the feeling state where we can receive yet more light. The Gnostic parable described in the Exegesis of the Soul aptly fits this story of the redemption of Sophia and our own human souls.
“Wise men of old gave the soul a feminine name. Indeed she is female in her nature as well. She even has a womb.
As long she was alone, a single one, with the Father, she was virgin and in form androgynous. But when she fell down into a body and came to this life, then she fell into the hands of many robbers. And the wanton creatures passed her from one to another and made use of her. Some made use of her by force, while others did so by seducing her with a gift. In short they defiled her and she lost her virginity.
Now it is fitting that the soul regenerate herself and become again as she formerly was. The soul then moves of her own accord. And she received the divine nature from the Father for her rejuvenation, so that she might be restored to the place where originally she had been. This is the resurrection that is from the dead. This is the ransom from captivity. This is the upward journey of ascent to heaven. This is the way of the ascent to the Father.”
In the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, Sophia planned for the coming of the Redeemer from the very beginning, when she was yet hid in God, and she embodies the Holy Spirit that would come and remain here on earth to spiritually nurture and guide her children back unto the Light. The masculine principle of redemption seems in and out from an historical perspective, but the feminine principle remains. The Holy Spirit, our celestial Mother and Consoler, yet carries us in her womb, gives us the spiritual rebirth and suckles us at her breast, until we are strong and mature enough to make the long journey-the flight of the alone to the alone, which in the Eleusinian mysteries was called the “flight into the sun.”
The phrase “the alone to the alone” reminds me that it is not just we who are incomplete and yearning for the Beloved, but that our Light-Twin and our fellow spirits long for our return as well. Though the Fullness in itself lacks nothing, those spirits that dwell in the Fullness are in some way also incomplete or “alone” without us. The Holy Spirit who “remains here on earth to guide and care for us” makes it possible for us to change the direction of our hearts and to turn back unto the Fullness. So, also, Sophia is the mother of the faithfulness that sustains our trust in the Light, so that we might remain as the wise virgins and be ready for the Bridegroom when he comes for us. In the 8th Ode to Solomon, the Holy Spirit calls to her own, “My own breasts I prepared for them that they might drink my holy milk and live by it.” She is the Sustainer who has tended and nourished the Children of the Light, the seeds of the Light sown throughout creation, since our beginning. As St. Paul exclaims, “I know that my redeemer liveth,” so might we Gnostics exclaim, when the milk of the Holy Spirit has weaned us from the food of forgetfulness. And so might we also whisper in our hearts that our Sustainer is even nearer than before. As in the Vespers of Sophia, “She is nearer to us than we are to ourselves; she is waiting at the door. Our opening and her entry are but one moment. Come, for our door is open, come!” As related in the Song of Songs, her hand trembles upon the latch of the door. This is the latch upon the door of our hearts, which unlocks the nostalgic yearning for God that we have forgotten, forgotten among all the distracting robbers of the soul in the world. So may we open that door to the true Bridegroom of our souls and not the brigands of this world, so that the Twin-Angel of the Light who is there alone for us might fulfil the timeless yearning and longing of the Gnostic for the Light of the Fullness, where we shall find our cup refilled with the sweet milk of the Holy Spirit, the Milk of the Stars, and share that cup in the spiritual wedding in which we shall no more be separated and which joining is forever and ever. Amen.
Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.