Saturday, November 24, 2012

#138. Sacred Ritual 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 #138 is the third 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.


1) Cosmic Evolution, Ritual and Spirituality. Because the individuation process is the continuation, at the level of personal consciousness, of the world’s evolution, spirituality is a major component of the story of the universe. And ritual is a major aspect of spirituality.

Spirituality is growth and development (personal transformation) in terms of inner consciousness and self-awareness; ritual is the primary means for intentional growth and development.

It is precisely by way of ritual that the energies, power and forces that make up the individual are contacted and owned. How important it is, then, to understand how to contact and own them. The spirit-powers are contacted via the Vision Quest and are “owned” via some form of a vision “dance.”

Obviously the churches should be fostering spiritual transformation, but we simply can’t expect much of them anymore.

2) Our Ritual and Spiritual Roots. Spirituality is finding God in all things, especially in one’s own emerging self. The truest self and God, the sacred/numinous, are not distinct realities. Ritual is essential for the emergence of a planetary global community.

Our Paleolithic ancestors experienced the numinous in all things, all the time; especially in the hearth fire and the communal forms surrounding it. Art, music, dance and language, all evolved for ritual communion with the spirit powers. Ritual especially was focused on sex and death, but on transformation generally: reproduction, the beginnings of sexual maturity and burials.

Institutional, organized religions emerged after the Paleolithic Hunting Culture and the Neolithic Matriarchy. They are coincident with Patriarchal Civilization and are, apparently, a necessary step in the differentiation of religion, but they are now no longer what’s needed or appropriate.

Jesus went way beyond the institutional religion of his time. He obviously knew the numinous from within, and recognizing the dangers (of inflation) involved.

He has a tremendous impact on his followers. They used Jewish imagery to make sense of his impact on them: they saw him as the Second Adam, the Suffering Servant, the Passover lamb, and especially as the one who was anointed (appointed) "Lord of All."

Everything that the “numinous” refers to was understood to be contained in Jesus. Western culture summarized that by saying he was God in the flesh. Nowadays, the problem is that those experiences should not be made exclusive of the rest of the world’s religious experiences.

Similarly, ritual is not the exclusive property of the church. It is essential-- a prerequisite!-- for the Earth’s planetary global community. And this is why it’s important to see the story of Jesus in the context of the universe’s story; Jesus is the exemplification of-- not an exception to-- the way the cosmos works.

3) Our need is to be as attuned with the earth and “all our relations” as Jesus was. We are to know, as he did, that we are part of, and responsible to, the cosmic process. We especially need to be conscious of the fact that the paschal process is intrinsic to the cosmos.

While it isn’t clear that this was Jesus’ understanding, at least in such an explicit form, it most certainly was precisely the understanding of his followers. “This is the way the world works: even the worst that can happen is a means for fullness of life in communion with God.”

The universe supplies “supporting evidence” that we can trust it; despite appearances, the cosmic process is going to work out well. That this is a part the New Universe Story, and finds expression in chaos theory, is a new insight.

So then, in a way, is the idea that the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is not a unique event of history so much as an exemplification of the normal functioning of the cosmos.

This insight really does change things in terms of theology, in the sense that the salvation effected by Jesus does not have to be understood as some form of blood payment to an avenging God but, rather, as a radical shift in consciousness, the most fundamental ontological change possible.

It can be understood as a breakthrough, an alteration of the morphogenic field, and thus as effecting everything. But also as being in harmony with everything, not as something uniquely added as an exception or even a contradiction to the way reality works. How wonderful to celebrate the Passover Seder each year!

4) Psychological insight: If cosmology is psychologically a projection of our coming to conscious awareness, individually and as a species, then a sense of the pleroma and parousia must be the projection of the other end of the same individuation and cosmic process.

The evolutionary process is, from the beginning, a spiritual as well as a physical process. Formal institutional religion is only a temporary stage in human evolution, one which we as a species now seem to have outlived.

We can ask, then, will there be a church beyond the Church? Can we look for a globally present sacramental and servant community, as a continuation of the Christian tradition, but sociologically non-structural, more along the lines of how Buddhism is set up? (Some study of those social arrangements by sympathetic sociologists would be helpful.)

I think that is precisely what the universe is asking of us, that’s where things seem to be moving. But it will have to be far more inclusive than what we’ve known in the past.

5) Details About Ritual: Ritual is our “grandmother tongue.” Its goal is transformation and empowerment. Education is a by-product.

Like everything else, ritual can be evil. It can empower to negative, destructive behavior. This would be possible if the “owned” empowering images are destructive. Obviously these images are not the Divine energies.

Or are they, but misunderstood? The problem of evil persists at the most profound levels! Would the universe present an individual with negative empowering images? That really doesn’t seem likely, but psychological terms, it would be negative images coming from the unconscious. And surely the unconscious isn’t always “benevolent.” Or, again, is it?

Is that very thought yet another aspect of patriarchal fear of the unconscious? Clearly, there can be psychological damage just as there is physical damage. I’m thinking just now of Annie Dillard’s demand of God, “What’s with the kids without faces?”

6) What Ritual Is. Ritual really does seem to have a two-fold purpose: empowerment to be who and what we are as individuals (“particle”) and communion with all our relations (“wave”). Ritual, too, manifests the wave/particle duality of quantum theory.

Becoming aware of the sacred ‘always and everywhere’ is a radical shift in contemporary consciousness. “Sacred” is what’s meaningful: what empowers each of us to be who and what we are, and to be in communion with the Rest. Quantum duality there, too!

Ritual is a wave/particle duality: its two-fold purpose is empowerment of individuals to be who/what we are called to be and communion with all our relations.

7) “The Mystery is always and everywhere giving itself.” This means not “just” in the details of everyday life, big and small, meaningful and seemingly insignificant, but in the totality of each person’s individuation process, as well as in human cultural evolution and in expanded global awareness of the planet as a whole both culturally and ecologically.

But also in the whole biological evolution process including its basis in planetary and geological evolution, in the very formation of the planet along with the rest of the solar system, as well as the formation of our galaxy, the local group of galaxies, and the whole cosmos.

What’s really needed here is poetry to try to capture all this in some clear way. The above statements need to be made into a hymn. But also to be expressed in art, and music and dance, etc.

8) Practical Aspects of the Recovery of Ritual and Spirituality. The images in which the Mystery is giving itself to us are precisely the only ones available for us to announce/proclaim and own. As a way to begin, the talking staff council may be exactly the right form to start with.

Some form of vision quest is a preliminary practical need in the process of recovering ritual. Our most important need to know what empowering symbolic images are being offered to each of us as individuals.

We also need, of course, to understand what’s meant by empowering images, symbols, visions.
The sacred us to be found everywhere. The question then is, In what images is the Mystery giving itself to us? It is our job to be willing to make the effort to be sensitive and responsive. Sensitivity is the quest for vision, responsiveness is dancing it on the earth before the assembled people.

9) Ritual and Personal Responsibility. It is because the evolutionary process continues precisely in individuals, via ‘individuation,’ that, as Jung says, “The salvation of the world depends on the individual soul.”

Each of us ‘counts.’ Each must be sensitive. Each must make the effort.

What a powerful way to say, “Your life is not trivial.” (And such understanding may be the essential content of ritual initiations.)

My own focus on self-awareness was apparent from a very early age.

It was fostered by Merton, Teilhard and Jung, and given practical help via monasticism and the liturgical movement. They both were the best helps available, that I knew of, then.

I was also exposed to, could see the great value of, NA traditions, thanks especially to Joseph Eppes Brown and Joseph Jastrab. He helped me get started with the concrete experiences.

And I did have a science background, too. It was specifically focused on evolution-- cosmic, planetary, biological, anthropological, cultural.”

I’m especially grateful that I was able to teach sacramental theology at SJU and to do all I've been able to in terms of promoting ritual-- in family life, small gatherings, churches and men's groups.

10) This book prompted a meditation-poem which I've called "The Momentous Act and His Role in It."

The “momentous act” needed to heal the world at this crucial point in human history is Percy-with-the-gross-phallus embracing the Christ. The religious tradition is never going to embrace the phallus. It will be the other way around: somehow, the phallotokoi will offer forgiveness to the religious tradition for its having demonized the sacred phallus.

I’m not clear whether it's the embrace or the forgiveness which is the momentous act. Percy-with-the-gross-phallus embracing the divine energies of the universe? Or, forgiveness of the religious tradition for its demonization of phallus? Probably both; and, probably, it’s really just one act.
In any case, it is not phallus which is to be liberated but the whole dualistic religious tradition, the institutional church and the secular culture which comes from it. It will be liberated from its separation from earth, healed of its alienation from matter, and reconciled with what it has considered evil: the feminine, the unconscious, “chaos,” especially the body and its genitals.

And this forgiveness of the institution by the numinous which it had demonized is somehow the work of the phallotokoi. This is an intuition I can almost not even get into any words, let alone good and satisfactory words.

But the forgiveness will be clear and strong evidence of the Kingdom, the basilia. It is a new proclamation of the gospel when the phallus says to the church, “Fear not!”

This is a momentous act, indeed! The demonized numinous knowing itself as, in fact, epiphany of God. It is a complete reversal of the Fisher King’s groin injury: the healing-recovery and affirmation of what had been lost for a hundred centuries. And it changes everything.

And some of us are called to do the needed imagining which will affect the "morphogenic fields" and allow phallus and maleness and manhood to once again be known as sacred. This is the idea of the “rainmaker,” one who “does what he does by being what he is.”
This one has been called to a rainmaker role. He does it via the sacred pipe, when he owns his vision by “smoking” it in a mandala of images, his ‘owning’ dance. He influences the morphogenic field surrounding sacred manhood by permeating it with the image of sacred phallus, an ‘owning’ of phallus as theophany.

This “breakthrough” is the only way out, the only way to break the evil spell.
This what he is called to, and what he did in his VQ III vision dance. It includes making bears and radiating phallic awe and wonder. It is what he does in this retirement contemplative stage of his life.

He is called, empowered, grounded and protected to enjoy good things, share them with others, and tell his story; especially to enjoy with others their good. That, now, is his earth-walk.


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