We have been honoring the life and work of the late Native American elder Rod McAfee who, with his wife Linda, devoted their lives to prayer and ceremonies that healed thousands of people around the world. Linda writes in her book, The Power of Ceremony, how she first was drawn to ceremony living among the Navajo nation early in the 70’s.
I naturally gravitated to the elders, who laughed at my awkward attempts to speak their language, and to the children, who loved my horse and guitar. I attended chapter meetings, learned about their clan system, and went to ‘squaw dances.’ Eventually the elders invited me into the ceremonial life.
Ceremonies healed her.
By participating in these ceremonies, I began a healing process of my own—a healing not only from my own childhood traumas of incest and neglect, but also from the religious and educational abuses of my culture.*
Notice what deep traumas were healed by ceremony!
Previous DMs have stressed the relationship between the human psyche and the cosmos—a relationship seriously ruptured when a culture becomes human-centered, narcissistic, anthropocentric. How can there be healing without inviting the cosmos back to our awareness and consciousness and souls? That is the primary work of authentic ceremony, ritual or liturgy.
Thomas Berry puts it this way:
In relation to the earth, we have been autistic for centuries. Only now have we begun to listen with some attention and with a willingness to respond to the earth’s demands that we cease our industrial assault, that we “abandon our inner rage against the conditions of our earthly existence, that we renew our human participation in the grand liturgy of the universe.
What a marvelous phrase Berry has created! Renew our human participation in the grand liturgy of the universe.
The universe offers the ultimate ceremony, liturgy or ritual. It beckons us to get on board. “Us” includes all peoples, all religions, all political parties, all schools and universities, all lawyers, judges, policemen and women, all athletes, atheists, nations, all races and ethnic groups.
Come on board to celebrate with the universe its own amazing ceremonies—of solstice and equinoxes, of life, death and resurrection of stars and galaxies and supernovas, of the earth twirling and birthing rivers, oceans, lakes, fishes, animals, plants, trees, forests.
Berry tells us the only way out of the dead-end we find ourselves in is to listen to earth’s pain and to call on our “prerational, our instinctive, resources.” We must each call up the mystic in ourselves. We have to move beyond culture as we know it, civilization as we know it.
None of our existing cultures can deal with this situation out of its own resources. We must invent, or reinvent, a sustainable human culture by a descent into our prerational, our instinctive, resources. Our cultural resources have lost their integrity. They cannot be trusted.
*Linda Neale, The Power of Ceremony: Restoring the Sacred in Our Selves, Our Families, Our Communities, pp. 9f.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, p. 363.
Banner Image: “The brilliant tapestry of young stars flaring to life resemble a glittering fireworks display in the 25th anniversary NASA Hubble Space Telescope image.” Photo by NASA
How have ceremonies healed you? Do you agree that our cultural resource have lost their integrity and cannot be trusted? What follows from that? What fresh responsibilities are we called to undertake?
14 thoughts on “Ceremony, Earth Day and the “Grand Liturgy of the Universe””
Outstanding meditation Matt! It seems to me our cultural DNA isn,t enough , our natural or universal DNA is longing to participate in the liturgy of the universe.
Your writing resonates deeply with me but I feel utterly unable to think how I can make a better contribution to healing our earth . I do believe in the power of One but the problems facing all of creation feel overwhelming.
Alice, Thank you for your comments. I think that here, on another occasion–within weeks. I will be posting other things related to angels! Matthew teachings way he is doing good, leaving in obedience for our convince an books by Matthew would have said it out loud, then they can take in another’s wage as a servant
Well, think about this for a while today !!!
For me, receiving and sharing spirit through creating new improvised music has been a joyful way of moving within the pre-rational. I can feel the cosmos flowing through me and me with it during these meditative states. No words or rational thinking. In those moments I no longer feel separate but together/with. It seems that if we adult human beings allow ourselves to “get lost” in the flow of the cosmos more frequently and simply Be with the Earth that kind of wisdom gets shared into our souls. That’s a kind of knowing I trust.
Thank you Matthew and Team for these enriching daily meditations
I love how music allows us to get into a meditative state–a place without words or rational thinking. Playing music as loud as I like, so that it enters my soul, while I drive alone is one of the avenues through which I find healing.
Michele, I agree that music can put us in a meditative place–among other things I am a singer song writer. The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” And the Psalmist wrote to everyone who would hear: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord!” May God bless you…
Please know that I am a big fan! However, I do wish you had not included the Thomas Berry quote with it’s insensitive use of the term “autistic”. We all know, or ought to know, that many persons diagnosed with autism have been leaders with regard to realigning ourselves into a more wholesome, sustaining, and spiritual relationship with all that surrounds us. Greta Thunberg and Dr. Temple Grandin are just two who come to mind.
Agreed! The meditation would do well to simply drop that line, which reflects an older, unhelpful understanding of autism. We’re now moving toward a model of neurodiversity that honors people with various cognitive styles without pathologizing them.
I often share posts to our church Facebook page, and I love this one except for this problematic line. Hoping it will be edited so I can share later 🙂
Webster’s dictionary at the time Berry wrote this defines “autism” this way: “absorption in self-centered , subjective mental activity (as day dreams, fantasies, delusions, and hallucinations) esp. when accompanied by marked withdrawal from reality.” That is the only definition the dictionary offers. One can see why Berry chose the word. And I do not want to censor Berry. Having been silenced by the Vatican, I know the pain of censorship.
This word is clearly not about a clinical diagnosis. It is a generic term in our language used long before today’s medical diagnoses. It is still a word in the English language. The diagnoses, as we all know from special people in our own lives or even public individuals like Greta Thurnberg, do not define the limits of the person at all.
The word is still extant in our language in spite of medicine and has been applied long before medicine.
The word “autism” is now a primary identifier for a growing community of non-neurotypical children and adults who see themselves as beloved and valuable exactly as they are. It’s a word that people are organizing behind for justice for folks who are cognitively different, much the same way as “queer” is a formerly negative term that is now a primary identifier for people who are sexual minorities.
Language changes, as we all know. But it’s a shame to see the word used negatively, to mean disconnected, without some kind of commentary on how the meaning of that word has changed. I doubt Berry had any kind of intention to denigrate people with autism. Yet when quoted without context, in 2021, that is the potential effect.
I should also add that Greta Thunberg, one of our most inspiring young climate activists, has a form of autism. She says about that:
“I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, OCD and selective mutism. That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.”
— Greta Thunberg, Stockholm, November 2018
Many of the young people who are involved in progressive activism right now identify as autistic. Neurodiversity is an important justice issue for Gen Z.
Allen, your quotation is a beautiful him in terms of our ownership of our things–though Native Americans follow the moon rather than a sun shot. We have a suggestion box if you would like to stimulant check our musical tastes. I’m just sayin’… box. You speak of Autism–my wife was a Behavioral Specialist in a class with autistic kids. That work is exhausting rather than just good.
We must understand that “ceremony” even within community is a deeply personal ritual practice. }:- a.m.
Hoofnote: Not to be mistaken in performance driven worship and religious consumerism.