Recovering Mysticism: Part Five

I believe in magic.

That may sound bonkers, even heretical. The mistreatment of language and misunderstanding of words has led the modern Christian community to believe that the words ‘magic’ and ‘witchcraft’ have meanings and connotations that they needn’t have.

I spent most of my life believing that verses such as Leviticus 20:27 (“A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them”) were talking about the kind of magic or wizardiness that one finds in Harry Potter, or even in modern practiced ‘witchcraft.’ They fell under very vague umbrellas for me, everything lumped together, everything definitely evil and anti-God. After all, the Bible is very clear: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, and all that. Best not even look that direction to see what the Bible’s talking about.

But language is a funny thing, and it’s taken many twists and turns over the years. The brunt of modern ‘witchcraft’ has a definition, and it’s probably not what you think it is. (Unless you read the second post in my Mysticism series, in which case you have an idea.) Witchcraft, for reasons I touched on in the previous posts in this series, has taken a huge upswing in the west – sometimes this is a bad thing, because as with any practice, it can be done wrong. It can be taken places it shouldn’t. I’m an artist – I could use that ability to draw evil, to paint pornography. I’m also an author – another skill I could use to write the next erotic bestseller. Bear in mind – any practice can be used for evil. But that does not mean the practice is evil of itself.

Now, on to the summary – in her book ‘The Green Witch: Your Complete Guide to the Natural Magic of Herbs, Flowers, Essential Oils, and More,’ Arin Murphy-Hiscock gives us a description of the craft she pursues – “…a practice that involves the use of natural energies as an aid to accomplishing a task or reaching a goal….For the sake of this book, the term ‘witchcraft’ refers to the practice of working with natural energies to attain goals, without a specific religious context.” That’s another thing to keep in mind – there are religions for which witchcraft is a part, such as Wicca. (Wicca is hugely problematic for a large number of reasons, 0/10 do not condone. However, as with most religions, there is truth to be found in there somewhere – and in this case, I believe it is the acknowledgment that ‘magic’ is real. I just happen to believe it’s God-designed.) But magic is not in fact a religion; it’s a fact put into practice.

Witchcraft (are you still cringing every time I use that word? I know, I know. If I could find another word to use, I would – the word has the wrong connotations and our automatic response to it is probably somewhere along the lines of fire and brimstone/holy water/get thee hence/etc. and I get that, believe me. I’ll use the word ‘magic’ from now on because ‘witchcraft,’ while often pursued in – I believe firmly – completely healthy, and God-given ways, can also be pursued in /other/ ways. I’ll touch on those later, but for now, I’ll say magic. That is, after all, the main point here) as practiced by many people is, and has always been, a word to describe the acknowledgment that energies, vibrations, and natural substances, when used with intent and purpose, can achieve an end.

Read that again.

You can take that description to Scripture and find no condemnation. Plants? God gave us those. Energy? God infused everything with it. I’ve discussed how the God of the Bible, the full, glorious picture of God shining through every page of His holy book, isn’t lacking. He gave us what we need, He designed His creation to work for us in ways we, the modern church, have shunned thanks to Satan’s propaganda – that anything ‘tainted’ with the flavor of magic is bad, evil, and must be repelled.

  Sir Walter Raleigh said that, “The art of magic is the art of worshiping God.” As I mentioned in the Astrology post in this series, it used to be widely acknowledged and understood by the Church and Christian mindset that God was in every detail and had given us the tools and means to know Him in every way possible.

Are there ways to use that wrong? Of course. Remember Leviticus 20:27? The phrase ‘has a familiar spirit’ means ‘is a medium.’ (The original Hebrew word is א֛וֹב – a necromancer.) The word that has been translated ‘wizard’ (originally an old English word meaning ‘wise one’) was originally the Hebrew word יִדְּעֹנִ֖י  – conjurer, one who communicates with spirits. The Witch of Endor who actually contacted a grumpy Samuel in the Bible? The word ‘witch’ there is the word ‘medium’ again, in the original language.

In case you wondered: God doesn’t want us messing with the dead. He doesn’t want us messing with spirits. He also doesn’t want us trying to divine the future. The future, the afterlife – those are His realms and His alone, and he’s pretty darn clear on that subject more than once.

Interestingly, those who practice witchcraft, even in a non-religious sense often like to associate their work with a deity. It’s heartbreaking – to see people come so close to understanding, and miss the Whole Point. To miss the God who gave us these energies, these means and tools. The God who created magic.

Arin Murphy-Hiscock goes on to say, ‘Is brewing a cup of rosemary tea for a headache a spell? Or is it a natural medicine? To the green witch, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the conscious use of the energies of the rosemary to help heal a temporary imbalance.’

In her book ‘Liturgy of the Ordinary,’ Tish Harrison Warren says, “In Letters to Malcolm, C. S. Lewis devotes a delightful letter to the subject of pleasure. His advice: begin where you are. He writes that he once thought he had to start ‘by summoning up what we believe about the goodness and greatness of God, by thinking about creation and redemption and all the blessings of this life.’ Instead, he says, we ought to begin with the pleasures at hand – for him, a walk beside a babbling brook; for me at the moment, the wonder of hot water and dried leaves.

“Most of us love these moments in our day at a gut level. We intuitively know that goodness and beauty are connected to the divine, that ‘every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights (James 1:17.’ We aren’t overly ascetic fundamentalists trying to stamp out delight or pleasure wherever it is found. We naturally greet these moments with adoration. We are not only grateful for pleasure; our hearts wonder what kind of Creator makes a world that overflows with such loveliness and beauty. As Lewis says, ‘One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.’”

                Unfortunately, modern Christianity in the west has largely allowed those sunbeams to be stamped out and in doing so, it has shrunk our concept of God down to a shriveled, dry, boxed-in concept that does God no justice; and in doing so, it has caused us to miss a huge part of who He is.

Magic acknowledges the meaning, the intent, behind things. It sees there is more to life than what we can see and touch. It’s aware of the spiritual realm. It is, at its purest form, the acknowledge of God’s power in our lives and the world around us at its fullest.

(Again, can it be misused? Of course it can. Are there those who practice magic in the aforementioned God-given ways who might also choose to use Ouija boards, contact the dead, and try to divine the future? Sadly, yes. Every good thing can be taken and twisted  – Satan is good at that. Be wary. Don’t wholesale accept things – including what I tell you. Take it to the Bible. Study God. Get to know Him. Spend time with Him.)

As I’ve said before, the modern church has grown so timid, so afraid, so unable to discern, that it has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Several babies, in fact.

And,  I would argue, highly important, useful, and intrinsically valuable babies. (Not that all babies aren’t. I’m pro life, and you can fight me, but this isn’t that conversation.)

I don’t like to use the word ‘witch.’ I really don’t. I have almost 25 years of knee-jerk reaction to that word, with some good reasoning behind it. And here’s the thing – you don’t want to be a stumbling block. Most people aren’t quite ready for you to jump on them with an excited, “HEY DID YOU KNOW MAGIC–,” and even fewer are probably going to be great with the concept of you saying ‘yeah technically you can be a Christian witch.’ I mean honestly that juxtaposition of words still looks weird and kind of distasteful to me, even if it’s more of a linguistic misunderstanding than anything else.

Which is to say – I’m still learning. Am I excited? Yes. Do I feel, one hundred percent and with no reservations, that God is leading me every step? Yes. Am I human and therefore fallible and prone to making mistakes? Also yes.

                But if we don’t share truth when we find it, especially when it’s pressing on our hearts so urgently, then what are we doing?

“‘Wyrd’ is an Anglo-Saxon term usually translated as ‘fate’ or ‘destiny.’ It occurs nine times in Beowulf for example. But Wyrd literally means ‘that which has turned’ or ‘that which has become’, and it suggests hte idea, confirmed now by physics, that everything in the universe is in a stage of change. In the ‘web of Wyrd’ everything is connected as if in a giant, three-dimensional spider’s web.” — The Book of English Magic.

I include this quote so I can follow it up with this quote from King Alfred the Great, said around the year 888 –

“What we call Wyrd is really the work of God about which He is busy every day.”

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Framing Shane Walsh

Having recently come down off a Punisher Season Two high and looking for a bit of a Jon Bernthal fix, I thought, hey – why not re-start The Walking Dead? I watched it as a tender 15-year-old back when it first aired, although I never saw it all the way through. I remembered being more of a Daryl fan than a Shane fan – in fact, I remember disliking Shane quite a lot. But hey, Jon Bernthal is Jon Bernthal, and I am writing a post-apocalypse novel.

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I started watching, fully expecting to appreciate Shane’s beauty and dislike his character thoroughly. That’s what I remembered doing back in the day – so I was taken aback to find that Shane was by far my favorite character by episode two. He had a rough start there in the first episode, but as the show picked up, so did his character. And I thought, hmm. I’m generally quite good at being objective, even if my feelings are involved, but maybe I’m too biased. Maybe Frank Castle is skewing me toward Shane Walsh. So, to keep track, I began a list, simply titled ‘Things Shane Does,’ where I listed everything of significance Shane did during the two seasons he starred in.

And the more things I listed, the more infuriated I became. Shane Walsh is literally listed in the Villain Wikipedia.

I’m an empathetic, diplomatic kind of person. And I was agreeing with almost every decision Shane made.

Now here’s the thing: Shane is not a perfect character. As far as I’m aware, nobody likes perfect characters. They’re boring. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of people adoring characters who are genuinely abusive, like Rhys from A Court of Thorns and Roses, for reasons I can’t fathom. Shane is neither perfect nor a horrible person. He’s a pragmatic one. He knows what needs to happen for people to survive, and he doesn’t need everyone to love him for it. And yet he’s not without empathy, or care – and in fact, he cares a lot.

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Not only does he care, but he consistently puts his life on the line to care for others, is the first to jump into action when things go south, and consistently attempts to do the right thing no matter the personal cost. He’s constantly dissed for a few major mistakes, the only legitimate two of which I find is the time he gets dead drunk and comes onto Lori (although nothing happens and he leaves as soon as he comes to his senses) and leaving Otis for the zombies (which was a h a r s h thing to do, but also in all probability necessary for the most people to survive). People say he left Rick for dead – but we clearly see in flashback that he did everything he could. People say he tried to kill Rick – which he did. And while I don’t condone that, I stand by his reasoning for doing it.

But everything in-between those points is generally disregarded, not only by viewers but the Walking Dead fandom in general. People tend to come away with one of two views: Shane was a badass, or Shane was a villain. And while I agree, Shane was a badass, that’s doing him a disservice. He was more than some guy running around killing zombies. He was making difficult decisions with efficiency. He was carrying out the actions that needed to happen. He was living in the present, post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world and trying to keep everyone safe while they were attempting to live in a vague blend of the old world and the new.

More than that, Shane is framed more and more frequently in opposition to Rick, the main character and the character the show most wants us to root for. But FRAMING a character in opposition to the protagonist does not a villain make. Disagreeing with the main character, even on important life-or-death situations, does not mean you’re wrong.

And in fact, the majority of the time Shane disagrees with Rick – it turns out he was correct. The show frequently presents us with a situation like the following:

  1. Sophia, Carol’s twelve-year-old daughter, goes missing. The group sets out to go find her. After days, that turn into more than a week, they still haven’t found her.
  2. Shane points out that even before the apocalypse, after 72 two hours of searching for a child, you were searching for a body. It’s been well over a week, the rest of the group is in constant danger from attempting to search for Sophia, and by every logical conclusion, Sophia is dead.
  3. Shane is vilainized for pointing this out, despite the fact he does not do it out of some gleeful desire to hurt everyone or abandon Sophia.
  4. They find Sophia, who has apparently been a zombie for quite some time. Shane was correct.
  5. Shane is still villainized.

This touches on a large problem I see this frequently in fiction.

Any character who behaves in opposition to the main character is labeled an automatic antagonist. A character points out the truth and other characters don’t want to hear it because the truth isn’t kind, or nice, or pretty. Would I expect that to happen in the real world? Yes, I would. But that wouldn’t make it any less frustrating. Books, movies, and TV shows love to label a character ‘antagonist’ because that character is practical and willing to do the hard thing. The character often opposes the main character, and the writers assume that because somebody opposes said protagonist, the opposition is now ‘a bad guy.’

There’s a scene where Shane decides to kill the walkers being kept in a barn near their camp before the walkers can harm anyone. Dale – an excellent man, but whose views tend to rely on the world revolving like it used to – threatens to shoot Shane if Shane tries to take the guns. In response, Shane walks up against the barrel of the gun and tells Dale he’ll have to shoot him. Dale, unable to shoot anyone, relinquishes the guns but delivers this line – “This is where you belong, Shane. This world, the way it is now. This is where you belong.”

He says that line as if it’s an insult, something Shane should be ashamed of. One can see where Dale is coming from – but in the end, ‘this world’ is the only one they have. Shane didn’t make it what it is, but he’s the only one willing to accept it for how it is, and act accordingly.

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I don’t know about you, but during a zombie apocalypse, I wouldn’t want the man ignoring reality to lead my team. I would want the man who acknowledges what’s happening and does his best.

Does Shane always make the best decisions? Not always. He can seem cold-hearted, but he is never without sympathy or empathy. The decisions he makes are never about keeping himself alive. They’re about keeping others alive. Shane has very little regard for himself, and there’s the irony – people often come away from The Walking Dead with the concept that Shane is a terrible person. A selfish person, because he always angles to get what he wants.

They tend to disregard that what Shane wants is to keep everyone alive.

My fury with the general concept of Shane as a terrible person (including my own past belief that he was) was the culmination of years of frustration with ‘that character.’ The one unfairly framed as a villain for trying to do the right thing – and for not doing it ‘nicely’ enough.

(And if I may go off on a brief tangent, Shane actually does even the most pragmatic things with as much obvious care and empathy as possible. It takes a lot to push him to a place of harsh behavior, and it’s clear that every time he would rather go the path of least-resistance and keep everyone happy as well as safe.)

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So this is my plea – please don’t unfairly frame your characters. Don’t treat your characters like The Walking Dead treated Shane, unless you have an intentional reason for doing so. Allow characters to do the hard thing, to disagree with the main character, to act on what they believe is right, without being automatically viewed as some kind of monster for doing so.

Because if the apocalypse happens, apparently you may not like me very much. Yikes.

If you want to read the 95% unbiased list of Things Shane Does, I’ve uploaded it so you can read it here and see that what Shane does doesn’t always align with how he’s framed by the show.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN – who is your favorite widely-misunderstood character, and why?

 

Ye Stars That Shudder | snippets

It’s been a hot minute since I posted anything about novel-writing (which is usually what I do around here). I took Ye Stars That Shudder, my post-alien-apocalypse retelling of King Arthur, back to the beginning and re-started it, as pieces had come together and the tone had shifted into ore of a finalized form. So, since I have almost three chapters completed in the new version, I thought I would post some pieces and re-introduce you!

Note: I get asked about the who’s-who re: casting choices and so the dramatis persona in these snippets include –
Arthur: Cole Sprouse
Hec: Jon Bernthal
Kay: Jai Courtney
Gareth: Charlie Hunnam
Archer: Garrett Hedlund

YSTScollage

Kay jogged down the stairs, his boots heavy on the bare wood. “Jackpot.” A dozen orange pill-bottles nestled in the crook of his arm, and he dumped them into the canvas bag on top of the gold necklaces.

“Guess it wasn’t a total loss,” said Hec, hitching his gun over his shoulder by the strap.

“Except they don’t have anything in there for crazy,” said Kay.

Hec gave him a questioning glance, but it was already fading into a knowing expression as Kay added, “Sorry, man; maybe next time we’ll find something to help you.”


After a few more seconds the door opened the rest of the way. The woman in the doorway was younger than Arthur expected; early twenties, his age. She was dressed in boots, jeans, and an oversized plaid shirt, like she had raided her father’s closet, but her hands holding the gun looked steady.

“Leave your weapons outside,” she said. “But you can come in.”

Kay got out of the van and walked up behind Arthur.

“Sorry,” said Arthur. “She said we had to leave you outside.”

Kay shoved his head forward in response.


“You hanging in there?”

“You bet I am. Don’t worry about me, kid, I’ve had a lot worse. You know that.”

“I know, you’re a badass,” said Arthur, with an extravagant roll of his eyes. “But you’re bleeding all over that girl’s couch, so I figure it’s an okay time to ask about your welfare.”

“You weren’t always sarcastic,” Hec remarked, a faint grin playing on his face. “Kay’s being a crap influence on you.”

“Oh, I don’t think we can blame Kay for that,” Arthur retorted.

“Heh.” Hec grinned wider, without looking up at Arthur. “Yeah, that’s all me. Do me proud, kid.”

“I try.”


“My name is Gwen.” She took a pair of scissors from her back pocket and began to cut at the shirt, pulling it away from the quills puncturing Hec’s side. “What about you two?”

“Hec.”

“Kay.”

“Your mothers were very original.” Gwen picked up the tweezers as soon as she had the blood-stained fabric out of the way.

Arthur pointed down at Hec. “Hector Vance, but he doesn’t really look like a Hector so nobody bothers.” He pointed at Kay. “Kay Sawyer. Don’t call him Sawyer.”

“He’s right,” said Gwen, looking briefly at Hec. “You don’t look like a Hector.”

“’Preciate it,” he replied.


Arthur obliged, backing up a few steps, lifting his hands in surrender for the second time that day. This woman wasn’t much older than Gwen, but she looked a lot more likely to do damage.

He didn’t need to turn around to sense Kay had appeared behind him. “Lower that thing before I shove it in your eye.”

The woman raised an eyebrow. Instead of lowering the arrow, she only shifted it again, pointing it at Kay this time. “Gwen, who’s the guy with the attitude?”

“I don’t know,” Gwen called from the other room, “I think they all have attitude. That one’s Kay. He’s my least favorite.”


‘Control’ was the Vees’ name for the large, square building that took up a half-mile of Seattle. The building was five years old – one of the Vees’ impressive overnight additions to various skylines. It was nothing fancy to look at, but the inside was a different story. The first time Gareth had walked in, he’d felt like a comic book character, suddenly transported into superhero headquarters.

Yeah, that feeling had faded pretty quick.


“All Metroids are armed,” said the Vee flatly. “He is Zi-Class. He is, of course, deadly.”

“Right on, right on. Anything I need to know?”

“He stole a piece of our technology when he left. We require both the technology and the Metroid fully intact.”

Well, that made things more fun. “Understood. Any chance you’re gonna tell me what the tech is?”

“A sword,” said the Vee.

Gareth blinked again, but this time it wasn’t to clear his vision. “Right,” he drawled. “Robot with a sword.”

“Zi-Class Metroid.” The Vee sounded almost indignant, which amused Gareth. Of course calling a Metroid a robot was like calling a megalodon a goldfish, but as far as he was concerned, a robot was a robot.


The rogue Metroid’s designation was printed at the top of the page: MR-1-LN. “That’s a mouthful,” Gareth muttered, his eyes drifting down the page. It didn’t list the Metroid’s strength, everyone knew it was that of five or six men, if not more. They could use guns – any weapon they wanted, probably – but they came equipped with a weapon unlike anything Gareth had ever seen.

He had seen a Metroid corner a civilian before; the robot had clenched its right fist and pulled its hand back. The civilian’s body had gone from standing and alive to dead on the ground in less time than it took Gareth to draw in a breath – no visible weapon fired, no nothing.


| to be continued |

Recovering Mysticism: Part Four

A friend asked me the other day why. Why did I suddenly get all metaphysical? (Although I’d put forth it only SEEMED sudden, this has been building for quite some time.) The answer is pretty simple – I knew there was more. I knew people weren’t leaving Christianity for other more ‘mystical’ religions for a reason. People were lacking something, and here’s the deal – God doesn’t lack anything. If the God we’re following is leaving us unsatisfied, unfulfilled, ‘lacking,’ then we’re doing it wrong. God has provided everything we need, everything we could want. God created our souls. He knows what they need. And if we come to know God and feel like we’re missing something, then we ARE missing something – but it isn’t God’s fault. It has to be ours, and we have to figure out what we’re doing wrong.

Someone on Twitter reposted my Mysticism series and someone commented about how it was good stuff, but they’d say ‘mystery’ was the word I was looking for, not ‘mysticism.’ Well, with all due respect, no. I meant mysticism. Here’s the thing – while we cannot fully, one hundred percent bask in God’s glory until heaven, He doesn’t make himself a mystery. He tells us absolutely as much about Himself as He can. The Bible is full of everything about Him, everything we need to know. It’s not ‘mystery’ we’re looking for – it’s answers. Not questions.

God, who God is, is clearly evident on every page of the Bible, a book we all have the incredible blessing of access to – but we’ve become so familiar with it that we can’t see the forest for the trees. We read words and we know things, but we don’t see. The word ‘Behold’ is all throughout the Bible, and as Jared Wilson points out in his book ‘The Imperfect Disciple’ (which I HIGHLY recommend), some translations do not include the word ‘behold’ and instead use the word ‘look.’ He encourages us to reread verses like Psalms 63:2 and Ezekiel 44:4 and John 1:29 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 and read them without the ‘beholds.’

“…he’s not merely saying ‘look at him.’ He’s telling us to look with consideration, with appreciation, with fixation and transfixion. To behold something is to ‘hold’ something in our vision, to let the weight of it rest on our mind and heart.”

We know how to look. Looking is second nature. But we have forgotten how to behold.

Jared Wilson continues, “The problem is that many Christians have stifled their ability to behold the glory of Christ without realizing it. They have stunted their capacity to see some measure of his all-encompassing excellencies, not because they are generally disinterested in him but because all of their other interests have dulled their spiritual senses. All of the other things they look at dull their vision. They struggle to behold Christ’s glory because they have a generally decreased capacity for bigness in the first place.

But we can work against this. We can do some simple things that help us behold better. What efforts can you make to help yourself behold the glory of Jesus? Well, maybe you want to start by going outside…. Truly, I think one reason we aren’t captivated by Christ’s glory is because we have a diminished capacity to be captivated by anything big. We are preoccupied with small things. And, in fact, we somehow have an inverted sense of measurement in that big things seem to us small or familiar while small things become big to us, at least in terms of our time and attention and energy.”

John Piper said, “Do you know why there are no windows on adult book stores? …Because they don’t want people looking out at the sky. …The sky is the enemy of lust. I just ask you to think back on your struggles. The sky is a great power against lust.  Pure, lovely, wholesome, powerful, large-hearted things cannot abide the soul of a sexual fantasy at the same time. I remember as I struggled in my teenage years and in my college years…one way of fighting was simply to get out of the dark places – get out of the lonely rooms…Get out of the places where it is just small – me and my mind and my imagination, what I can do with it and get to where I am just surrounded by color and beauty and bigness and loveliness. And I know that when I used to sit in my front yard at 122 Bradley Boulevard with a notepad in my hand and a pen trying to write a poem, at that moment, my heart and my body were light years away from the sexual fantasizing that I was tempted by again and again in the late night, quiet, secluded in-house moments. There is something about bigness, something about beauty that helps battle against the puny, small, cruddy use of the mind to fantasize about sexual things.”

Jared Wilson continues, “Do you want to see glory? ‘The heavens declare the glory of God.’” (Psalms 19:1) Resting from the spaces, then, where you are an acting sovereign and instead getting out into the spaces where God’s sovereignty is more palpable, believe it or not, will help you see Christ as bigger. See, what you’re focused on will shape you, lead you. The spiritual dynamic the apostle Paul is employing in 2 Corinthians 3:18 – how beholding Christ is in a way becoming the likeness of Christ – works for almost anything else we’re intently looking at. What we behold, we in some way become…Want a heart as big as the sky? Behold the sky. Want a soul as bright as day? Behold the day.”

“What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” — G. K. Beale

When I was in my early teens, I heard a sermon preached on Revelation. That book of the Bible had always terrified me – I found it full of horrifying imagery and vague, dooming prophecies that seemed very out of whack with the rest of the Bible (or at least the new testament). But that sermon had a huge impact on me – the only sermon I’ve heard in person to date, in fact, to affect me in such a way. It changed the way I saw – and see – God. It’s where I learned God breathes in our prayers like incense. (8:3-4; 5: 8)) It’s where we see John comparing God to every jewel and precious thing available in a puny attempt to say ‘LOOK AT HOW INCREDIBLE. HOW BEAUTIFUL. HE’S BEYOND ANYTHING WE HAVE IN COMPARISON.’

It’s where God says ‘I am the bright and morning star.’ (22:16) The Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and last. It’s where we get a truly awesome look at angels – who, contrary to Renaissance art, are not voluptuous women and chubby babies with wings. They have multiple eyes and multiple wings and are all kinds of shapes and sizes and are freaking incredible. I think Guillermo del Toro gave the most accurate portrayal I’ve ever seen of an angel with his Angel of Death in Hellboy 2. It’s no wonder angels always have to preface their words with ‘DON’T BE AFRAID.’ Because who looking at one of them wouldn’t be afraid?

John uses all kinds of immense, terrifying, awesome, inspiring imagery in an attempt to show us what he saw. You can feel his urgent desire to compare something incomparable to things we understand – frustration, as well as awe, flow through the pages. That day, I began to see God not as some pale, emaciated white guy gazing heavenward with doe-eyes, but as God.

A God. The God of Gods. The King of Kings. An image flashed through my mind – a giant, humanoid figure towering among galaxies and nebula. Instead of flesh, a deep blue marble; a lion’s mane of hair (if you could call it that); instead of a face or genitals, clusters of stars because we’re in His image but He is so much more, so many things. (No, I’m not saying God is a woman. I’m saying God is God, and both men and women are made in His image, and He’s far above + more than what we can envision. Even John had a hard time describing him, and he saw God.) Is that really what God looks like? Probably not. But that image pulls me out of my tiny view of God and into something huge, cosmic, bigger, all-powerful.

Too many of us see Jesus, and only Jesus, when we think of God, but here’s the thing: Jesus was God in human form. Jesus was God packaged into a tiny little finite meat suit, bursting at the seams. God looked like Jesus on earth for thirty years, but Jesus is not what God exists as.

God has wrath. God has jealousy. God is righteous, God is kind, God is just, God is merciful, God is peaceful, God is a warrior, God is our friend, God is our King. God is so, so many things, but we’re so ‘used to Him’ that we don’t see him. We don’t Behold.  

I hope this maybe helped shake up your ‘familiar’ view of God – I urge, urge urge you to open your Bible back up. Read the old testament – it’s ignored far too often, and yet it’s where every thread ties through to Jesus, shows us who God is. The uncomfortable sides of God we don’t want to talk about because it doesn’t fit with our wishy-wash, fluffy God. ‘He is not a tame lion.’ But he is Good. He is the ultimate Good, in fact. He is Love. He is Love. But Love, real Love, true, deep, sacrificial Love, is not weak. Love is the ultimate Strength. And it doesn’t always look pretty.

There are some things that really helped pull me out of my ‘familiar,’ dull view of God into something bigger – although looking at the sky, I have to admit, really was one of them. I recommend Transformation Church services (you can watch them on Youtube – I can’t recommend them enough. Pastor Mike Todd is incredible at taking the familiar and showing it in new, real perspectives).

I recommend reading The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther deWaal, Re(Union) by Bruxy Cavey, The Imperfect Disciple by Jared Wilson, Love Does and Everybody Always by Bob Goff, Found by Micha Boyett, Mere Christianity and Miracles by C. S. Lewis. I recommend, above all, reading the Bible as it was meant to be read – as history and poetry and revelations and proverbs and essays, God-breathed to tell us about Him, with illustrations using imperfect people, holy people, people doing their best (and sometimes, their worst) and God in all.

The point of the Bible is God. It’s not about how many verses you can memorize (although memorization is great). It’s not about answering study questions. It’s about getting to know the God of the Universe. When you pick up a Bible, you pick up the key to everything – and God has given you the ability to unlock that Everything.

How can you not be excited?

 

Recovering Mysticism: Part Three

As of the last post, the general consensus seems to be: ‘Mmmmmmm I’m not sure, but I’m still interested.’ Believe me, I know. That was me a year ago. The wariness is real. On the bright side, I didn’t get pitchforked, which is a good boost to carry on to part three!

ASTROLOGY

I bet the first thing that comes to mind is a horoscope. Some kind of fortune-telling sketchiness, whether it’s in a newspaper or pops up on your Instagram feed. Astrology, in our modern minds, is associated with divination – groundless, generally speaking. ‘Oh, you’re an Aquarius therefore if you were a tea, you’d be English Breakfast!’ or, ‘If you’re a Libra, today is a Good Day to Pluck Your Eyebrows.’ But here’s the thing – until the 16th century, astrology was just as respected and valid as astronomy. Why? Because it wasn’t the ‘astrology’ we know of today.

NOTE: Most of my notes on ‘astrology’ here are derived from Hillsdale University’s EXCELLENT lecture (and my favorite lecture in history), ‘C S Lewis on Medieval Cosmology.’ It’s the seventh lecture in their series on C. S. Lewis and I HIGHLY recommend the full lecture series to anyone. So if you want to have someone far more professional than I am, discussing someone far more intelligent than I am while covering the same subject matter, head on over and give it a listen!

Okay, back to the 16th century. For most of history, astrology (I’m going to call it Original Astrology, or OGA for short, because I know how hard it is to separate the conception of something from a different idea) was considered completely Biblical and valid by everyone, Christians included.

Professor of Apologetics Michael Ward says, “Astronomy and astrology weren’t really distinguishable until the Copernican revolution. And no Christian theologian before that time denied the general theory of planetary influences, or the significance of constellations. The planets obviously weren’t to be worshiped, and their influences were not to be regarded as determinative – overruling your free will and your responsibility before God; and the lucrative and politically undesirable practice of ‘astrologically grounded predictions’ was also to be avoided, but within these parameters the Christian church was quite content to sanction what we would now call Astrology. After all the Bible itself appeared to support the belief that there were seven planets, and that they possessed influences. The author of the book of Judges in the old Testament, for instance, chapter five verse twenty, records –

‘They fought from heaven, the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.’”

He continues in the Cosmology lecture, “The author of the book of Job as translated in the King James version of the Bible, mentions the ‘sweet influences of Pliedes.’ (Job 38:31)….And throughout the Bible the stars are seen as signs; most notably at Bethlehem of course, signifying the birth of Christ, in Matthew’s gospel, and sometimes as a celestial court or angelic choir. Christ Himself is shown in the book of Revelation holding the seven stars – that is, the seven wandering stars, the planets – in His right hand. A vision which Austin Farrer, Lewis’s close friend and an expert in apocalyptic imagery, understood to be a portrayal of Christ’s lordship over time. For it’s after these seven planets that the weekdays are named.”

And yet modern Christianity has very little to say on this subject. It seems to think of it hardly at all, if ever, and I think that’s a great sorrow, and a great loss to us. In shunning ‘astrology’ as it is now known, we have also shunned OGA – which could be called a study of God’s heavenly workmanship. After all, it’s commonly known that a full moon affects people. If the moon has enough energy to draw the tides of our ocean, and if we ourselves are energetic beings, it’s downright irrational to claim the heavens have no affect on us whatsoever. Can the stars predict the future? I don’t know, but I DO know that predicting the future isn’t something God wants us to do. He says that multiple times in multiple ways. That’s for Him to know and us to find out, as it were.

But in shunning a word with bad connotations, we’ve also shunned a huge part of His glory and majesty as everyday knowledge. We’ve reduced the Heavens to mere ‘space’ with no intent or purpose other than to ‘be there’ and keep us hot or cold. We’ve removed the glory and majesty, the sheer magic, out of the whole idea and in doing so, we’ve lost something that Christianity accepted as important and part of daily life until the sixteenth century. And I believe we are the poorer for it.

The modern church has thrown the baby out with the bathwater in big, big ways – ways that affect how we perceive reality, how we live, and – most detrimental of all – how we know God – the Heavenly Father and the Morning Star.

And that baby-bathwater scenario is what I’m passionate to change, and what I hope to keep discussing through the rest of this series. Thank you all for sticking with me and listening to some ideas that probably sound crazy – I’m LOVING your IG messages and emails! If you have any questions, I can absolutely do my best to answer them!

See you all in the next post – whether it’s tomorrow or three days from now. I’m writing this series as the inspiration hits, so – stay tuned!