Saturday, November 24, 2012

#137. The Church Community in the New Creation Story

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Blog entries beginning with #101 are not essays but minimally-edited notes and reviews from the files I've collected over the last few decades. I no longer have the time and energy needed to sort out and put together into decent essay-form the many varied ideas in these files, but I would like to share them with all who are interested.

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Post #137 is the second of three collections of thoughts and reflections based on the only book I know which deals explicitly with what the Christian Church looks like in the Big History perspectives of the New Cosmology.

The book is The Holy Web: Church and the New Universe Story by Cletus Wessels (Orbis Books, 2000). The author is a Dominican priest, pastor and theologian in the Midwestern United States.


The second part of this book defines church as a community of people who gather to celebrate and serve, and describes four main aspects of it in the light of the New Story.

The church community:

• sees the Mystery present and operative in all things;

• promotes personal development as the continuation of cosmic evolution at the level of the individual;

• has a wholistic structure

• is globally diverse culturally.


In a chapter called "The Church of the Earth" the author uses three contemporary scientific concepts: holons, fields, and implicate order.

He talks about the earth under the images of (patriarchal) tomb and (feminist) life-giving womb. He describes church as community of disciples (hearers).

I found some of this to be not too clear, even fuzzy. I’m especially uncomfortable especially with what seems to me its superficiality with regard to feminism. But it also contains many stimulating ideas.


From science we now know that all things are a unity evolving toward greater and greater complexity. And that we humans are the earth come to self-consciousness.

But we find ourselves in a condition of alienation from it, as well as from one another and from ourselves.

But in fact the universe is one big web of relationships, and its dynamism can be explained in terms of holons, fields, and implicate order.


Everything is part of something else. Each thing tries to preserve itself, but it can accommodate itself to other things by joining with them and becoming part of a larger reality which can fall apart.

Besides gravitational, magnetic and electrical fields, there are many other fields as well. They make up the basic substance of the universe.

Fields are like whole-ons (things made of less complex things and which can also be part of more complex things) in that they preserve themselves and also adapt. But they also seem to have “memory” which works in such a way that past events make future ones of the same kind more likely. Fields that do this are called morphogenic fields; they are built up through the accumulated behaviors of the species members.

Despite its apparent fragmentation, the world has an inner wholeness.

And personal wholeness is necessary for our lives to feel worth living.


The earth can be seen as a patriarchal Tomb. Male adolescents just want to mate, to spill their seed. They don’t know yet that girls are people. Their need to ejaculate semen without regard to the feelings of females is like humanity’s attempts to conquer the earth.

Patriarchy is characterized by male privilege, control-of-others, sexual inequality and the legitimization of power structures.

Like the Titanic, patriarchy is large, phallic and unsinkable, “but sink it did.” (The bitterness found in the feminist movement comes through here.)


The earth can also be seen as a life-giving Womb. But if we call for new earth, new society, and new religion, all based on God as Sophia/Mother, we need some understanding of why things became the way the are in the first place.

My view is that if we don’t know why patriarchy is there, we won’t have a very good idea of how to get rid of it; it’s not just going to go away all by itself.

No one benefiting from patriarchy in any way is going to give it up except for something better. We need recovery of sacred manhood-- of the hunting culture shamanic/trickster maleness that has no need to be afraid of women, nature, unconscious or other persons.


Wessels describes the church as a "Community of Disciples." And he says that a church in this sense-- of disciples-- "is precisely what Jesus undoubtedly did found.” I.e., a community of persons who are willing to listen and learn.

And when we listen, we hear announced three cosmic principles: diversity, interiority, and communion (Thomas Berry's basic principles of the new cosmology).


An especially stimulating chapter in this book is "The Church of Deeper Consciousness."

It deals with personal inner growth and development as the continuation of cosmic evolution, and with ritual as the ordinary means to its realization.


A quick summary review of Cosmic Evolution and Human Consciousness
Consciousness is latent in matter from the start. The human person, a “free center of consciousness,” is the “condensate” of the separate parts of the nervous system and molecules in the brain, which themselves are made of the most basic chemical elements.

Thus, those things we think of as most quintessentially human-- self-reflection, free choice, love, awareness of meaning/significance of things, life, existence-- are essential aspects of cosmic evolution.

The universe at its most complex level, the human, is characterized by these things. They are marginal neither to any individual, nor society, nor the universe; they are, in fact, what the universe has been all about for the last 15 billion years.

Human consciousness is latent in matter from the start. And because individuation is fueled by ritual, and ritual is at the heart of the cosmic evolutionary process.


New Story Aspects of Traditional Christianity:
The paschal process is intrinsic to the cosmos. How wonderful and important, then, to celebrate the Passover Seder each year! And this-- the passover process-- seems to be precisely what the Universe is asking of the institutional church.

In a chapter called "The Whole-archical Church" the author describes what a church community would look like if it saw itself as a self-organizing system.

He deals with three problem areas: clericalism, ministry and leadership.

With regard to clericalism, he notes that the sacred order of the universe is not hierarchical but "whole-archical."

With regard to ministry, he notes that biblical imagery about the Holy Spirit describes the same thing as the psychological imagery of the Self within. The process of individuation is the unfolding of who/what we are and are to become, which is in our genes from the start. It follows a directive principle or driving force that teaches and guides us and connects us with All.

With regard to leadership, when understood as a faith community and a community of disciples, the church promotes inner growth and development via symbolic ritual and offers service to those in need.

Wessels says that local churches, like bioregions, have six characteristic functions: Self-propagation, Self-nourishment, Self-education, Self-governance, Self-healing, Self-fulfilling.


The fundamental tension between chaos and cosmos, which is always disturbing any system, results in either disintegration or transfiguration.
Coercion and/or disregard for others creates negative energy; openness creates positive energy.

To keep energy flowing, maximalize information-sharing: respect, relate and communicate; the result is increased self-identification and identification with the community.
But: maintaining self-identity is only possible when the community is clear about its inner vision, which has to be thought of as a field permeated with the vision, where “Everybody counts and everybody contributes.”


The vision is that the cosmos is the kingdom of God. The whole universe is the basilia. And if humanity is the cosmos become conscious of itself, the church community is the cosmos become conscious of itself as theophany.

And this consciousness manifests itself as efforts toward reconciliation (uniting what has become alienated, divided, separated), healing (repairing and curing the immense damage we see around us), and liberation (freeing all who suffer from oppression by any power).


Three big concerns. The Clergy and Laity distinction is no longer viable.

Ministry means the promotion of awareness of the Mystery always and everywhere giving itself, and a constant challenge to whatever restricts that awareness.

Ministry requires a call, competence and the consent of community. Leadership is functional not ontological.


Another chapter deals with the relationship between local churches and the universal church, the primacy of Rome and infallibility, in terms of whole-ons. It really doesn’t say much that hasn’t been said long ago. (And about which no action has been taken in my lifetime as far as I’m aware.)

One insight. “How then can we determine what church structures are authentic and are unfoldings of the presence of God in the church?”              
Wessels response: “Life is intent of finding what works, not what’s ‘right.’

It is the ability to keep finding solutions that is important; any one solution is temporary. In an organization, there are no permanent right answers; the capacity to keep changing, to find what works now, is what keeps any organization alive.”

This is that “true but irrelevant” view which has been my judgment of the church since late childhood.


The book concludes with a section relating the characteristics of the church described here with the traditional marks of the church, “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.” I’ve added Medicine Wheel coordinates to his list.

The church is ONE (Thinking, East, Morning, Spring): the Church of the Earth. An Earth-based church sees the universe and cosmic All as theophany. It sees humanity as the cosmos’ self-awareness, and the Church community as cosmos’ self-awareness as theophany.

The church is HOLY (Intuition, West, Evening, Autumn): the Church of Expanded Consciousness. Focused on Meaning and expanding of awareness; uses Jungian/Depth Psychology. Promotes proclamation, owning and empowerment by earth and psyche’s energies via ritual celebration.

The church is CATHOLIC (Feeling, South, Daytime, Summer): the Church of World Cultures. Concerned with sociology and cultures.

The church is APOSTOLIC (Sensation, North, Night, Winter): the Church of the Whole-archy. Leads to service of those in need: liberation, healing and reconciliation-- the signs of the kingdom.


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