Santuário San Rafael Ascension Catholic church
An independent ministry in the Catholic Tradition
Reflections on the Chaplet of the Seven Signs
The Word was made flesh
And dwelt among us
And we have seen your glory
O First-born of the Fullness,
O Image of the Living One,
Grant us the light of your grace. Amen.
From your fullness
We have all received
Grace upon grace.
Light and truth have come
through Jesus Christ your Holy One.
Bring us near to your heart, O God. Amen.
Glory to you O God, Living One, Word and Spirit, now and for all ages and aeons. Amen.
God is Love
When we abide in Love
We abide in God
And God in us.
Let us love one another. Amen.
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The Seven Signs of the Canonical Gospel of John
Careful readers of the Gospel of John have often noticed that instead of miracles, John refers to the miraculous deeds of Jesus as “signs” which suggest that they are not just entertaining demonstrations of miraculous power meant to awe the believer, but that they contain a hidden message, and in some way point beyond themselves to another, deeper truth. Many scholars have suggested that the theology of these signs in John is to point to the identity of Jesus as the Christos, the Anointed One of God, and ultimately to point to the divinity of the Savior.
The number of signs in the gospel text we have today is traditionally numbered at seven, though some count the resurrection narrative as the ultimate and definitive sign. There is also reflection about the connection between the signs of John and the sacraments, or Holy Mysteries, and the suggestion that the way the disciples experienced Jesus was an initiation into the divine presence, and thus a sacrament as well as a sign.
Textual and critical scholars have long seen the seven signs of John as an important literary structure in the gospel itself which says something important about the main message of the gospel. Furthermore, the presence of the signs, as well as other literary markers, suggest an evolutionary development of the gospel text which we have today. Those who practice the historical-critical method discern in this structure an underlying literary work, or collection of miracle stories, perhaps part of an early Christian baptismal catechism, which may have formed the original core text for what became the canonical gospel of John. Until we actually find a manuscript of the so-called “signs gospel” we will not have compelling proof of this theory, but the textual evidence for it is indeed substantial. Interested readers should begin to explore this by reading the excellent works of Fr. Raymond Brown.
From the perspective of prayer and mysticism, the signs of the gospel of John can become deep points of meditation which can actually impart spiritual energy or grace to the soul in order to grow in faith, love, and understanding of the message and teaching of the Christ. And just as the signs point to the divine identity of the Christ, so too Jesus points to an intimate relationship with God, whom he names as “father.” The Chaplet of the Seven Signs is one approach to opening the portals of divine grace as hidden in the canonical gospel of John; further study of the text reveals perhaps even more, deeper and hidden structures which are filled with mystical graces.
Each one of you is invited through this process to begin your own deep and prayerful study of the text, and I recommend such study and meditation to you, fully confident that the Spirit will indeed guide the willing heart to insights which are deeper and more profound than any we may offer here.
Many modern believers are troubled by the patriarchal and sexist implications of naming God as “father.” This discomfort has its roots in many millennia of patriarchal abuse of women, cultural injustice, and misogyny. Reading the feminist scholars is an important eye opener for the beginner who is just embarking on the spiritual, mystical quest. Another reason that “father” is troubling for us is that our society does not seem to have been able to construct or retain a positive, loving vision of fatherhood. Other, neo-conservative thinkers, answer that one should not discard the intimate insights of Jesus (who almost certainly called God “father”) simply due to modern ideology. The rejoinder is that such discomfort is not mere ideology, but a profound experience of human suffering, the likes of which Jesus would have certainly recognized, and even did recognize.
Such discussions can be fruitful and provocative, or they can be distracting and alienating. Here at Santáurio San Rafael, we encourage all to engage in this dialogue with sincere energy and respect, and find it a positive experience.
One helpful insight from a cross-cultural perspective is to reflect on the language used in other cultures. Among the Maya of Guatemala, for example, the head of a spiritual lineage, whether a man or a woman can be referred to by the term “Mother-Father” expressing that in the end, the mystery of the Spiritual Path is beyond all human gender. While such language is unusual in a Catholic Christian context, it is not unprecedented, and as we grow and change we may want to adapt the words we use to more deeply express our current insight. In the light of that wisdom, please feel free to re-write any or all of the prayers you see on this website to more deeply express that which in the end has no words to express it.
Reconstructed Signs Gospel (Full 22 mysteries)
1. John the Baptist (1:6-7,19-49) א))
2. Water into wine (2:1-11) ב))
3. Official's son healed (2:12a,4:46b-54) (ג )
4. Catch of 153 fish (21:1-14) (ד)
5. Feeding 5000 (6:1-14) (ה)
6. Walking on water (6:15-25) (ו)
7. Raising of Lazarus (11:1-45) (ז)
8. Blind man given sight (9:1-8) ח))
9. Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (5:2-9)ט) )
10. Plot to kill Jesus (11:47-53) י))
11. Temple incident (2:14-19) (כ)
12. Rejection by authorities (12:37-40) ל))
13. Mary anoints Jesus (12:1-8) מ))
14. Entering Jerusalem (12:12-15) (נ)
15. Arrest (18:1-11) (ס)
16. Before the High Priest (18:12-27) ע))
17. Before Pilate (18:28-19:16a) (פ)
18. Crucifixion (19:16b-37) (צ)
19. Joseph of Arimathea (19:38-42)ק))
20. Empty tomb (20:1-10) ר))
21. Do not hold on to me (20:11-18) ש))
22. Great Commission (20:19-22;30-31ab) ת))
Spirituality of the Seven Signs
The seven signs of the Canonical Gospel of John are both miracles of the historical Jesus, and signs which point to the transcendent divinity of the Cosmic Christos, the Living One, who has come into this world as a Savior, to guide us from this place of nothingness into the true spiritual realm of the All-Knowing and Infinite Divine. Meditation on the Seven Signs is a way to release the Christ-energy within each of us, so that it can raise us up to new consciousness and awareness of the spiritual nature of the universe. Such spiritual experiences often release great love and healing energy in the individual.
In some ways, this seven-fold mysticism is akin to the seven heavens alluded to in the Pauline epistles and other first century Jewish and Christian writings. It also bears a relationship with the ancient Jewish spirituality known as Merkavah mysiticism, wherein the adept flies through the seven spheres in a chariot (merkavah), sometimes accompanied by Elijah or the prophets. Themes of spiritual ascent are also common in many parts of Christian mysticism.
A Meditation on the Inner Teachings of Jesus in Light of the Qabbalah
The full 22 sections of the [reconstructed] Signs gospel as listed above, is based on one list of signs or miracles of Jesus, which some scholars suggest was originally an independent document that was later used as a source in constructing the Gospel of John. What is impressive about the list is the possibility of dividing the list into 22 sections, a number which may have mystical significance for interpreting the signs gospel tradition. In the esoteric Jewish tradition known as the Qabbalah, the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are important channels of the energy of Creation which the Divine uses to construct the world (in particular, the world of Spirit or Thought).
. We are not claiming that this 22 section division of the [reconstructed] signs gospel is in fact evidence for an esoteric mysticism embedded in the Christian gospel, but we invite the reader to consider the possibility. In any event, there is a long Christian tradition of meditation and meditative reading of the Holy Texts which is known as lectio divina. We invite those who are interested in deepening their relationship with the Living Christ to consider using the 22 sections of the Signs Gospel as a spiritual plan for meditation or devotion.
Each section of the reconstructed signs gospel is associated with a Hebrew Letter. In turn, those Hebrew letters often point towards a basic concept or meaning of each section. It is possible that this was an aid to memory for oral recitation of a signs gospel by early Judeo-Christians, who would have spoken Aramaic and possibly some Hebrew. Thus, each section of the signs gospel can be remembered by remembering the letter and the key concept it contained. Some Psalms from the Hebrew Bible are constructed in this “alphabetical” way, and they are known as “acrostic” psalms
Some examples are in order: Section 4 of the Signs Gospel is the story (now at John 21) of the catch of 153 fish. The Hebrew word for FISH is (D-a-G) which corresponds to the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Daleth. Similarly, the thirteenth section “Mary [Magdalene] anoints Jesus, is associated with the letter MEM, the 13th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and the first letter of both “Maryam” (Mary) and “messiach” (anoint), from where we get the word Messiah (Christ, Anointed One). In the same way, at the empty tomb, Mary says to Jesus, “Rabbonni,” a variant of “rabbi” (Teacher) which begins with the 20th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Resh. This is followed by “Don’t cling to me since I have not yet ascended…” and can be associated with the Hebrew word “shemayim” or “Heaven,” a reference to the ascension of Jesus through the spheres to the Divine Source.
Each letter of the 22 section signs gospel similarly evokes a key word associated with the meaning of the passage, thus making it both easy to remember, and also evoking the spiritual path of ascent through the Holy Spheres (Sephirot) of the Hebrew mysticism known as Qabbalah. Though the historical and textual attestation to the ten Sephirot of the Qabbalah, and the 22 paths which connect them comes from [apparently] later Jewish sources, many scholars such as Aryeh Kaplan have argued for a much older oral tradition, which puts such a thought process within reach of the community which may have written the Signs Gospel.
If you are a spiritual seeker interested in exploring the inner, hidden meanings of the Christian texts, you may want to begin with a series of meditations on each section of the signs gospel, and see how that progression affects your inner and spiritual life.
A second step would be to learn more about the structure and energetic flow of the Qabbalistic Tree of Life, which is the diagram of the Ten Sephirot or Holy Spheres which represent the internal, mystical, emanation of the Godhead. This is a difficult concept to master, but it might be said that the structure of the Godhead and the universe itself has a kind of inner unity as well as complexity, which can be known through prayer and mystical experience. While this introduction has indicated the pathways through this material via the 22 channels of the mystical Hebrew Alphabet, as we read it embedded in the Gospel of John, we note that the Ten Sephirot are also structurally hidden in the Gospel of John, and are meant to be discovered by the sincere pilgrim who travels the paths indicated here, and therefore will not be pointed out textually, except to say that they are present in the fullness of the Logos who is the Living Christos.
Some may want to actually chant the Hebrew letters or key words of the signs gospel as a way to meditate on the power of the Living Christos. This practice is best undertaken with a spiritual director or teacher who has the wisdom to guide the soul, though in modern times, many people undertake such things on their own, and books become their guides.
While the Chaplet Prayer of the Seven Signs, on previous pages, is a modern meditative chaplet meant to unlock some of the hidden energy of John’s gospel, it is in itself only a means to an end, and one who seeks to enter these mysteries may do so with the meditative intuition at hand. Still, rhythmic, Mantric, chaplet style prayer is powerful and evocative, and works to engage the human person on a number of different levels at the same time. Whether prayed with the Seven canonical mysteries, or the full set of 22 mysteries, this Chaplet opens a portal of energy between the spiritual world and daily life.
A note on anti-Semitism and the Gospel of John
As Christians grapple with the text of the Gospel of John in the post-Holocaust era, many believers find that we are troubled by the apparent anti-Semitism of the text, as well as by the way such texts have been misused over the centuries by our co-religionists to commit horrible deeds. Some feel that the proper approach would be to purge such references from the text, and there is much to commend that view. Other biblical scholars point out that the troubling parts of the text point to a time when Christianity was viewed by the Roman world as a Jewish sect, and reflects the intramural struggles of Judaism as the Christian sect moved more and more away from what was the acknowledged center of the Jewish community, namely, observance of the Torah. If one finds this encoded Jewish mystical layer of the Gospel of John, then it begs for some explanation about why it would be in a book which apparently has harsh and polemical things to say about the Jews. One possible explanation of this paradox is that the community of John was anxious to preserve the esoteric spirituality of the Gospel, which might otherwise be perceived by the wider Christian community as “too Jewish” for acceptance. Other scholars have detected Gnostic layers to John’s gospel. We admit that our interpretation here is frankly imaginative, and then hasten to add that it is through such imagination that we perceive the higher truths of the mystical way.
Introductory Bibliography of Scholarship on the Signs Gospel:
Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple Paulist Press, 1979
Robert T. Fortna, The Fourth Gospel and Its Predecessor : From Narrative Source to Present Gospel (Philadelphia: Polebridge Press 1988).
Miller, Robert J. Editor The Complete Gospels Polebridge Press 1994 ISBN 0-06-065587-9
Introductory Bibliography for the Holy Qabbalah
Barry, Kieran. The Greek Qabalah—alphabetical mysticism and numerology in the ancient world. Weiser. 1999.
Kaplan, Aryeh, Sefer Yetzirah, The Book of Creation. Weizer Books, 1997.
Kaplan, Aryeh, Meditation and Kabbalah. Weizer Books, 1989.
Anti-Semitism and Superscessionism
Levine, Amy-Jill. The Misunderstood Jew: The Scandal of the Jewish Jesus.. Harper, 2006.
A Meditation on the possibility of a Christian Qabbalah embedded in the
Gospel of John