“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” (Part of the Catholic “Hail Mary” prayer)
“I, a poor, miserable sinner confess to You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended you and justly deserved Your punishment now and forever.” (From the Lutheran liturgy – Missouri or WELS synods)
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” (Roman Catholic Mass, response of the people)
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” (Lord’s Prayer)
“Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God’s love toward us.” (United Methodist Communion Liturgy)
We have been inundated by our sinfulness for centuries by both the Catholic and Protestant branches of Christianity. Is this really the take home message from God each Sunday morning? Remember you are miserable rotten sinners? Shape up or ship out? Really?
From the beginning of Christianity, the Orthodox church presented a subject-object relationship between God and humanity. God made us, we were made. God acts upon humanity: God punishes, God rewards, God saves, God loves, God forgives, God smotes (spell check doesn’t think that is a word, but God did smote people), God helped, God hindered. And if people suffered, it was because (clearly) they were sinners and not doing what they were supposed to be doing in the eyes of God.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
Conveniently, The Church has held people in their sinfulness and given themselves and their priests or pastors the sole ability to forgive in God’s name. One could not receive communion, much less get to heaven, without confessing their sins and receiving forgiveness. One could not do what was right or know the will of God without going to church. What a nice self-perpetuation scheme. (Can you hear the steam coming out of my ears? This really burns me up.)
Contrary to this, the early Gnostic Christians believed that Jesus was an enlightened being who came to help humanity find the Divine within. Here is one example from the Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the kingdom is in heaven,’ then the birds of heaven will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you.
When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you dwell in poverty, and you are poverty.”
With the spark of God at the center of our being, our innate selves are not sinful creatures, but beings of light and beauty. The very essence of who we are is Divine… we are inherently good, we are ONE, we are connected to all things. According to Gnostics, people suffer not because they are sinful, but because they’ve forgotten who they really are, they are lost in ignorance. For example, it is almost impossible to believe in ourselves when the church and society continue to tell us that we don’t measure up and that God is keeping track of our sins. When we don’t believe in the good in ourselves, we inwardly judge ourselves harshly and come to the conclusion that we are unlovable, unforgivable and definitely not beautiful. If we judge ourselves harshly, as innately bad, then everyone else must be innately bad, too. This almost gives us carte blanche to judge and treat others poorly. Ignorance of who we are causes no end of problems and conflict.
This is ancient wisdom that we have all but lost, and the Gnostics weren’t alone in declaring it. Take a look at these quotes:
“The Kingdom of God is within you” (Jesus – Christianity)
“Look within, thou art the Buddha” (Buddha – Buddhism)
“By understanding the Self all this universe is known” (Hindu – the Upanishads)
“He who knows himself knows his Lord” (Mohammed – Muslim)
“Man, know thyself and thou shalt know the universe and the gods” (Ancient Greek)
Yet, what hold would the church have on anyone if each person could simply journey within to find the Divine? If there were no magic formula? No priest with answers and powers to forgive and transform bread and wine?
This is Holy Week, a time of deep thought and reflection. Consider this, that, in the words of Lee Ann Fagan Dzelzkalns, “Your true essence (that is, your true state of being, the individual connected to the ultimate divine nature of the Self, as opposed to existence itself) has always been whole. Yet somehow, you, like so many others, have drifted apart from knowing your goodness and greatness in wholeness. Now is the time to embrace your essence and expand your concept of self. The head (ego) can keep you very busy in the external world of form… It can keep you far, far away from the inner reality of your true essence. When the ego is fragmented, the physical body is not happy, the mental body is caught in negative cycles, and the emotional body is on the “poor me path. The ego maintains a grip on the past by replaying old scripts (is thoughts of failure or feelings of inadequacy) and firmly spearheads the emotionalizing of the self. Until you make a choice to break the cycle fear or anger or resentment, self-doubt, self-rejection, etc. you will be caught in its continuous cycle. Know that it is within yourself to harmonize and synthesize the physical, mental and emotional self, which will provide a healthy, balanced and whole personality.”
I just couldn’t say it any better than that. Have a blessed week.