Services at St Michael and All Angels
Sunday 17 June, Third Sunday after Trinity
Intent: God as Ruler of the Angels
Sunday 1 July, Fifth Sunday after Trinity
Intent: God as Peace
Sundays with no Eucharist service
at St Michael’s:
(Services are held at St Alban’s,
351 Wickham Tce, Brisbane)
Sunday 3 June, Sunday within the Octave
of Corpus Christi
Bp Richard will be at St Alban’s in Brisbane
Sunday 24 June, Sunday within the Octave
of St Alban
Intent: God as Light
Real and Unreal
At this part of the Church year, in May and June, we are celebrating:
- The Ascension
- Pentecost, or Whitsunday
- Corpus Christi
- Trinity Sunday and the subsequent Trinity Sundays which run up to Advent
Some of these events are mentioned and/or described in the New Testament, and when they are recorded, as for example the Ascension and Pentecost, they are recorded from the point of view of the observer. We do not get an insight into the thoughts and feelings of the participants, but we might well guess from our own experiences, meditations and reflections.
As some of us may be aware, Stephen Hawking, the well-known theoretical physicist, died recently after leading a most extraordinary life of dealing with a degenerative motor neurone disease. In spite of his disease, he expanded our fundamental understanding of the cosmos and in particular, black holes. Some commentators reflecting on his life use the phrase “A Life of Paradox”.
We often need to have a lie down when we get a headache, something that is very real and unpleasant for us at the time. But in Stephen Hawking’s case, once he had had a lie down for whatever reason, his debilitating physical condition was still very much with him when he awoke. Yet he persisted with his work at the leading edge of our understanding of the physical universe.
When physicists such as Stephen are pushing the boundaries of human understanding, they typically start with a hypothesis, a thought experiment, and then ask, “Is this possible?”, “What would happen if it were true?”, “How would we know if it were real?”. At this point in the process of developing a new, perhaps radical, view of the Universe, the end goal is unclear, murky, but there is an inner expectation by the physicist that they will “know” when they have reached their goal. This inner “knowing” experienced by the practitioner in the world of secular science and technology is very similar to the gnosis, the “divine” knowing or revelation of the spiritual traveller on the Path.
In many ways, if we replace the concept of starting with a “hypothesis[RT2] ” with the concept of starting with “faith”, we find that we are engaging in the same process. In the process of obtaining, or developing or expanding one’s faith, we might also be starting from unclear ideas and concepts, or not even be sure of the first step to take in our journey on the Path. But we can be sure that as small parts of our own personal faith jigsaw puzzle suddenly fit together, we will come to see the world differently, interact with the people we meet every day differently, and travel more light-heartedly on our personal Path. These experiences are our own small Pentecosts, our own experiences of the inner inspiration energised and guided by the Holy Spirit.
When considering changes in people’s consciousness, we might recall Timothy Leary, a Harvard University psychology professor who in 1965 experimented and wrote about the effects of synthetic chemicals such as LSD on people’s consciousness. He later became very well known in the counterculture of the 1960s, but in the 1950s similar clinical investigations had been proceeding amongst the psychiatric community where peer-reviewed scholarly papers and international conferences provided the appropriate checks and balances for a serious scientific endeavour in the public interest.
That serious endeavour was an investigation of the potential of using consciousness-altering, sometimes called “psychedelic”, chemicals on people to induce what could be described as a mystical experience. This mystical experience could lead on to alleviate depression, break harmful lifetime habits and help palliative patients deal with their impending death.
Some contemporary models of human consciousness describe the brain as a hierarchal system with the “corporate executive” at the top maintaining order through the thought and action habits that we build up over our lifetime. We might hypothesise that the “corporate executive” is our ego, our “small self”, which becomes our view of ourself with all the limitations that the ego imposes. When this ego function becomes too rigid, we might experience depression and anxiety.
When clinical trials are conducted using carefully administered psychedelic chemicals on people with mental problems such as depression, harmful habits and obsessive behaviours, and the brain’s function is studied using modern scanning methods, it appears that the control and importance of the “corporate exec” function is greatly diminished. At the same time, the individual involved has an intense experience, an internal vision of the barriers between the small self and the universe just melting away. This is followed by the emerging of a new, resilient mental model with none of the previously imagined limits which the ego “self-imposed” on the individual. A rebirth, in effect.
Pentecost – Duccio di Buoninsegna 1260-1318
In a similar way, I imagine that the Disciples went through their own personal transformative experiences while being part of and swept up in the original Pentecost in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. They, as individuals, suddenly became different people to their most intimate observers, to their neighbours and friends and family. And significantly, just as people who experience a transcendental vision as a result of ingesting chemicals, the Disciples did not revert to their old habit patterns. Instead we have accounts that their vision and view of the significance and importance of Jesus’ teaching became so clear that they were driven to share their vision with others. They fanned out across the Mediterranean, influencing and changing people’s lives by their example and teaching.
For the Disciples, the unreal had become real, and their experience comes through to us in teachings and in the inner structure of the Eucharist. Take any group of Christians and try to get a measure of their faith. You would find a wide variability but we can reflect on two of the gifts that our Founding Bishops bequeathed to us, that is, freedom to explore the written word as we are individually inclined, and the rich structure of the Eucharist. These can help us to discern a sure and certain path towards our own transcendental experience which will bring increasing meaning and deep joy into our lives.
With God's blessing