Worship Materials: Worship, Mystery and Our Cosmic Setting

From the Celebrating Mystery collection

THEME:           The unravelling that relates everything to each other.

PRAYER

O God of the Cosmos, both beyond and within us, may we become aware of our small but significant role within it and with wonder seek to cooperate with its processes in whatever ways are possible.

 

HYMNS

The Cosmos in all its wonder. (BL)

We are children of the Cosmos. (BL)

Charge our hearts with wonder. (BL)

Beyond the boxes we create. (BL)

When masks of God both age and die. (BL)

To God the process. (BL)

God wake us from illusion. (BL)

An awakening is beginning. (BL)

Leave behind illusion’s ways. (BL)

When our world of thought lies shattered. (BL)

 

We come from the Cosmos. (SE / MU)

 

From the fireball’s searing alpha.

Let the whole of the Cosmos. (Benedicite)

Singing the Sacred Vol 2, 2014 World Library Publications

 

EXTENDED REFLECTION: WORSHIP AND MYSTERY

All worship is part of a wider form of behaviour which can be called ritual. Most spiritual traditions utilize the power of rituals. A ritual involves physical acts that symbolically represent spiritual realities and help people to have contact with that reality. It is a way of using things we can touch and see to help us relate to realities we cannot touch or see.

At the heart of all religions is the recognition that behind everything there is a mystery which is often called God. Mystery cannot be accessed through definitions or dogmas, nor by the literal use of words. To experience mystery, is to encounter something that leaves us speechless, something that cannot be described in words and yet which invokes in us a desire to somehow communicate our experience to other people. What we are left with are metaphors and symbols which point to the reality we are trying to describe without seeking to define it.

Albert Einstein said “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” However this is somewhat of an oversimplification as many of us have a strong desire to limit miracles to particular places or ceremonies. What can be said for miracles can also be said of divinity. There is “that of God” in all that exists whether it is animate or inanimate. Another way of expressing this is to say that there is “that of the Cosmos” in every thing that exists. Now while the traditional concept of God is greater than the Cosmos it does not preclude the belief that there is “that of God” within all of the Cosmos including ourselves since God is perceived as the creative force behind and within the Cosmos.

As I am essentially a monotheist I do not believe that there are different sorts of divinity but rather that there are different degrees of divinity in different life-forms and that human beings have differing degrees of awareness of and expression of their divinity. Many people have problems with accepting the omnipresence and omnipotence of God so they invite God to be present or urge God to listen to their cry for help thus perpetuating their dependence upon an intervening Divinity.

Other expressions of our desire to control or localize God are our attempts to limit God to particular mental and/ or physical images. These often say more about the believer than they do about God. For example vindictive people often believe in a vindictive God etc, etc.

While ritual of its essence needs to point to the mystery behind everything, it nevertheless ideally needs to do so using language and concepts that relate to our contemporary world view. We live in a time when some people are still firmly rooted in an ancient pre-scientific world view and enjoy participating in rituals and liturgical worship which spring out of that world view. In contrast, a growing number of people are abandoning that world view and the majority of them have no rituals which are compatible with contemporary scientific discoveries.

The Churches are becoming increasingly perplexed as to what to do in a situation of their continuing decline. But in my opinion few are prepared to tackle the central issue, namely how to relate their celebrations to contemporary science.

 

FEATURES OF THE OLD WORLD VIEW

Some of the features of this old world view which served the Church for almost 2000 years and on which much of Christian worship is based are as follows

  1. It was based on the concept that human beings were the most significant feature of the Cosmos and that they had a right to control all other members of this world’s ecosystem.
  2. That as a consequence, the most important part of the history of the Cosmos was the history of human beings.
  3. That if urged by human beings for long enough God would intervene to overturn the normal functions of the Universe.
  4. That the Earth, along with its human population was intrinsically evil and therefore needed an intervening Saviour.
  5. That the whole of history following the life of Jesus, was merely an amplification of what had happened in his life and therefore was not to be seen as part of an evolutionary spiral.
  6. That Christianity provided the One True Way.
  7. That reality was essentially dualistic, i.e. could be divided into two opposing subsets, e.g. Heaven and Earth, Mind and Body, the Good People and the Bad People (Saints and Sinners), Order and Chaos etc.
  8. That God was masculine.
  9. That the Laws of the Universe were primarily hierarchical and competitive.

 

THE PROCESS OF SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT

In order to understand what is happening it is helpful to refer to the concept of the spiral of spiritual development and its levels which contemporary psychology and consciousness studies have identified. It has been demonstrated that at different levels of consciousness people not only disagree about issues but actually view the world differently. Their values, moral codes and behaviour differ from that of others. These different levels of consciousness form a hierarchy. Psychological and spiritual growth involves growing from one level to the next.   The first stage is that of the archaic consciousness of infants the level of basic survival in which food, water, warmth, sex and safety have priority. The next is the magical consciousness of children which is dominated by magical spirits whose blessings, curses and spells control what happens on Earth. After Magical consciousness comes Mythic consciousness. Beyond this can come Rational consciousness and what lies beyond it.

People at the mythic level believe in a Mythic God. In his book “The Death of the Mythic God” P.xv, (i) Jim Marion explains the Mythic God, as follows: “People at the mythic level of consciousness are popularly called fundamentalists”. “People with mythic consciousness tend to believe that their religion, their ethnic group, their nation, their morality, their values are supreme. They believe that their particular scripture was uniquely revealed by God and is to be followed literally and exactly, even centuries after the revelation, even though that revelation was made through men and women whose culture and world views were vastly different from our own. They believe that God, the mythic God, is a being that is separate from us, lives in the sky (heaven) and intervenes in human affairs whenever believers petition him to do so”. “They see themselves as good and unbelievers as evil. They seek to use the power of the State to impose their belief on unbelievers. They believe that God is on their side and that they are charged with converting the entire world to their beliefs, even if they have to use force to do so.”

 

THE DEMISE OF THE MYTHIC GOD

Belief in a mythic God became replaced by the rational level of consciousness. This was supported by the l8th century Enlightenment, The Age of Reason, which swept aside superstition and undermined our appreciation of mystery. The Enlightenment produced remarkable results in the area of science and led to the expectation that science would eventually unmask all of the mysteries and leave us with a totally rational explanation of all of reality. The rationalistic way of thinking expressed itself in liberalism and in post-modernism with its reductionist tendencies. The effect on biblical scholarship was to produce an urge to de-mythologize the Christian faith. Unfortunately, it did not always take into account the human need for some sort of relevant mythology. Human being are creatures who dream and who create myths, i.e. stories that attempt to provide a coherent way of holding together all the complexities of reality.

In his book “Integral Spirituality” p183 (ii), American philosopher Ken Wilbur says of Western intellectual thinking: “In correctly spotting the immaturity of the notion of a mythic God….. they threw out not just the mythic level of Spirituality but the entire line of spiritual intelligence.” In ditching “God altogether they began the repression of the sublime, the repression of their own higher levels of spiritual intelligence. The intellectual West has fundamentally never recovered from this cultural disaster.”

 

A REPLACEMENT FOR THE MYTHIC GOD

We are now experiencing a sea-change in science where some scientists notably in the area of astronomy and quantum physics are talking more about the mysterious nature of reality than some theologians. Consequently they acknowledge the possibility that we will never ever come to a point of knowing everything. For example, we have no idea of what lead to the Big Bang out of which the Universe arose (see reflection on the origin of the Universe at the end of this material). Nor have we any idea of what happens beyond the event horizon of a black hole.

On page xvii Marion comments “the mythic God and the mythic world view are now being replaced by evolutionary spirituality. More and more people are seeking the God within themselves. More and more people, especially the young, are calling themselves ‘spiritual’ and are interested in growing spiritually but are not necessarily interested in organized religion. More and more people are realizing that God or Spirit is that which operates within the world and our hearts as the engine of evolution. God grows us from within unto higher, and higher levels of consciousness. God actually unfolds in evolution – both collective and individual – without ever having to intervene supernaturally from the outside.” Ken Wilbur describes this more advanced stage as integral vision, or in my terms, inclusive mysticism. Wilbur points out that there is a tremendous leap from all of the previous levels of development to what he calls ‘second tier thinking’, or ‘integral vision.’ All the previous levels including the green level where the Earth is cherished, where there is lateral bonding, sensitivity etc. and which is often called ‘pluralistic relativism’ embody the idea that their level of development is complete in itself and superior to the rest, e.g. political correctness. The integral level grasps the entire spectrum of human development and accepts that each level is crucially important for the health of the overall spiral. It sees each wave as going beyond its predecessors and includes or embraces it in its own make-up. “For example, a cell transcends but includes molecules which transcend but include atoms.” “Each wave of existence is a fundamental ingredient of subsequent waves and each has to be cherished and embraced” but not without critical analysis. The consequence of this is that integral vision has a different understanding of paradigms. Instead of each paradigm having a clearly defined, defensive boundary, integral vision has a semi-permeable membrane around its beliefs, so that new ones can be embraced and outmoded ones rejected. Its centre is no longer in some set idea but in mystery.

 

 

SOME OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF WORSHIP EMBRACING THE NEW COSMOLOGY

  1. It will become more humble as it re-assesses our significance as human beings. Whereas formerly we thought of planet Earth as being the centre of our planetary system we then discovered that the Sun exercised that role. From there we found that our solar system is situated on one arm of a spiral galaxy, The Milky Way, containing 200-400 billion stars and that our galaxy is only one of 100- 500 billion galaxies. If that were not enough some astronomers are talking about the possibility of there being more than one universe within the sum total of all that is! As a consequence it is well overdue that we take to heart the injunction of St Paul that we should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12/3). In the past we had claimed that human beings were the pinnacle of Creation, now it seems far more appropriate to assign that position to the Cosmos as a whole. However while it may seem that human beings occupy a rather peripheral place in the whole cosmic drama it is nevertheless true that as far as we know human beings are the only form of life that can reflect on the existence of God and engage in worship of divinity.
  2. It will provide a larger setting for our history. When we compare our short human history of 12,000 years with Earth’s age of 4.54 billion years and with the estimated 13.75 billion (plus or minus 0.11) age of the universe since the Big Bang we become aware of what a small segment of time our human history occupies.
  3. It will become more evolutionary in its content as we move from believing that change is an aberration to accepting that change is the norm. Our perception that some things are unchanging is the product of our inability to see small changes or internal movement such as that of atoms without the appropriate instruments. We will also accept that evolution is not only to be found within the whole ecosystem (including human beings) but it is a feature of the entire Cosmos including the human thought world.
  4. We will also become less simplistic about violence perceiving that there is an aggressor within each victim and a victim within each aggressor. While human violence is usually totally undesirable, violence in the Cosmos is both necessary and productive e.g. without the extreme violence of the Big Bang there would be no Cosmos
  5. We will grow to accept that the processes of the Cosmos exist for the benefit of the Cosmos and are not necessarily beneficial for human beings. Sometimes they are even fatal for humans e.g. some earthquakes.
  6. We will become more justice orientated as we reflect on the fact that in the ecosystem and in the Cosmos as a whole competition exists within a framework of cooperation, interdependency and symbiotic relationships. It will also lead us to work towards supporting alternative economic systems in which communal ownership is offered as replacement for the unsustainable model of competitive individual ownership and the consequent widening gap between the rich and the poor which this fosters.
  7. As we discover that in the Cosmos consumption exists within a framework of sustainability we will include ecological concerns, including climate change, in our liturgy. As a consequence we will commit ourselves to actions which will help to avoid an ecological apocalypse. We will grow to accept that the Cosmos is dynamic, interactive and to some extent unpredictable and alive.
  8. We will accept that human beings are by far the greatest predators on the face of the Earth and that the unbridled explosion of the human population accelerates the extinction of an increasing number of other members of the ecosystem and will if unchecked lead to disastrous consequences for human beings.
  9. We will abandon the concept of the universe as a totally predictable machine consisting only of matter which we can see and will accept that 96 percent of the known universe consists of invisible energy and invisible matter.
  10. We will acknowledge that our being extends beyond the limits of our physical body in the form of a field of energy which can be described as spirit. We will change our prayers from requesting divine intervention to exploring ways in which we can use our powers to facilitate a positive and healing outcome of our interweaving with all the activities of the varied elements of Earth’s ecosystem.
  11. Instead of thinking in terms of the Holy Spirit descending upon us    we will accept that Spirit arises from within us. Consequently we will seek to be in touch with an internal source of empowerment rather than with an external saviour.
  12. We will seek to eliminate dualistic language from our worship since the Cosmos is not dualistic i.e. it does not consist of a series of incompatible opposites each in their own box but of continuums with the extremes at either end.
  13. In conclusion let me quote Ó Murchu who in his book “Reclaiming Spirituality”, page 183, (iii) says “we need new ways of befriending, supporting and enlightening each other in this new exploration and, in due course, we’ll need new rituals to acknowledge, negotiate and celebrate the Spiritual Revolution that is waiting to erupt onto the world stage. Its eruption will be a timely event – not without its chaos and confusion – and blessed are those who are open to receive it. It may well prove to be the greatest surprise of the 21st century.”

 

References

  1. “The death of the mythic God” by Jim Marion, Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.
  2. “Integral Spirituality” by Ken Wilber, Integral Books, An imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc.
  3. “Reclaiming Spirituality” by Diarmuid Ó Murchu’, The Crossroad Publishing Company.

 

 

THE ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE

(A Theological and Philosophical Reflection)

Since according to the Big Bang hypothesis both time and space arose with the Big Bang and did not precede it, it is reasonable to assume that what existed prior to the Big Bang was an undifferentiated wholeness. This is what I have described as follows on page 2 of “Sacred Energy / Mass of the Universe” on this web site.

“In the beginning was the mystery,
the oneness, the emptiness,
the nothingness.”

Nothingness can be used as a term of negation but in its positive sense it describes that which lies both within and beyond the dimension of things. It is not a matter of two worlds, but rather of two dimensions of the one reality and an assertion that unity underlies diversity. In this sense theists can affirm that this oneness is God and that out of this oneness arises all the multiple examples of creativity. The term undifferentiated wholeness is one way of describing the experience of mystics who like Meister Eckhart claim that there is no two-ness in God. So, mystics may well be experiencing what the Bing Bang arose out of and what still underlies all of reality.

 

FOCUS FOR ACTION

USING HYMNS TO RELATE TO THE COSMOS

Now I would like to share with you some attempts that I have made in my hymn writing to help people move from belief in a Mythic God to God as the Evolutionary Force within the whole Cosmos.

  1. To see that behind all the images of God there is the imageless mystery. See: “What image shall I use?”(Singing The Sacred Vol 2) especially verse 6 “Beyond the image God the formless silence dwells”.
  2. To have a faith that goes beyond the boundaries of the rational mind. See: (a) “Behind the world of images” (BL) especially verse 2 “Beyond conception’s narrow paths in nothing God exists” (b) “God wake us from illusion” (BL) (c) “I am greater than my thinking” (BL).
  3. To trust the processes of life, to accept that death is part of the process and that everything that dies is reborn again as part of some new whole. See: verse 5 of “Come join the Cosmic family” (STS1) “When death is viewed as mystery’s care love conquers every strangest fear”
  4. To think of God and of human beings in both male and female terms. See: (1) “Within Christ’s complex heart and mind” (BL) especially verse 5 “God help us all, with child-like joy, affirm our strength and tenderness, that male and female in our hearts may join as one with graciousness” (2) “What image shall I use” (STS2) especially verse 1 “What image shall I use to give a face to God? A mother with a tiny child? A king with fiery sword?”
  5. To believe that the world is sacred and not evil. See: (1) “All things of Earth” (BL) especially “All things of Earth are holy, all things are one in You” and (2) “When the Temple veil” (STS1)
  6. To accept and delight in the sacredness of our own flesh. See: “As flesh reveals a path” (BL) especially verse 2 “When body is our friend and not our foe, When sex unfolds a world of reverence and of joy”.
  7. To discover that of God within. See: “Deep within me, is my I am” (The Mystery Telling NZ METH) and (SE/MU) especially verse 1 “Deep within me is my ‘I AM’ my true self, ‘that of God’.”
  8. To see Christ as an empowerer, rather than as a saviour. See: “No-one takes my life away” (TMT NZ METH) especially verse 2 “With Bethesda’s crippled man we can shed our victim role, use our power and not demand someone else should make us whole.”
  9. To see Christ as only one of the manifestations of God. In the doctrine of the Trinity, God is discerned in three processes: God the Creator – the creative process, God as a Human Being (Jesus) – the incarnating and empowering process, God as Spirit – the life-force throughout the whole of this Cosmos. See: (1) “God the one forever making” (BL) especially verse 5 “You are God forever dreaming, You are spirit in each part, You are Christ the Sacred Presence found within each human heart”, (2) “O Threefold God” (BL NZ METH), and (3) “God the sacred cosmic life-blood” (STS1).
  10. To move from an exclusive emphasis on Jesus to more emphasis on Spirit, not just the Spirit of the Kingdom, but the Spirit of the whole of Creativity. See: “Spirit felt in raging waters” (STS2) especially verse 4 “Spirit holding all together, Spirit giving each its role, Spirit binding and repelling, Spirit of each part and whole”.
  11. To help people accept that the processes of the Universe take precedence over the needs of human beings. These processes can be understood in terms of gravitational theory and thermodynamics. Our wants and needs as human beings need to take account of these processes. See: (1) “We need a cross to sign the truth” (BL) especially verse 3 “ For God is earthquake, God is fire, as well as peace and light”. and (2) “When Earth wakes from out of sleep” (STS2).
  12. To help people trace the evolution of compassion (the highest form of human love) from the attraction of atoms. See: “We sing of human loving’s starting point”. (BL) especially verse 1 “We sing of human loving’s starting point emerging from the Cosmos at its birth. Repulsion and attraction both were there yet from the latter love evolved on Earth”.
  13. To help people expand the Christian images rather than contract them into a solely cerebral remnant.
    1. Expand the birth of Jesus to include all births. See: (1) “God is present in each baby” (BL) especially verse 1”God is present in each baby and throughout all time and space” (2) “Carol my heart.” (STS1), (3) “Celebrate at Christmas time” (BL) and (4) “Within the eyes of every child” (BLNZ METH).
    2. Expand the image of Christ’s death and resurrection to include that process throughout the whole Cosmos. See: “This world is full of death and resurrection” (BL NZ METH) especially verse 1 “From winter’s depth new powers of life will surge; when atoms smash trapped energies emerge”.
    3. Expand and internalize the Pentecost experience. See: “On the day of Pentecost” (STS1) especially verse 3 “All our fire comes first from God; We can use it as we may…….Pentecost within my heart burn my hatred and my greed”.
  14. To help people view all of the members of the eco-system as our brothers and sisters. See: “Come join the Cosmic family” (STS1) especially verse 3 “O Sister Water, pure and clear make music for your God to hear. Dear Brother Fire, both strong and bright, whose dancing gives us warmth and light”.
  15. To help people see the eco-system as primarily co-operative rather than competitive. See: “Charge our hearts with wonder” (BL) especially verse 4 “There is one communion binding life on Earth; sacramental eating nurtures us from birth. Other lives are given to fulfil our need as the sacred food chain lets each death bear seed”.
  16. To help them view their story within the Story of the Cosmos. See: (1) “The story” text from (SE/MU) especially when the Universe says “if you desire to be at one with me, O human being, you must first listen to my story, for my story is your story” and (2) “Let the whole of the Cosmos” (STS2).
  17. To grow beyond the dualism of evil and goodness, to discover the essential nature of forgiveness and that we do not have to earn forgiveness but need to forgive in order to be open to receiving forgiveness. See: (1) “Christ Jesus praying from the cross” (STS2) especially the following “ Christ Jesus praying from the cross implored ‘forgive them for they know not what they do’…….May we despite the blows discern, like Christ, that tyrants’ hearts are fearful and confused and sharing all their pain find sacred grace for healing both abusers and abused” (2) the section on “Forgiveness” (SE/MU) especially “Forgiveness is our most precious gift, the most Christ-like blessing we can share” and (3) “Repaying force” (BL)
  18. To see that as we think, so we are. See: “As we give we shall receive” (STS1) especially “all our cells respond to thought; when we hate our health shall ebb”.
  19. To live in the moment. See: “Live like Jesus in the moment” (STS1) especially verse 1 “Live like Jesus in the moment, …….grasp the moment……..grasp each moment God prepares”
  20. To live with semi-permeable membranes around their beliefs. See: (1) “God wake us from illusion” (BL) especially “ Events that seem quite box-like, all separate and confined, transform into a oneness in each enlightened mind”. (2)The logo note at the end of each section in ‘Celebrating Mystery’ (of which this is a part) “At the heart of the mystery all the separate boxes disappear and all is one, all is love”.
  21. To discover new ideas about prayer. See:(1) “Between our thoughts”.(TMT NZ METH) especially verse 1 “Between our thoughts there lives a space where paradise can dwell; beyond our ever turning mind, beyond our strangest hell”. (2) The section “Prayer” in (SE/MU), and (3) “When we have moved” (BL).
  22. To develop new liturgies which are not human centred but attempt to display a new earthed humility. See:
  • “Sacred Energy / Mass of the Universe” (on this website) and
    especially the following sections Forgiveness/Prayer/Letting Go/Thanksgiving/Fraction and Pouring and the hymns “To God the process” and “In the Letting Go”.
  • The “Experimental Cosmic Celebration” in this collection “Celebrating Mystery” under “Eucharistic Resources.”

 

MEANING OF CODES

BL NZ METH = www.methodist.org.nz/resources/hymns/boundlesslife

TMT NZ METH = http://www.methodist.org.nz/resources/hymns/the_mystery_telling

STS1 & STS2 = Singing the Sacred Vol 1 2011, Vol 2 2014 World Library Publications

SE / MU = Sacred Energy / Mass of the Universe on this website

 

Celebrating Mystery Logo

LOGO NOTE: At the heart of the mystery all the separate boxes disappear and all is one, all is love.

Text and graphic © William Livingstone Wallace but available for free use.

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