|Alessandro Allori (1535-1607), St. John the Baptist|
Johannites are named for the tradition of two holy men with the same name. One came bearing the gifts of the past; the memory of our spiritual origin, and the need for "repentance", which is an utter mistranslation of the Greek word metanoia (μετάνοια). In the language of the Gospel of John, this word meant a "change of mind." This John taught the need for us to change our hearts and minds by washing away the unnecessary, and seeing the Real that surrounds and envelopes us as Beings.
If we enter with our eyes thus cleared into John's sacramental world, we suddenly see that our lives are enchanted and full of meaning. We are called to love and to serve others as he did. But his message is a lot bigger than that.
Recently, Stephen Fry, a gentleman I admire very much, made something of an audacious comment on television about God. He said that because of all the horrible sufferings of humanity, if there were a deity, it would be an 'evil, capricious, monstrous maniac.' And I would agree, if I thought that our existence was defined by the living, breathing animal that writes this article. If I held that view, I would be in complete agreement with good Mr Fry.
Here's the thing. That is not what being human is about; that is only a small part of a longer story. Our lives follow the contours of a Being far greater even than the ones which built this flowery graveyard of clay and death. Its oneness is self-evident, and yet it escapes even the cleverest among us. We are the living, breathing synapses of a great, expanding consciousness. We are lost, but not forgotten. That is why men like St John the Baptist are born: To remind us, to prepare the way for us to return to that consciousness.
The second John was a follower of the first John before the Baptism of Jesus. He was young and impetuous like many of us have been, but in the short time that he followed the teachings of Jesus, he became known as the Beloved Disciple. It was to this John that Jesus entrusted his mother as his dying wish. It was this John who stood unflinchingly by as his beloved rabbi was tortured and killed.
But today is about the first John, though the story would not be complete without the second. Today is about those teachers we have had who have washed our eyes so that we were brought to see and remedy uncomfortable truths about ourselves. Today is the birthday of a man who could live in the wild, eating and drinking as the land would allow, a man whose ideals were matched by his integrity and humility. When John the Baptist was asked who he was, he simply said: I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as Isaiah the prophet said. (Lévitikon p. 26 and John 1:23)
Today is the celebration of the birth of this voice which cried in the wilderness, and it is a living memorial to all of us who, from time to time, follow his example by reminding others of their true origins, their inner dignity and their responsibilities as children of the Divine. It is a day to remember all those who have died in service to others. But more than anything, this day is a great feast to us who delight in the gift of the prophets and mages, which is the knowledge, love and experience of God, all wound up in one golden word known to us as gnosis.