Ascensiontide Pastoral Letter to the Holy Celtic Order of the Temple
& the Mar Thoma Liberal Catholic Church
What an extraordinary time we have all been having over the last few months; a fight for life or a burden of worry and grief for some and a bucketful of inconvenience and material loss for the rest of us. I am sure we have all learnt many lessons from Corona about those things which really matter in life and I know that for many of you, as for Mons Bruno and I, our faith and practice have sustained us thus far. At least our home oratories have not been closed! Quite apart from the physical fact of the virus itself there are clearly far greater sinister forces at work in the world. We can only pray fervently that they do not get the upper hand. May St Michael the Archangel defend us in battle!
Now as the feast of the Ascension approaches we prepare to commemorate a holy mystery which has had a long history, in different forms, among the ancient religions of the Mediterranean and middle east. In ancient Sumeria there is a tale of the ascension of the first man, Adapa or Adamu, whilst in ancient Egypt the pharoahs rose after death to join Isis, Osirus and Horus in the heavens. In the bible, Enoch an Elijah were reportedly taken up into the heavens whilst still living and even in ancient Greece there was the myth of the ascension of the demi-God Hercules to dwell with the Gods on Mount Olympus, so it is clear that the biblical story of the ascension of Jesus follows in a great tradition of similar stories.
We may ask ourselves therefore of what significance is the story to our lives today? Ascension for the Liberal Catholic means much more than a simple commemoration of the Ascent of the Master Jesus, rather, when we celebrate this festival we are celebrating not only the ability of Jesus to transcend his sufferings and to attain a state of eternal bliss (samadhi), but also our potential to do the same. In traditional Christianity, as well as the great religions of the East, the well tried way to transcend inevitable suffering is to rise above our frail humanity, through union with the Divine in prayer and meditation. Indeed these spiritual disciplines can give great comfort and often produce remarkably well-balanced men and women of heroic virtue, yet unfortunately for many of us the law of gravity prevails - “What goes up must come down”. We find it difficult to sustain the degree of asceticism and discipline that appears to be required to make significant progress towards “Enlightenment”, “Ascension” or “Salvation”, whichever you like to call it.
God as the Solar Logos is explained beautifully and in some depth in the works of Bishop C.W. Leadbeater and Bishop F.A. Piggott so I shall leave that until another occasion and move right along to say a few words about the World Mother, particularly in her guise as the Black Madonna.
A few months ago during the Amazon Synod in Rome, Pope Francis and some of his supporters got into frightful trouble with conservatives in the church over a so-called pagan ceremony in the Vatican gardens involving prostration before an image reportedly of “Pachamama” which means Mother Earth in the Quezua language. I say “so-called” because it was such a pale imitation of an actual pagan ceremony it hardly deserves the appellation. However, what the reactionaries fail to realise is that in folk Catholicism we have always venerated the Earth Mother, in her barely disguised persona as the Black Madonna, whom most religious historians now reckon to be a direct replacement of the mother goddesses which were worshipped so enthusically over all Europe in ancient times. The ordinary rural folk of southern Europe in particular have never lost their love of the Dark Mother and their knowledge of her deep wisdom. Her wisdom and her way is one of Balance, an acceptance that we are “spiritual beings having a human experience” and that this human experience is valuable in itself. She embraces our humanity, even our carnality, sacralises our sexuality and encourages us to live in harmony with the natural world. Yes, we must obey our highest spiritual impulses and reach for the stars, reach for heroic virtue and union with the celestial Divinity, but at the same time we must also descend with her into the womb of our animal nature and enjoy the good things this life offers us in terms of family, friends and all the normal pleasures common to our humanity. Finding balance within ourselves, leading to harmony with others, are the keys to success and happiness both in this life and the next.
Our Celtic ancestors are also justly renowned for living in harmony with nature and in particular for their love of the wilderness. Still today the the holy wells where they worshipped are frequented, and often dedicated to Our Lady, where her gift of the water of life gushes forth to sustain and heal. It is my firm conviction that opening our hearts to Our Lady as well as Our Lord and joyfully participating in their dance of descent and ascent is the surest way to spiritual evolution, both personally and globally.
I wish you all a blessed Whitsuntide and a glorious summer!