If Thomas Berry is correct, that our species is in need of more shamans, let us take a harder look at what he is saying. If we need “fewer priests and professors and more shamans,” then organized religion and education as we know them are in need of a deep fix. Today’s academia needs a deep fix. Young people who in a previous era might have felt called to be monks, friars, clergy, nuns, sisters, ministers or academicians might be of greater use to others by developing their shamanhood.
Berry proposes that a primary characteristic of shamanhood is to function “in a less personal relationship with the divine.” I have maintained for some time that Western religion can and has overpersonalized the Divine, even “psychologized it.”
The East, on the other hand, has often depersonalized the Divine. There is a middle way where we can draw from the strengths of East meeting West. (Father Bede Griffiths developed this idea as we shall see in subsequent DMs.)
Another characteristic of shamanhood according to Berry, is that the shaman “is more cosmological, more primordial, personally more inventive in the source of his insight and his power.” This translates first into the following action: That we truly pray the new cosmology. Ingest it via lectio divina. Aquinas says “revelation comes in two volumes—nature and the Scriptures.”
We need to spend more time praying and contemplating the awe and wonder, reverence and gratitude, that flows from the new creation story of our 13.8 billion year voyage as earth, as supernova, as galaxy, as atoms, as fireball that ultimately birthed us human beings. That would satisfy the first layer of shamanhood that Berry is speaking to: “more cosmological.”
The second layer is “more primordial.” Let us get down to the basics–to being (that is always a becoming, for being never stands still). Being over having. Being comes first. Being is raw. It “is what it is” as we like to say in today’s parlance. It is relationship and relations, a verb, in its own way, and everything else depends on it.
The mystics know this. Eckhart: “the essence of everything is relation.” Lakota teaching: “all our relations.” (Which can mean “all our beings.”) Eckhart: “every being is a word of God and a book [i.e. Bible] about God.” And “isness is God.”
What is our response to being? To answer that question, it often helps to meditate on non-being. Take an empty chair and put into it all your brothers and sisters that were never born and never will be born. (hint: There are a lot of them!). Meditate on that empty chair. Why are you here and they are not? When you can stare at that question long enough, you are unpacking the “more primordial.”
Learn to meditate on nothingness. Let nothingness teach you.
Mystics understand God as “the ground of being.” (Indeed, that is Thich Naht Hanh’s favorite name for the divine.) Can we touch the “ground of being?” Is that part of the shaman’s quest? To be continued
See Matthew Fox, Passion For Creation: Meister Eckhart’s Earth-Honoring Spirituality, pp. 57-64, 198, 218-225, 245-250.
Banner Image: Drumming to the sunrise, Piestwa Peak, Phoenix, AZ. Photo by Alfred Guzman on Unsplash
Have you tasted being and non-being, ecstasy and nothingness? The cosmic and the primordial? What transpires from these happenings in you and your work?