Rabbi Heschel & Thomas Berry on Ceremony, Celebration, Ritual

All wisdom traditions, all religions, hold up special days and special practices for celebration.  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a classic, but modestly sized, book on The Sabbath.  In it he teaches this:

The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath.  It is not an interlude but the climax of living.

Lighting the Sabbath candles, 2016. Photo by Jimmy Baikovicius on Flickr.

Ritual, ceremony, liturgy, Sabbath as a “climax of living.”  What a powerful promise–what a statement of hope.  Is that true of all cultures and all religions?   Are they offering us a “climax of living” on a regular basis?  One hopes so, for humans need hope and need big visions, need to feel that heaven and earth, cosmos and psyche, can unite on a regular basis.  This union gives us vision; energy; and purpose.  Meaning abounds when we can unite psyche and cosmos.

Thomas Berry likes to talk about the “liturgy of the cosmos,” how the work of evolution and of the cosmos itself deserves to be understood as a liturgy.  “The universe is the primary sacred reality,” he says, and we recover the sacred and “become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.” 

Learning to take up our responsibilities in creation: footage from a Cosmic Mass held in Oakland, 2014. From TheCosmicMass.oom

Indeed, we undergo a kind of “grandeur in our view of the universe and our human role in it that is so overwhelming” when we take in the deep reality of evolutionary unfolding. 

We can learn to “accept the universe itself as the primordial sacred community, the macrophase of every religious tradition, the context in which the divine reality is revealed to itself” in the universe.

Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry anticipate that the new creation story “will soon be finding expression…in poetry, music, and ritual throughout the entire range of modern culture, on a universal scale” and that this can unite humankind.

Teaching the children to find delight in Shabat Shalom: Uploaded to YouTube by Nathan Joiner.

In many ways such a vision finds itself underscored by Heschel’s understanding of Sabbath.  Says Heschel:

Call the sabbath a delight:  a delight to the soul and a delight to the body…To sanctify the seventh day does not mean: Thou shalt mortify thyself, but, on the contrary: Thou shalt sanctify it with all thy heart, with all thy soul and all thy senses.

The day set aside weekly as a day of Thanks and Gratitude for existence, is called “a delight.”  It calls for a full and generous heart, soul, and sense response.  Thanksgiving is like that, one is either thankful or grateful or not yet in the game. 

“The Heart Nebula.” Photo by Aldebaran S on Unsplash

Berry teaches the same lesson from the sacramental universe when he declares that “In the end the universe can only be explained in terms of celebration.  It is all an exuberant expression of existence itself.”  Here we find the roots for human celebrations, ceremonies, rituals and liturgies: That the universe itself is busy celebrating; of course we humans are welcome to participate.  It is, as Heschel promises, a “delight” to do so.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work, pp. 255f. 

And from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, pp. 361f., 365.

Banner Image: “Dyptik Company – France Dans L’engrenage. They perform in Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival – Sareyyet Ramallah/Palestine.” Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

Ceremony as a “climax of living.”  Has that been your experience also?  What follows from Berry’s teaching that “In the end the universe can only be explained in terms of celebration.  It is all an exuberant expression of existence itself”?  Does that up the ante on preserving the earth as healthy?

Natural Grace: Dialogues on Creation, Darkness, and the Soul in Spirituality and Science 
by Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake

Natural Grace, a 208 page inspired dialogue between theologian Matthew Fox and scientist Rupert Sheldrake, unites wisdom and knowledge from unconventional angles. Considering themselves heretics in their own fields, Matthew and Rupert engage the conversation from postmodern and post-postmodern perspectives, deconstructing both religion and science—while setting the foundation for a new emerging worldview. Having outgrown the paradigms in which they were raised, both Fox and Sheldrake see it as part of their life missions to share the natural synthesis of spirituality and science rooted in a paradigm of evolutionary cosmology.

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6 thoughts on “Rabbi Heschel & Thomas Berry on Ceremony, Celebration, Ritual”

  1. Avatar

    So beautiful and blissful! Great wisdom! And so wonderful video form the Cosmic mass and the picture of the Universe. Thank You! God / Life bless you all!

  2. Avatar

    Oh Matt!
    This is simply wonderful! For obvious reasons hearing this resonates and affirms my own work on the film”connect” so much! I,ve literally just woken up in the U.K. and read this and its kickstarted my day!my eyes aren,t quite open yet but my heart and soul are flying through the universe already!! Thank you. Mort p.s I sent Dennis and Skylar the link to the film.would love your feedback.

      1. Avatar

        Hi Michele I,d be more than happy to share the link to you( but don,t wish to tread on anyones toes so to speak or go against the etiquete of the forum)
        my email is steviemort@virginmedia.com if a) this is appropriate to share on here( please delete if not) and b)you wish to correspond further

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