Sunday, April 30, 2017

In the Heart of Heaven

Are you feeling restful? We usually take this question as meaning that we are being asked if we feel at ease and contented, if our thoughts are peaceful and untroubled. If all is well with us then it is nice to be able to reply in the affirmative. These are the states of wellbeing in our everyday world, but supposing that we alter the question slightly.

Supposing instead the question is: are you at rest within yourself? Now there is a deeper meaning implied: something which hints at a state of rest beyond simply ‘feeling restful’. The key word seems to be ‘within’. This, we sense, is something beyond feeling merely at ease about things. It carries the promise of a deeper world that is somewhere accessible: a peace beyond even ordinary contentment. But do we even have to feel good about things to reach this inner level?

Even when the ocean is a raging storm on the surface and great white-foamed waves are tossing and rolling, we know that deep beneath those waves all is calm in the depths, where the silent blue waters remain indifferent to the fury of the weather above. So perhaps it is possible that in our own lives we can reach this deeper peace, even when the events around us are filling our every thought with stress and confusion. The storm may rage around us, but these still, quiet depths within ourselves are always there and always accessible. But how are we to access them?

In one of the Gnostic texts known as ‘The Paraphrase of Shem’ the creative Light utters the mysterious phrase:


This strange phrase seems to be beyond translation: unrecognisable as a known language, perhaps it is intended as a magical incantation. But in spite of this ambiguity we need not wonder about what is being said, because the following passage in the text gives us the intended meaning: ‘I am in great rest’, is what the Light is saying. The text further explains that in this blissful state all impurities are burned away in the presence of this purest of lights, and a state of rest like no other is offered.

Perhaps only in the heart of heaven is such perfect rest attainable, although we still may taste its sweetness, perhaps through the practice of meditation, or maybe we might use our own methods, such as listening to a favourite piece of music, or reading some choice lines of poetry, or being in a particular place where we feel contented and at home, whether in deep woodlands or by the sea’s shore.

Such places, such states, might seem to be a solitary activity, but always they are a dialogue, a communion with the Divine. In such moments, and without words, the Light is speaking to us, reminding us that even when we are by ourselves, even when we are only one, we still remain, and always will be, One.

Painting by Vasily Polenov

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Easter Palms, Easter Eggs

Today it is Palm Sunday, and in countries where the tradition is observed children will walk with crosses made of palm leaves. This tradition commemorates the triumphal ride of Jesus into Jerusalem, when palm leaves were strewn in his path to carpet the way. Here in the Netherlands we have a charming children's rhyme, and this deceptively simple rhyme seems to be in the form of a riddle:

Ei koerei
Over ene zondag krijgen wij een ei. 
Eén ei is geen ei, 
twee ei is een hal-lef ei 
Drie ei is een Paas-ei!

"One egg is no egg - 
Two eggs are half an egg - 
Three eggs are an Easter egg!" 

It occurred to me that what at first seems a charmingly simple children's rhyme could be pointing us towards something much deeper, something which could offer us no less than a profound understanding of that most fundamental of ideas: the Holy Trinity.

In Christian tradition the Trinity existed from the beginning, so it is to the beginning of all things that we need to return to unravel this mystery of the Three-in-One:

One - the first state - is also none, for it is an existence without form. When this original state of the One becomes aware of itself – when it contemplates its own being – it becomes two, just as when we regard ourselves in a mirror there are ‘two’ of us, the one being aware of its reflected self. But still this is not yet the complete Self, not yet the complete story.

With this ‘Two’ growing aware of itself, ‘being’ turns into ‘becoming’. What these two manifest together is Form. So in this curious world of the Trinity, one plus one equals, not two, but three. Being, Awareness, Becoming: the three states of the Trinity which are the Three-in-One. As the rhyme tells us: the first egg is no-egg – it has no form. The second egg is half an egg – the process is still only half complete. But three eggs together are a whole egg: the egg has materialised into existence! 

So our humble Easter eggs form a wonderful connection with the 'Cosmic Egg'. And what at first seems like a simple children’s rhyme can contain a profound truth of what happened ‘in the beginning’. 

"Our Lady Częstochowa"

There is also a story (if I remember it correctly) that Peter challenged Mary Magdalene to prove her divine worth by changing the chicken's egg she happened to be holding. Before his eyes the egg turned red - which is how the tradition of painting Easter eggs began!

Painting of "Our Lady Częstochowaby" by Ulla Karttunen