Religion

A More Enlightened Look at Being Left Behind

A report on the popular “Left Behind” series of books about the Apocalypse

by Max Weiman

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albrecht durer knightPeople want spirituality to be more accessible, more real.  Ironically, this desire turns people toward books of spiritual fiction.  Cathy Booth Thomas of Time magazine reports that the Left Behind series has sold 42 million books, by fictionalizing the biblical “end of times.”  It’s popularity notwithstanding, the books have been highly criticized by writers and theologians.

Cathleen Falsani, religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, writes “The Roman Catholic bishops of Illinois are condemning the best selling, Christian-themed Left Behind books as anti-Catholic. They cite story lines they say are offensive—including one that involves an American cardinal who becomes the right-hand man of the Antichrist.”

Apparently, the whole basis for the series, known to theologians as premillenial dispensationalism, is a questionable doctrine even amongst the “fold.”  Out of the 1000 forms of Christianity in North America there is little common ground on this issue, even internally the groups disagree.

The writing quality is also questionable, as author Amy Wellborn says, “What presents itself as an exciting, faith-based adventure through the Last Days is nothing more than a fire and brimstone sermon concealed under a flat, deeply illogical fiction.”  Although an objective review is hard to find because this type of book is ignored by the mainstream, a few pages is enough to see the writer has a talent for keeping your attention but the literary quality must not be what has brought in the dough. A writer named Carl Olsen noted, “Bad fiction distorts truth by pretending to be more than just fiction.”

Why are people so interested in a novel that is passably written and theologically challenged?  For the same reason people from the beginning of recorded time until now have looked for some physical item to connect their spirituality to: we want an idol to bow in front of, beads or a red string to wear, a talisman or good luck charm to hold. We want to make the intangible, tangible.

The Infinite Being is hard to imagine and relate to, yet that is precisely what lifts us up out of our world.  God wants us to recognize the transcendental in our reality, and ironically we keep forcing Him to show up in the finite.   The paradox is that by clothing Him in our reality, we are actually getting farther from Him. (I wonder how He feels about that.)

We crave to read a pictorial account of the “end of days”, a spiritual event, and illuminate ourselves to the details of this miraculous time period.  Unfortunately, what we get is a man-made fiction.  You can guarantee that the end really won’t be anything like what’s being portrayed in these books.  In fact it is the nature of such a spiritual experience to defy a physical description.  That’s probably why the Prophetic Writings of Isaiah and others were so poetic and allegorical. A true intense spiritual experience is indescribable.

What’s more, even if you could somehow describe the end of times and the expected enlightenment that comes with it, would we really expect a group to be singled out and blessed because of blind adherence?  Would God reward someone who’s less righteous but joined the right club?  Would He punish good people merely because they didn’t join the right club?

The wise and holy of all monotheistic religions deserve to be one with God at the end of days. And reason suggests that those who are not so good will be given a gift of universal God consciousness so as not to be completely left out.  Many people believe that anyone not in their group is going to Hell or not getting into Heaven.  Not only does this idea fly in the face of religious tolerance, but it also goes against our spiritual intuition, and is just simply illogical.

I had a couple come into my office once for counseling.  He was Jewish; she was a fundamentalist Christian.  I asked her why she would consider marrying someone who she thought would be burning in everlasting damnation.  She merely giggled nervously, looked down and said, “Well I haven’t quite worked that out yet.”  She considered him marriage material, respected his values and his character, yet because of her religious beliefs thought he’d be living in torment forever because he didn’t “believe.”  You see how the juxtaposition of incongruities caused her to giggle.  This position is just not sensible.

If there is an Infinite Being, then it is logical that He will reward all holy and good monotheists in the world that have lived from the beginning of time until the end of days.

And if you really want to know how it will all end, don’t read the book.

Max Weiman is the author of A Map of the Universe: An Introduction to the Study of Kabbalah and the director of Kabbalah Made Easy, Inc. an organization devoted to spreading universal spiritual ideas.  Ordained by the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem , Max has been teaching for the past 14 years, and for the last seven years has been living in St. Louis , MO  with his wife and six children.  More of his articles can be found on his website, http://www.kabbalahmadeeasy.com, where you can also subscribe to his free monthly article.  His pieces have been published in many newspapers including Pathfinder and Spirit Seeker.

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Mary Magdalene: Bearer of the Holy Grail

Behind the Da Vinci Code…

by Margaret Starbird

mary magdaleneLives there anyone who has not heard of the Holy Grail? Anyone who has not been moved to mourn its loss? The stories of the Holy Grail stir within us a poignant memory of something vastly precious, now tragically lost. The land is a wasteland now, parched and sear, the plants stunted, the streams of living water reduced to a trickle. Only the return of the Grail can heal the wounded Fisher-King and restore well being of his stricken domain. The myth of the lost vessel inspired knights of medieval Europe to set out on bold adventures described in various legends of the quest for the Holy Grail.

According to some scholars, legends about the Holy Grail circulated in oral tradition long before they appeared in the written stories of medieval poets like Chrêtien de Troyes, Robert de Boron and Wolfram von Eschenbach. The myths and stories surrounding the lost Grail are assuredly old–no one can say how old!–but it is alleged that the Grail was the sacred vessel that once contained the blood of Christ. One story insists that the Grail is a cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, the Passover Meal celebrated on the night he was arrested, the very vessel in which he instituted the Holy Eucharist as described in the Synoptic Gospels of the New Testatment.

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Another story says the Grail was the cup held aloft by Joseph of Arimathea at the foot of the cross to catch streams of blood flowing from the wounds of the dying Savior. Still another legend insists that it was Mary Magdalene who held the cup at the foot of the cross and caught the blood of Christ in her precious jar. One version of the story claims that Mary Magdalene, traveling under the protection of her brother Lazarus and Joseph of Arimathea, brought the Holy Grail to the coast of France. On one point, many of the legends seem to agree: the Grail was a sacred vessel, holy because it once contained the blood of Jesus. For centuries this elusive artifact has been sought relentlessly, and several antique cups have even been claimed to be the true Grail of Christ.

mary magdaleneI am particularly intrigued by the medieval legend, indigenous to the Southern coast of France, that Mary Magdalene was the bearer of the “sangraal,” the Old French word translated “holy grail.” Surviving versions of the legend says that this woman, the devoted follower of Jesus who was first to encounter him on Easter morning, traveled with a group of family and close friends into exile, fleeing persecutions of Christians in A.D. 42. The little group arrived on the Mediterranean Coast of Gaul in a boat with no oars after narrowly escaping death during a storm at sea. With them on the boat was a pre-adolescent child named Sarah, commemorated today with a statue and celebration on her feastday, 24 May, in the little French town of Les Stes-Marie-de-la-Mer. This girl child is known as “Sarah the Egyptian.” The legend assumes that Sarah was maidservant to the three Maries–Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Jacobi–who are celebrated for bringing Christianity to the Roman province known as Gaul. A colorful Gipsy folk festival has grown up around this legend celebrating the arrival of these refugees from Jerusalem, including Lazarus and Martha, brother and sister of the Mary known to Christians as “the Magdalene.”

In 1985 I read a book that seemed to me at the time to be utterly blasphemous, a book called “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” (Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln, Richard Leigh) that suggested that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and that their bloodline survived in Western Europe.1 The word “sangraal” had, it seems, been misunderstood. When the word was broken after the “n” (san graal) it was thought to mean “Holy Grail,” but if it was broken after the “g,” the word rendered “sang raal,” which in Old French meant “blood royal.”

We are now faced with a legend that says that Mary Magdalene brought the “blood royal” to the coast of France in 42 A.D. One does not carry the blood royal in an alabaster ointment jar with a lid. The blood of kings is carried in the veins of a child. In the revised interpretation of the Medieval legend, the “vessel” that once contained the “sang raal” was not an artifact, but rather, a woman–Mary Magdalene herself–mother of a royal offspring of the Davidic bloodline.

Suddenly the “Grail” myth takes on an entirely different shape. No wonder the knights in armor sought in vain for the elusive artifact.

The mistaken object of their search was presumed to be an artifact when it should have been the memory of a woman they sought. It is in restoring the “Bride” that the sacred King is healed of his thigh wound. The “chalice” is an ancient symbol for the sacred feminine and the ancient goddesses are often associated with the “Vesica Piscis”–the () shape identified in the Greek New Testament gematria with “h Magdalhnh,” the epithet given to the Mary whom early Christians identified with “the tower/stronghold” in the prophetic book of Micah.2

A number of legends associate the Merovingian kings with the royal bloodline of Jesus and Magdalene. One of their myths apparently hints that an ancestress of the Merovingians was a mermaid, and another says that the mother of their founding leader Merovee’ was impregnated by a sea monster. In each of these myths, the prevailing kernel of truth seems to be that this ancestry is “part man, part fish.” Since among early Christians Christ was widely identified as the “ICHTHYS” (the Fish) and Mary Magdalene was identified with the shape known as the “vessel of the fish,” I believe that the ancestral mythologies of the Merovingians refer to the myth of their royal lineage. Bizarre as this conclusion may appear, it rests on the fact that myths are often vehicles for veiled truths too dangerous to be revealed.

If legends of the bloodline of the “sang raal” are true, then we must ask if there is any evidence of a child. What child of the union of Mary Magdalene and Jesus might have survived in Western Europe to be the eventual ancestress of the Frankish dynasty. Where is there a child mentioned in the legends of Mary Magdalene? This quest brings us back to Sarah, the adolescent refugee girl on the boat, whose name means “Princess” in Hebrew. Might she not have been the forgotten child of the “sang raal”–the blood royal of Israel’s kings? Her age is right. She was described as “pre-adolescent”–between 9 and 12 years old–at the time of the boat’s arrival in A.D. 42. But her face is dark in artistic tradition. She is called “Sarah the Egyptian.” Could little Sarah be the daughter of Mary Magdalene?

My own view is that this child was born after the Crucifixion of Jesus, probably in Egypt where the friends of Jesus would probably have taken Mary Magdalene to ensure her safety and that of her child in the aftermath of the turmoil following the news of the resurrection of their crucified King. Possibly they returned briefly to Jerusalem in the interim years and were reunited with Lazarus and Martha, the brother and sister of Mary, and with other close family and friends.3 Then, faced with severe prosecutions, probably those of Saul/Paul, they allegedly boarded a small boat and fled across the sea to the relative safety of Gaul.

So the child called Sarah might very well have been the “little lost princess” of western fairytale, who is eventually found and united with the handsome prince. In the book of Lamentations (4:8) we encounter an interesting passage that describes the plight of the royal princes of the house of Judah, the lineage of the Davidic kings: “their faces, once white as milk, are now black as soot. They are not recognized in the streets.” Might this passage be reflected in the dark visage of the saint called “Sarah the Egyptian.” I believe her darkness is a symbolic reference to her royal bloodline, the line of the Davidic Kings of Judah, the “sangraal.” They are now in exile, deposed and hidden, “not recognized in the streets.”

The Holy Grail is a powerful symbol on many levels. The chalice is intimately connected with the “sacred cauldron” of creativity so explicitly illustrated by the “Vesica Piscis” which is also the symbol irrevocably associated with Mary “the Magdalene” by the gematria of her epithet.4 When the Bride is restored, the wasteland is healed and the crops and herds thrive–the desert blooms. This is the age-old promise inherent in the paradigm of sacred union–the partnership of the archetypal Bride and Bridegroom. The “Grail” promises are echoes of this ‘sacred reunion’ so long repressed in Christian mythology.

In my view, establishing the claims of an elite family or king to a modern throne by means of legitimizing the “bloodline” is irrelevant. The importance of the Grail legend lies in its proclamation of the “sacred union” at the heart of the Christian mythology–that of Christ and Magdalene–which provides a paradigm of partnership for the “age to come” and the new millennium. This is not a new teaching, but an ancient one, supported by the New Testament Scriptures themselves.5

Notes:
1 Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. “Holy Blood, Holy Grail.” (New York: Dell Publishing Co. 1983). First published as “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” (London: Jonathan Cape, Ltd., 1982).
2 For a more complete explanation of the gematria of Mary Magdalene’s epithet and its connection with the “Vesica Piscis” symbol associated with the Goddess of the ancient world, please see Margaret Starbird, “The Goddess in the Gospels” (Santa Fe: Bear and Company, 1998).
3 For the evidence linking Mary Magdalene with Lazarus and Martha of Bethany, please see Margaret Starbird, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar (Santa Fe: Bear and Company, 1993) pp. 39-47.
4 See Margaret Starbird, Magdalene’s Lost Legacy (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, Bear and Company, 2003) for thorough discussion of New Testament gematria and symbolic numbers that reflect the sacred geometry and cosmology of the ancient world.
5 Starbird’s books (op. cit.), provide strong evidence for the “Sacred Union” at the heart of the Christian mythology.
Copyright © Margaret Starbird, 2005. All rights reserved.

Margaret Starbird is the author of The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail and The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine, (both published by Inner Traditions, Bear & Company), cited as sources for Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code. Two further titles were published in 2003, Magdalene’s Lost Legacy: Symbolic Numbers and the Sacred Union in Christianity (ITI, Bear and Company) and The Feminine Face of Christianity (Quest Books). Please visit Starbird’s web page for more information about her work.

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The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei: Who is Telling the Truth?

Is the Da Vinci Code more fiction than fact in its portrayal of Opus Dei, the secretive Catholic organization?

by William Martin

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With the flood of publicity likely from occur from The Da Vinci Code, Opus Dei, the organization cast as the ‘baddies’, are demanding cuts from the movie ‘so as not to offend Catholics’.

Whether the publicity will actually offend Catholics are just give Opus Dei some unwelcome attention is open to question. http://film.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1710298,00.html

“The Da Vinci Code’s depiction of Opus Dei is inaccurate, both in the overall impression and in many details” according to their web site http://www.opusdei.org/art.php?w=32&p=7017 and they are worried that the ‘inaccuracies’ will be also in the movie.

Is Dan Brown’s book more fiction than fact – as far as its representation of Opus Dei?

It is hard to know for sure, but there are a few things which do stand out in the midst of all the fuss. Opus Dei’s are trying to turn people’s attention to the good work of their members rather than the more controversial aspects of their lifestyle. Certainly their main guiding principle of ‘Finding God in Work and Daily Life’ is very appealing to many of us.

However, the practice of self-mortification by some of their members leaves them open to accusations of being a highly dubious organization. Opus Dei do not try to deny that this happens. Indeed their website attempts to justify self-mortification rather than disclaim it.

“Members of Opus Dei also attempt to respond generously to Christ’s invitation to take up the Cross by traditional Christian practices of self-denial, including, in some cases, use of the disciplines and the cilice.”

A cilice, by the way, is a spiked chain worn around the upper thigh for two hours each day.

One ex-member claims: “We were encouraged to ‘draw a little blood’ and frequently told how ‘the Father’ the founder of the organization- drew so much blood that he spattered the walls and ceiling with it.” http://www.odan.org/media_roche.htm

Yet Opus Dei claim “These practices of Christian asceticism are no more harmful to health than are athletic training or the diets followed by many to improve their health or appearance.” Which seems pretty out-of-touch, no matter how well-intended the explanation. They are clutching at straws to try and justify a bizarre medieval practice.

Of course members of Opus Dei are perfectly entitled to cause themselves unnecessary pain if they want, but they can hardly expect the rest of us to believe that this fits in with their attempts to live lives which are “peaceful and brimming over with joy.”

Although Opus Dei website tries to meet the issues raised by The Da Vinci Code head on; it makes no mention whatsoever of much longer-term assailant on their carefully crafted image.

The Opus Dei Awareness Network (ODAN) has been setup to help those who have been damaged by Opus Dei. “ODAN is a worldwide community of people who have had painful experiences as a result of their association with Opus Dei.” http://www.odan.org/

“ODAN challenges many of Opus Dei’s Questionable Practices because of the way they affect an individual’s personal freedom, choices and family life.

The following practices of Opus Dei are not common knowledge and need to be examined and questioned. The serious issues ODAN raises are based on a collection of first-hand personal experiences.

– Corporal mortification – Aggressive recruitment / undue pressure to join – Lack of informed consent and control of environment – Alienation from families”.

No doubt there are many good, well-meaning people at Opus Dei, but it seems likely at the very least that particular individuals have been abusing the power they gain from being members. The Catholic church has long shown itself to be appallingly bad a dealing with ‘bad apples’ in its midst. We only have to look at how it handled accusations of child abuse against its priests to see that (it just transferred the culprits). Whether it handles the darker aspects of Opus Dei properly only time will tell.

The Opus Dei Awareness Network (ODAN) claim that their information comes from first-hand personal experiences. Their claims, if proven, are therefore a much greater threat to Opus Dei than the Da Vinci Code. It would be good if ODAN could have some of the publicity going to Opus Dei. Perhaps then we would get some real answers out of Opus Dei and not just the media games and PR spin going on just now.

Maybe neither Opus Dei nor The Da Vinci Code are telling the truth. Perhaps it is ODAN.

William F Martin offers holistic ideas and advice. Check out these holistic blogs and articles.

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