The Cosmic Mass and the Renewal of Ritual

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We continue our meditations on Ritual and Ceremony…

Of the six principles I laid out in yesterday’s DM, for reawakening ritual, one is participation.  Another term for participation might be what is called “observer-created reality.”  Leonard Shlain proposes such participation or observer-created-reality as a healthy counterpoint to modern consciousness. 

Orchestra in performance at “Bulgaria” Hall, Sofia, Bulgaria. Photo by Manuel Nägeli on Unsplash

For example, he describes how classical music listeners seating in neat rows resemble the “repetitive lines of type on a printing press.”  It follows that

…the rules of etiquette increasingly demanded that audience members of a musical concert sit passively and not tap their feet, sing, move, or even cough.

This relates to understanding rituals and church liturgies also where churches, the classic “citadels of ritual,” often bore people.  Ritual is nothing if it is not participatory, as were the ancient rituals of the primal peoples.  Including the body guarantees participation.  No one can dance vicariously.

Participants in ecstatic dance at a Cosmic Mass.

Shlain believes new technology displaces sitting passively to hear music.  Now

music lovers can recreate more music as their whim than all the orchestras that existed in the nineteenth century put together….Now the audience can actively participate in the phenomenon of music which, of course, is identical to the core principle found in the world of the atom: observer-created reality. 

Ritual is nothing if it not participatory art, as it was among ancient tribes.

A flyer from a Cosmic Mass titled “Angels Among Us.”

As for the Cosmic Mass, each one incorporates the six principles I laid down in yesterday’s DM discussion with Adam Bucko.  Each of the Masses has a specifically chosen theme.  For example, at the World Parliament of Religions held in Toronto a few years ago, our theme was “Our Sacred Earth.”  About 500 people attended and from all traditions including several Buddhist monks in their robes.  The response was very dynamic and positive.  One person told me it was “the most powerful religious experience of her life.”

We choose themes that are universal, archetypal, and that appeal to the spiritual needs of all human beings today.  One Mass themed “Mass of the Angels” held at a big hotel in San Francisco during an Earth/Body conference, had 1,300 people in attendance. 

Afterward, three young men in their late teens came up, and one of them said, “I’ve been going to raves every weekend for five years.  What I look for in raves, I found here tonight.  I look for deep prayer, I look for community, and what you had here tonight that we don’t have in rave is you had multiple generations.  In rave it’s one generation.”  He added, “this is what I’ve been looking for.” 

Cosmic Mass: Reinventing Worship / “where rave meets sacrament and the priest is the posse.” A Marco Mascarin Documentary (c) 2005. Uploaded to Vimeo by Blake Tedder.

Imagine five years of raves–that’s 250 raves–but he found something in that Mass that he’d been looking for all that time.  And he was able to find it without drugs.

After a Cosmic Mass we celebrated at an Agape annual gathering in a large hotel in Los Angeles a number of years ago, a young African American man came up to me, about 26 years old, and said: “This would be worth committing one’s life to.”

See Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox, Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation, pp. 139f. 

Adapted also from Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work, p. 261.

Banner Image: Matthew Fox joins with ministers across traditions in celebrating the Eucharist at a Cosmic Mass.

Correction: the final photo in the 11/13 DM, incorrectly identified as Rev. Dr. Gail Ransom, depicted Ellen Kennedy and Rev. Jean Ando leading body prayer at a Matthew Fox /Susan Coppage Evans retreat On Via Positiva in the basement labyrinth of a church in Boulder CO. Ellen Kennedy is wearing cuffed jeans. Our apologies.

Does this discussion on rituals support your own efforts at moving beyond a modern consciousness to a post-modern (and therefore pre-modern) one? 

Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation

Authors Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox encourage us to use our talents in service of compassion and justice and to move beyond our broken systems–economic, political, educational, and religious–discovering a spirituality that not only helps us to get along, but also encourages us to reevaluate our traditions, transforming them and in the process building a more sacred and just world. Incorporating the words of young activist leaders culled from interviews and surveys, the book provides a framework that is deliberately interfaith and speaks to our profound yearning for a life with spiritual purpose and for a better world.
Occupy Spirituality is a powerful, inspiring, and vital call to embodied awareness and enlightened actions.”
~~ Julia Butterfly Hill, environmental activist and author of The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods

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.

Upcoming Events

Mirabai Starr and Matthew Fox teach a 7-week course: Julian of Norwich: A Bold Gentle Visionary on Living in a Time of Pandemic. Beginning Wednesday, December 2, 2020 and running through January. On The Shift Network, Wednesdays at 8pm ET and 5pm PT (GMT/UTC-8). Registration is open until December 15: enroll HERE.

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4 thoughts on “The Cosmic Mass and the Renewal of Ritual”

  1. Avatar

    I totally agree. Ritual without sacrifice is a sin. In our modern world we all have daily rituals we do without maybe asking to what is this serving?who is this serving? what is the sacrifice? Do the people benefit?Does nature benefit? Does the universe benefit? Is there Compassion in this!
    The ritual of buying, consuming, the ritual of surfing the net, the ritual of checking our mobile phones as soon as we wake up and before we go to bed, the ritual of checking our facebook,instagram and twitter status. I feel this things aren,t wrong in their own place but the danger is we can get disconnected so easily here- to use a facebook status we are NOT ACTIVE..
    However the good news is that real ritual is ACTIVE – it awakens , it connects,it celebrates,it grieves,it creates, it transforms,it brings justice,compassion,it is inclusive,it brings joy. With real ritual ” All is Well” ( thats our joy and woe) . Maybe we should have a social media button thatsays RITUALLY ACTIVE ?

  2. Avatar

    As I pondered today’s Daily Meditation, I was appalled by the choice of Leonard Shlain’s quote about the experience of attending a concert of classical music. It is, in my opinion, a negative and exceedingly poor analogy for today’s reflection. I never feel bored when I drink in and absorb the beauty of a classical music performance. I have lots of opportunity to clap my appreciation and joy and at times give standing ovations. I can also shout out my appreciation and beg for an encore.
    Classical music has fed my soul and encouraged me to work for good and spread happiness and beauty to all I play for. Joan Doyle

  3. Avatar

    I see ‘both and’. There is a mystical sense in a group of people listening to music, or watching dance in total silence, a meditative experience, a prayerful experience, an ecstatic experience. AND there is also joy and ecstasy in the movement of dance, of shared singing and whooping, of entering into an experience wholly. There is space for both in our journey. Sometimes we need to step back and join the angels. Sometimes we need to step forward and join the angels. Both have the possibilities of true communion. Jorie Ryan

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