Friday, April 28, 2006

Shelley's Ozymandias: Remembering What's Real

Percy Bysshe Shelley, the Romantic poet (1792-1822) was inspired to write the sonnet, Ozymandias, after seeing the broken colossus of Ramesses 11, an ancient Pharaoh of Egypt (1099-1069,BC).

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
(Shelley, 1817)

In this sonnet, the obvious irony is that at the time Ozymandias commissioned the sculptor to create his statue, the king's vast empire was visible everywhere, a great kingdom filled with treasures; yet, now the trunkless legs of stone/stand surrounded by nothing but desert.

This sonnet, almost 200 years old, retains its power because it reminds us that nothing in earthly form will endure.

Jesus tells us this in a lyrical passage in Matthew.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and
rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth
nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
(Matthew 6:19-21)

And then, just in case we didn't get it the first time, He tells us this again in His Introduction to his unworldly masterpiece, A Course in Miracles.

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.

Herein lies the peace of God.

What is real is formless--Love, Joy, Truth, Peace, Serenity, Tranquility, Grace, Heaven.

What is unreal takes earthly form, that which we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.

It is not that we can escape form, being constantly immersed in it, making it up as we go along with thought-images that have no source in what is Real. It is simply a question of where your treasure is, a question of what you value. Ozymandias obviously valued the wrong things, all "things" being thought-images in form.

Jesus has us declare in the title to Lesson 133, I will not value what is valueless.
In one particular paragraph in this lesson, Jesus helps us evaluate what to choose.

If you choose a thing that will not last
forever, what you chose is valueless.
A temporary value is without
all value. Time can never take away
a value that is real. What fades and dies
was never there, and makes no offering
to him who chooses it. He is deceived
by nothing in a form he thinks he likes.

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth.

The question persists: In the midst of form, how do we learn to value the formless? Jesus gives us a practice at the end of Lesson 133.

I will not value what is valueless,
and only what has value do I seek,
for only that do I desire to find.

And then receive what waits for everyone
who reaches, unencumbered, to the gate
of Heaven, which swings open as he comes.

Jesus even tells us how to be receptive.

Heaven itself is reached with empty hands
and open minds, which come with nothing to
find everything and claim it as their own.

We stand with empty hands and open minds so that we can breathe in the breath of God. We ask to be inspired. "Inspire" comes from the Latin inspirare, "to breathe in." We receive the Holy "Spirit," from the Latin spiritus, meaning "to breathe, to blow." We breathe in the "animating vital principle that gives life." Say aloud right now, "Holy Spirit." This is to remind you that your voice is carried on your breath. "Holy Spirit." Voice is breath. The Holy Spirit is the Voice for God.

It is quite possible to listen to God's Voice all through the day without interrupting your regular activities in any way. The part of your mind in which truth abides is in constant communication with God, whether you are aware of it or not. The part that is listening to the Voice for God is calm, always at rest and wholly certain. It is really the only part there is. Try to identify with the part of your mind where stillness and peace reign forever. Try to hear God's Voice call to you lovingly, reminding you that your Creator has not forgotten His Son.

We stand still to be inspired, to breathe in the Voice for God. That is why I wrote in the first sentence that Shelley was "inspired" to write this sonnet, just as the sculptor was inspired to sculpt the statue, his heart was fed by inspiration, the meaning of the phrase in the sonnet, the heart that fed, just as I was inspired to write this article. I value only the formless.

I want to be infomed in form only by the formless.

Nothing real can be threatened.

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.

I ask for help in every moment not to forget my treasure. I ask for help to remember not to value what is valueless. I want to stay vigilant so that I do not mistake the ephemeral for the eternal, nothing for everything, the temporal for eternity.

I live for inspiration, breathing in the words carried on the breath of the Holy Spirit, experiencing Heaven on earth.

I am certain that's what St. Francis means in the first line of his great Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.

To read Lesson 133, click on the link below.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Gospel of Judas: A Gift for Easter, 2006

Last Thursday, just before Palm Sunday, the New York Times reported the release of a remarkable document, . This early Christian manuscript surfaced after 1700 years, discovered in the desert of Egypt. The script was written on 13 sheets of papyrus, both front and back. The manuscript was a mess of more than 1,000 brittle fragments. Beginning in 2001, four scholars undertook the herculean task of assembling and arranging the papyrus fragments. A consensus English translation appears in the book, The Gospel of Judas (National Geographic, 2006).

I found that reading the Gospel is demanding and rewarding. It is demanding because words, lines, and portions of the text are missing. In the 26 pages of the text, there are 150 footnotes. Jesus speaks to his disciples using metaphors grounded in Gnosticism and ancient Jewish wisdom unfamiliar to me.

And yet, reading it is rewarding because listening to Jesus speak in the script, I can hear the same tender, loving Voice that I hear every day while reading his unworldly masterpiece, . Although in time, it appears that the two manuscripts are separated by almost 2000 years, in truth Jesus' Voice is eternal.

As I listened to his Voice in the Gospel, I simply allowed the words to wash over me, and I found that I connected in three places in particular.

The first time Jesus appears before his disciples, he "laughed." Now that got my attention.

One day he was with his disciples in Judea, and he found them gathered together and seated in pious observance. When he approached his disciples, gathered together and seated and offering a prayer of thanksgiving over the bread, he laughed. (Gospel, pp. 20-21)

Jesus knew that they were following their will, not God's, although they piously, or dutifully, appeared to be doing God's will. In the Introduction to the book, an editor, Marvin Meyer, comments.

In the Gospel of Judas, unlike the New Testament gospels, Jesus laughs a great deal. He laughs at the foibles of the disciples and the absurdities in human life. (p. 4)

The second connection occurs while talking to Judas laughs and says to him, "You thirteenth spirit." (p.31)

By this Jesus means that Judas was excluded from the circle of the twelve because his true identity is spiritual. Judas' will and God's will are one. Not mine but Thine.

Finally, Jesus says to Judas, "But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." (p.43) Judas is instructed by Jesus to help him by sacrificing the fleshly body, "the man" that bears the true spiritual self of Jesus. The editor comments:

Judas finally betrays Jesus in the Gospel of Judas, but he does so knowingly, and at the sincere request of Jesus. Jesus is a savior not because of the mortal flesh that he wears but because he can reveal the soul or spiritual person who is within, and the true home of Jesus is not this imperfect world below but the divine world of light and life. For Jesus in the Gospel of Judas, death is not tragedy, nor is it a necessary evil to bring about the forgiveness of sins. Death, as the exit from this absurd physical existence, is not to be feared or dreaded. Far from being an occasion of sadness, death is the means by which Jesus is liberated from the flesh in order that he might return to his heavenly home, and by betraying Jesus, Judas helps his friend discard his body and free his inner self, the divine self. (pp. 4-5)

And from His heavenly home, Jesus now speaks to us today.

I could not have said, "Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?" unless I believed in betrayal. The whole message of the crucifixion was simply that I did not. The "punishment" I was said to have called forth upon Judas was a similar mistake. Judas was my brother and a Son of God, as much a part of the Sonship as myself. Was it likely that I would condemn him when I was ready to demonstrate that condemnation is impossible? T-6.1.15:5-9

Finally, In Absence from Felicity: The Story of Helen Schucman and Her Scribing of A Course in Miracles (1991), Kenneth Wapnick reports that on October 2, 1976, Helen asked Jesus this question, "Was there a physical resurrection?"

This is His answer.

My body disappeared because I had no illusion about it. The last one had gone. It was laid in the tomb, but there was nothing left to bury. It did not disintegrate because the unreal cannot die. It merely became what it always was. And that is what "rolling the stone away " means. The body disappears, and no longer hides what lies beyond. It merely ceases to interfere with vision. To roll the stone away is to see beyond the tomb, beyond death, and to understand the body's nothingness. What is understood as nothing must disappear.

I did assume a human form with human attributes afterwards, to speak to those who were to prove the body's worthlessness to the world. This has been much misunderstood. I came to tell them that death is illusion, and the mind that made the body can make another since form itself is an illusion. They did not understand. But now I talk to you and give you the same message. The death of an illusion means nothing. It disappears when you awaken and decide to dream no more. And you still do have the power to make this decision as I did.

God holds out His hand to His Son to help him rise and return to Him. I can help because the world is illusion, and I have overcome the world. Look past the tomb, the body, the illusion. Have faith in nothing but the spirit and the guidance God gives you. He could not have created the body because it is a limit. He must have created the spirit because it is immortal. Can those who are created like Him be limited? The body is the symbol of the world. Leave it behind. It canot enter Heaven. But I can take you there any time you choose. Together we can watch the world disappear and its symbol vanish as it does so. And then and then--I cannot speak of that.

A body cannot stay without illusion, and the last one to be overcome is death. This is the message of the crucifixion. There is no order of difficulty in miracles. This is the message of the resurrection. Illusions are illusions. Truth is true. Illusions vanish. Only truth remains.

These lessons needed to be taught but once, for when the stone of death is rolled away, what can be seen except an empty tomb? And that is what you see who follow me into the sunlight and away from death, past all illusions, on to Heaven's gate, where God will come Himself to take you home.
(Absence from Felicity, pp. 398-399)

He is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Happy .

To read a copy of the Gospel, please click below:

(In respect to laughter, I invite you to take a look at my previous blog post, "Remembering to laugh").
Time Magazine Article: Kiss of Judas