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This post is being published on the third anniversary of the date I started this blog-- with my thanks to all who in any way have supported and encouraged my efforts!
This is the third of several posts dealing with an understanding of religious ritual in the context of cosmic evolution. I shared some thoughts about symbol, myth and meaning in the previous post. This one deals with wisdom, cosmology and creativity. I'll start with cosmology since it's the easiest to talk about.
Cosmology. In science, the word "cosmology" has two different meanings.
At the physics end of the science spectrum it refers to our understanding of the origin and development of galaxies, stars and planets-- the evolution of the material world.
At the other end of the spectrum-- the human sciences like sociology and anthropology-- the word "cosmology" refers to any cultural group's understanding of itself and of how humans fit into the physical cosmos of time, space and matter.
What's new about the New Cosmology is that it combines these two understandings. And the result is a truly New Story-- new for all the peoples of the Earth-- of the world and our place in it. It is "Our Common Story," as William Grassie, founder of Metanexus Institute, calls it in a recent essay.
The New Cosmology is also new in another sense. In contrast to the old religious cosmology of western society-- which was based on a distorted (static and dualistic) understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition-- this New Story sees the world as one single, dynamic (non-static and non-dualistic) evolutionary process.
The New Cosmology also differs from science as it is popularly understood. In contrast to the rationalism and materialism which western culture inherited from the 17th-century Enlightenment period-- and which, unfortunately, continues to be the conventional view of what science is all about-- the New Story recognizes that it is mind-- not matter-- which is the basic stuff of reality.
Especially important for our understanding of ritual in the dynamic evolutionary context is an awareness that the New Cosmology sees the whole sweep of the cosmic process as a movement toward life, mind and conscious awareness. It sees diversity of persons and personal relationships as the heart of the entire cosmic process.
And from what I've called in the previous post a "neurologically-informed view," the New Cosmology also recognizes the human mind, nervous system and brain as the most complex thing we know in the universe-- so that it sees each human being as nothing less than the dynamic cosmos itself come to expression both in us and as us.
One more important idea, also mentioned in post #60: While we are still unconscious of much of the universe's workings within us, humanity's age-old myth-stories are expressions of those activities of the cosmos which have yet to come to consciousness in us.
You can see why I said back in post #59 that if I think too much about trying to talk about the connections between evolution and ritual that I will decide not to start. There are just too many things to keep in mind!
For a clear understanding of ritual in the evolutionary context, I think the most important detail we need to keep in mind is the concept in the New
Cosmology which is most in contrast with the old cosmology. It's the idea that, as conscious participants in the evolution of life on Earth, each of us has a responsible role to play in the cosmic process.
The very fact that we exist makes us participants in the universe story.
And it's the fact that we exist as unique individuals that allows each of us to make a unique contribution to it.
That's where creativity comes in.
Creativity. It's an understatement to say that patriarchal society, with its dualistic alienation from the world and its fear of change, doesn't value creativity-- it suppresses it. And yet creativity is the key to understanding the link between religious ritual and cosmic evolution.
As I see it, the very essence of creativity is simply being aware of our personal uniqueness, which is why, of course, the New Cosmology is so important for us.
It's worth remembering just how unique we are. In terms of the genes we received from our parents, the possibility that another person might exist who has exactly the same genetic makeup we have has been calculated to be one in 1080.
That means the chance the universe might ever duplicate any of us is about one in a million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million chances. (Slim!)
Beyond our awareness that we are unique there is also the effort each of us needs to make to learn what it is that's unique about us. We need to educate ourselves about ourselves. It's only when we know what our unique gifts are that we can put them to good use.
I think this is probably the basis of any new spirituality associated with the New Cosmology: to make the effort to become aware of our gifts-- our unique combination of skills, talents and capabilities-- and to work at developing them.
As I see it, it's the awareness and the effort together that's what we contribute to the cosmic process. We make the world better by making ourselves better. That's our cosmic task.
And the very essence of it is innovation and transformation. Novelty and newness is what the universe has been about for 14 billion years-- making new things, doing old things in new ways, making things better.
It's also what human creativity is all about.
So it's only in light of our cosmic task-- our creative newness and personal transformation-- that we can understand the connections between religious ritual and cosmic evolution.
I received an especially helpful comment about post #59 from artist and author Mary Conrow Coelho. "I hope," she said, "you will say more about the experience at the blessing of fire and water when you were eight years old."
If you haven't seen post #59, you might like to check it out. The story is about my being the entire congregation at a Saturday morning Easter service back in the 1940s.
Here's Mary's full comment: Was the experience numinous, mystical, a knowing? Is it better described in another way? It seems that in some way over the years you must have been hoping that the rituals you have joined and those that you created might be the occasion of similar experiences for you and for others. Has this been a successful endeavor?
In my brief response I said that the short answer was "yes" to all these questions, and that I would offer a more adequate response in a post. This is it.
Because I'm looking back at something which happened 65 years ago, I have the great advantage of being able to make use of a life-time of reflection and thought.
I now understand the words "numinous," "mystical" and "knowing," for example, to refer to any conscious experience which is especially significant and important, and which, at the same time, is not only difficult but maybe even impossible to talk about.
My Holy Saturday morning experience was definitely along those lines. But I think the best way I can describe it is to use words like "feeling" and "sense." What I experienced can best be described as a sense of affirmation. I felt affirmed.
I felt affirmed in my own personal reality and the bigger reality of which I was a part. It also had a sense rightness about it, that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
Mary's question about whether over the years I had been hoping that the rituals I'd been involved "might be the occasion of similar experiences for you and for others" was also helpful. I don't think, however, that "hoping" is the right word.
"Expecting" would be more accurate. Even "confidently expecting."
A trivial example is how we feel when we look forward to having a cold beer on a summer day. We don't hope it will taste good and make us feel refreshed, we expect it to. That's what a cold beer on a hot day does.
I think the same is true about affirmation. I doubt that it ever occurred to me that a ritual, when it's done well, would not result in an affirming experience. That's what ritual does.
To Mary's other question--"Has this been a successful endeavor?"-- I would say, "Yes."
Some rituals work better than others, of course, and the effort to understand how rituals work well has been a major part of my adult life.
But if the question is "Do people generally feel affirmed?", my answer would be "Yes, I think they do."
Here's one example. After an extensive evening ritual at a church a number of years ago, I overheard one of the participants-- a 75-year-old man whose wife had died many years earlier-- say to the pastor, "This has been the best night of my whole life."
That was good enough for me.
I realize that "affirmation" is probably not the kind of answer Mary or anyone else expected in response to her question about the nature of ritual experience. It's certainly not a conventional understanding of what ritual is all about.
So I need to point out that in our still-patriarchal culture-- where "symbolic" is usually understood to mean "not real," and "ritual" is often preceded by the word "empty"-- we still don't have any positive understanding of ritual and symbol.
And that lack is why I think the Wisdom perspective is also important here.
Wisdom. Probably the best way to describe what I mean by "Wisdom" is to say that it's the opposite of patriarchy.
Patriarchal religion sees the world's Creative Source as outside and above the world-- not as part of it-- and it sees humanity's main task to be an escape from the world. Patriarchy disdains physical matter: it exploits nature, dominates the powerless and suppresses creativity.
In contrast, Wisdom is an attitude and perspective which not only values the created world but understands both God and human beings in terms of their relationships to the world.
(For an especially clear-- indeed mind-chilling-- example of that contrast, see The New York Times editorial from earlier this month, A Bishop's Words.)
At this new religious moment in the Earth's history, when the human race is growing up and we are outgrowing our adolescent patriarchal perspectives, we are coming to see ourselves more realistically in the context of cosmic-biological-cultural evolution.
And central to the Wisdom perspective is its view that the creative life-force, the spiritus of God, is the motivating energy at the heart of that entire evolutionary process.
Also central to the Wisdom perspective is the understanding of human persons as unique expressions of the universe, each called to be a co-creative participant in cosmic evolution.
Such ideas are so far from the patriarchal worldview that they sound very strange.
But, just as we are familiar with the "wisdom of the body"-- its ability to heal itself, to grow and to bring itself into balance and wholeness-- so we also can know a wisdom of the universe-- which in religious language we call the Wisdom of God.
"Divine Wisdom" is a name for our understanding of the dynamis (energy, spiritus) at the core of all things which moves them toward that balance, beauty and wholeness which in various religious languages is called "peace," "pax," "hozho," "shanti," "shalom."
It's important here to keep in mind that the cultural movement beyond patriarchy didn't begin recently. It is more than two thousand years old. It started several centuries before the birth of Jesus (and he was part of it).
Because at this present time in history we are still working our way out of the patriarchal worldview, the Wisdom perspectives continue to be relatively unfamiliar to almost everyone, even though they are found in many of the world's religious traditions-- including our own Western Judeo-Christian tradition.
I've shared my understanding of the Bible's Wisdom perspectives in a number of posts. I offered a general introduction in post #40 (Wisdom-Sophia), a quaternary perspective in post #41 (Four-fold Wisdom), and descriptions of the functions of Wisdom in terms of those quaternary perspectives in posts #42 (Architect),#43 (Guide), #44 (Gatherer) and #45 (Provider).
I find the four-fold ("quaternary") understanding extremely helpful and significant. If you're not familiar with it you might like to check out three earlier posts: #29 (The Four-fold Mind), #30 (Ways of Being Religious) and #31 (Integrating the Four Functions).
In the Bible, Divine Wisdom is described as a feminine person, Sophia, who is intimately related to every aspect of reality. Scripture scholar Kathleen O'Connor, in her book The Wisdom Literature, calls Sophia "the Wisdom Woman."
In the biblical stories this Wisdom Woman is pictured working along side the Creator from the very beginning. As Dr. O'Connor says, "She is closely joined to the created world; she is an intimate friend of God; she delights in the company of human beings."
This relatedness-- to God, world and humanity-- is what Wisdom is all about. It couldn't be more different from the attitudes and perspectives of patriarchy.
From another point of view, Wisdom can be described in terms of our human experience as "a state of knowing and being"-- a higher, deeper, fuller awareness of our life and existence.
And in the context of the New Cosmology, that higher, deeper awareness is precisely of the fact that we are unique persons called to be co-creative participants in the cosmic process.
I think it's here that the New Cosmology and the Bible's Wisdom perspectives coincide completely; for me, this is the very meaning of "the convergence of religion and science."
How this all connects with ritual becomes fairly clear, I think, when we understand religious ritual as humanity's age-old means for being in communion with Divine Wisdom. It is ritual which empowers us to be co-creative participants with the Wisdom Woman, Sophia, as she operates at the depths of the world, all the while delighting to be with us, Earth's children.
And ritual is nothing new. As the Irish writer Diarmuid ("Dermot") O'Murchu says in his book, Evolutionary Faith, we know now that humanity has "droned and drummed, chanted and danced for a hundred thousand years."
Such age-old ritual is the means by which we "let the heart of the Earth beat within us." By it we are empowered to participate in the cosmic evolutionary process because by it our uniqueness and our call to express it is acknowledged and affirmed. And that's all we need.
And that's it for this post. Except for another "homework" assignment. This time it's to think back to a ritual you have experienced which may have been for you what I've called here "affirming" and/or "empowering."
And-- if you're willing-- to share it with me and our readers.
If you are willing, please send it c/o my e-mail address. (The comment section of the blog seems to have recently acquired a limit of only 300 characters. That's equivalent to the famous "25 words or less" from the days of radio-- hardly enough to begin to describe an important-- and maybe indescribable-- personal experience.)
I hope to hear from you.
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Reminder from post #60: I have dealt with the ARCHIVE TECHNICAL PROBLEM (more or less). You will remember that since I started this new series of posts (with post #51), each time I publish a new post, an earlier one vanishes from my Archives list; they're there, just not visible. (Sounds like the Nicene Creed!) From now on, the Archive will include a post with the title LIST of ALL PUBLISHED POSTS, which I will update with each new post. (If you are a tech person and know of a better solution, I would love to hear from you!)
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