Thomas Berry continues his exposition of myself as shaman and sets it in a context of “what it means to be human” and of what he calls the “Great Liturgy of the Universe” and our efforts with the Cosmic Mass to revitalize liturgy.
To preserve the authenticity of what it is to be human in a universe that has from the beginning been made for celebration might be considered the essential message that Matt Fox has been presenting for these past thirty [now fifty] years. To elucidate this message he had identified the major Christian personalities of the past who have articulated this vision in its most brilliant form: Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, the Rhineland mystics and Thomas Aquinas….
Berry believes the loss of the sacredness of the wild occurred at the time of the “great shock” of the Black Death in the 14th century.
A sense of alienation from the natural world was developed at this time. The people had no explanation for what was happening. They knew nothing of germs. They could only figure that the world had grown wicked. God was punishing the world. Confidence in the natural world as the basic mode of divine presence was shaken. A new emphasis was placed on redemption out of the world.
I incorporate these important observations in my recent book on Julian of Norwich who carried the message of “God is the goodness in nature” on throughout the time of the Black Death. An amazing exception to the picture Berry paints!
The incapacity of the settlers to appreciate the importance of wildness can be seen in an event that occurred on a small island of the Alaskan coast where the Wrangell Indians lives. In 1879 John Muir had gone to Alaska from his California home. Where there he was invited by the Indians to be present at a ceremonial dance celebrating the pervasive sacred presence throughout the wilderness area of the continent. The leader went through the hall strewing white downy feathers over the floor as a blessing to everyone present. Then in turn the individual performers appeared dressed in a variety of costumes to make the wild animal forms present to the assembly. One observer tells us that Muir was fascinated because the presentation was so perfect that he felt ‘he was actually watching bear, deer, seal and salmon indoors.’
After the dance came the moment when the Indians gave away all of their costumes explaining that they would never again dance in this manner. They had learned from the missionaries that this manner of celebrating the wild was not the right way. Abandonment of their ceremonials was necessary for their entry into the truly sacred world of the missionaries.
I think of this incident in the late 19th century as a great loss not only for the Indians but also for us, since it reveals how distorted had become the Christian sense of the sacred. I think of Matt Fox in this context as one of those persons in more recent times who seeks to bring back this sense of the Great Cosmic Liturgy that has been sustained over the centuries by the indigenous peoples. While the ‘civilized’ persons of the world have abstracted themselves into staid liturgies that have lost their primordial vitality.”*
*Thomas Berry in Mary Ford Grabowsky, ed., The Unfolding of a Prophet: Matthew Fox at Sixty (Berkeley, CA: 2000), pp. 63f., 67f.
See also: Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 20-44.
And Matthew Fox, “The Cosmic Mass: Reinventing Worship and Religion,” in Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Postdenominational Priest, pp. 363-376.
Do you agree with Berry that something great was lost when missionaries squelched the earth-based ceremonies of indigenous peoples? Can we develop new rituals that bring back our sense of the whole? (Consider the Cosmic Mass as an effort to do that.)
Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond
Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.” –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.