22 February, 2013

Q&A: Pastoral Care and the Thomasine Creed

Q: Is a Thomasine bishop always a "harbinger of disquet?" What about situations where disquiet would be a detriment to someone's well-being. How do Thomasine bishops address pastoral care of the grieving or the dying?

A: I suppose I walked right in to that one. Now I've got egg on my face. How you choose to interact with someone is a fairly situational thing. So, if I were speaking with someone who was agitated, grieving, or going through the dying process, I would certainly be mindful of what I said and how I said it. There are times in these situations where it is beneficial to be both a comforter and a "harbinger of disquiet." With individuals who are dying, there are times when disquiet is helpful and comfort is harmful. As with all things, anyone in this situation ought to do his or her best to meet the person they're talking with where they are.

Q: I notice you speak strongly against religious or theological "speculation." Do you feel this is congruent with the existence of a Thomasine Creed? Is your Church's creed not also theological speculation.

A: Here is the text of the Thomasine Creed for anyone who is unfamiliar with it.
I seek the illumination of the Light of Truth.
I seek reintegration with the Living Father, the Ruler of Rulers, the Silence and the Deep.
I seek the annointing of the Mother, the Holy and Comforting Spirit, who is the front of all wisdom, to guide me to find that which internal, invisible, universal and secret.
I seek the knowledge of the Master, the Living Jesus, upon whom the annointing of Truth, Light and Life was given.
I seek to remove the veil of the Wicked Ones, so that I may obtain true understanding and attain liberation.

 Creed comes from the Latin word Credo, which is usually translated "I believe." If we were to translate the Thomasine Creed into Latin the first word would be Quaero, which means "I seek." The Thomasine Creed is a reminder of what the Thomasine initiate does or aims to do in his or her practice. As a meditation, we also focus on the meaning of particular words and phrases in context. For example, what does it mean to seek reintegration? What is "the Silence and the Deep?"

The Thomasine Creed doesn't invite the initiate to speculate about the nature of the Godhead or about morality or about supernatural events; it actively encourages you to do something. The creed is usually commended to an initiate as a meditative practice in a specific way at a specific time.

I'm not sure if I answered your question or merely dodged it with a bit of tom-foolery, so feel free to let me know if you're not satisfied with my answer.

Two posts in one day. I think that's a record for me. If you're lucky I'll not post again until March.

Whatever "It" Is

I've spoken in the past about how what the Thomasine tradition teaches is not exclusive to it. The kind of insight and experience one gains through Thomasine practice can be found elsewhere. When I give talks to audiences people sometimes tell me that I sound like a Buddhist or a Sufi or some sort of mainstream Christian mystic.

I think there's a good reason for that. Independent of whether or not there is or is not one God, many gods, many faces of one God, or whether or not God is three persons in one or whether or not Jesus had two natures or was merely completely human, there is a single stream from which all contemplative and mystical traditions draw.

I can't tell you precisely what "It" is, because I don't rightly understand that myself. Wisdom, Understanding, Insight, Englightenment, experience of the Abyss: these are all words that have been used to describe the experience. When you dispense with the theological and religious speculation, and instead experience Now, "It" becomes profound and omnipresent. "It" isn't the exclusive province of one religion or another; "It" is like a wild yeast fermenting dough left out overnight. 

Religious bodies, at least the mono-theist Judeo-Christian sort, like to make claims of exclusivity. Truth is exclusive only to our way of doing things. If you don't do things our way you'll find yourself bereft of Truth. No. Doesn't work that way. Rumi understood what "It" was. John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila understood what "It" was. Buddha understood what "It" was, so did Dogen, and so did the monks who contributed to the Philokalia, All of these people expressed their understanding of "It" in the only ways they could; they used the language and understanding of their particular time and place. That's all any of us can do.

I am quite serious when I say that I don't have much patience for religious and theological speculation. Whether or not God has a shin, whether or not a historical Jesus existed or said and did half the things written in the New Testament, whether or not God likes condoms, all of those things are merely dross to be expunged in the crucible of the contemplative mind. Those things are simply distractions from "It." 

In the Thomasine tradition, we try not to deliberately put things in the way of "It" and prefer to get down to business in short order. I understand that for traditonally theistic and religious people hearing a bishop call unimportant most of the concerns of religion might be jarring, but there you have it. As I have said to many religious groups in the past, a Thomasine bishop is not a shepherd and has no sheep. A Thomasine bishop is a harbinger of disquiet, not a comforter. 

16 February, 2013

Q&A: More on Theism, Theological Influences

Q: Bishop, can you clarify your stance on theism in Thomaisne tradition? Are you arguing for a particular position as to the nature (or lack thereof) of God?

A: I am not arguing for a particular position on the existence or non-existence of a theistic God. If I am arguing for anything, and I am, it is for quiescence on the matter of the existence or non-existence of God. I am not particularly sympathetic toward speculative or religious thought in general. In very early Buddhist writings, Buddha talked about the idea of a View (diṭṭhi), a highly charged, experiential interpretation that exerts a strong influence on thought, perception, and action. Theism (the existence of a God that intervenes directly in human affairs) and what most people, to my mind, misunderstand as Atheism (the absolute non-existence of a God) are both Views and Attachment to Views is a cause of Delusion and Suffering.

This is something I would like to expand on at a later date, but I hope my brief answer is helpful.

Q: Who were your early theological influences?

A: I was deeply influenced by John Shelby Spong (particularly his 12 Theses and call for a New Reformation), Paul Tillich, Marcus Borg, Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross, and Francis of Assisi.