By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul - Celtic Christian Wisdom & Spirituality for the Here and Now – Part 5
In the making of the creatures, O God, you called the senses into being and named them as good. In our tasting and touching, in our smelling, hearing, and seeing may we be alive to the mystery of life and alert to finding you in all things.
Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul – Pelagius (cont’d)
John Philip Newell writes, “It is not known how Pelagius responded personally to his ex-communication or how it affected him spiritually. What is clear is that he had been certain in his own mind about how he wished to act in the face of persecution. ‘Wisdom,’ he wrote, ‘consists in listening to the commandments of God, and obeying them. A person who has heard that God commands people to be generous and then shares what he has with the poor is truly wise.’ He also said, ‘a person who has heard that God commands people to forgive . . . and then reaches out in love to his persecutors, is truly wise.’” [Listening for the Heartbeat of God, p. 22.]
As was noted in Part 4, “in Pelagius’ teachings we can identify a fivefold focus: the sacredness of the human soul, the sacredness of nature, the sacredness of spiritual practice, the sacredness of wisdom, and the sacredness of compassion.”
“First, Pelagius, as we have seen, taught the sacredness of the human soul. The essence of our nature is of God. But his/her inner nobility can be ‘buried,’ he says, covered over by falseness and delusion. We become addicts to what is false, and in a drunken spiral, slip further and further into insensitivity and wrong. He believed the sacred essence of our being is never undone. Always it is there in our depths to rise again with the assistance of what he calls ‘divine grace.’”
“The second main theme that we can discern in Pelagius’ teachings is the sacredness of nature. ‘Narrow shafts of divine light,’ he says, ‘pierce the veil that separates heaven from earth.’ These shafts of divine Light can be glimpsed everywhere, in every creature, every life-form, every human being. They come not from without but from deep within, from the Light that is within all life. God’s spirit is in all living things, he says, ‘and if we look with God’s eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly.’ This belief held radical implications for Pelagius. It led him to call on the fourth-century Roman Empire to treat the body of the earth and its resources with reverence and see that it was equitably shared.”
“The sacredness of spiritual practice is the third main theme that can be identified in Pelagius’ teachings. Meditative prayer, he said, is like plowing the ‘fertile soil’ of our soul. It is like tilling the inner fields of our being to uncover truth. For Pelagius, this inner work of awareness necessitates having a soul friend, or anamchara, as he called it. Pelagius is the first teacher in the Celtic world to explicitly refer to this spiritual practice. A person without a soul friend is like a body without a head, he said. In other words, it is vital for us in our personal journey of inner awakening to have a friend who knows the depths of the soul, to whom we can uninhibitedly show what is stirring within us.”
“’We must open our souls completely to this friend,’ said Pelagius, ‘hiding nothing and revealing everything.’ This is not because our soul friend knows more about what is stirring in us than we do. It is because the very act of trying to give expression to our soul, in the presence of someone who loves and trusts us, will enable us to grow in awareness. Then what may have been lying unconscious in our depths will move up into greater consciousness, further enabling us to translate this awareness into action in our lives and relationships in the world.”
“The fourth theme of sacredness in Pelagius is that of wisdom. He sees this as the birthright or property of the human soul. Drawing heavily from the wisdom literature of the Hebrew scriptures, he speaks of wisdom being fashioned within us in our mother’s womb. It is innate to the sacredness of our being, pure gift, planted deep within, although it is our responsibility to help bring it into consciousness. This leads Pelagius to look for wisdom, and to expect to find it, way beyond the bounds of Christianity, in every culture, every religion, and every people. “
Pelagius “appeals to the literary figure Job in the Hebrew scriptures, who can be viewed as a prototype of human wisdom long before the birth of Christianity. ‘What a man Job was,’ he says, ‘a man of the gospel before the gospel was known.’ He opened up the hidden wealth of wisdom in our nature and brought it out into the open. . . . Sacred wisdom is deep in our nature.”
“The fifth theme that appears in Pelagius’ teachings is the sacredness of compassion. Pelagius taught that it is not so much what you believe about Jesus that matters. The important thing is becoming like Jesus, becoming compassionate. A Christ-one, he said, is one ‘who shows compassion to all, . . . who feels another’s pain as if it were his own, and who is moved to tears by the tears of others.’ And this compassion is not just for human beings, he said; it is for all of life. ‘When Jesus commands us to love our neighbors, he does not only mean our human neighbors; he means all the animals and birds, insects and plants, amongst whom we live.’”
“All of these themes of sacredness clashed with the way empire worked. They were like seeds of radicalism. The sacredness of the human soul: people are not just there to be controlled and used, but should be reverenced and related to. The sacredness of nature: we cannot do whatever we wish to the body of the earth, but are to honor it as our own body. The sacredness of spiritual practice: truth is not just dispensed from above by those who are in power, but accessed from deep within by everyone. The sacredness of wisdom: one nation, or culture, or religion, does not have a monopoly on wisdom; it is to be found in all people, all cultures, all religions. The sacredness of compassion: we are to see and feel and act for others as we see and feel and act for ourselves. All of this challenged the inequities upon which the empire was built.”
Words of Awareness and Wisdom
John Philip Newell writes, “We are living at a critical moment of history. Will we truly awaken to the sacredness of every person regardless of gender, race, or religion?”
(Reflect for a brief time on the ways this wisdom applies to your life.)
Source: John Philip Newell, Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul, Introduction and Chapter One.
An invitation to our virtual participants: Discussion and comments are very much encouraged and
welcomed. Online discussions can be held in the comments section in the upcoming post on Facebook for this week’s Deacon’s Reflection which is part of adult formation at St. Francis Episcopal Church.
Awake, O my soul, and know the Sacred dignity of your being. Awake to it in every living soul this day.
Honor it, defend it, in heart and mind, in word and deed.
Awake O my soul, and know the sacred dignity of your being.
May the light of God illumine the heart of my soul.
May the flame of Christ kindle me to love.
May the fire of the Spirit free me to live this day, tonight, and forever. Amen.
“Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2022.
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