by William Fennie
A Gnostic Book of Hours
At the turn of the 1990s Jungian analyst June Singer had completed what she thought would be her final work, Seeing through the Visible World: Jung, Gnosis, and Chaos. Fortunately for us, a muse came and "sat on her shoulder," telling her that she had yet one more work to complete. Because of that fortuitous event we have A Gnostic Book of Hours, Keys to Inner Wisdom.
The work is just what you would expect from a person of such accomplishment toward the end of her professional career. Her masterful blending of the Rule of Saint Benedict, which reaches into the roots of the European monastic tradition, and "heretical" texts which the Roman Catholic Church and others have for centuries tried to suppress by every possible means, shows a deft and subtle hand as well as profound spiritual intuition.
The Benedictine Offices (periods of prayer) are: Matins (night); Lauds (daybreak); Prime (early morning); Terce (midmorning); Sext (midday); None (mid afternoon); Vespers (sunset); and Compline (bedtime).
For each of these periods Dr. Singer has selected one portion of the Gnostic writings that were uncovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945. She very thoughtfully matches the subject matter of the scriptural extract to the time of day when the meditation will take place. Then, over the period of seven days, there are seven sections of the reading, each with its own annotation and commentary.
The combined impact is formidable. I use this book three or four times every the year, and each time I use it I see very significant results. Just making sure that I stop at the various times during the day to do the meditation completely changes the nature of how I live in the world. As Dr. Singer writes, the primary purpose of a Book of Hours was "to enable the reader to maintain an awareness of the presence of the divine mystery within the everyday world."
The nature of the texts corresponds very well with a spirituality that seeks to engage with both the inner and outer aspect of life, both the male and female aspects of the divine. In addition to seeing a recognition of the the feminine divine we run across many references familiar to those of us who were brought up in the Christian tradition. Here, for example, is an extract from the Apocryphon of John:
The Womb of Every Thing
"The invisible Spirit looks at himself
in the light that surrounds him, the water of life.
"He gives to every realm in every way,
putting his desire into the spring of the pure-light water.
"His thought performed a deed, and she came forth:
she appeared before him in the radiance of his light.
"Her light shines like his light,
the perfect power of the virginal Spirit.
"She is the First Power to come forth from his mind.
"She is the Forethought of the All."
In tandem with Dr. Singer's cogent reflections, these become genuine meditations, not formulas: they encourage reflection, even life-review. By the time the week is over you have traversed a long road into your unique inner universe.
The book is beautifully ornamented with images from Ethiopian Coptic Magic Scrolls - all in all, a beautiful book. A paperback edition was re-issued after the original printing sold out. It's very nice, but these days you can get an even finer first-edition hardback through one of the associated vendors at Barnes and Noble or other book sellers.
If you want to learn more about the gnostic tradition and its history, look for Elaine Pagels' works, "The Gnostic Gospels" and "Beyond Belief."