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Faces on Faith: Why religion?

January 9, 2019
By JUNE SIEBER , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

I purchased Elaine Pagel's book Beyond Belief a number of years ago when she discussed the Gnostic Gospels, some of Christianity's earliest texts discovered in Egypt in l945. Her fascination with The Gospel of Thomas is examined in detail throughout the book.

When I learned that her newest book was titled "Why Religion," it seemed the perfect topic for this column. Our search for "gnosis," which is often interpreted as knowledge, Pagel explains that it really means "insight" or "understanding," since it's actually about "knowledge of the heart."

This search is detailed in The Gospel of Thomas this way: "Knock upon yourself as on a door, and walk upon yourself as on a straight road. For if you walk on that road, you cannot get lost, and what you open for yourself, will open." Again, "Let the one who seeks not stop seeking until he finds, and when he finds, he will be troubled, and then he will be astonished."

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June Sieber

C.S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, found himself astonished in his search, which he shares in his book Surprised by Joy, that through his many years as an atheist, he would be stunned to feel flashes of joy. It was only later in his momentous discovery of God, that he realized Joy and God are inseparable, since joy comes directly from God, in fact, is God revealing him/herself.

One fascinating revelation of Pagel's is her realization that the Gnostic Gospels often depict God as feminine, as in her quote from The Secret Revelation of John, when the disciple John, devastated by Jesus's death, goes out to the desert to grieve, when "suddenly the whole creation shines with light, and John hears Jesus's voice saying: 'John, why do you weep? Don't you know I am with you always? I am the Father, and I am the Mother, and I am the Son.'"

Pagel asks: "What difference does it make how we imagine God?" Mary Baker Eddy, the discovered and founder of Christian Science, was ahead of her time, when she described God multiple times in her seminal work: Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, as Father-Mother God.

So, the question, Why Religion? During a difficult period in my life, I was caring for my severely handicapped husband, working as an adjunct professor training education interns for FGCU, and conducting all the Sunday and Wednesday services for the Sanibel Christian Science Church. My religious work at times seemed to hold me above the daily burdens, and gave me glimpses of unexpected joy. One morning when my hip and leg were painful and I had to drive to Fort Myers, something took over the steering wheel and gas pedal. It was so mystical, I thought, "So this it is what it's like!" Arriving at the corner of Gladiolus and Route 41, my car was filled with light, but so were all the cars I could see in the six lanes around me. An inner voice said: "All you need is already here, and all the needs of those in the other cars, are already met." An indescribable joy and lightness stayed with me for hours, even when I was back home helping my husband from the bed to his wheel-chair. The visiting caregiver said to me, "You don't look troubled at all. You're all shiny bright!"

Why religion? For some of us, it's as real, and necessary as breathing.

June Sieber is affiliated with the Sanibel Christian Science Church.



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