December 26, 2010 by Bill
“To do some little thing in the spirit of love is to live in the spirit of Jesus. To so live is all that is required to be a Christian,” wrote Albert Schweitzer, that giant biblical and religious scholar. In his classic, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, Schweitzer also observed that, “Jesus never claimed to be anything that the church has claimed for him.” And so it is. Around the simple figure of Jesus, the church built an elaborate “Christ” mythology encrusted layer on top of crusted layer with themes common to the Near East: virgin birth, savior god, resurrected hero, divine son, holy trinities – all mythological themes well-known to the authors of biblical literature.
At our beautiful Christmas Eve candlelight services we will remember that myth and metaphor can be celebrated as well as historical and factual events. It is as Joseph Campbell wrote, “The primary function of mythology is to express a sense of awe before the mystery of being; the mystery of existence.” And so it is. When George Santayana was the Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University, he wrote that he had totally rejected Roman Catholic dogma as a young man. He never again took part in any of their rituals, but one: the midnight candlelight mass on Christmas Eve. Even knowing that it was a celebration of one of the great myths of humankind, it still “fed his spirit,” he wrote. Read more
December 19, 2010 by Bill
In 1945 an Arab peasant in the upper Egyptian desert near Nag Hammadi made a spectacular discovery. Buried in earthenware were 52 papyrus texts, some dating from the beginning of the Christian era and presenting a Jesus who said things that could have come out of the mouth of a Zen Master, or even the Buddha himself.
Professor Helmut Koester of Harvard University has made the observation that one of these gospels in particular, “The Gospel of Thomas” includes traditions even older than the Gospels of the New Testament, earlier than Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, and also closer to the actual life of Jesus.
These are known as the “Gnostic Gospels,” from the Greek word “gnosis,” meaning “to know”…to know oneself, to have an insight into oneself in an intuitive sense. “To know oneself is to know God” says Jesus in these gospels. The self and the divine are identical and one. The living Jesus in these gospels speaks of an enlightenment, the same type that is taught by Zen Masters and Taoists. Jesus is never presented as Lord, but rather as a spiritual guide. The living Buddha could easily have said, and did, everything attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas and other texts.
These texts, with Jesus talking in this manner, were seen as a danger to the developing ecclesiastical structure because they encouraged insubordination to the authority of bishops, priests and deacons. Church father Ignatius warns the laity to “honor and obey the bishop as you would God.”
He continues: “The Bishop presides in the place of God.” It is quite easy to see why the church councils did not choose these gospels for their bible. It was purely political. Bishop and Priests “can’t get no respect” from the common people if the common people read that Jesus said they don’t need bishops and priests and that “the Kingdom is all within everyone, and all are sons of God.”
Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas: “if you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you, for the lamp of the body is the mind.” And again: “the mind is the guide, but reason is the teacher. Live according to your mind. Acquire strength for the mind is strong. Enlighten your mind…light the lamp within you.” Read more
December 12, 2010 by Bill
Every year on the Sunday nearest the Winter Solstice, we come together to celebrate this very important and ancient tradition. This year, the Winter Solstice Celebration will be held on December 19 in the beautiful Bougainvillea Room at the Palm Springs Tennis Club.
The Tai Chi Master, Scott Cole, will be there, doing his spectacular Tai Chi, dressed in white, then he’ll lead everyone in Tai Chi. Robin Kobaly, a very brilliant botanist, gives a presentation on the plants in the area and how they were used by the Indians. We will also be entertained by Nancy Soren, a singer and performer who has entertained for many years with her popular one-woman shows, and the lovely operatic voice of Judy Deertrack, singing holiday songs.
And we will also have my meditation on the significance of the event. For thousands of years, the Winter Solstice (December 22-25) has been the most special time of the year and the most important date in human celebration. The sun has started its long journey home bringing Springtime. Celebrating this event in the month of Solstice, we are part of the line of descent that has been uninterrupted almost from the birth of humankind.
Long before the mythological birth date of Jesus in this period, our bloodstream ran in the veins of sun gods and sun worshippers… Greeks and Romans… Barbarians in the Germanic forests… Northern worshippers of Thor… and Egyptians… Jews… Gauls… Persians and Indians. No wonder that the virgin birth of the gods in almost all religious traditions were said to have taken place during the Winter Solstice period.
No wonder that Julius, the fourth century Pope, when asked to fix a date for the birth of Jesus, said “We will say it took place in Bethlehem on December 25.” This was the date of the Winter Solstice according to the Julian calendar. Other virgin-born gods, along with Jesus, celebrated during this Solstice period, were Marduk… Osiris… Isis… Mithra… Saturn… Sol and Apollo. And so, for thousands of years, we have celebrated this date with singing and dancing, with solemn ceremony and flowers, palms, mistletoe and holly. Read more