Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Darkness: a Thin Place for My Soul

Today's SynchroBlog covers the subject of Darkness and Light as Motifs of Spirituality.

I like the darkness. I find it comforting. My eyes feel good in darkness.

I like fog at night. It speaks to my heart of shrouded mystery, and things yet to be discovered in the adventure of this life. Darkness is a Thin Place for me. A place where the presence of God seems nearer, and the unseen realm draws closer.

A simple reading of my Bible seems to set in place a specific motif of darkness and light. Light - good. Darkness - bad. This too is the cultural dynamic of these words, when placed in the context of spirituality. Many would call Christianity light, and Satanism dark, and therefore contextualize darkness as a bad thing.

So,what does this say about me that I like physical darkness, and am attracted to it? Am I a human version of a scary creature? a spider, a bat, or some kind of psychic vampire? Or could it be that the motifs of darkness and light in their identification with spirituality are not as simple as we at first surmise?

God separated darkness and light, and it was good. So the story of Creation tells us. The people of Israel saw the presence of the Lord hover over the mountain in thick darkness, and a voice spoke out of the cloud. It was a darkness which stood between the children of Israel and the Egyptians who pursued them across the Red Sea, and saved them from their oppressors.

In these three illustrations we discover that darkness is good, that the presence of the Lord is found in it, and that darkness can even be used to save.

Could it be that the typical motif of darkness as ignorance, and evil somehow blends seamlessly into the idea that darkness can be our salvation?

In darkness I look for mystery: like the God who hides in thick clouds of darkness on the mount, and booms with a voice speaking over my head with things too deep for me. In darkness I look for comfort as though I am hidden from the greedy eye of trouble by the shadow of His wings.

Strangely even difficult darkness has brought me salvation. In my troubles my eyes look up. In my confusion and ignorance I learn not to trust my own sensory perception, or mental acuity.

The darkness carries both the positive elements like the presence of the Lord, and it carries negative elements like confusion and trouble. Who am I to think that they do not somehow simultaneously live in this darkness together, and somehow swirl together in a storm of both violence and salvation? The worlds collide together in darkness, and I find myself in Thin Places where my soul is nourished.

SynchroBlog List for Dec. 10th: Darkness and Light as Motifs of Spirituality

Phil Wyman finds Darkness: a Thin Place for the Soul
Adam Gonnerman on being "In Darkness"
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
Jeff Goins is "Walking in the Light with Jesus"
Ellen Haroutunian finds Holy Darkness
Bethany Stedman thinks Light is Coming
Julie Clawson walks through Darkness and Light
Kathy Escobar will Take a Sliver Anyday
Susan Barnes at ...and here's a photo of one I made earlier
Joe Miller thinks you can Discover Light in Darkness
Beth Patterson talks about Advent: Awaiting the Ancient and the Ever New
Liz Dyer says What the Heck
Sally Coleman muses about Light into Darkness
Steve Hayes with the Lord of the Dark
Josh Jinno with Spiritual Motifs of Darkness and Light
KW Leslie contrasts Darkness versus blackness
Erin Word writes Fire and Sacrifice

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Jesus as the Archetype Shaman (Part 1)

Ascent to the heavens, descent to the underworld, an experience of death and resurrection, acting as a psychopomp to the lost souls of dead humans, story-teller, cultural icon and outcast, healer, exorcist...these are the works, and the personal experiences of a Shaman.

These are also the things which set Christ apart as unique in human history. These are things of which He is an exemplary model, and humanity's ideal for spiritual excellence and success. These elements are identified by religious historians as the signs, and activities of a Shaman. It is the contention of this post (and any following posts on the subject) that the Nazarene was the ideal of shamanic power and practice, and therefore The Archetypal Shaman.

This concept is not a new one. Others such as Peiter Craffert, and John Pilch have already done studies along these lines. Their ideas have been considered revolutionary by some, and heretical by others. Both Craffert and Pilch have appeared to have cast Jesus as the Galilean Shaman, at the expense of the orthodox Christian position of Messiah, and resurrected Lord of Heaven and Earth.

In contrast I understand Jesus to be the Savior of all humanity by means of His death and resurrection, and the unique Son of God. My position here in this post, and those that might follow is that Jesus carries many characteristics of the ideal Shaman, and exemplifies the power aspects, and ecstatic experiences of shamanism. In a shamanistic culture Jesus would have been viewed as the greatest of all Shamans, and both previous and subsequent Shamans would be a viewed as a diminishing of shamanic power, but coming from Jewish culture he was obviously held as the greatest of all prophets (and even more than that) to those who would follow Him.

By saying this I am not saying that all Christian ministers should become shamans, nor am I saying that Jesus saw Himself as a Shaman. This is a simple presentation suggesting only that the things Jesus did are things shamans all over the world have attempted to do throughout history, and that Christ is the exemplar of the experiences of the Shaman, and the goals which the Shaman seeks to accomplish. Deeper concepts, and further conclusions, which the reader may come to are their own surmisings, and not those which I am presenting here.

The Shaman is a type of medicine man who works for the community to bring healing, and prosperity. He battles evil spirits seeking to trouble humanity. Usually through ecstatic experiences of trances and soul travel the Shaman will discover healing remedies known only to God, or the gods. The Shaman may also lead the souls of those who have died to paradise through the same ecstatic soul journeys.

Eliade Mircea's landmark book "Shamanism" published in 1951, held this as a central theme: That the diminished powers of shamans were an oft repeated mythos across the continents and islands in which elements of shamanism could be found. Somewhere in the stories of ancient shamans there was an archetypal shaman whose powers far exceeded those of more recent history.

The degradation of power and also of an open and clean communication with the unseen realm of gods, goddesses and spirits is a repeated theme in the mythic stories in shamanistic cultures. This mirrors the story of the Fall in scripture. Once humanity walked in complete confidence before God - without shame, and in open and direct communication with Him. The hunt for a return to paradise underlies the story of our Christian scripture, and underlies the traditional stories of shamanism as well, and so the worlds of shamanism and Christianity meet at a common place.

"More than once we have discerned in the shamanic experience a "nostalgia for paradise" that suggests one of the oldest types of Christian mystical experience." wrote Eliade in the epilogue of the English edition of his book.

I am convinced Jesus answers the "nostalgia for paradise," and by doing so becomes the archetype of the Shaman.

More to come. Follow me as I follow Christ through the world of Shamanism. ;-)