Today is the feast day of St. Thomas. In the Gospel stories, he is the disciple who requires the experience of his own senses to validate the claims of his friends. Unwilling to place his trust on hearsay or stories of other people, he wants to know about the Resurrection by touching the wounds himself. This is consonant with the sayings found in the Gospel of Thomas, a first century collection of sayings of Jesus that may well have beenwritten down earlier than any of the Gospels found in the Bible. Rediscovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, this ancient document contains many parables familiar from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John- but also offers a treasury of other sayings that affirm the importance of personal experience or gnosis in the spiritual journey. In Thomas, God is accessible to each human being in the depth of their heart. Grace is not dependent upon priestly authority, rather it is the fruit of long personal searching. Too often the church has stressed blind belief. I like what Alan Jones, former Dean of Grace Cathedral says about this: the opposite of faith isn't doubt but certainty.
Thomas was said to have carried the message of Jesus to India, and there is a decided Eastern flair to the Gospel of Thomas. The text has no virgin birth, no crucifixion and no miracles. Rather, it is a collection of priceless and sometimes "Logions": enigmatic sayings of Jesus that occasionally have the feeling of a zen koan.
"Lift a stone and I am there; split wood and you will find me, Jesus says. Practitioners of yoga and those drawn to Buddhism may well find this the easiest doorway into Jesus's teachings, and yet the text is being more and more accepted in mainstream Christianity: there is discussion in the Episcopal church of adopting it as the "Fifth Gospel", and the pastor of the Fairfax Community Church will be preaching on The Gospel of Thomas for the Christmas Eve service.
The Church in its wisdom assigned the Solstice for Thomas's feastday. This is so appropriate, because the sayings point to the necessity of embracing the total human experience and learning to accept that darkness and light are both essential parts of life. Here is one of my favorite quotes, Logion 3:
If those who lead you say to you:
See, the kingdom is in heaven,
then the birds of the heaven will go before you;
if they say to you: It is in the sea, then the fish will go before you.
But the kingdom is within you, and it is outside of you.
When you know yourselves, then you will be known,
and you will know that you are the children of the living Father.
But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are that poverty
To learn more, I suggest the psychologically insightful translation and commentary by Jean Yves Leloup (beautifully translated by Joseph Rowe) and the very accessible books of eminent Princeton scholar Elaine Pagels.including her personal memoir, Beyond Belief.