Theosis: Thou Art Becoming

At times I am angry and other times overflowing with joy. Sometimes I'm confused and sometimes I have absolute clarity. This blog will explore our human condition through an investigation of spiritual pain and how to transcend our pain to find peace.

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Theosis

Often, to be free means the ability to deal with the realities of one’s own situation so as not to be overcome by them.” -- Howard Thurman

My personal faith journey has been colorful and has included many joyful and sorrowful memories. At one time in my life, in the early 1990s I was System Operator, or SysOp, for a computer BBS (Bulletin Board System) called Theosis. The BBS was sponsored by the Romanian Byzantine Catholic Eparchy nestled in cozy Canton, Ohio, an I had the sublime honor of maintaining and administering the BBS – albeit for only a short time. The story of my brief sojourn into BBS management seems a fitting story to tell for the first entry of this Blog that holds the same name. You must be reading this blog entry and asking yourself, “What does Byzantine Catholicism have to do with ‘Pagan Studies,’ and why call a blog Theosis?” Both of these are very good questions and worthy of an answer.

In Byzantine Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian theology the concept of Theosis is very important. Theosis is both a process and an end result of spiritual practice. Another term for Theosis is deification or attaining the “likeness of God.” Within Orthodox Christianity the idea of Theosis is the answer to the question, “What’s the purpose of existence?” But concept didn’t take root in the Western half of the Catholic Church or within Protestantism in part because of the influence of “Scholasticism,” or the emphasis on education and learning; however, the mysticism of the Eastern world relied heavily upon the theological concept of Theosis. The idea of becoming in a sense “God.”

It has been a long time since I was SysOp for Theosis BBS. Since that time in my life I have lived in several places both in and out of Ohio. Life is often very strange. Fate has brought me back to Canton, Ohio but no longer as a Romanian Byzantine Rite Catholic. That world seems both very foreign yet oddly familiar. Being back in this city does evoke memories of the past and with those memories comes a significant degree of reflection.

As I reflect on Theosis I contrast that with my own spiritual journey and the experiences that have shaped me. The modernist within me likes and adores labels and comfortable boxes, yet my postmodern side wants to reject the labels and turn those comfortable boxes into miniature prisons that I need to escape. In the end I’m a spiritual person who has had a myriad of religious experiences that informs who I am and makes me a whole person. But our society and its many subcultures, love to force us to pick teams and cheer for those teams. Once when I was in school training in chaplaincy I was asked by my supervisor at the hospital, “How are you going to integrate your views on Christianity with your Pagan spiritual practices?” That was a good question, and a work in progress.

To call oneself “Pagan” is often a recipe for marginalization and misunderstanding; although, the climate today is much easier to navigate through than it was years ago it can still be a marginalizing “label” to wear. Being a Christopagan brings with it many challenges both outside and within the Pagan community. Over the years I’ve endured some interesting comments from my fellow Pagans such as,

  • “Why would you want to worship a zombie god?”

  • “The world would be such a better place without Christians, even nature loving Christians.”

  • “I don’t mean to be rude but there is no such thing as “Christo-Paganism!”

  • “Christianity has done so much harm to people, don’t be surprised when people judge you for those crimes.”

This list goes on and on and I mention it to illustrate that sometimes judgment is normative instead of interest and longing for dialogue and understanding.

But what does this have to do with Theosis?

As someone who fits into the “Christopaganism” box I have thought about Theosis and think it’s a great theological concept that fits perfectly within Christopaganism. As a “Christo” Pagan I’m not fixated on the crucifixion myth, nor do I subscribe to such ideas as “original sin” and I definitely don’t play lip service (or any sort of service) to Ransom Theory Atonement! But, the idea of Theosis has merit and when I juxtapose this theological concept with the greeting, Thou Art God and Thou Art Goddess, the idea of Theosis has a new meaning for me. When I contemplate on the meaning packed within the greeting Namaste I find new meaning within Theosis. It then becomes a common theological term, with the right hermeneutic of course, that fosters the syncretizing of Christianity with Paganism and Paganism with Christianity. Christo being before Paganism simply because I think “Christopaganism” sounds better than “Pagochristianity.”

That question that was proposed to me, “How are you going to integrate your views on Christianity with your Pagan spiritual practices?” has forced me to acknowledge and struggle with my own religious experiences. As a person with spiritual convictions how do I reconcile having had strong spiritual experiences within Paganism? Experiences within ritual and liturgy when I served as High Priest of a Wiccan Coven? As Senior Druid and then Chief Druid of various Druid Groves? In my involvement with Roman Reconstructionism? How could I reconcile these religious experiences with the religious experiences I have had while a Christian? When I was a Benedictine novice monk? When I was Romanian Catholic? When I got involved with Gnosticism and Esoteric Christianity? How was I, or rather, how am I going to reconcile these seemingly conflicting religious experiences?

An African American Baptist minister by the name of Howard Thurman helped me to better understand religious experience when he said,

“Religious experience is dynamic, fluid, effervescent, yeasty. But the mind can’t handle these, as it has to imprison religious experience in some way, get it bottled up. Then, when the experience of religious power which goes on experiencing quiets down, the mind draws a head on it and extracts concepts, notions, dogmas, so that religious experience can make sense to the mind.”

Aha! Christopaganism is my effort to take my religious experience and “make sense to my mind.” To transcend any comfortable theological/religious box society wants to place me within and say, “I have faith only in that which I have experienced and I have experienced a lot.” I would much rather make the effort to make sense out of my religious experience rather than do violence to who I am and to the heart of who I am as a person. My heart just feels and it experiences the Divine in many forms and through various rites. And my “salvation” resides in Theosis, the process of becoming like the Divine through orthopraxy or right action – not through orthodoxy or right belief. I strive to become what I was born to become and that is God or at least like God. To stoke the flickering flame of divinity within me to become the roaring inferno I was meant to manifest. That “original potential” that rests within each of us.

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Rev. David Oliver Kling is a faculty member at Cherry Hill Seminary and a graduate of Wright State University holding a B.A. degree in Religious Studies and a B.A. degree in Philosophy. He has a Master of Divinity from Methodist Theological School in Ohio with a specialization in Black Church and African Diaspora Studies. While in college he worked as Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Yellow Springs and while in seminary he served the Delaware Unitarian Universalist Fellowship as consulting minister. He recently finished a chaplain residency at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, WV resulting in four units of clinical pastoral education. In addition to teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary he currently works as a hospice chaplain in Northeast Ohio. He is ordained by Sacred Well Congregation and his religious background includes esoteric Christianity, Wicca, Druidry, Gnosticism, and Roman Paganism. His academic interests include Black Church studies, comparative theology, and spiritual/pastoral care.

Comments

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Sunday, 16 March 2014

    Reverend Kling, you have explained and expressed these ideas more clearly than I can ever remember seeing them before. Thank you for giving me the word Theosis, which goal I have pursued for a long time without benefit of having a short name for it; the closest I came to were the Sanskrit words Ishvara Pranidhana - "Becoming One with That which you would shine like."

    My post, "Having Our Cake and Eating It, Too - Realizing We Can't Be Christians" was concerned more with our being considered anathema and consigned to hell by mainstream Christian churches, than with the issue you describe, rejection by Pagans. But as I also expressed to the delightful ChristoPagan SageWoman Lizann Bassham, just because I've decided not to reconcile opposing notions doesn't give me the right to tell somebody else that he can't be whatever he wants! Your life resume is overwhelmingly impressive. PaganSquare should feel honored to have you as a new contributor. I look forward to hearing from you further.

  • David Oliver Kling
    David Oliver Kling Monday, 17 March 2014

    Thank you for your kind words. I look forward to contributing here and being a part of this community.

  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Monday, 26 May 2014

    I am enjoying your posts. Unlike you I am not pleased to be told (or to tell) Thou are Goddess. No, I am not, I want to insist. I am finite, not infinite, my love is not always pure, my vision not comprehensive, my faults all too human. I suspect the "secret" to the Greek notion of theosis is the desire to become immortal, to deny death, to deny that we are not God. I am quite happy to be human and to know that one day I will surely die. Looking forward to more of your blogs.

  • David Oliver Kling
    David Oliver Kling Monday, 26 May 2014

    Glad you're liking my posts. I often meditate upon the Buddhist notion of impermanence -- which is similar to what you mention -- and juxtapose the thought of impermanence with the philosophical concept of immortality of the soul. It's a tension that I struggle with but Theosis is a concept that brings some sense of comfort along with my own inclination towards non-attachment. I guess I'm not uncomfortable with paradox.

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Monday, 26 May 2014

    Referring to the Hindu-Buddhist-Yogic traditions, The two seemingly opposite concepts might be reconciled as a matter of levels or dimensions - as in The Atman, or Oversoul, which is immortal as distinct from the Jiva, or ego personality, which is not.

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