When we think of ceremony or ritual or liturgy, we often think of worship leaders whom we may call priests or ministers, rabbis or imams. Thomas Berry says bluntly that in our time we need fewer priests and fewer professors and more shamans. (Maybe this explains the demise of so many seminaries in our time.) We need more intuition, not less. He writes:
In moments of confusion such as the present, we are not left simply to our own rational contrivances. We are supported by the ultimate powers of the universe as they make themselves present to us through the spontaneities within our own beings. We need only become sensitized to these spontaneities, not with a naive simplicity, but with critical appreciation. Where do we find this attunement and critical appreciation?
This intimacy with our genetic endowment, and through this endowment with the larger cosmic process, is not primarily the role of the philosopher, priest, prophet or professor. It is the role of the shamanic personality, a type that is emerging once again in our society.
Given the depths of the confusion in our minds and institutions at this time of history, Berry counsels us that rationality will not carry the day. Rather, we should open up to and look to “the ultimate powers of the universe.” How do we do this? These powers will reveal themselves “through the spontaneities within our own beings.” Revelations come less through logic than by our being sensitive, open, and aware. This is what shamans do, and shamanism is undergoing a return in our world.
The late Catholic monk Thomas Merton called fifty years ago for a complete overhaul of the priesthood and its meaning. Here was his candid assessment:
I think the whole thing needs to be changed; the whole idea of the priesthood needs to be changed. I think we need to develop a whole new style of priesthood in which there is no need for one hierarchical person to have a big central place, a form of worship in which everyone is involved.
Indeed, our cosmic masses are worship in which “everyone is involved.” There, “the posse is the priest” and everyone, by the energy they put into their dancing and prayer and meditation of the visuals offered, is a “midwife of Grace” (my definition of the archetypal meaning of priesthood). A Cosmic Mass is not about one ordained person but about the community at work, “the work of the people” (which is the etymological meaning of the word liturgy). DJ’s, Vj’s, rappers, lead along with other ritual leaders.
Such kind of leadership is found in indigenous ceremony as well. Ceremony is “not a democracy” as Linda Neale reminds us, and it does have leaders who know the tradition. But it is also radically inclusive and participatory. No one sits out the dancing and praying, all give what they can give. It is all a giveaway after all. It is all without a why as Eckhart would say.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, p. 362; and Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 84f.
Banner Image: A poet/activist recites during a Cosmic Mass on racial justice. Photo by Katy Gaughan, Washington National Cathedral.
Do you agree with Merton’s assessment that the form of worship needs to evolve so that all can be participants? How do you see that happening? Does the Cosmic Mass appear to be such a format that encourages full participation?
A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey
In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism