Category Archives: Spirituality

Spiritual practice, meditation, witness, insight, awareness.

Market and Competition

Rev Troy dropped in yesterday to point out that the kinds of “inclusivity” I described in my earlier post aren’t unique to the AJC – all modern Gnostic churches share the same approach.

I realised after reading his comment that I hadn’t been trying to define what makes the AJC different from other Gnostic churches – since I don’t see our churches as being in competition: we’re in different geographical areas and we’re all mostly aiming for the same thing, there doesn’t seem to be much sense in competing.

I thought I should also point out a little about my method. These posts are a way of me feeling my way towards what makes the AJC (and particularly our church in Sydney) unique for people I’m talking to. Each of the posts highlights something I think is distinctive or interesting and my intention is to synthesise a USP from the set. This may take a while, but hopefully it means that I’ll get better at communicating the church and you, gentle readers, may find out more than you already knew.

The final thing I wanted to note is that using a marketing approach like this supposes a market of consumers and some good and some scarcity (of money, time or attention) which causes competition among providers. It isn’t totally clear to me that among potential spiritual seekers there is a real scarcity, but certainly people need to allocate their time among a large set of possible activities and spiritual seekers among a large set of possible groups and practices.

Given where Saint Uriel’s is in the world, we compete with TV and going out to drink with friends, we compete with the local Buddhist meditation group and with the Roman Catholic cathedral. I think I’ve been thinking about these posts in terms of laying out what makes us distinct from other churches, so perhaps some of this might be useful for clergy and lay ministers in other Gnostic churches who are probably facing similar competition.

Inclusivity

In this series of posts, I am exploring aspects of the AJC that I believe contribute to making it a unique church. None of these posts are official church statements, they are my own views and observations as a member of the communion.

One of the distinctive things about the AJC is our inclusivity. This manifests in several ways.

Usually the first way that strikes people when meeting the church is the last statement in our statement of principles:

We recognize the Sacred Flame to be present in all Beings and therefore our Offices are open to all humanity without discrimination on the basis of gender, race, social status or sexual orientation.

This seemingly anodyne statement, nudged into the list right at the end, has a range of radical consequences which painlessly locate us as a church in the current era.

We ordain women and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folk as deacons, priests and bishops. This isn’t something we’ve struggled with and come to tolerate; it’s a natural, effortless consequence of our founding principles. No argument required.

We marry any two people who are prepared to commit to making a marriage together. Simple. (EDIT: That is, any two people who are of a legal age to marry, who aren’t already married to someone else, who the celebrant is convinced are making a genuine commitment – we simplify the gender stuff, not the rest of it)

We offer the Eucharist to any person prepared to receive it, baptised or not, Christian or not.

I believe there is a pattern underlying the way these norms arise that we see manifest in various ways in the AJC. My way of describing that pattern is: it’s more important to maintain clarity about the centre than it is to merely police the boundaries. We certainly do police boundaries from time to time, but clarity about the centre means that’s a lot less necessary.

In this case, the centre is the experience of the Sacred Flame present in all beings and an understanding that our role as a church is to point out the Flame, to foster an individual’s experience and awareness of it in their own being and to get out of the damn way.

Obviously, those three consequences (inclusive ordination, simplified marriage, open communion) are some of the advantages that arise from being an organisation founded in the third millennium. We get to choose what aspects of Being Church we draw out of history rather than being the captive of organisational norms and cultural prejudices stretching back to the feudal era in Europe.

While we are a young organisation, we also embed an ancient tradition. In the next post, I’d like to explore some consequences of inclusivity in our tradition and the way the Clear Centre pattern plays out in how we engage with theology and scripture.

i wanna be next to you

"Milky Way, Jupiter and Scorpio" by Alireza Teimoury

Apropos of nothing in particular, I’d like to share a flawless piece of pop by Sam Sparro called “Black and Gold” (video). It’s a desperate, despairing love song hiding within dancey electro-pop, but the pleas for certainty don’t seem aimed at a simply human lover. Ah, actually he’s just said it straight up.

Well, so much for my musings about spiritual secrets hidden in plain sight. Instead, let’s hear it for the Hafiz of Australian electrofunk-soul.

The fish swam out of the ocean
and grew legs and they started walking
and the apes climbed down from the trees
and grew tall and they started talking

and the stars fell out of the sky
and my tears rolled into the ocean
now I’m looking for a reason why
you even set my world into motion

’cause if you’re not really here
then the stars don’t even matter
now I’m filled to the top with fear
but it’s all just a bunch of matter
’cause if you’re not really here
then i don’t want to be either
i wanna be next to you
black and gold
black and gold
black and gold

i looked up into the night sky
and see a thousand eyes staring back
and all around these golden beacons
i see nothing but black

i feel a way of something beyond them
i don’t see what i can feel
if vision is the only validation
then most of my life isn’t real

’cause if you’re not really here
then the stars don’t even matter
now I’m filled to the top with fear
but it’s all just a bunch of matter
’cause if you’re not really here
then i don’t want to be either
i wanna be next to you
black and gold
black and gold
black and gold

Unique Selling Proposition

From time to time a friend asks me to explain why I’m a priest or why I’m in a church or what the point of my church is and I often find myself tongue-tied and unable to easily justify myself.

Some of that is uncertainty about the person I’m talking to. If the person is a Christian, it’s not too bad, I know where to start. If they’re a Buddhist I have a few places to go. My problem is with secular, unchurched folk who don’t have a practice themselves. Where to begin?

On the weekend, I spent the afternoon at a friend’s birthday on Cockatoo Island and one of the other guests (let’s call her C) was curious about my ordination and the church and did me the favour of asking smart questions. C is a public relations professional and after I’d mumbled and stumbled around for a while, she decided to hit me with The Question:

C: What’s your USP?

Me: My what?

C: Your Unique Selling Proposition. What is it about your church that makes it uniquely great?

She asked me other great questions like “How do people know you’re there?”, but the USP question has stuck with me. We talked about my thought that it’s more that we have a set of things that make us unique and interesting. Apparently in PR this is OK, but I just need to get snappy at articulating them.

Some folk in spiritual circles, especially church circles, might be horrified by thinking about our church in PR terms, but I suspect if that’s the case, you’ve never tried setting up a parish from scratch on a continent where your organisation has no other foothold. C’s questions really pointed my attention very clearly at where I lack clarity.

So, I’m going to take it on. A USP for the AJC. If you, my 3 or 4 readers, will bear with me I’m going to devote a series of posts to things about my church that I think are remarkable or interesting. These comments are solely my own opinion and not representative of any official AJC position or the thoughts of any other clergy.

Perhaps when I’m done, I’ll be able to field questions from interested people without looking like a dope.

Adoring the Sun

Salutation and praise unto thee,
O life-enkindling Sun, child of Creation’s Lord!
O thou lone all-seeing Eye of the vault celestial!
Extend thy light that I may see,
but dim thy glory that I be not blinded.

Unmask thy countenance, O God of Light:
For I am a lover of Truth
and I would behold the spiritual essence
concealed by thy golden disk!

So reveal unto my perception
Thy shining and inmost nature,
Even that high spirit which infuses thee
and is one with the primal flame of mine own being.

O life-enkindling Sun, child of Creation’s Lord:
Salutation and praise unto thee!

That’s the text of the Solar Adoration recommended to neophytes in the Aurum Solis Order. The instructions are to practice the adoration at dawn and dusk. This brings the student into alignment with the daily rhythm and orients the attention to the solar energy.

It’s a simple, but delightful practice. Try it!

Reverend Grand-Mother Marsha+

Hearty congratulations to Mother Emerick on the birth of her new grandson!May the the Lord smile upon little Jaden and his family.Emerald City Gnosis: BRAGGING AND BRAGGING!!

in His entirety

Through grace God in His entirety penetrates the saints in their entirety, and the saints in their entirety penetrate God entirely, exchanging the whole of Him for themselves, and acquiring Him alone as the reward of their ascent towards Him; for He embraces them as the soul embraces the body, enabling them to be in Him as His own members…the intellect, because of its freedom from worldly cares, is able to act with its full vigor and becomes capable of perceiving the ineffable goodness of God.

St. Gregory Palamas (1296 – 1359)

Path and Current

Talking to a friend last week I noted that I feel as though I’ve stepped into a “current” in taking the ordination to the priesthood and in devoting myself to serious study of Gnosticism and the Western Mysteries. I was intending to use the word in the sense that western occult folk do — a coherent (sometimes ancient, sometimes emerging) tradition, the Golden Dawn current, the Chaos Magick current, etc — the river metaphor implied by me “stepping into” it was unconscious.

But my friend wasn’t sure what I meant and demanded an explanation.

Two things came out in our conversation that I wanted to share. One is my interior, very river-like sense of stepping into a current. I have, over the years, taken on various practices, read various books, occasionally sat with various teachers, but I always found it hard to shift a deep feeling that this was just all me. I was doing all the work, whatever changes were my psychology, shallow or deep. Sometimes I might project all that on other people or things, but ultimately it was all me. Lots of striving and seeking.

What’s shifted for me is a new sense that, in addition to me and my various efforts and strivings, I’m being nudged, assisted… drawn along on my journey. Something not entirely recognizable as me, not quite inside me, not quite outside me is exerting pressure to keep going. When I engage in a practice, there’s a very different sense going on, it’s not that it’s easy… perhaps it’s like I have company.

There’s a current which is also a sense of communion.

The other thing I wanted to mention is the distinction between a current and a path. This is simpler to point out. When I talk about my Path, and it seems similar when friends use the term, I’m referring to my personal journey with the sense that it has a continuity from past to future. My Path is very individual, each person’s Path seems to be, though that’s likely to be an artifact of us all being individualists.

A Current, by contrast, is not individual. It’s something that becomes present to me, that I choose to step into, that I can allow myself to be drawn by or that I can explore. My Path joins the Current.

Buddhists (and others) talk about the Way. A Way is really a Path trod by many in common over a long period.

I guess for a Way to develop a Current, it would need to rain pretty hard. Eventually you might get a stream or a creek or a river. Like the Nile. Or the Ganges. Or the Jordan.

St. John in the Wilderness



St. John in the Wilderness, originally uploaded by genericavatar.

My Flickr-friend genericavatar has been travelling in India and uploading some spectacular photography. For obvious reasons, this caught my eye.

About the First Man…

This is the one who is called “Son”…
the form of the formless
the body of the bodiless
the face of the invisible
the word of the unutterable
the mind of the inconceivable
the fountain which flowed from (the Father)
the root of those who have been planted
the god of those who exist
the light of those whom he illuminates
the love of those whom he has loved
the providence of those for whom he provides
the wisdom of those whom he has made wise
the strength of those he has given strength
the assembly of those with whom he is present
the revelation of that which is sought
the eye of those who see
the spirit of those who breathe
the life of those who live
the unity of those who are united.

The Tripartite Tractate 65.29-30, 66.13-30 (Courtesy of April de Conick’s wonderful Forbidden Gospels Blog)

I think it’s very easy to imagine this appearing in a liturgical context. Try reading it out loud.