Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Mystery, Knowledge, and Sacred Magic

This weekend we celebrate Dia de Muertos, All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. These four events often merge into one. And I think they embody the Mystery, Knowledge, and Sacred Magic of the roots of our Anglican heritage. Yes, Saint Peter’s is an Episcopal Church. But, the Episcopal Church’s roots are deep in the Anglican tradition. Which comes out of Roman Catholicism. And, of course, we are part of the tradition of the Hebrews. Which means we have adopted practices and beliefs from other traditions including Egyptian, Zoroastrian, as well as Roman and Celtic pagans. The Anglican tradition is truly the gold made from the alchemist’s crucible.

Let me offer two stories as a metaphor of the concepts of mystery, knowledge and sacred magic.

This past summer I was walking the Wicklow Way. It was late in the day. Hot for Ireland. There were too many blisters, bad ankles, and sore knees in our group. Up and down. Heavy legs. Burning lungs. Weary back. My soul was sore. Then I saw a small wisp of cloud drifting towards me. No bigger than my Mini Cooper—barely a few feet off the ground. No one else seemed to see the cloud or paid any attention. Their heads were down. The cloud settled in my path. I was enveloped is this cool yet warm fog. I was suspended in the thin space. Time stopped. My heart was pounding. I sucked deep at what I felt was the Holy that surrounded me. And then I was standing alone. The tears burst from the dark inner space of my heart. I was awake. Yet I was walking in a dream.

The second story happened before I went to Ireland. I had cataract and lens replacement surgery. I had to be awake for the surgery. The doctor numbed my eye. Then he put this device on my eyelid that prevented my eye from closing. I was forced to stare into the light shining in my eye. The cataract removal only took a few seconds. That part was painless, almost unnoticeable. Then the doctor removed the lens from my eye. The world became a blur of white light. I realized at that moment that if the doctor didn’t insert the latex lens, all I would see for the rest of my life was that blurry white light. That caused me a bit of anxiety to say the least. But, all was well. The doctor put in a new lens and I can see wonderfully.

You’re probably thinking those two stories are totally unrelated. In sense, that’s correct. But the two stories do help explain the Anglican way of seeing the world.

The first story of my walk on the Wicklow Way describes a mystical experience. I didn’t cause the experience. Ii simply happened. I was in the right place at the right time to encounter the mystical. I’m sure everyone here has had a mystical experience of some kind. You beheld a splendid sunset and you were brought to tears. You held your newborn baby for the first time. Your soul soared to new heights. You heard a song that reminded you of some beautiful experience from the past. Mystical experiences are not reserved only for people like Saint John the Divine, or Saint Teresa, or Saint Peter. We are all a part of the communion of saints. We’re all saints and most of us have had a mystical experiences.

The second story I told about having the lens in my eye removed and then seeing a bright light. The lens was removed. I saw a bright, all encompassing white light. The experience caused me some anxiety. But, the experience was not mystical. The experience was the result of twenty-first century medical technology that fortunately had a happy ending.

One of the beauties of the Anglican Church is that you don’t have to check your brain at the door. We use knowledge to help us understand the world in which we live, the scriptures we read, and our own lives. The universe was created by a Big Bang thirteen billion years ago. Dinosaurs walked the earth. Humanoids have lived on the earth for over a million years. You don’t have to deny that stuff when you enter an Anglican Church. In fact, you really need to bring your brain into this church. You’re going to be asked to think about heady stuff all the time. No one’s going to tell you what to believe or think in this church. You are responsible for what you believe. That’s what Saint Paul meant when he wrote to the church in Philippi, that you are responsible to “Work out your own salvation.”

A major component of having knowledge is to help us understand the mysteries we experience as well as those found in our scripture. We’ve heard a reading from The Revelation to John (21:1-6). Unfortunately, the visions of Saint John the Divine have been co-opted by the bad theology of Rapture and the subsequent Left Behind series. Rapture theology is escapism and eliminates any Christian responsibility for doing the work of God. The theology of The Revelation of John is not that all Christians are going to escape the complexities here on Earth—it’s actually the opposite. The mystical Revelation was given to the seven churches in Asia, and to us, as a map of our work. Saint John the Divine says, “See, the home of God is among mortals.” In other words, God’s home is here with us. Christian’s are to spread God’s peace and love on earth as it is in heaven. Our work is to be God’s love for others.

Much of our Eucharistic liturgy, the work of the people, is lifted right out of The Revelation of John. The Revelation is our work and our mystical vision. We are saints who participate in the dailyness of God’s mystical vision for us. Our two sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist, are clearly part of God’s mystical vision for our Church.

And that’s where the magic comes in. The definition of magic is that someone preforms an act to change someone’s mind. Everyday, artists, musicians, and poets change our minds about the mundane—they are doing magic. In the church, the congregation participates in the sacred magic. Together, the priest, the people, and the Spirit offer simple bread and wine so that those elements of nature will become for us the very Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ. Don’t confuse what I just said with Roman Catholic theology, which teaches that the priest alone, by word and action, calls upon the Spirit to turn the bread and wine in to the flesh and blood of Jesus. Anglican priests do not celebrate private Eucharist—Holy Communion in the Trinitarian act of the priest, the people, and the Spirit. The same sacred magic happens at Baptism. Together, the priest, the people, and the Spirit engage in the sacred magic of blessing the water, which through the mystery of the Spirit will infuse the baptized with the very mystical Presence of Christ.

Mystery is the action of the Undivided Trinity. We, the Church, are responsible to bring our knowledge and to participate in the sacred magic in order to bring “Thy Kingdom Come on earth, as it is in Heaven.” Such work is evolutionary.

The main reason I come to church is to understand the ever-evolving meaning of life. That meaning, the purpose of life, is to become an integrated person. Mystery without knowledge is dualism. Mystery without sacred magic eliminates our responsibility in a relationship with God. Mystery and magic without knowledge is a dangerous cult. We need the mystery, the knowledge, and the sacred magic in order to become integrated human beings. As well, we need the mystery, knowledge, and sacred magic to become an integrated evolving church. If coming to church and what I believe doesn’t change what I eat, what I buy, and how I vote, and how I treat other people, then it’s all a waste of my time. It’s weird that way. And it changes everything.

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