A Homily for Ash Wednesday

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The significant rite of the beginning of Lent is the signing with the ashes on Ash Wednesday. The sign of the cross is traced upon the forehead with the words, “Remember Thou, O soul, that thy body is dust and unto dust it shall return.” These words signify a release from the identification of the self with the mortal and corruptible body and personality. A detachment from our conventional identification with our mortal shell can result in an altered state of consciousness where our bodies can communicate to us a spiritual reality and we can develop in actuality a more caring attitude toward it. St. Francis often referred to his mortal frame as his humble and dutiful “donkey” that bore him through this life, like the donkey that bore the blessed Virgin to Bethlehem.

Some modern psychotherapeutic practices that change the nature of our bodily awareness and consciousness may give us a key to this disidentification of our ego with bodily consciousness. In Gendlin’s practice of Focusing, the focusing of our attention on our bodily sensations as autonomous sources of psychological information stimulates spontaneous, imaginative imagery that is autonomous to our ordinary ego consciousness. In the practice of “authentic movement,” the stilling of the senses and relaxation of physical tension, we temporarily lose our usual consciousness of the body, our consciousness becomes a detached observer of involuntary yet deeply meaningful movement and expression. It is in this conscious state of freedom, where the ego personality in identification with the mortal body melts away that we may discover the incorruptible and immortal body of light.

The words, “Remember, O Soul, that thy body is dust and unto dust it shall return,” is a reminder that the body is not immortal, and that we must turn our attention to that within us which truly is immortal. Many scholars accuse Gnostics of not having any eschatology or discussion of the afterlife. The reason for this is that the Gnostic view is very different from the mainstream view. Because the Gnostic afterworlds are not described in terms that mainstream theologians understand, they miss it. The fact of the matter is that the Gnostic writings have more references to an afterlife than the mainstream Bible. For the Gnostic, the afterlife is an alternative spiritual reality of this life as well as any life beyond it. The words accompanying the imposition of the ashes on Ash Wednesday is meant to remind us of that alternative reality.

Yet Gnostics are not escapists. Before we can experience liberation; before we can achieve the freedom and insights of Gnosis concerning our mortal existence, we must first fully experience, know and accept what it is to be in a physical body without fear, guilt or shame. Next, we must remember the freedom and joy of existence in the spiritual body before coming into this world. Only then can we recognize the Gnostic insight of physical incarnation as the limitation and prison that it is.

Existence in a body is as if we were in a penal colony with the only escape being death. However, the Gnostics found another way out—the Resurrection—a transformative increase of spiritual consciousness even while in the flesh. In fact, according to the Gospel of Philip, it must occur in this world: “If you do not receive it in this place, you will not receive it in the other.” This transformation lifts us out of the vortex of the dark, roiling, grasping energy manifest in our obsessive passions and attachments to the world. It purifies the unconscious of the needy, driven, addictive impulses of the lower self, which has its root in a pit of unconscious feelings of want and deficiency. In the Gnostic accounts of Sophia, her abortion, the demiurge, is often referred to as such a deficiency. When giving up something for Lent, we do not abstain from life’s pleasures or the physical needs of our bodies but give up an obsessive attachment that keeps us in thrall, that prevents us from becoming aware of the mysterious other, the Divine Friend, the redeeming Light-Power within us.

The Lenten Purification with the ashes represents the purifying of our connection with this higher and divine Self. To accomplish this purificiation we must first release the guilt and shame that prevents us from feeling worthy of that contact—that is, absolution. Secondly, we must cleanse ourselves of anxious and obsessive attachments to the things of this world. Like stickers on a rose bush, they draw off our spiritual, psychological and emotional energy; they prevent the rose within our hearts from budding forth and blossoming.

“My heart was pruned and its flower appeared, then grace sprang up in it.” (The Odes of Solomon)

The purification of the heart is not something we can do entirely on our own; it requires a self examination and a reaching out on our part, but also the spiritual assistance of our higher Self. The pruning of the heart is not about willful denial of our physical and emotional needs. This can only exacerbate the guilt and shame involved and is merely a reaction to, not a release from our anxious attachments and obsessions; we still remain stuck in the quicksand of that dark, roiling, grasping energy, in that deep pit of want and deficiency.

We can cleanse ourselves of these anxious attachments through self examination and through centering, invocational prayers, not through petitionary prayers for the objects of those attachments. In giving up something for Lent let us:

1) Take inventory of our anxious and obsessive attachments.

2) Pick one to give up for this season.

3) Invoke divine aid in releasing that attachment.

The purification of Lent is not about punishing self-denial, nor wallowing in guilt and shame, but revolves around self-reflection, introspection and invocation of the helpful and spiritual powers that can cleanse our channel of communication with the Divine. In this process we do not punish the body or the animal self but heal it. Our animal needs are not met by addictive behaviors; our bodies are not helped by self-punishment. According to esoteric wisdom, it is the animal soul, often suffering from internalized guilt and shame, which is our connection to the higher, divine Self. The ego, the lesser self, imposing its obsessive attachments upon the animal soul, does not have a direct connection to that higher Self.

The ego often uses the anxiety of the animal soul over the needs, traumas, or deficiencies that were not resolved in childhood, to further its autonomy and power within the psyche. It creates a false self that is emotionally invested in compensatory mechanisms and substitutes for true spiritual fulfillment and happiness. This false self of guilt, shame and anxious attachment is the source of most of our dysfunctional desires, thoughts and behaviors. The false self becomes convinced that more sex, more unconscious highs, more food, more money, more of whatever addiction we choose will fill that pit of internally felt deficiency and lack of wholeness, and the elimination of our soul’s pain. Yet all we really get are paltry substitutes for our soul’s longing. If we can discover the needs, traumas and deficiencies behind our anxious attachments, if we can go through our soul’s pain, the deception is broken; the anxious attachments can be cleared. We can discover the spiritual aspiration that is our true longing for the Divine; we find the immortal spirit within us which is our authentic Self.

The symbol of the ashes has a great deal of significance relating to that immortal fiery spirit within us. In the writings of the Kabbalah, the souls of the saints are called “Ashim,” meaning “fiery ones.” Fasting in sack cloth and ashes is an important Jewish rite of purification, and was practiced by the early Kabbalists as a means of reducing the resistance of the body to the influx of the divine light, and of releasing the human soul from the material bondage that keeps her from ascending to that supernal light. A rite of purification and fasting accompanied by empassioned prayers is common to many shamanic traditions as a preparation for shamanic initiation and the vision quest.

The Mercavah mystics of the earliest Kabbalistic schools required a purification rite with the ashes of the Red heifer in order to make their shamanic flight in the Mercavah, The chariot of God. The ashes could only be obtained from a special sacrifice of a red heifer in the Temple of Jerusalem. When the temple was destroyed and the carefully guarded ashes were used up, the Mercavah mysteries came to an end.

The Gnostic Holy Eucharist reenacts in a more spiritual form the temple sacrifice of old. The ashes of the palm branches blessed on Palm Sunday become our Ashes of the Red Heifer. The signing with the ashes on Ash Wednesday is an important part of a powerful sacramental system. These potent symbols have power in the unconscious and in themselves. In order to have a conscious awareness of this power, we must empower the rite to reveal the meaning that it has for us. The conscious awareness and meaning does not happen automatically. The sacrament does not happen somewhere out there, it happens in here, in the heart.

The signing with the ashes relates as well to the Gnostic baptism of fire described in the Gnostic Book of Jeu. In this account, Jesus builds a fire of vines and incense. From the ashes of the fire He traces the Seal of the Virgin of Light upon the foreheads of the disciples gathered around Him. “…and he sealed them on their foreheads with the seal of the Virgin of Light which would make them to be numbered within the inheritance of the Kingdom of the Light.”

This rite of purification is not a purification focused on the worldly transgression of cultural taboos but purification from darkness and ignorance. The Lenten purification is the purification that prepares us for Self-Knowledge (Gnosis). The purification with the ashes prepares us to confront the archons of our own evil impulses and frees us to ascend to the realms of light. The Gospel of Philip recounts the importance of this self-knowledge to the task of the Gnostic.

“Is it not necessary for all those who possess everything to know themselves? Some, indeed, if they do not know themselves, will not enjoy what they possess. But those who have come to know themselves will enjoy their possessions.”

Not until we know the Self as one can we overcome our addictive attachments to worldly things and truly enjoy what we possess on earth. Those who put on this light of Self-knowledge will pass by the archons while in the world and make their mystical ascent into the light. According to the Gospel of Philip:

“Not only will the archons be unable to detain the perfect ones, but they will not be able to see them, for if they see them, they will detain them. There is no other way for a person to acquire this quality except by putting on the perfect light and becoming perfect oneself. Everyone who has put this on will enter the Kingdom. This is the perfect light, and it is necessary that we by all means become perfect ones before we leave the world.”

In the Lenten purification with the ashes we can take on this perfect light, not in another world after death, but here in this flesh. In this manner, we return our dust to dust, and find beneath it the fiery being and incorruptible light of our true Self—the Christ within.

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

The Message of Gnosis

A Homily for The Annunciation to Our Lady

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The Annunciation to our Lady has been an important feast day in the calendar of the Church for a very long time. Annunciation is a synonym for “announcement,” and refers to the announcement of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary concerning her role in the advent of Christ. The traditional date of the Annunciation is March 25, which signifies the mystical conception of Christ, occurring as it does exactly 9 months before the date of Christmas when we celebrate the Christ’s birth. The popularity of this feast day in the traditional Church is most likely due to the emphasis on the divine feminine in the image of Mary to which many people related as the familiar mythological image of the woman or goddess who gives birth to the Divine Child. If the image of Mary embodies such a potent archetype, why is so little importance given to her in the Gnostic writings, and why then have we, as modern Gnostics, begun to honor her festivals?

The early Gnostics are not particularly interested in the physical or even metaphysical mechanisms of Jesus’ conception and birth for two basic reasons. 1) The Jesus of the Gnostics is a post-resurrectional mystery figure, the living Jesus, and is primarily a spirit, a pneuma. The Gnostic Jesus was not a person who died and disappeared, never to be heard of again, but an ever present reality in the inner life of his Gnostic followers, the ever coming and redeeming Logos. Therefore historical descriptions or theological speculations regarding any physical phenomena of conception and birth are of little consequence to the religious experience of the Gnostics. 2) In contrast to the dominant paradigm about women in early times the Gnostics do not view maternity as the principle value of the feminine. By the importance given to Mary Magdalene in the Gnostic writings, we can see that women signify the conceivers and birth givers of a deeply spiritual process in the life of the Gnostic, a role far transcending their biological role of conceiving and bearing children. Also, the Gnostics tend to view conception and birth as more of a tragedy than a joyful event. Many Gnostic writings identify incarnation with death and ignorance, as opposed to life and consciousness. In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says, “…for my mother gave me death, but my true Mother gave me the Life.”

Many of these Gnostic insights concerning conception and birth into the world seem to run counter to the values of life that many of us hold dear. They are paradoxically poised in reversal of our usual way of viewing our earthly life. The greatest paradox for the Gnostic is that of earthly incarnation. On the one hand it is a tragedy that anything should be born into this cruel world of misery and sorrow, and yet it is only through the incarnation of holy souls and the striving of humanity for greater consciousness in this life that the situation may be redeemed. When we approach these insights of Gnosis, we must remember that they are based on a view of the human existential condition through the lens of spiritual experiences and from the vantage point of an alternate and transcendent reality. What the Gnostics communicate is not so much a denial of earthly life as an affirmation of that which transcends it, the spiritual life that we knew at the beginning before our incarnation. Their intent is not to dishonor those who suffered and sacrificed to bring us into the world but to make us more conscious of a greater mystery.

To the Gnostic the conception of Jesus is a mystery, the same mystery that forms the background of our own existence. The evidence of this mystery, indeed, any mystery, is that a mystery can never be limited to one reality, and so we must approach this mystery of the Annunciation and the conception of Christ as multi-layered and multifaceted.

One of the models that the Gnostics used extensively is the classification of the universe into three levels of reality: the hyletic (physical), the psychic (mental) and the pneumatic (spiritual). Rather than denying either of these as illusory or false, the Gnostics accepted the reality of all three on their own level.

Applying the hyletic level of reality to the mystery of the Annunciation, we are dealing with a reconstructed history of earthly events. The Gospel of Philip seems to profess the position that Mary was a real woman who had sexual intercourse with a real man in the process of conceiving and giving birth to Jesus. “The Lord would not have said, ‘My father in heaven,’ if he had not had another father, but he would have said simply my father.” (The Gospel of Philip) Although the various Gnostic sects differed in their emphasis concerning the physical versus the spiritual reality of Jesus, the virgin conception and virgin birth were viewed as spiritual rather than physical realities by most of them.

The psychic level of interpretation would comprise the ideas, belief structures and mental constructs derived from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. This category would include the theology and soteriology of the Christ in the form of creeds designed to integrate the mythology and the history of the Christ into a cohesive belief system. We might also add to this the many explanations of the Annunciation to Mary and the conception of Christ that rely on metaphysics of one kind or another. The main distinction of the psychic level of reality is that it is second or third hand, being one level removed from any historical reality and one level removed from any direct personal experience.

The pneumatic reality of the Annunciation comes from a direct experience of a spiritual power, the Gnosis of the Christ Within, the revelation of the Holy Spirit that flesh and blood hath not revealed. The pneumatic level of the Mystery communicates an alternate reality of story, myth, ritual and mystical experience. On this level of reality Jesus has a spiritual mother and a spiritual father. As Jesus speaks of his Father in heaven, so he also has another mother, a spiritual Mother. Among the early Jewish Christian communities the Holy Spirit was called the mother of Christ. In the Gospel of the Hebrews Jesus says, “My mother, the Holy Spirit, took me by one of my hairs and carried me away to Mount Tabor.”

To further point us in the direction for discovering the pneumatic reality, the Gospel of Philip intimates that something is missing from the conventional creed of the mainstream Church about the conception of Christ: “Some said Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit. They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive of a woman.” Not only does this passage affirm that the Holy Spirit is a female power but it also acknowledges that a masculine polarity is necessary for the conception to occur. In the announcement of Gabriel, the angel describes two spiritual powers rather than one. “The Holy Spirit (the Mother) shall come upon thee and the power of the Highest (the Father) shall overshadow thee.” Jesus had a mother and father according to matter—the hyletic reality. He also had a mother and father according to spirit—the pneumatic reality. What distinguishes this from the theological explanations of psychic Christianity is that it comes from the Gnostics’ direct experience of their own spiritual mother and spiritual father. Unless we also have this experience, then it remains merely another belief.

The Gnostics tend to disregard and minimize the hyletic and psychic aspects of the Mystery in their writings, not because they disavowed them, but because they knew that ultimately only the pneumatic experience of the Mystery is transformative. Concern over historical facts, pseudohistorical details, or theological explanations are not going to transform us or help us grow spiritually. They are not going to change us or increase our consciousness. Talk and discussion of the metaphysics involved in a virgin’s conceiving, propounding theories and ideas ad infinitum, is not going to change the existential condition of the human soul. An intellectual conception or interpretation, no matter how appealing to our minds, is still only a mental construct—only experience can transform us.

It is because of experiences of the Virgin Mary and insights into her spiritual role in the present that we, as modern Gnostics, have added this festival to our liturgical year. From the very beginning, Gnostics have had an especially close kinship with and regard for the feminine image of deity. Even if the early Gnostics did not write much concerning the spiritual role of the Virgin Mary, the Gnostic throughout history has been open to new and evolving images of the divine feminine as they have expressed themselves in direct experience. As a culture, we are currently experiencing a growing recognition of the importance of the divine feminine. The appearances of the Virgin at Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje in recent times points to an increased activity of the divine feminine in the collective psyche. When in 1950 the Pope proclaimed the Dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin, it was not just an exercise in ecclesiastical authority but predicated upon the personal visions and experiences of himself and others.

Another reason that the Annunciation is important to the Gnostic is the model of Mary’s response to the announcement of the angel. The presence of an angel in this story gives evidence of communication from the alternate, spiritual reality of our inner lives. The feminist interpretation views this story as a traditional model of female submission and obedience. Yet this announcement need not be seen as something ordained and commanded from on high but as a revelation and a choice for Mary to make. In the Lurianic Kabbalah, each human soul has a specific and unique redemptive task to bring about the restoration of the Light, wherein the fragmented sparks of the primordial Adam, the Human of Light, might be gathered together into the original whole. Each of us at some point in our lives may be brought a message of our redemptive task from the inner angelic voice of our higher divine self. We have the free will to choose to follow the revelation or not. Mary responds to the announcement of the angel not out of resigned obedience but in an affirmation of her own true will and divine purpose. “Be it unto me according to thy word.” Her choice brings it about, the fulfillment of the promise given in the aeons before her ever coming into the world. Mary hears the voice of her angelic and divine soul; she follows the Light which is above every power of the Father. In the story of Sophia, Sophia errs in following the false light of the Arrogant One. Leaving her consort, she brings forth the Demiurge, an imperfect god who is responsible for all of the tragedy of the human condition. She strives to redeem her mistake and correct her error through the sowing of a portion of her light power as sparks of light into the race of humanity.

In the story of the Annunciation, Mary chooses to bring forth a messenger of the Light, the Savior and Redeemer, by following not the false light but the true Light above the Aeons. In the Pistis Sophia, Mary conceives spiritually through the accepting of the Redeemer as the soul of the child in her womb. The Living Jesus tells the story thus: “It came to pass then thereafter, that at the command of the First Mystery I looked down on the world of mankind and found Mary, who is called my mother according to the body of matter. I spake with her in the guise of Gabriel, and when she had turned herself to the height towards me, I cast thence into her the first power which I had received from Barbelo—that is the body which I have borne in the height. And for the soul I cast into her the power which I have received from the great Sabaoth the Good, who is in the region of the Right.” In this fashion Mary takes on the culmination and embodiment of the redemptive role and destiny of the Holy Sophia.

Sophia is very important to us. Everything we do in this Church can be viewed as a cover for her acknowledgment and recognition in a culture where in times past the right to do so was paid for with our lives. Witches were not the only ones who were burned in the inquisition. Before them the last remaining Gnostics of European culture, the Cathars, were hunted down and burned as heretics. We are the hidden Children of Sophia. We are the protectors and guardians of her secret Gnosis. We acknowledge the darkness of this world and that, even in this more enlightened age, we could be imperiled and persecuted for her sake. And yet, in this place of darkness we have known her light. As in the prophetic verse of Isaiah, “They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”

These mysteries are within us. We can experience the conception of Christ within our own souls. We can receive the annunciation and hear the hail of Gabriel. We are all, regardless of our gender, the handmaids of the Indwelling Lord. When we receive the message of the promise we have made before the Aeons of the Light, even as Mary heard the announcement of Gabriel, we can affirm the light of who we are and reply, “Be it unto me according to thy word.”

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

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.