The Moebius Strip
"Jesus saw children who
were being suckled. He said to his disciples, 'These children who are being
suckled are like those who enter the kingdom.' They said to him, 'Shall we,
then, being children, enter the kingdom?' Jesus said to them, 'When you make
the two one, and when you make the inner as the outer, and the outer as the
inner and the above as the below, and when you make the male and the female
into a single one, so that the male be not male and the female not be female,
when you make eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in the place of a hand,
and a foot in the place of a foot, and an image in the place of an image, then
shall you enter the kingdom.'" Gospel
of Thomas 22
You have noticed, I'm sure,
how our little service retains vestiges of a conventional church service, just
as Christian services retained the bare outlines of the Jewish Synagogue
service. One such vestige is a sermon, and specifically a sermon that attempts
to explain and apply a passage of scripture. Like Schleiemacher, like Calvin
and the Puritans, I still see the role of the minister as that of a servant of
the word. I feel the chill of reverence for the Holy Text, whether that of the
Christian canon, of the heretics, of the other religions. And I feel most at
home in the pulpit as a midwife, trying to bring to birth insight from these
ancient texts. It is alchemy, the transformation of papyrus into wisdom, of
superstition and myth into spirit and truth.
Again, it is agriculture, as
I make to scatter the potent seeds of the ancient writings into your minds
where it may take root, and all manner of exotic fruits may bloom. This
morning's text is certainly one of the more exotic variety.
Or you may think in terms of another metaphor. It is perhaps a stony field from
which it seems nothing may grow. It is a blank wall with only gibberish
scrawled on it. What is Jesus, or Judas Thomas, saying?
I believe the code has been
cracked. Like the Book of Revelation, you just have to learn the code and it
all clears up. At least I think it does, unless it is even more of a puzzle
than it looks. And I guess it is. As Frank Kermode says, all texts are first
and finally obscure, a dull obsidian in which we dimly
discern meanings that are but our own reflections. Well, here goes nothing.
Here is the gist of Stevan
Davies's exegesis of the passage before us. It comes from the context of early
Christian baptism, specifically from the circles of Encratite Christianity.
These were the Christians who made celibacy a condition of salvation, and who
had many women prophets and teachers. They had renounced sexuality, seeing in
it the downfall of Adam and Eve, and thus they had gone beyond sexuality and
The image of the newborn
baby suckling is a common image for a new initiate into Christianity or the
other Mediterranean Mystery cults. You are a catechumen who is fed the milk of
introductory doctrine. Then you became one of the
telioi, the mature, the perfect among whom Paul might
preach secret wisdom. The children, then, are the newly baptized.
They have made the two one.
How? It is really rather simple. To use Kierkegaard's phrase, they have
attained unto that "purity of heart" that means "to will one
thing." William James, in The Variety of Religious Experience, says that
the conversion experience has the effect of setting the religious sentiment at
the center of the personality so that all other interests take their place in
obedient orbit around it. There is a centrality of the spirit. The two, or
more, have become one. As Jesus says elsewhere, you cannot fire two arrows at
the same time. You cannot ride two horses in different directions at once. As
James says, if you are double-minded, you will never achieve anything. You will
be like the two-headed giant who always quarreled with itself,
never able to agree on what to do or where to go. You must make the two one.
You must get your self together!
You must "make the
inner as the outer," so that the distinction between them is lost, like in
the mysterious Moebius Strip which seems to have two sides, but each becomes,
and thus already was, the other. This, too, though difficult in practice, is
really a simple thing. You know all those places where Jesus criticizes people
for being like whitewashed tombs: pure and unsullied outside but full of
corruption inside? Where he says something's badly wrong if a fig tree bears
grapes? The inside and the outside should be the same. You ought to be
transparent. Everything should be on the surface.
Live in such a way that
afterward there will be no nasty discoveries. Like the great literary critic
Paul de Man. Most knew him as a conscientious and
generous mentor and scholar. After his death, lucky for him, someone unearthed
a bunch of Belgian wartime newspapers in which de Man had written articles
friendly to Nazi anti-Semitism. They published the newspaper, so he would do
what they said. He was a yellow Nazi stooge. Everybody was pretty upset when
they found out. If de Man hadn't been dead already, this would have killed him!
Don't be one thing outside and another inside.
"Make the above as the
below." I admit this would fit better if it had "Make the below as
the above," but maybe he means "close the gap" between God's
will and your own, much like the petition in Matthew's prayer: "Thy will
be done on earth as it is in heaven."
the male as the female and the female as the male." This is likely a reference
to the transcending of sex roles through the abjuring of sex. Genesis 2 had the
man and the woman becoming one, but it was through sex, not through the
renunciation of it. The Encratites seemed to have believed that Christ was the
second Adam in the sense that he restored the original androgynous character of
humanity before the first human had been split into male and female. Thus he had gone back
before the entry of sin. Baptism, as Galatians 3:23 says, identifies you with
this Christ, the result being that there is no longer any division of race,
class, or sex, any more than there was in the primordial human being before the
"Eyes in place of an
eye": remember the admonition to rip out and cast away your offending eye?
That probably refers to lust or coveting or stinginess. To replace such an eye
would mean to replace these habits with an eye that is sound and full of light.
To change your perspective on things.
"A hand in place of a
hand": same thing. The Sermon on the Mount also says to cut off the
offending hand and throw it as far away as you can. To cut off the hand, in
Aramaic idiom, George Lamsa says, is to stop stealing. As 1 Thessalonians says,
"Let him who stole steal no more but work with his hands."
"A foot in place of a
foot": We are told to cut off the offending foot and throw it away lest it
lead us into a worse fate for the whole person, final damnation. Lamsa says
that to cut off the offending foot means to stop going where you should not go,
a euphemism for adultery among other things. Not to trespass.
in place of an image? Thomas seems to hold the same sort of idea of the resurrection
we find in 1 Corinthians 15. Now, as mortals, we bear the image of the earthly,
the fleshly Adam. But on Resurrection Morning, we will bear the splendid image
of the heavenly Adam, the Adam Kadmon, the heavenly
prototype of humanity. Humanity as it was before the fall. Again, very much
like Encratite Christianity, not to mention the Jewish Kabbalah.
So in all these
cases, the newly converted is told to live a new life, turn over a new
leaf, adopt new habits. If he does, he will attain unto the kingdom.
What I have just done is
what Jonathan Culler and other critics call "naturalizing" the text.
Every text stands before us like an alien hieroglyphic. Just as Ventris had to
learn how to decipher the hitherto unknown Mycenean script Linear B, just as you
must learn German to read a German text, and before you do, it looks like
gibberish to you--every text is a hill that must be scaled with some effort.
You may be able to leap over it and not even be winded. But it may take several
tries. You may have to give up and skip it. A very dense text is like
Mount Everest. Can anyone scale it? If
you do, they will say you have "conquered" Everest.
When we make what we think
is adequate sense of a thorny text like Thomas 22, we think we have conquered
the text. The text was our opponent, like Jacob wrestling with the god of the
River Jabbok. So we wrestle with it till the sun comes up, and if we are
tenacious enough, saying to the text as Jacob did to his antagonist, "I
will not let you go till you give me
a blessing," we may indeed get some spiritual light from the text.
But have we found the
meaning of the text? De Man would say what we have done is to rewrite a text we
couldn't understand into a new simpler text that we can understand. We have
reduced it, whittled it down, domesticated it. Made it manageable. Just as we do when we evade the
admonition of Jesus to love our enemy or to give to the poor, pretending it
says something else, something less, that we already agree with.
What we have done is to allegorize
the text, just as the Stoics did with their scriptures, the Iliad and the
Odyssey, when they recorded unedifying deeds of the Gods. No, the Stoics
reasoned, the texts must mean something else. The embarrassing gods must stand
for something else, something we like. As when Genesis 1 plainly says the world
was made in less than a week! We can't buy that, but we hate to say the Bible
is wrong, so we say, in effect, "Let's pretend what it says is that God
made the world in six vast aeons of indeterminate length." It would be
nice had the text said that--but it didn't! Every interpretation, one critic
has said, is an allegorization, a translation of one set of terms into another,
more manageable. And Thomas speaks with some pretty strange sounding terms.
Maybe we ought to leave them sounding strange and raw. Maybe the point is to
let them act on us like baffling Zen koans.
Let me return to some few
points in the saying, to look at them in a new light. A light
that emerges when we do not smother the piercing light of the text under the
bushel-basket of conventional, sensible meanings.
you make the inner as the outer, and the outer as the inner." Here I am reminded of an
intriguing observation made by Raimundo Panikkar. He draws attention, in an almost
Derridean way, to a contradiction in our spiritual imagery. We speak of
internalizing the external, as when we speak of taking the eucharist.
You are symbolizing the reception of divine grace as if it were a matter of
taking the spirit from outside and drawing it inside. Billy Graham asks you to
ask Christ into your heart. From the outside in. But,
Panikkar says, what has come in has only changed exterior positions. As long as
it is other than you, it is outside you. For it to be truly inside you, it must
become the same as you, homoousion. The two must be made a single one. If you
are to get God inside you, you must get God to become you!
The early Sufis, like the
martyr mystic al-Hallaj, knew this. They were Muslims, members of that religion
which will countenance no partners for God, no other Gods. But they reasoned to
the conclusion that if anything but God even exists, then
it is a rival to God. Therefore only God exists, and as Shankara said, we are
the same as God. Al-Hallaj used to go about outraging the orthodox by saying "I am the Truth!"
It is more humble, he taught, to say "I am God" than to say "I
serve God," since the latter still allows a being beside God to usurp the
divine prerogative of being!
"Make the above as the
below." I said a moment ago that the interpretation I offered would work
better if it said "Make the below as the above." But this time let's
take it as it stands. Make the above as the below. Here I have little choice
but to think of Altizer, the evangelist of the Death of God. The Sacred has
been poured out into the Profane. God is present only as the Trace, the Shadow,
the Echo, the Cinder. As the Kabbalah says, God has
withdrawn to allow room for the world to be. But even the cosmic crater of
God's absence is a mode of God's presence. The above has become nothing else
than the below. Nirvana has been revealed as Samsara. All things glow with the
ultraviolet brilliance of the absent God. In another text from Thomas the
disciples ask Jesus when the kingdom will come. He says, "What you
anticipate has arrived but you do not see it."
"Make the male and the
female a single one, so there is no longer any male and female." Celibacy? Maybe, but I'm not interested in it. Suppose
instead the idea is that the male adds female characteristics, while the female
takes on male traits in addition to the original female.
This is what the Jungian
June Singer calls Androgyny. You know that Jung hypothesized that every man has
a hidden female counterpart inside, his anima. Likewise, every woman has a man
inside, an animus. It is as if to say your unconscious self is the opposite
gender. One is manifest, the other latent. One dominant, the
other recessive. The same thing is reflected in physiology, isn't it?
The man has secondary female characteristics like nipples, while the female has
secondary male characteristics. Even the genitalia mirror one another, having
diverged from the same basic model.
Or think of it like the Tao,
divided by an S curve into two complementary opposites, Yin and Yang. They need
each other. Their very
identity, their shape, is determined by each's difference from the other. Each
is the Trace of the other and nothing else. That is the way of male and female.
And each has an anticipation, a latent bit of the
other in it. In us it has to do with relative amounts of testosterone, the
presence or absence of a Y chromosome. But every male has a bit of the female,
every woman some of the essence of a man. It gives us enough commonality to be
able to understand each other, though not enough so that we can understand each
other without trying hard.
June Singer advises us to
cultivate the counterpart within. As Deborah Tannen says, we need to learn each
other's assumptions, desires, priorities, reactions. And
we need to empathize, to think in the other's language and to speak it
ourselves. If we do, we will be awakening our anima or animus. It will be a
kind of psycho-sexual ambidextrousness--using
both hands, both sides of the brain with equal facility. In fact, it won't just
be like it, that's exactly what it will be.
This is quite real to me
personally. I believe I have always had some feminine sensitivities.
Once my mother told me that had I been a girl they had planned to name me
"Lynne." From then on I felt that Lynne was the name of my anima, my
female counterpart within.
I believe one reason Carol
and I get along so well is that in her some of the latent male traits have come
to the surface. She is a no-nonsense realist. She is at home in the real world
as I am not. She is canny and shrewd, and has better judgment than me. She has
an awakened animus just as I have an activated anima.
This is why she can be my
lover and my best friend. She is male enough to be my buddy and female enough
to attract and delight me. Let me venture a speculation on what happens with a
good marriage. I dare say that the man gains the dimensions of his anima from his
mother, his female role model, and we hope she is a good one, while the woman
has her animus shaped by her male role model, her father. Men can thus say,
"My mother, myself," and women can say, "My father,
Then one meets a member of
the opposite sex who answers to one's own inner counterpart. This is why we
relate to the opposite sex in a similar way to the way we related to our
opposite sex parent. Once one meets the right partner, and they grow together
over the years, the spouse more and more becomes the mate's anima or animus.
Each of us externalizes our counterpart, projecting it onto our mate, and the
mate internalizes it. Carol replaces "Lynne" or becomes Lynne, my
anima. We are one. The two have been made one.
And this, in turn, is how we
come to have "eyes in place of an eye." Notice that in this phrase a
single part is replaced by more than one. In a sense we have a reverse of the
imagery of the rest of the text, where two are made one. Here one is replaced
with two. Just as Hercules would lop off one head of the Hydra, only to see two
more sprout in its place. When the counterpart is
awakened, whether by your becoming one with a mate, or
by cultivating your own inner double, you see yourself from a new perspective;
you begin to see yourself as others see you. I often catch myself thinking,
"Come off it, Price! That's just typical apish male stubbornness. You know
better than that!" Thanks, Lynne. Thanks, Carol.
I needed that.
But if you did this, if you
awakened your inner counterpart, wouldn't you have in fact done the opposite of
what the Gospel urges? Wouldn't you be making the one into two? No, I don't
think you would. You are assuming you
are already one. That's where you're wrong! As it stands now, you are a half!
You are a Yin by itself, a lone Yang, a bicycle with one pedal. You're not
going to make much progress that way. Let
the half become whole. Let the two, one of which is now buried and hidden, join
and become one. And then you will have entered the kingdom.
Copyright©2007 by Robert
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