Even in our modern era where science and rationalism are said to dominate man’s way of thinking, we surprisingly still pay attention to a number of strange superstitions that have been passed down through the ages. Even though we should know better, we avoid the number 13 because it is viewed as particularly unlucky. Hotels have avoided having a 13th floor and airports have shunned the existence of a 13th gate primarily because of this subconscious fear that may well go back to Christ and his disciples, the unlucky 13 at the Last Supper. Some scholars trace the superstition back further to the Egyptians and Babylonians who linked it with death. But whatever the case may be, somewhere in the distant past the notion arose that 13 was a number to keep away from if at all possible.
Of course the aversion to this one unfortunate number is just one example of many superstitions that come to mind and are a fabric of our every day lives. Other bizarre beliefs and practices persist in our culture, and many would be familiar with the habit of scurrying to tap the nearest wooden object after expressing one’s good fortune. We call this idea “knocking on wood” and it is so engrained in us that few are bold enough to verbalize that things have been going well in their lives without making a few taps on a nearby board. This superstition also has a very long history, perhaps even longer than that associated with the number 13, and perhaps many of us would be surprised to know that it descends to us from the days of mankind’s most primitive religious beliefs.
One of the earliest forms of religion that early man embraced is what we may call Animism. In the limited understanding of primitive man, spirits were thought to dwell in all sorts of natural objects such as rocks and trees and various animals. A spirit was believed to live in the sun and in the clouds, and our ancestors intent on their own survival and learning the rules that would ensure plenty of sunshine and food for the tribe sought to appease these spirits through various rituals and offerings that would keep them in good favor with the powers that be. A distinct divinity was thought to exist in just about every aspect of nature, and ways were sought to gain the benevolence of each. Because hunting was such a staple of life for man in the early days, he was intent on placating the ruler of the animals that he slaughtered for food to ensure a steady supply. This ritual involved a form of worship of the animal’s skeleton, usually the skull which might have been preserved in a conspicuous location in the cave or dwelling that the clan occupied. And it would seem that the legacy of this practice is the modern custom of a hunter mounting the head of his kill on a wall of the home, perhaps over the fireplace.
Not only were the spirits of animals revered in this way, but the basic divinities that were believed to live in trees were also afforded various forms of respect. Our legends of wood nymphs and tree fairies undoubtedly descend from this ancient era, and whatever the benefit that trees provided to mankind, be it for lumber, tools, or weapons, it was desired to stay in the favor of the trees who yielded these materials. Because early man recognized the tree as at least being partly responsible for his well-being, it would have been offensive to speak of one’s good fortune without paying a nominal tribute to the tree spirits, and so the custom arose to “knock on wood” after blurting out a statement about one’s prosperity and good life.
As we can see, the superstitious beliefs and traditions that we still hold today all have an origin, usually in the very distant past. The reason for many of them has slipped away with the sands of time, and while we may be inclined to say that they are all irrational especially in the modern scientific era, it might be presumptuous for us to say that there wasn’t originally some grain of truth behind each one of them, even if just according to the limited understanding of our early ancestors.
While it might not be realistic to suggest that a demigod resides in all of the natural objects under the sun, there may be a more fundamental truth behind this early religious belief of man that we can uncover. We may find additional clues to round out the picture by taking a look at some of the imagery and ideas in other spiritual sources including the scriptures themselves. One particular narrative from the Old Testament hints at an idea that might make a little sense of these elementary animistic beliefs. In the story of Gideon, the judge who ruled Israel in the days before there were kings is the account of the defeat of the Midianites, one of the nation’s ancient foes. In this story of faith, God instructed Gideon to take a mere 300 men into battle against the enemy but without the luxury of sword and spear. Instead they were to carry other implements as if they were taking a casual stroll through the woods at night. Each man was to bear in one hand a trumpet and in the other a clay jar with a torch inside.
When the time came to engage the enemy, the three hundred men surrounded the camp of the Midianites and blew their trumpets. Then they smashed their jars and held the torches aloft in their hands at their positions around the encampment. As it turned out God didn’t fail to provide a miracle, for the Midianites fled in fear and turned on each other with the sword killing themselves. And so with a trumpet, a clay jar, and a torch, Israel defeated their foe.
Besides the obvious story of faith that is told in this biblical narrative, there may be a few symbolic elements that we can analyze, and in this account what is relevant are the clay jars and the torches that were inside of them. Following along the idea in Genesis that man was fashioned out of the earth or clay in the Garden of Eden, we are presented with the jar as a symbol of the physical body of man which serves merely as a container for something greater. Paul in his second epistle to the Corinthians used the same metaphor when speaking of people as “jars of clay” only he wasn’t as much interested in the jar itself but a treasure that was hidden inside of the jar. Frequently it was the case in ancient times for people to conceal their valuables in earthen vessels as they lacked any outward appeal that might attract unwanted inquirers. But for Paul, this treasure was a lot more valuable than mere gold or precious stones; rather it was something priceless and without comparison to anything found in the physical world.
If we equate the contents of Paul’s jars of clay with what was held inside of Gideon’s jars of clay, we may catch a glimpse of what the special treasure consisted of. In the story of Gideon, we are made aware that torches were hidden in the earthen jars, and at a fundamental level the torches represent fire or light. The symbolism of these elements is typically associated with divinity in the bible in a number of different contexts. It was God who led the people of Israel through the desert as a pillar of fire at night to guide the way and who later descended upon Mount Sinai in a fiery blaze. It was the Lord who fell upon Elijah’s famous sacrifice on Mount Carmel with fire and later the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in the Upper Room as tongues of fire. In fact it is the one element that God is most readily compared to in the scriptures, and in both Deuteronomy and the epistle to the Hebrews, we are told that “God is a consuming fire.” While there are a number of attributes of God that make this symbolism very appropriate, what is important to this discussion is the presence of the fire in jars of clay.
What we may deduce from a symbolic rendition of Gideon’s story is that the divinity is in some way hidden within the earthen bodies of men. The physical vehicle that we walk around in everyday is in some sense the home of God himself. Some esoteric scriptures hint at the idea that man has a divine nature such as the words of the Psalmist who said “You are gods. You are all sons of the Most High.” And Paul also says that we are “partakers of the divine nature.” But it would certainly be more than a bit brazen of us to claim divinity in the sense of the Almighty. However, while it would be blasphemous to say that we are God, more appropriately we could say that we are each a part of God. And there is a big difference.
It is not an uncommon Christian idea to say that “God lives inside of us.” In fact Jesus said that the “kingdom of heaven is within you” but perhaps we don’t meditate on the full implications of those words. People are also fond of quoting the words of Paul who said that “we are temples of the Holy Spirit,” tabernacles or containers that house God within, and yet the full impact of that statement generally eludes us. Maybe we don’t process these ideas with all of their ramifications because they are simply too staggering for us to comprehend. How could the infinite God of immense power and size dwell within a mere mortal? And perhaps the short answer to that question would be to say that he can’t. Rather it is not the fullness or totality of God that resides in every human being but a mere fragment, a spark of the divine fire, a speck of God himself which may be tiny but is nevertheless a real “chip off the old block” as we might say. It is a small spark of the mighty conflagration that is God that dwells in each living creature, and it is not only the imagery of Gideon and his clay pots that represents this but a number of other biblical metaphors as well.
Most of these symbols present the image of either a light or something of great value existing within a dark place which is in fact a very appropriate contrast to make. The material world in which fragments of the divine fire are embedded has traditionally been linked with darkness. The physical universe is seen as a dark veil hiding the spiritual within it. Not that matter is dark in the sense of evil as the old Gnostics have said; rather it is simply the coarse envelope that shrouds fragments of the divine within it as an abode to dwell in. We may consider a number of biblical sketches of this reality not the least of which is the special Ark of the Covenant that Israel carried around in the desert for many years in a portable tabernacle until it found a permanent home in Solomon’s temple. The Ark embodied the presence of God and had so much power associated with it that were anyone to touch it accidentally they would be struck dead. It was this special piece of furniture representing God himself that was housed deep within the temple building in the Most Holy Place. A perfect cube, this part of the building had no windows or portals but was in total darkness the year through. It was here that the “light” of God’s presence remained completely veiled from view as a type of how he remains obscured within the veil of human flesh.
The darkness motif is found in a number of other places including an additional one relating to the ark. When Solomon dedicated the new temple he constructed, the ark was brought in by the priests and put in the Most Holy Place. No sooner did they do this than a thick cloud of darkness flooded the temple so that the priests could not continue their work. When this happened, Solomon reminded the people that the Lord said he would dwell in a dark cloud. Indeed these were also the words of David who wrote that the Lord made darkness pavilions round about him, dark waters, and thick clouds of the skies. David may have been recalling the events of Mt. Sinai where the darkness motif was evident, for the Lord had come in the midst of a thick cloud resting on top of the mountain and shielding the people from seeing him manifest as a ball of fire.
And perhaps outside of these forms of biblical allegory, there is the message of nature itself which depicts in a daily event the same idea. Every sunset in which the bright sun sinks into the dark night sky can be understood as an allusion to the idea that the divine light has been concealed in the darkness of the physical realm, burrowed in the material envelope and imperceptible to the natural eye.
While Jesus was fond of speaking of the inner light hidden within man, he also made use of other images to describe the divine nature that is present within humanity. Because he was dealing with an agrarian society he liked to talk about seeds in his parables. And we can think of the seed as a very fitting description of God’s fundamental presence within man. The spark of the divine within each person is initially no more than just a seed or a potential. It is a latent reality within each soul that needs to germinate and grow. For this reason Jesus sought to illustrate how the seed starts out in the darkness of the ground (or physical envelope) and grows into a tree breaking free of its original confines. And perhaps this leads in to the question of why a fragment of the divine is in each individual to begin with and where it is ultimately going.
The testimony of nature is once again helpful in answering these questions, for as Paul tells us, inherent in the design of creation are the things of God and the secrets of his divine nature so that one can discern spiritual realities by observing patterns in the physical world we live in. The very important pattern that God has embedded in the creation and is very telling on this broad subject is the all pervasive idea of the cycle that we find all around us. From the planets orbiting the sun on the large scale to the electron orbiting the nucleus on the atomic scale, cycles are part of the fabric of the universe we live in. We find circular patterns in nature with the regular rotation of the seasons year in and year out. We even discover cyclical patterns within our own bodies as there are many biological processes that run in a circular pattern from the complex Krebs cycle in cells to the monthly fertility cycle of a woman.
That many physical processes begin and return again to the same point they started from points at an underlying spiritual principle that might be more familiar to those in the East than those in the West. The rudimentary idea of the cycle is in fact just not a part of nature but a part of the existence of God himself. Some have allegorically understood this from Jesus and his white seamless garment. His primary article of clothing that was fought over at the Crucifixion was a single piece of woven fabric without beginning or end, expressing his eternality as we would rightly infer but also illustrating a continuous circle or a ring. In a majestic way, God’s very life follows around the path of a circle from one point back to the origin again in a process that involves not only himself but the creation he has brought into existence.
In a cycle that is incomprehensibly long spanning endless eons of time, God pours a continuous stream of fragments of himself into the creation he has made to experience the material world that he brought into being. For God, the creation is then something that he chooses to live personally rather than observe from afar. It is you and I and countless others who represent these small sparks of the divine fire immersed in a vast material universe. To draw another analogy, if we would compare God to an octopus, humanity serves as his many tentacles feeling and groping physical existence and all that it entails. We are the satellites sent forth from the mother ship to probe and discover and bring back information to the source. And once the reconnaissance mission of each probe is completed it makes it way back to the ship from whence it came having completed its task. In this way when the many fragments of God complete their sojourn in the world they return again, reuniting with God who originally sent them forth on a very long journey. Eventually the entire creation returns to God and the universe withdraws from existence so that God is once again alone as at the dawn of creation and the beginning of the cycle. This is what was envisioned by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians when he spoke of the grand consummation of history to say that ultimately God will be “all in all.” At this time the divine essence has been scattered to the wind far separated from its source, but in the end all fragments will be gathered together and reunite with the whole.
Now we may ask why it should be necessary for God to pour himself out into creation and later recollect himself in this great cycle of the universe. Surely there is a reason why he does this, for with God nothing is arbitrary. In a real sense the answer might be at the same time reasonable and scary, for God’s motive is none other than his own survival as strange as that may seem. Perhaps ingrained within us is the idea that God is completely independent and self-sufficient, not in need of anything for his continued existence. It is far from our imagination that he should ever need the creation that he spawned for his own livelihood and yet this is precisely why the universe has been called into being. If we consider life as we understand it in the physical world, it is by definition always in ceaseless motion. If a plant isn’t growing it is because it has died. And if the millions of chemical reactions that are constantly taking place in our bodies were to cease we would likewise perish. The essence of life is to be always on the move, always on the go and constantly changing. Any stagnation means death like a dirty insipid pool of water near the roadside.
What is true in nature is analogously true of God, for stagnation within the Godhead would mean a weakening of himself. So he brings forth the creation with the purpose of renewing himself and strengthening his own vitality. God is in this sense dependent on new and varied experiences to perpetuate his own life. The Almighty brings forth a creation to revivify his own being and make an opportunity for himself to exercise virtues through and with his creation, all of which necessarily weaken when in a state of disuse. “Use it or lose it” is true in the natural world and analogously it is true in the spiritual world.
God seeks to stretch his own muscles through the act of creation which clearly not a one time event. If life means ceaseless motion, then the cycle is not just happening now but has happened an infinite number of times before and will happen again in new and creative ways to add to the repository of divine experience. Perhaps Solomon’s wise words in the Book of Ecclesiastes paint the picture when he says, “Whatever now is has been before and will be again.” There is nothing new under the sun as the sage points out and history does repeat itself in cycles, but in the greatest sense of this truth, many creations have come and gone and many will be again, each unique and special to augment the life of God. As God bursts forth into manifestation and then withdraws again all within himself, it is like a breath he has taken and which he then exhales only to take another as all living beings must do to survive.
Now returning again to our allegorical representations of this circular process of creation, it might pay to look at some other natural cycles that tell the tale of God immersing himself in his creation and withdrawing again. One of the popular processes that has been celebrated particularly in the East is the cycle of water on this planet. As the very abundant substance on earth that is responsible for sustaining all life, it is probably not a surprise that it has been a favorite symbol to use. Tracing the flow of a drop of water which we understand as just a fragment of the divine, it has its origin in the vast ocean at first inseparable from the whole. Then evaporation occurs and water droplets are pulled away from their source into the clouds they form and metaphorically we understand that the divine spark has left God on its way to the material world. As it falls to the earth as a raindrop, it sinks into the ground to symbolically begin its journey in physical existence and in darkness. Depending on its path, it may be a long time before the water drop finds its way to a small stream and then to a great river before finally rejoining the ocean from whence it came sometime earlier. This last leg of its trip obviously depicts the divine fragment’s reunion with God when the cycle has been completed. And our Indian friends in the East have been fond of describing the end of the journey by saying in similar language that the “dewdrop has fallen into the shining sea.”
But the allegory of the raindrop doesn’t tell the whole story, and no simplistic metaphor could ever do the job of describing the adventure the divine spark takes in travelling from God and back to God again. However, some other natural cycles might add a little bit to our understanding or perhaps confirm what we already know. The story of the life of a salmon is one such process that tells us a little bit more about the divine fragment’s tour away from God. It is originally spawned far upstream in some river where it will spend the first few years of its life feeding in that freshwater environment. Then it will instinctively swim down the river into the sea where it will live in the saltwater for some years. Eventually an inner calling drives it back to the river where it was born and it begins the very difficult task of swimming upstream to its birth nest. At this point the salmon must work very hard fighting against the rapids and jumping over waterfalls. It must avoid fishermen’s nets and sidestep hungry bears along the way if it is ever to reach home again. But eventually it does and it spawns a new generation of fish and dies shortly afterward near home base.
What information we glean from the life of the salmon in its circuitous path is that the leg downstream to the ocean is relatively easy. It is swimming with the flow and without much resistance and this part of the trip symbolizes the departure of the divine spark from the Godhead. Once the salmon reaches the sea it has metaphorically reached the stage where the divine fragment has become immersed in the material world and under the veil of the physical. But once the call comes to return to its birthplace, it embarks on a massive struggle to get back upstream from whence it came, plagued on every side by obstacles. And this as most would infer represents the struggle of the spark of God to break out of material existence and return to its source, and it is indeed a ferocious uphill battle to say the least.
All the tiny shards that emanated forth from the Godhead must work feverishly to come home again and human experience attests to the frequent tears and sorrow that accompany that process which in itself takes many an age to complete. Other illustrations are perhaps in order to depict the struggle that is enjoined upon the divine sparks in their attempt to reunite with God. And an appropriate symbolism comes from the Eucharist itself in which we celebrate the very Body and Blood of Christ under the cover of bread and wine. If we think about these substances and how they are made there is a relevant story to tell. Each loaf of bread obviously doesn’t occur naturally as if it grew on a tree. Labor is required to make it, and that initially involves the gathering together of many grains of wheat which are milled and ground together. Then they worked into a dough and pass through the intense heat of an oven for baking before the final product appears. Likewise wine is also not a naturally occurring beverage for man’s consumption but also is fabricated through human effort. Clusters of grapes must be harvested and then trodden underfoot to squeeze the juice out of them. Once the juice is collected yeast is added to allow the fluid to ferment into the alcoholic drink.
It is probably clear that in both the case of the bread and the wine, the many grains and the many grapes represent the myriad fragments of the divine which are present in the material world. Both the grains and the grapes have to undergo harsh processing in order to come together as either the one substance of bread or one cup of wine. Grinding, heating, crushing, and fermenting are all necessary before the end product can appear, and from this we understand that the many sparks of God cannot merge back together again with the God until they have gone through a great struggle and testing. There are many members of the Body of Christ, in fact an enormous number constituting all of creation, but they will all ultimately reunite with the head of the body who is Christ when the journey is completed.
Now up to this point in the talk we have introduced the subject of the divine cycle through primitive religious ideas and allegories from nature and the bible. We have woven in a number of scripture verses as well to support the idea that the divine enters into the physical world and then returns again from whence it came in a great circle of life. But perhaps the picture wouldn’t be complete without drawing from the writings of the early church on this topic, and there is no better passage from early Christian literature than what is known as the Hymn of the Soul to describe the journey from God and back to God again. Embedded within the Acts of Thomas, an apocryphal work which describes the Apostle Thomas’ missionary work in India, we find this early 3rd century hymn which the apostle is said to have sung while in prison.
While there is not time here to analyze all of the many facets of this poem which reveal a good deal about the divine journey, we can take a look at some of the main features of the story which corroborate what has been said about the sojourn of the divine spark within the material world. Written in the first person, the hymn begins with the author recounting that when he was an infant child he was nurtured in the palace of his Father in great wealth and luxury until one day the Family decided to send him on a journey away from the royal house. Stripping the child of his garment laden with gems and his royal robe, they sent him forth on a mission to go down to Egypt and recover a pearl that was being guarded by a serpent. The child was told that if he should succeed in his quest to recover the pearl and bring it back to the Father then he would once again don the royal robes and become heir in the kingdom along with his Brother.
Considering this first part of the story, we see many elements that coincide with what has been described thus far in this discussion. The infant child is by inference divine, for he is the offspring of the Godhead, the son of God the Father and the younger brother of God the Son. He begins his life in the comfort and lavishness of the high court of heaven from which he is told that he must leave for a time. The family tells him that they want him to go down to Egypt with a special task in mind, and without using too much imagination we know that the reference to this particular country is an immediate allusion to the physical world, the realm of material existence. Historically within the Jewish tradition, Egypt has come to be associated with the natural world in no small way because of the people of Israel’s enslavement in that land. In the Old Testament writings the country is portrayed as a dark land. It has been the perennial symbol of the flesh and the sensual life of material existence that the people of God were figuratively enslaved to under the rule of Pharaoh.
The journey of the divine fragment begins when after being thrust forth from the high towers of the King it finds itself in altogether new country, the physical world where we may appropriately say it is imprisoned. It was not just the Israelites of old who descended into Egypt to find themselves in such slavery, but the patriarch Joseph years before was also captured, sold as a slave and taken down to that dark country. Interestingly, his particular story has important symbolic elements as well, for after his brothers took hold of him, they threw him into a pit awaiting his sale to the Ishmaelites. What is significant about the hole they through him in is multi-faceted. As a cistern in the ground it was dark to represent the life in the physical world that the divine spark embarks upon. Additionally the idea of a pit carries with it the notion of falling all the way down to the bottom where there is no place to go but up. It is here at rock bottom that this small shard of the divine must begin its return journey back to the Father. The symbol of the pit also conveys another important idea and that has to do with its connection to the kernel or core of a piece of fruit. The pit is another word for the seed we find in the middle of a peach or plum, and in this sense we get the idea that the divine spark is planted as a mere seed within the earth at the starting point of life and far removed from its origin.
Joseph’s story indeed has much truth embedded within it, and his descent into Egypt as well as that of the people of Israel and even that of Jesus himself when as an infant he escaped from Herod all tell a similar spiritual tale. And now the writer of the Hymn of the Soul also depicts the journey into Egypt the same way following along an ancient theme going back at least 2000 years from his day. But whereas the older biblical stories do not clearly hint at the purpose of the trip to Egypt, the Hymn of the Soul speaks about the reason for the mission to the physical realm. It describes the goal of the infant child in continuing symbolic fashion stating that he must wrestle away a pearl from a serpent and bring it back home again.
And this is where it is useful to digress some on the symbolism of the ancient snake. While in the modern age we tend to associate the serpent with evil and deception, this was not necessarily the case with the ancients. The emblem of our medical profession is a very old icon from Greek mythology known as the Rod of Asclepius. The son of the Greek god Apollo, Asclepius was a practitioner of the healing arts, and the sign of his profession became the famous serpent entwined around a wooden staff. Though we might find it strange that a snake should be associated with healing, this creature represented such to the ancients. And perhaps it was so because a serpent’s venom was thought of as a medicine that could either help or harm. Even today many antidotes are made from the same thing that is poisoning or causing the illness, and in ancient times the venom of a snake was prescribed at times for therapy.
Because of its association with the power to kill and to heal and its link with both poison and medicine, the serpent became linked to the knowledge of herbal medicine and various plant and fungal chemicals that could harm or heal. And as it resulted it became thought of as the symbol of wisdom. Not just for the Greeks but throughout the ancient world the serpent became connected with both wisdom and healing and we see this within the bible itself in the story of another snake on a staff. During the people of Israel’s time in the desert Moses erected a Bronze Serpent on a wooden pole to heal those who looked to it after being bitten by snakes. And of course earlier in the bible, right at the beginning of Genesis we have another famous snake coiled on a piece of wood in the form of a tree.
All of these symbols portray a similar idea, and focusing on the wisdom aspect of the serpent we may get a clue about the mission of the child in the Hymn of the Soul. Along these lines it is interesting to know that the Hebrew word for snake, nachash, means to whisper and enchant but also communicates the idea of learning by experience. In fact this idea embodies the whole symbolic role of the snake whose job it is to teach wisdom through experience. In this way the serpent is thought to enchant its prey into diving into various experiences so that it may learn. And in fact the child sent from the heavenly courts is sent on a mission to wrestle with this serpent until it has accumulated a wealth of experience in the physical world, and that wealth of experience is signified by the pearl which is to be taken back to the Father. Perhaps the author of the Hymn of the Soul employed the pearl as his token of a thing of great value after Jesus’ own parable of the “pearl of great price.” Indeed it is the sole mission of the divine fragment to bring back to the Father the great treasure of experience it has acquired in physical existence to enrich the Godhead and renew its life. However as we have soberly discussed, it is only through struggle that the experience is obtained and the mission completed.
Now to this point, we have only set the stage for the entrance of the child into Egypt, and we need to continue with the story for more details. After the purpose of his visit is revealed by the Father, the child makes his way to Egypt and finding himself there decides that it is best that he blends in with the Egyptians and not reveal that he is a foreigner. He puts on their clothing and mingling with the locals eats their food after which he fell into a deep sleep on account of how heavy it was. He recounts that at that point he forgot that he was the king’s son and all about the mission he had to recover the pearl.
Much information is laden in this part of the poem, but the main gist of it is to say that once the divine spark enters into earth life, it forgets its divine origin and falls into an ignorant state whereby it needs to learn everything from scratch. This idea was not uncommon among the ancients for the Greeks had a similar mythology about the underworld. In Hades the abode of the dead, the deceased were required to drink from the river Lethe, one of the five streams in the underworld. The water would have the magical effect of making them forget their past earthly lives, erasing their memories before reincarnating once again. And while the circumstances are a little different in the Greek story, together with the Hymn of the Soul both indicate that the entry into incarnation or into the flesh involves the eradication of all memory. The Gnostics also expressed this idea in one of their Nag Hammadi texts where they said “she (the soul) no longer remembers since the time she fell from her father’s house.” The concept is even present in the Garden of Eden story, for in the beginning of man’s existence he is made to fall into a deep sleep, one from which we are never told he ever woke up.
After it forgets its divine origin, the fragment of the divine begins to live a life in the natural world partaking of its ways and pleasures, for it knows nothing else. And this is what the author of the hymn means when he writes that he put on the clothes of the Egyptians and ate their food. He is indicating that the shard of the divine becomes a part of the fabric of the material world and begins to experience the natural life in which it is absorbed, including all of the good and the bad associated with it.
But the hymn goes on to say that it was noticed by the child’s Family that he had fallen asleep and forgotten that he was the son of the king and forgotten about the pearl. The Family decided that the child should not be left in Egypt in its state of forgetfulness so it wrote a letter to the child, and when the boy read the note sent from his kin he remembered who he was and why he was there. The child immediately resumed his mission, and finding the serpent did battle with it, coming against it with charms, and finally overcoming it by naming the name of his Father upon it. He then snatched the pearl and proceeded to leave Egypt casting his clothing aside.
In this segment of the story, we have depicted what we could call the reawakening. Because it had forgotten its royal past and was entrenched in the ways of the Egyptians, it might have continued that way indefinitely without some interference. A reminder was sent to the boy to help him remember who he really was and why he was there, and this is equivalent to the spiritual awakening that happens to us in mortal life when losing interest in the material life we begin to follow the spiritual life pressing toward God in whatever way we understand it at the time. Something that is programmed in the core of our souls becomes activated and we set out on the journey home again.
The struggle that is involved is enormous, and building on the imagery that Jesus provided us, we compare the small speck of the divine within each mortal to a seed initially planted in the earth, buried under layers of dark soil. When it germinates, it makes its way up through the dirt working its way around rocks and other obstacles until finally after a long battle, it breaks the surface and comes into the light of day. From there it grows to become a plant or a tree and in due season it will flower and bring forth vegetation when it fully matures.
As the seed must come to break out the earth in which it has been planted, so too must the spirit of man, the fragment of the divine break out from material and mortal existence and leave it behind forever. Like Israel in days of old, the soul must make its exodus from Egypt and return to the Promised Land. Like Jesus who spent two years in hiding in that dark land and returned to the place of his birth, the divine spark must make its way back to the heavenly kingdom.
What is initially just a small dormant spark of the divine must grow into a formidable flame and shatter the shell that constrains it. For this reason Gideon’s men shattered their clay pots to release the torches that were concealed inside to bring the light out into the open. The light must shine out of the darkness even as it did at the dawn of creation, and even as it does every morning when the sun breaks through the night sky to awaken the day. The analogies are many and they all portray the same process which is the destiny of every creature under heaven.
The Hymn of the Soul continues beyond this point, and while there are a good deal more nuances in the poem, suffice it to say that once the boy has left Egypt he has only just begun his return to the Father, for eons and eons of ages lie before him climbing a steep ladder into heaven. Conquering the material world is just the beginning of the return leg of the journey back to God, and there are a great number of experiences before the soul in the spiritual realms before it finally comes back to its source. Like Jacob’s ladder which the patriarch envisioned in his dream with angels ascending and descending up into heaven, man must climb rank upon spiritual rank until he reaches the abode of God from whence he came.
The Hymn of the Soul draws itself to a close with this final reunification of the divine spark with God after many long ages. In its poetic form it describes how the child was welcomed back after carrying out the commandment he was given long before. The Father made good on his promises and restored to the boy his richly ornamented robes and garments of gems, and he rejoiced in the boy receiving him into his palace once again. And the boy was sent to the gates of the king where he presented both his gifts and his pearl before the royal throne.
So ends the journey of the divine fragment from God and back to God again. A seemingly never ending saga, it is a trip that each and every one of us is embarked upon, and one that we will surely finish, for not one part of God can be left behind and all must ultimately return to the One from whom they came.