“And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, because he was the chief speaker, they called Hermes.” [Acts 14:11-12]
What’s your sign? I’m a Virgo, with moon in Aries, Pisces rising, and a “stellium”, that is, a cluster of planets and stars, in the Seventh House.
One of the more curious detours in my spiritual journey was two or three years in the late 70’s when I was a fairly serious student of astrology. I had regular lessons and learned how to cast natal charts. A natal chart, or a horoscope, is a kind of map of the sky at the moment of birth. It shows the position of the sun and moon and planets and some principal stars against the backdrop of the 12 signs of the Zodiac (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, etc.). And this map is superimposed on a kind of wheel with twelve spokes, each spoke marking off one of the twelve “houses”. The interpretation of a chart can be a very complicated affair.
But the basic concept of astrology is that the position of the sun and moon and planets at the moment of birth exerts some lasting influence over our lives and accounts for different personality types. The planets and the signs of the Zodiac are each associated with the gods of ancient Greece and Rome. So, if at the moment of birth the sun was in the constellation Gemini, which is “ruled” by Mercury, you are predisposed to have attributes of Mercury, or in Greek, Hermes. If your sun was in Sagitarius, which is “ruled” by Jupiter (also known as Jove or Zeus), you are likely to have attributes of Jupiter. And so with Mars, Venus and Saturn. The gods exert influence through the planets named for them and the Zodiacal signs they “rule”. (And, no, I don’t do horoscopes these days…)
A similar mindset may be evident in the book of Acts when Barnabas and Paul are thought to be Hermes and Zeus. Paul apparently did all the talking, so he was identified with the winged messenger: Hermes, or Mercury. Barnabas was taken for Zeus, or Jupiter or Jove, in human form. This may suggest something about his physical appearance: we can imagine St. Barnabas being somewhat large, fatherly and jovial—attributes associated with Zeus, or Jupiter (or Jove).
In the ancient world-view, Gods could come down to earth in human form; and human beings could embody the attributes of the various gods. Of course, Christian parallels easily come to mind. God has come to us in human form in Jesus Christ. And human beings embody the attributes of Christ. “It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’”, we read in Acts. To be a Christian means living under the influence of Christ and embodying his attributes.
There are some rather sharp differences between astrology and Christian thinking, of course. Christ the “Sun”, to speak figuratively, is not out there, making his way through the Zodiac. Christ our Sun is here—here and in here. “God set the stars to give light to the world. The star of my life is Jesus,” goes one of our hymns*. Christ the star, the sun, in and through whom all suns and planets exist. Christ the Sun of all suns who outshines all the other lights in the heavens. This Christ, this light makes his dwelling in the human breast.
This Christ brings his influence to bear in our lives not beaming down from somewhere in the Zodiac, not bearing down from the heights of Mt. Olympus, but emerging quietly from somewhere within us. And never in the fatalistic, deterministic way we associate with astrology.
We always have a choice. The Lord Jesus is “courteous”, as Julian of Norwich put it. Christ abides within us, but does not force himself or his attributes upon us: we choose whether he may transform our lives. We choose whether to embody his attributes–or not.
This is a question for each day we are privileged to be alive: How shall Christ transform my life today? How shall I embody the qualities, the attributes, the essence of Christ today?
No one individual, of course, embodies Christ’s attributes fully. It takes all of us—it takes all of us in our brokenness and frailty. Christ needs all of us broken pieces together to be his body. Such is the depth and breadth of this God, such is the brightness of his light. It takes all kinds to embody the completeness of Christ. The fullness of his love, the brightness of his light, the full vigor of his life, the full depth and breadth of his truth. The fullness of his divinity; the perfection of his humanity. We, individually, embody his attributes to some small degree—and we are incomplete without each other.
What’s your sign? What’s our sign? He is on the cross. He is in the manger. He is in the tomb, and risen and glorified. He will soon meet us again at the altar. And even now he waits in the wedding chambers of our hearts—reclining courteously.
“God set the stars to give light to the world. The star of my life is Jesus. In him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.” *
Shine in our hearts. Shine in our lives.
*Hymnal 1982, #490
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