Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the Kingdom of Heaven is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom of Heaven is inside you and outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are that poverty.”–
Gospel of Thomas Vs 3
When we think of Christianity our minds don’t typically wander to near eastern mysticism. Words like consciousness or states of being probably aren’t our first thoughts. The average Christian probably isn’t aware of Biblical meditation or how to use the Lectio Divina to deepen their understanding of scripture.
The secular world hasn’t faired much better in regards to mysticism either. Modern convention doesn’t seem to have much interest in Divine Union. Even our philosophers seem to have forgotten what it means to be lovers of wisdom who seek deeper truths. Heraclitus and the like have given way to a more materialistic approach that doesn’t give much thought to Nature.
That’s life though. Like King Solomon said “there is nothing new under the sun.” There’s always been an ebb and flow to the cycles of highs and lows we experience during our time here. So… as far as humanity is concerned not much has changed since the aforementioned words of Christ filled the ears of eager believers seeking lasting peace. That being said, a lot of questions come to mind when we read Thomas.
- How does one enter the Kingdom of Heaven?
- What is this Kingdom of Heaven?
- How is said Kingdom inside of us and outside of us?
- How will knowing ourselves help us be known?
- What does the living Father have to do with how we understand ourselves?
- What sort of poverty is birthed in our ignorance of self?
This line of questioning drives us deep into our nature of being. It really helps us stop and consider how we fit into the Divine reality that served as a basis for much of what Christ taught. We are challenged to understand what it means to be children of the living Father.
Frustrations arise when we wrestle down this idea of Heaven being something within us and around us. After all, haven’t most of us always thought of the Kingdom of Heaven being a place our souls go after death? Haven’t we all been taught that the Kingdom is a reward for a life well lived?
The Pharisees framed a similar debate in the Gospel of Luke when they demanded to know when the Kingdom of God will come. Christs words of “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you,” posed more questions than answers.
- What does Christ mean when he says the Kingdom doesn’t come through observation?
- How does the Kingdom of Heaven not exist in a specific place?
- Can we really find the Kingdom within ourselves ?
As Christian’s we don’t like to refute what Christ says no matter how difficult it may be to accept. So our only real recourse is to dive deep into those places of discomfort and challenge our beliefs. This is no small task. Many of us are comforted by our notions of rightness. We’ve dedicated our lives to observing what we believe to be the core tenants of our faith only to have Christ shake us to our roots.
Imagine being one of the 12 disciples for a moment. In the mix of the narrative of the Kingdom of Heaven being within Christ turns to you and says “But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.” Christ basically told them that every observation they held dear will be destroyed by the realization of who He is. To make matters even more perplexing we are to consider that said fire and brimstone is to rain down from within.
Now, internal struggles aren’t exactly new to most of us but to tie our inner turmoil into what Christ taught may take some getting used to. However, in doing so verses like “choose this day whom you will serve,” take on a whole new meaning. We start to realize how our conscious decisions affect our daily lives.
While this concept may seem alien to us at first the Gospel of Thomas is riddled with lessons on how our awareness of why we do what we do matters. In verse 97 Christ states:
“Jesus said, The Kingdom of Heaven is like a woman who was carrying a jar full of meal. While she was walking along a distant road, the handle of the jar broke and the meal spilled behind her along the road. She didn't know it; she hadn't noticed a problem. When she reached her house, she put the jar down and discovered that it was empty.”
More questions start to surface.
- What does a vessel emptying without us noticing have to do with the Kingdom of Heaven?
- Why is not focusing on what we do considered a problem?
- How does the living Father tie into our awareness of being?
Just by allowing the questions to flow you’ve taken a huge step towards understanding the Christian mysteries. By questioning our place in the Divine order we are asking God to reveal themself from within. Christ Himself told us that “Everyone who asks, receives; the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door shall be opened.”
Fortunately we aren’t the first to embark on the journey within and many a Christian mystics have paved the way before us. We have a rich tapestry of spiritual tradition stretching back for thousands of years. We have been left with prayers and methods of prayers meant to aid us as we walk towards Christ. One such prayer comes down to us from St. Benedict’s Prayer Book:
“Gracious God, help me today to realize you will be speaking to me through the events of the day, through people, through things and through creation. Give me ears, eyes and a heart to perceive you,, however veiled your presence may be. Give me insight to see through the exterior of things into the interior truth. Give me your spirit of discernment O Lord, you know how busy I must be this day, if I forget you do not forget me.”
Spend a couple of weeks reciting this prayer every morning. Once you’ve committed it to memory really focus on the words and set your intention on seeking Gods direction throughout the day. Devote some time afterwards to question the words of your favorite scriptures. You may just surprise yourself with what you learn.
-Excerpt from a book in progress I figured would be nice to share with the class. Thank you so much for reading.