Ceremony and its Power, continued

Ceremony is, among other things, an occasion for our collective gratitude, a collective Via Positiva.  It is utterly primal and primary.  As Rabbi Heschel says, “praise precedes faith.” 

Worshippers dancing in a Cosmic Mass.

If humanity is to wake up and resurrect before it is too late, we need to learn to praise—including honoring the wonderfully diverse ways of praise formulated in rituals, liturgies and ceremonies around the world.  And to learn how basic and foundational ceremony is to our collective existence and survival.  Healthy ceremony heals.

The Christian word “eucharist” names collective praise and derives from the Greek word for thank you.

Participants in a Cosmic Mass send love to images of our suffering planet.

Ceremony is about connecting to all our relations, all of whom are sacred.  Now that post-modern physics is declaring that the depth of every being is about relation, our yearning for ritual or ceremony is heating up.  Many efforts at ritual developed in the modern era are running out of steam.  People are hungry for ceremony today. 

That is the principle reason I became an Episcopalian some 26 years ago—to work with young people to create forms of worship that included the body and dance and post-modern art forms such as DJ, VJ, rap and other creations of the rave culture (minus the drugs) to render ritual or liturgy alive again.  (The Roman Catholic church had no interest in creativity in ritual at the time—they censored Bishop Casigalida in Brazil for supporting an African-based version of the Mass among other things.) 

A Cosmic Mass in Canada celebrated the Earth Spirit Connection.

Our “Cosmic Masses” (TCM) delivered on the promise to bring vitality to liturgy.  Responses to them and healings occurring during them have exceeded expectations.  About 500 people participated at our TCM at the most recent World Parliament gathering in Toronto two years ago, including Buddhist monks in orange robes and many others.  One forty-something woman said to me afterwards, “this was the most powerful religious experience of my life.” 

An atheist who attended our TCM for 1000 people at a Sounds True retreat in Colorado said to me afterwards, pointing at her heart, “something happened to me during the grieving practice.  Something so shifted in me from my being a radical atheist that by the time communion came along I had to have some.  This night has changed my life.”  A man in his fifties who was CEO of a Silicon Valley company, said: “This is the first time I have understood the Mass or experienced its power” (and spontaneously pulled out a check book to support our work).

A couple deep in prayer during a Cosmic Mass.

A drug counselor working with teenagers brought twelve clients in a van to a TCM we celebrated in Oakland.  While driving home after the Mass, they said to her, “this is the first time in our lives we’ve gotten high without drugs.”

That is what good ceremony does: It gets participants high.  Call it transcendence; call it mysticism; transformation; oneing; resurrection.  Ceremony or ritual is integral to our humanity, our being human.  In it we can rejoice together, grieve together, come together, let go and become empowered for good work in the world.

See Matthew Fox, “The Cosmic Mass,” in Confessions: The Making of a Postdenominational Priest, (Berkeley, Ca. North Atlantic Books, 2018), pp. 363-383. 

Learn more about the Cosmic Mass at TheCosmicMass.com.

Banner Image: Matthew Fox and three concelebrants of African and Indigenous traditions celebrate the Eucharist at a Cosmic Mass at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Meditate on ceremonies or liturgies you participated in that got you high and where you tasted transcendence.  What elements were common to all of those (if any)?

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10 thoughts on “Ceremony and its Power, continued”

  1. Avatar

    I am deeply grateful for your presence each morning.
    And I look forward, correction, hunger for the time when we can gather again in sacred ceremony.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you for your kind words, Sharon. We too share your feelings of looking forward with anticipation to the time when we can gather again in sacred ceremony !!!

  2. Avatar

    Matthew, thank you for your daily meditations. I do not read all of them, but the ones I do read always are powerful. Some of them I pass on to friends. Today’s strikes a synchronistic chord, so I felt moved to share.
    Every now and then I get the urge to celebrate Shabbat, welcoming in the Shekinah, the feminine presence of the Divine (by the way, I learned a fun new acronym for GOD: Generator of Diversity!), blessing the candles, the bread and the wine. And then, most important of all, endeavoring to do nothing but enjoy God’s creation till sundown the next day.
    One Sierra Club trip a rabbi was one of the participants. On Friday he informed us that he would not participate in Saturday’s activities because he would be observing the Sabbath. I asked him if he would share a Shabbat with us that evening, and explain its meaning to the rest of us.
    What happened was this: he told us it was not about refraining from work; it was about refraining from creation, and being receptive (Shekinah!) to God’s creation. That was stunning, and totally transformed from that moment on the meaning of Shabbat.
    After we held a simple Shabbat service, we were given the “surprise” we were promised: a visit from John Muir himself! (An itinerant impersonator – complete with Scottish accent and full grey beard!) And what did he open with? Talking about honoring the sacredness of the Sabbath!!!
    So thank you for echoing my urge to celebrate through ceremony this evening’s Shabbat!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue-Anne, I too enjoy celebrating the Shabbat–I have done it a number of times during my ministry–and I have taken my young people to various synagogues for this service during Confirmation. And I don’t know about your John Muir, but I think he might have come to our church years ago. I remember a man who was an “itinerant impersonator” of Muir. And it too was like a live performance!

  3. Avatar

    I wish I could’ve experienced a cosmic mass in my lifetime, Matthew. This was not possible, but I often experienced a high while playing the organ during mass, in every convent that I lived in, and directing the choir or singing along.

    Dancing was out of the question, of course, but during a five-week retreat at a House of prayer on the coast of Massachusetts, where nuns from different communities came together to assess and re-evaluate their commitment to the “nun-hood,” every morning we sat and chanted and drummed on our thighs, gazing out at beautiful nature around us, enchanted by a huge spider web, in the corner of the window, glistening and shining in the sun. Our voices gained strength until we reached an apex, and then softened down to a bare whisper, coming to complete stillness and silence. Very slowly, as each one of us came out of enchantment, we processed to the outside to the huge rock where Father Tom celebrated mass, then continued with our daily living.
    It was as spiritually transcendent as it could get in that time and space, and joy and peace was apparent on everyone’s face.
    I can imagine how enlivening dancing would have been! And so , I sing and dance by myself in my lovely little home in S. Portland, ME, and celebrate life by hailing or having a word with everyone I meet on my daily walks throughout the neighborhood. God is
    Good and goodness is part of who I am! Hallelujah!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Hi Vivian, I took a class in putting together Cosmic Masses when I was at Matthew’s school–and creating them was such an amazing thing! I’m sorry that you haven’t been able to attend one, but please continue going for the high that playing the organ during mass gives you. And keep dancing in your home. God bless you, Vivian

  4. Avatar
    William Zeitler

    You might find Leonard Bernstein’s _Mass_ and interesting attempt at deeply reimagining the Mass. Be sure to check out a video because the choreography is as important as the music. I was able to see it live, was skeptical at the outset, but it was indeed profoundly moving.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you for your comment William. We’ll have to check out Leonard Bernstein’s Mass–and I’m glad that it was a profoundly moving experience!

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