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Beyond Belief:

The Secret Gospel of Thomas

by: Elaine Pagels

From the Feast of AGAPE to the Nicene Creed

On a bright Sunday morning in February shivering in a T-shirt and running shorts, I stepped into the vaulted stone vestibule of the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York to catch my breath and warm up.

Since I had not been in church for a long time, I was startled by my response to the worship in progress – the soaring harmonies of the choir singing with the congregation; and the priest, a woman in bright gold and white vestments, proclaiming the prayers in a clear, resonant voice. As I stood watching, a thought came to me: Here is a family that knows how to face death.

Standing in the back of that church, I recognized, uncomfortably, that I needed to be there. Here was a place to weep without imposing tears upon a child; and here was a heterogenous community that had gathered to sing, to celebrate, to acknowledge common needs, and to deal with what we cannot or imagine.

Yet the celebration in progress spoke of hope; perhaps that is what made the presence of death bearable. Before that time, I could only ward off what I had heard and felt the day before.

When people would say to me, “Your faith must be of great help to you,” I woud wonder, what do they mean? What is faith? Certainly not simple assent to the set of belis that worshipers church recited every week (“we believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”) traditional statements that sounded strange to me…

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