MASTER OF MYSTICAL CHRISTIANITY: (4 credits) >>CLICK TO ORDER
Welcome to lesson one of the Masters of Mystical Christianity program. Each week you will receive a discourse that talks about the mysticism of Christianity. You will be receiving an email for this course approximately once a week. If for any reason you don’t receive one, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org so she can re-send your material.
Master of Mystical Christianity
Universal Life Church Seminary
Lesson 1 -- Our History and Origins
In the Beginning: Stories Of Our Origin and Creation
Since earliest times, every culture has spun stories of their origins and their gods. The Jewish people were no different and we have the work of these ancient storytellers enshrined in the very first verses of the book they called the Torah, which we call the Bible (Old Testament). Over the centuries, these stories have created much controversy, which continues to this day.
These same stories, through misinterpretation and misogyny, have been used to disempower and denigrate half the human population - hardly their original intent! The apple of the Garden of Eden has had a frightful effect on all of humanity, both men and women, and we cannot begin to build bridges between the genders and speak of true partnership until we heal the wounds caused by the twin serpents of fear and blame. It is time.
A Difficult Challenge
For many today, particularly women, the Bible has become a difficult and increasingly irrelevant challenge. The extremes seem to rule the day - either Holy Scripture is to be read as the literal word of God or not read at all. Another alternative is desperately needed.
This alternative is not being willing to “throw the baby out with the bath water” and relegate much of this centerpiece of Judeo/Christian tradition to the trash heap. But neither is it being willing to accept unquestioningly the blatant “slings and arrows” that have resulted from using the Scriptures as a weapon in ideological wars. It is time for a “time-out”; a deep breath, and a more reasoned approach to these sacred texts.
For yes, they are sacred; sacred mythology of a long ago time that still speaks to us today. Joseph Campbell has taught us that, far from being lies, myths are consummate truths spun in metaphorical language. They take us beyond the literal and into the realm of spirit. Myths are stories of the search by men and women through the ages for meaning and significance; seeking to touch the eternal and to understand the mysterious; to understand who we truly are. They function in four different ways. First, they provide us with an open invitation to mystery. Second, they open the doors to the cosmological and the transcendent. In other words, the world of matter becomes holy and sacred. Myths also validate a particular social structure, as can be seen in much of the Old Testament literature. And finally, myths teach us how to live an authentic human life.1
Cullen Murphy, in his beautifully written synthesis of women and the Bible The Word According To Eve, proposes that Holy Scripture as we know it has been the catalyst of four revolutions, and a fifth is now gathering impetus. The initial revolution occurred with the creation of a people and a sacred book based on the theology of one transcendent God, known first as the Book of Moses or the Torah (literally “The Law”). The Israelites became known by these twin concepts: they were the people of “the Book” who believed in one God. This set them apart from their neighbors. The second revolution erupted within Judaism and gave birth to Christianity and a new body of writings called the New Testament. Fifteen hundred years later we see a similar shift within Christianity, this time exalting the authority and importance of Scripture as well as creating the opportunity for the Bible to be read by the laity in the vernacular. The fourth revolution was heralded by the Enlightenment and the ever-growing challenge of the sciences and Reason to religion and the sole authority of Scripture.2
Today we are in the midst of what Cullen Murphy terms the fifth revolution, as women infiltrate the sacred halls of academia, creating the credentials and the expertise to manifest a new scholarship based on the insights of the feminine. And the results? Murphy, a male Roman Catholic, quotes an article he wrote in 1993 for The Atlantic Monthly that today seems prophetic indeed: “I write these last words on the day of my daughter’s first communion in a denomination that still restricts the role of women, and I write them in the expectation that with regard to the position of women, matters will not remain - will simply not be able to remain - as in some places we see them now; in the expectation, to employ a biblical turn, that the present way’s days are numbered.”3 Murphy goes on to refer to the handwriting on the wall from the Book of Daniel which, traced by a moving finger upon the plaster, becomes a judgment, a sentence and an imminent and inevitable prophecy of the future. “On a host of matters involving women and the Bible, the writing on the wall is there to be read. And more and more of it appears with every passing day.”4
In the Beginning
Most people reading the first three chapters of Genesis fail to realize that they are actually reading two creation stories from two separate sources. Much like the narratives of the birth of Jesus, where shepherds, wise men, a star and a stable all combine into one story, we have often conflated the two creation stories to form one seamless narrative, ostensibly from the same source. Although Genesis may be known as the first of the five Books of Moses, few scholars today would attempt to argue that Moses himself wrote Genesis, let alone the other four books of what is called in Greek the Pentateuch.
So where did this material come from? Biblical scholars today see at least two separate hands at work creating what we know today as the Book of Genesis. Genesis begins with what is called a “priestly” source (or P for short). This version contains the well-known six days of creation. It is the later of the two stories, and was probably written after the Israelites returned from Babylon in the fifth century B.C.E. Here we have a formless void (“chaos”) with the divine wind or spirit (the feminine ruach in Hebrew) hovering over the waters.5
Though there is no actual linguistic connection, symbolically I have always felt that this image connects to the Shekinah of later Israelite history, where the presence and glory of God hovers as a cloud above the tent of meeting. The Shekinah has always been traditionally feminine and thus we would have the Divine Parents birthing the universe and all its abundance together. My favorite image of creation is the masculine power of the Divine Word impregnating the feminine Shekinah and then she gives birth to all her children, the kingdoms of plants, minerals, animals and humans as well as the sun, moon and stars. It goes without saying, though, that this is not a dualistic paradigm, like the one evolved by Plato and the Gnostics who saw creation as evil, created by a secondary Demiurge. Here in this creation myth there can certainly be no doubt that God is One and everything created, all matter, is good.
When we come to the creation of humanity, we are created in the divine likeness and image. Much ink has been put to paper over the centuries speculating about what the imagio dei actually means. Though it is easy to jokingly say that we as humans create God in our image, the true meaning of this important concept is to be found in our divine connection.
God is not separate from us, nor are we separate from God. It is as though we are mirrors for the divine reflection, and how good the reflection depends on the quality of the mirror. “The reason why creation came into being at all was because the Divine Being needed to mirror itself in order to embrace a more complete awareness. The Divine Being is a perfect balance of both the Sacred Masculine Principle and the Sacred Feminine Principle, and both Principles required mirroring.”6
Here “Adam” does not mean just man, but humanity in general, and note that in the next verse male and female are created. There is an interesting parallel to this creation myth in the writings of Edgar Cayce, America’s Sleeping Prophet of the early 20th century. His intuitive version proposes that the “adamic” energy, which he calls Amilius, was the original gift of the Christ to the world and this energy was androgynous. It then separated into Adam and Eve, male and female, thus providing the seed for a feminine as well as a masculine Christ energy.7
The first creation story ends with verse four of chapter two, and as the verses are now divided, in that very same verse another story begins. Suddenly we are back at the beginning once again, the heavens and earth have just been born, and there are no plants, let alone animals, on the earth. We are told that “Adam” (once again humanity as a whole) is formed from the earth - adamah in Hebrew, a wonderful play on words. God then blows the breath of life (ruach) into “Adam” and he becomes a living being.8
Linguistically it is obvious that both men and women are meant here. However, since woman is not created for another ten verses this verse is a blatant example of how Scripture has been misinterpreted and misused. In the Victorian Age, (not that long ago!) this verse was used to maintain that the divine breath was only given to Adam, meaning man. Therefore, women did not have souls! Fortunately, the historical/critical method of Biblical interpretation has negated many such theories. Unfortunately, as we will see, the damage from Scriptural misinterpretation did not and has not stopped there.
Yahweh God then creates the garden in Eden, and gives the injunction that the tree at its center, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, shall not be used for food. It is off limits, presumably to both Adam and Eve, though Eve has yet to appear on the scene. The obvious explanation is that once again Adam is synonymous for all of humanity, for in this version it is only after Eve’s creation that we find the words for man and woman, ish and ishshah.9
It is only now that we hear that it is not good for Adam, humanity, to be alone, and so Yahweh God creates all the animals, but these are found to be unsuitable companions. So, in one of the most famous (or infamous!) verses of Scripture, Yahweh puts Adam (remember this androgynous being represents all of humanity) into a sleep and from the rib of Adam creates not only woman but man as well. Linguistically there is no man until there is woman. Thus, a careful reading of this passage gives a very different flavor than the usual one that has been used for so many centuries to buttress woman’s inferiority. It would be appropriate to say that both women and men were created from the rib of Adam as co-equal partners from the same source.10
This second creation story probably originated in the southern kingdom of Judah around the 10th century BCE and scholars usually designate it as the “Yahwist” or J source, because it uses Yahweh consistently for the name of God.11 There is also another interesting comparison between these two stories.
Remember that the first one begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth, and we continue on through the creation of the entire universe. Only at the very end, on the sixth day, do we have the creation of the animals and humankind. This priestly narrative focuses on the universe and the majesty of the cosmos. When we come to the Yahwist creation story, the order is reversed. Now we begin with the creation of earth. This emphasis is no accident. Here earth is center stage and with the earth, the creation of humanity. This story is much more “earthy”12 and God, in effect, “gets his/her hands dirty”.
Overturning the Apple Cart
“Now, the snake was the most subtle of all the wild animals that Yahweh God had made. It asked the woman, ‘Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’
The woman answered the snake, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden. But of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said “You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death.” ‘ Then the snake said to the woman, ‘No! You will not die! God knows in fact that the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods,knowing good from evil.’ The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was enticing for the wisdom that it could give.
So she took some of the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. The man and his wife heard the sound of Yahweh God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from Yahweh God among the trees of the garden.
But Yahweh God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ he asked. ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden,’ he replied. ‘I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.’ ‘Who told you that you were naked? he asked. ‘Have you been eating from the tree I forbade you to eat?’ The man replied, ‘It was the woman you put with me; she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’ Then Yahweh God said to the woman, ‘Why did you do that?’The woman replied, ‘The snake tempted me and I ate.’ 13
Genesis 3:1-6, 8-13
The story of the Garden of Eden has haunted humanity down through the ages. In reexamining this powerful myth we need to remember first of all that it is a myth, not reality, and it was created by a particular culture to answer certain questions. What were those questions? First, it presents an idyllic relationship between Creator and creatures. As we have seen, creation/matter is definitely good, but those that wrote these stories were obviously wrestling with the question “Why doesn’t existence measure up to this perfection? What happened?” This age-old question has challenged theologians across the centuries. If God is a loving, merciful God who created in goodness and perfection, why is there evil, pain and suffering in the world? The two extremes for answers to this question postulate either a secondary deity (the Demiurge) that creates a flawed world (the classic Gnostic position) or a flawed and fallen humanity that mess up a perfect created world and in essence “lose” paradise.
Second, this myth functions to validate an established social structure between men and women, and between humans and creatures. We are presented with a hierarchy with man at the top, then woman, and then the animal and mineral kingdoms of the earth. Remember the buck passing that ends in the serpent being the ultimate “fall guy”. The result, in the traditional interpretation, is sin and suffering for all of humanity and creation as a whole. In this scenario, no one wins. We have a despoiled earth that is to be “dominated” by humanity. We have wisdom in the form of the serpent being trod in the dust. We have the Sacred Masculine toiling to survive while the Sacred Feminine suffers the pain of being the vessel of creation. And we have a God who created in goodness and now must punish in fury and outrage. It is no wonder, given these results, that many today see this story as the ultimate example of disconnection with reality. This is not our God and this is not our story. We need a new myth.
Fortunately, there is good reason and respected scholarship to suggest that this is not the only way to read this story. It is one “spin”, but certainly not the only “spin” in town. So, just for a moment, try hard to erase from your mind all the traditional programming from orthodox Christianity on this story. Wipe the slate clean, and let’s start over. We begin with the given that God’s intent was to create goodness and beauty, and that we as mirrors reflecting God’s image also have that divine intent, that divine “spark”, within each of us. We are not worms; we were not created for “original sin”. Indeed there is no such thing as original sin. We were created, in Matthew Fox’s wonderful phrase, for “original blessing”.
If this is true, then it is perfectly conceivable that the whole story in the Garden becomes a story of initiation instead of punishment and loss. There are many examples in ancient cultures where an initiate is forbidden to cross a boundary, with the very assumption that disobedience is the path to further growth and the next level of spiritual knowledge. The example that comes immediately to mind, appropriate in that the punishment is the same and the goal similar, comes from ancient Egypt and the Temple of Isis. The statue of Isis in this temple was always veiled and initiates were told that if they lifted the veils of Isis, they would surely die. The truth was that when the veils were lifted, far from dying, the initiate passed on to a higher level of spiritual knowledge.
Thus, we can propose, along with some noted Biblical scholars,14 that it is time to re-mythologize the Garden of Eden. Far from punishing humanity with exile from the Garden, this powerful story offers us a glimpse of our infancy, before we took our first steps toward self-knowledge and self-responsibility. We needed to leave the Garden and we needed the knowledge of good and evil. This is truly a graduation, not a “fall”. And of course we should note that there is a close linguistic tie in Hebrew between the verb “to know” and “knowledge” and sexuality. Countless times in the Old Testament literature we are told that someone “knew” his wife, meaning having sexual relations with her. So there is little doubt that this Tree in the middle of the Garden, the “heart” of the Garden, has sexual knowledge to impart. What better symbol for the budding adolescence of humanity?
As you conclude this lesson, allow yourself to reflect on the meaning of the Garden of Eden in your own life as you answer the following questions. Next we will journey onward to compare the stories of Genesis with other creation myths, and ask the question about the relevance of these myths for our day. May you walk in Love, Light and Peace as you re-discover your true Oneness with God.
Questions For the Heart and Mind
1. How do you view the Bible and how do you use Scripture in your daily life?
2. Describe a myth that is currently a part of your life. What is its origin? How does it influence you in a positive or negative way?
As you read the first three chapters of the Book of Genesis, what feelings do these words evoke? Where are these feelings coming from?
4. What difference would it make to you as a woman or man to re-interpret these verses of Scripture as has been suggested in this lesson.
1 See The Power Of Myth with Bill Moyers and The Hero With a Thousand Faces and The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology by Joseph Campbell.
2 Cullen Murphy, The Word According To Eve, p. xi.
3 Cullen Murphy, “Women and the Bible,” Atlantic Monthly, August 1993 as quoted by Murphy in The Word According To Eve, p. xiii.
4 Murphy, Eve, p. xiii.
5 Notes in The New Jerusalem Bible, p. 17.
6 Claire Nahmad and Margaret Bailey, The Secret Teachings Of Mary Magdalene, p. 84
7 As cited by Glenn Sanderfur, Lives Of the Master, pp. 10-16.
8 E. A. Speiser, Genesis (Anchor Bible Commentary), p. 16.
9 Notes in The New Jerusalem Bible, p. 21
10 Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality as cited by Murphy, Eve, p. 53. Trible is an internationally known Biblical scholar and professor of Biblical Studies at Wake Forest University Divinity School. She is also a past president of the Society of Biblical Literature and former professor of Old Testament Studies at Union Theological Seminary.
11 “Introduction To the Pentatuch” in The New Jerusalem Bible, p. 7
12 Speiser, pp. 18-19.
13 All quotations from Holy Scripture are from The New Jerusalem Bible, Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd., 1985.
14Trible as cited by Murphy, pp. 53-55.
Copyright 2007 by Rev. Mother Maryesah Karelon, OMM. All rights reserved. No part of this lesson may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
For further information about the Order of St. Mary Magdalene, please visit us on the web at www.magdalenerose.org.