Archive for January, 2012

Mask of Words

It’s been a long time. How can I encapsulate the changes in the internal landscape these past few months in only a few words? Suffice it to say that I am not quite the same person who last posted here. This is as it should be, for he not busy being born is busy dying.

One thing I’ve undertaken the last month or so is a daily (well, frequent anyhow) written response to the Sayings presented in Marvin Meyer’s translation of The Gospel of Thomas. Perhaps the most frustrating outgrowth of these semi-regular exercises has been the recognition that all theologies and cosmologies, all attempts to put a face and an identity on God, all attempts to even comprehend the nature of Divinity, are but metaphors. “God” is a metaphor. “The Spirit” is a metaphor. The laws of physics, in a sense, are metaphor. Even my own beloved conception, what I call “the Principle” is merely a metaphor. Each interpretation, each metaphor, is correct in that it offers us insight into a facet of the workings of that Unknown which animates the universe. Each metaphor is also incomplete (as are all metaphors).

I’m growing comfortable with that idea, although it makes it difficult to attend Meeting–if one has reached the conclusion that the Ineffable is just that, that all interpretations of Divinity (including, perhaps, the concept of “Divinity”), then what is there to reflect upon for an hour? More metaphors. What I am struggling with at present is how to understand evil.

I’ve never believed in “Evil with a capital E,” in Satan and his many correlates. My understanding that all is from what we call God, that the universe is comprised of a series of manifestations of whatever the Divine truly is, leaves no room for an opposing force. We are all but manifestations of the Principle. All is from and of God. Yet how to explain the fact that so many turn away from the revelation of God within us? How to make sense of the fact that all of us, even our saints, struggle at one time or another (probably continuously) to remember that we are not the sum total of the universe, that there are other people, other living things, other manifestations of the Divine? Why is it difficult to step outside ourselves and the material world, and see the reality behind them?

One metaphor in which I find some element of truth is the Gnostic figure of Yaldabaoth, described in The Secret Book of John. This ancient text presents an alternative cosmology to the orthodox Judeo-Christian story of Genesis. The tale begins with a description not dissimilar from the Sufi tradition that Allah created the Universe from himself that he might know himself–the pure Divine presence, the only thing which existed before time, fell in love with itself, and in seeing itself, split itself into two presences. There follows a long passage of celestial begattings, in which the Presence splits into a spirit, a Mother, and later a Divine Child, understood to be the celestial version of Christ. These figures proceed to make the rest of the divine Universe. One offshoot of the Mother, called Sophia (Wisdom) sets out to make a child on her own, without permission from the others; the resulting child is Yaldabaoth, a great serpent with the head of a lion, who carries inside him both a part of his Mother which he has stolen and Ignorance or Chaos. Yaldabaoth succumbs to the Ignorance, losing all knowledge of those powers above him. It is he the demons he creates who fashion the cosmos. The narrative goes on to present several key stories familiar from Genesis, with the interesting twist that Yaldabaoth fills Yahweh’s position, and thus serves as the enemy of righteousness, not its source (it is he who denies Adam and Eve the fruit in the Garden; it is Christ, in the shape of an eagle, who leads them to taste Knowledge).

I don’t believe a power-mad serpent with a lion’s head rules over the universe. Yet the Yaldabaoth myth presents an interesting explanation for our ignorance of our own Divinity. Fashioned from his Light and his Ignorance, we hold the capacity for divinity, yet are naturally oblivious to this power. It’s a useful metaphor. What frustrates me today is that this metaphor sheds light on the subject, but remains a fable. It offers an unbelievable explanation for something we cannot explain without myth. But what lies beyond the metaphor? What is the reality hiding behind the veil of language? What, in essence, is the real explanation hiding behind the mask of words?


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