Suitably enough, after talking about pushing the apocalypse back into the subtle world where it belongs, I sat down this morning with Revelations. I mentioned a little while back that I was pretty sure a more apophatic approach to the Tree of Life could be brought to the text and this morning felt like the time to gently start that process, see if my hunch held up.
Much like I am taking the Zohar a little slowly, trying not to bring too much baggage to it, I am trying to do the same with Revelations. Still, the material quickly opens toward a Kabbalistic reading. It has been a while since I just sat down with it and one of the first things that stands out is how it immediately the text inscribes itself within Judaic thought; of course, that is exactly what many of the early Christians were, so it’s good to be reminded of that immediacy here. It differentiates its listeners from ‘false’ Jews, from the ‘synagogues of Satan,’ so this is something of an inter-Judaic rivalry at this point, not a properly distinct ‘Christian’ religion.
Which gives us all the more reason to take seriously the potential applications of Kabbalism to the text. While the text inscribes itself within a historical moment by speaking of the seven churches of Asia and their angels, it starts to sound right away like we are in sefirot territory. Seven churches, seven candles, and seven stars. Candle holders, candlesticks, and sparks to light them.
I’ve talked about the rule of seven in the tree, and it is hard not to look at the seven candlesticks as the seven vertical lines in the Saadia Tree. That makes the churches themselves the seven sefirot from which vertical lines ascend (i.e.,the set of sefirot excluding Binah, Chokmah, and Keter). As churches are bodies into which people pass and depart but which are not exhausted thereby, that holds together for me. The seven angels, the seven stars, are that which kindle and activate the churches.
That transfigures the advice given to the churches. The advice delineates the character of a church and the dangers that might befall those with that character. The body of Christ is here differentiated into different sorts of people and the reader is subtly asked to consider to which of these churches they belong, to which of the vices they must most closely guard themselves and through which practices they might draw closer to the kingdom.
I haven’t tried to map the churches directly onto the diagram yet; it feels too early to make such an effort, though nerd brain is whirring ahead of proper contemplation with possibilities. I’m going to make myself wait, though, to talk out loud about those, hopefully giving tortoise of wisdom the opportunity to outpace the hare of intelligence.
Regardless, reading Revelations in this fashion takes it out of its temporal context a bit, takes it out of being a prophecy about the future, and transforms it into a key through which a specific relationship to the Kingdom of Heaven can be cultivated. If there is an urgency, it is not the urgency of an impending cosmic disaster, but the urgency of a life, of having such a brief span of time to take up and realize the possibilities of the work.
That said, I don’t want to strip out the importance of futurity as such from the text. Not only is the future a vital dimension of Revelations, it is also a vital dimension of Keter. Still early in this process, though, so nothing too dramatic to say about that.