The image is a fragment from the Nag Hammadi Codice -The Gospel of Thomas
CHRISTIAN HERESY OR MYSTICAL TRUTH?
The buzz and controversy over Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel, The Da Vinci Code may have died down but the Pandora's Box that book unearthed has been cracked open. Television documentaries about the Knights Templar, the quest for the Holy Grail and the legends of Mary Magdalene - that are still alive and celebrated in the South of France - have become a part of our cultural understanding. Or at least the basis for the possibility of a reframe for Christian understanding that was previously taken for granted.
So what was all the fuss about? What stirred the Catholic Church and all of Christendom to react with outrage and denial? Many things…
Brown’s fiction is threatening because it is believable. Like every good who-done-it, there’s a body, a murder and a cover-up. Only this is no ordinary cover-up. Twisting and turning, we investigate leads gone cold for thousands of years. Most significantly, the novel is threatening because it supposes the apostolic church fathers flat-out lied about the known true relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the disciple who he loved best.
After scripture was canonized in 325AD at the Council of Nicea, the accepted gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - were then regarded as the be all and end all biblical truths. The orthodox version of reality, with a celibate Jesus, became accepted fact. Think of it: What we have come to recognize as inerrant scripture, didn't become official until over three hundred years after the death of Christ. That's a lot of generations. There's lots of wiggle room in three hundred years.
During those pre-canonization years there were other early followers of Christ’s teaching who practiced a far different understanding of who Jesus was, what he believed and what he taught. These other Christians known as gnostics, supposed that sacred knowledge is divinely inspired and individually received. In gnostic understanding, followers of Christ's teaching are not guided to accept spiritual knowledge translated exclusively by the religious church hierarchy - Pope, Bishops, Cardinals and Priests. Gnostics heard Christ's words as a challenge to know the God within. To become still, to seek, to listen, to find and know answers to life's questions for themselves...as guided from within their own hearts and minds. Crazy different from Christianity as we know it today!
Not until the Nag Hammadi Gospels were unearthed in Upper Egypt in December of 1945, fully translated years later, and published for the world to know in March of 1981 as The Nag Hammadi Library: A Translation of Gnostic Scriptures by James Robinson, were we introduced to these others...these early Christians who understood Christ's message in a far different way. Brown was no doubt inspired by the paradigm-busting discovery. Digging archeological bones in Brown’s source texts — Holy Blood, Holy Grail; The Woman With The Alabaster Jar; The Templar Revelation; The Goddess in the Gospels - presents an astoundingly plausible truth: Divine or not, it appears Jesus and Mary Magdalene were a nice married Jewish couple...who probably had children.
My first read of The Da Vinci Code gave me goose bumps. Most especially because the concept that Christ was a real man, even a lusty man who loved life - and women - was not news to me. I had secretly reached this startlingly heretical conclusion many years before the Nag Hammadi find was translated and presented to the world in book form. Life had given me the opportunity to need a spiritual connection more desperately than I ever imagined possible. And it found me....
My awakening to greater love than I had even known came to me through tragedy. When I was a young mother, my husband and I were devastated by the accidental death of our oldest child, our almost six year old son. Although the circumstances may change, many of us experience tipping points in our lives which shatter our sense of self...as my son’s untimely death did for me. Waking up to a life I never imagined and didn’t want to accept, I desperately needed to feel love...and finding it was hard.
To deal with the grief I hired a Jungian Analyst. Every time they opened the doors, I showed up at the Episcopal Church. I joined an evangelical bible study group - Bible Study Fellowship, or simply, BSF. Before long I became a study group leader with responsibility for my own small group of women, in addition to membership in the larger group of five-hundred. The commitment was intense, and I was grateful to find a life focus, to feel inspired, to redirect my thoughts, to stem the tide of grief.
Week after week for six seemingly endless, grieving years, I rolled out of bed at 5:am. Waiting for the sun to come up, I searched for spiritual connection, for strength to keep going, and for sure understanding on which to base the rest of my life. Over time, I accomplished a complete - if sleep deprived - exegesis (such a word!) on every single sentence in the Bible. Plunging both time and energy into understanding the stories, I made them my own. My sleep-deprived study was in effect, a form of deep contemplation and often meditation. Little did I realize: When you are open to spiritual possibility, study and daily practice is likely to initiate direct contact with mystical reality.
Staying on task, doing both psychological and spiritual processes, one morning an inner door flung wide open. Traditional Bible study and Active Imagination Dreamwork came together in an ecstatic experience such as ancient Christian mystics, like St. Theresa of Avila, might know. Totally unscripted and certainly never dreamt or planned, Jesus and I became ONE. This Bridegroom Christ, as lover, was hinted at in my study of accepted biblical scripture…only between the lines…an implied figment of my spiritual imagination. I never dreamed it could happen to me.
In both my own ongoing personal inner work and also in work with clients, I have discovered that unitive experiences are far from unique. The form changes from person to person, yet each transcendent experience -- particular to the seeker of deep truth - is unpredictable and life-changing. Excavating buried emotions and bringing feelings up, out and into the light of awareness (especially through experiential psychological processes), just naturally leads to a state of transcendence, where ego boundaries fall away and we merge with an essence greater than ourselves.
My breathtaking inner experience of Christ as my marriage partner permanently altered my view of reality, as these astounding moments of illumination do for everyone. In fact, in Jungian psychology this unitive experience is known as the Inner Marriage. The inner male for a woman, or inner female for a man, coming together in an ecstatic partnership that binds them for life. And completes the psyche of both men and women in the paring.
But more, this partnership experience, and my gnosis - knowledge - surrounding what I felt in my bones as truth, convinced me that the Jesus who is represented in traditional Christendom reveals only half-truth. What I now saw were four selective Gospels chosen to fit whatever agenda the church had at the time canonization was declared. I wanted to know the full truth. No, I ached to know the truth. As we ache to deeply know the person we have fallen helplessly in love with. My Jesus was no longer the celibate teacher but the man I most deeply loved.
So began my own research into Gnostic thought....and there is always more to come....