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Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Tearing of the Veil

"And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit
And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom;
and the earth shook and the rocks were split.
The tombs were opened,
and many bodies of the saints who had fall asleep were raised."
(Matthew 27:50-52; NAS)

The Mystery of the rented veil is sufficiently astonishing that perhaps it matters not how many times we’ve heard about it, discussed it, reflected upon it, and prayed for its essence into our lives.  At each new moment we reflect upon this Mystery, new blessings come forth. We notice Matthew recording the event in phases: Christ’s spirit is yielded, then the veil is torn, then the earth shakes, then the sleeping rise.  Awake!

As mystics, we see this mystery in the microcosm, the renting of the veil for each of us individually.  But we also yearn for the mystery in the macrocosm, as many come to see anew, as the blindfolds of an entire society are shed.  Jesus began this story, and ever since, many have followed to carry it on.  Reformers like Martin Luther, artists like Da Vinci, authors like Harriet Beecher Stowe, activists like Gandhi, leaders like Nelson Mandela and prophets of our like Martin Luther King have each, in their own ways, slashed tears in the veil.  As the veil is torn, separation is replaced with liberation, which we'll glean in a few ways.  It is in this macrocosmic way that I pray for many veils to be tearing in our culture and our world.

In pondering this mystery, it seems fitting to highlight the gospel that most complements the metaphor of the veil, both in its message and in its life -- a gospel veiled behind the canonical Bible, apparently deemed too radical for inclusion, the Gospel of Thomas.

Religion is replaced with spirituality

“I shall give you what no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
what no hand has touched,
what has never arisen in a human heart”

(Thomas 17)

Behind the veil, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, where he could directly encounter the Presence of God.  This Holy place was so sacred only the holy priest could enter, and even he only he once a year, and with blood (Hebrews 9:7).

That the veil was torn from top to bottom suggests a confirmation of Jesus’ prayer, “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”  As Above, so Below.  It is done.

As the veil separated the people from the Holy of Holies, its renting expresses mysteries of great depth – mysteries the churches teach, but may not wish us to know.  For if we understood and entered into them, we may no longer need the churches as they are currently functioning.  We would continue to come together, but we may also leave some of our leaders unemployed.  In the microcosm, the torn veil brings the Great Mystery: “Christ in you” (Col 1:27).

Duality is replaced with unity

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the one who comes from what is undivided.
I was granted from the things of my Father. . . .
For this reason I say, whoever is undivided will be full of light,
but whoever is divided will be full of darkness”
(Thomas 61)

We see in Exodus 40:21 a description of the veil: “And he brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the veil of the covering, and covered the ark of the testimony; as the LORD commanded Moses.”  Its function is described in Exodus 26:33: ”And you shall hang up the veil from the clasps, that you may bring in there within the veil the ark of the testimony: and the veil shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy.”

The veil, then, covers and divides.  The torn veil, therefore, reveals and unifies.  Like all significant biblical metaphors, the veil brings us all the way back to the metaphor of the First Couple.  Given that the Tree of Knowledge is knowledge of “good and evil,” I have been calling it the “Tree of Duality,” as noted in essay form and hinted at in metaphor.

When the First Couple opened their eyes to see duality, the duality formed a veil; their eyes were covered, as in a veil, such that their eyes were no longer “naked,” but “veiled” in duality.  When the veil is torn, their eyes can see fresh into the Tree of Life, into Unity.

Illusion is replaced with truth

"Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds.
When he finds, he will become troubled.
When he becomes troubled,
he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All."

(Thomas 2)

Other traditions speak of “maya,” cosmic delusion that covers the eyes of those of us on earth.  Our culture’s own proverb expresses this notion as “things are not as they seem.” 

Veils remain because we perceive our safety behind them.  A ripped veil terrifies us; for once we can see, we are disturbed.  Two other Thomas sayings hint as to why: we find a corpse.  According to twin sayings 56 and 80, “Whoever has come to understand the world has found a corpse, and whoever has found a corpse is superior to the world” (56).  So when the veil is torn, we are dumbstruck, shocked, grieved, and angry.  Somewhere deep within us, we know we’ll be disturbed if the veil is torn, so we “protect” ourselves by maintaining its covering.  Little do we realize how unprotected we actually are while the veil remains.  Towers fall and confusion reigns.

If we permit the veil to be torn, we are then disturbed, or as Matthew described it, our earth shakes.  We see everything with new eyes so that our whole world is disturbed. Though Thomas never admits this, the majority of those who find the corpse remain there: stunned and disturbed by it.  Some are angry, some are cynical, some drug themselves, and some are medicated by their doctors who ignorantly aim to drug them back into illusion.

But if we come to terms with the corpse, as expressed in Thomas, we are “astonished."  We have permitted our earth to shake and now our tombs are opened. Then Matthew describes the final phase: the sleeping rise.  We are awakened.  Thomas’s less politically correct text expresses this final phase as being superior or ruling.  I prefer Matthew’s expression of this final phase and see it as the awakened person who is no longer ruled by the world, but instead by Christ within.  This is the person for whom the truth has set free.

If many of us permit the veil to be torn in the microcosm, then our collective microcosms will tear the veil in the macrocosm.  Once our collective veil is torn, we will be stunned, disturbed and grieved, but then we will be set free.  Our permission for the veil to be torn from top to bottom will be more than worth its cost in our liberation.

"Recognize what is before your eyes,
and the mysteries will be revealed to you.
For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.”

(Thomas 5)

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