Our Yearning for Ritual Nurture
The Cosmic Mass Returns to the 2018 World Parliament
by Matthew Fox
I have been involved in celebrating Cosmic Masses throughout North America for the last 24 years. We have sponsored more than 100 of them in various cities and have people to lead them around the country. Two years ago, we sponsored a Cosmic Mass (TCM) at the World Parliament of Religions in Salt Lake City. Our most recent Mass was at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., and the theme was “Healing Racism.” We are pleased to be invited to lead a Cosmic Mass at the World Parliament in Toronto this coming November.
The Cosmic Mass is a conscious effort to create post-modern worship where we move from praying from the neck up to praying with all the chakras, particularly the lower ones. We dance more than we sit, and we meditate both in silence and in motion with the help of visuals provided by a VJ and music provided by a DJ and often live musicians as well.
At our TCM during the World Parliament in Salt Lake City, about 400 people squeezed into the space allotted us with hundreds more wanting to get in. Clearly there is a hunger for shared ritual today. Thich Naht Hanh talks of the hunger this way: “Not many people want to become priests in our day, but everyone is hungry. So many people are hungry for spiritual food, there are so many hungry souls.” African spiritual teacher Melidoma Some says that there is no community without ritual – thus our yearning for community and our yearning for ritual nurture and support of one another. The Cosmic Mass process follows the four paths of Creation Spirituality: the Via Positiva (where we dance to images that awaken awe and gratitude and reverence); the Via Negativa (where we enter into a group silence and a group grieving process); the Via Creativa (where bread and wine become sacred cosmic food and drink from the cosmos); and the Via Transformativa (a final “warrior” dance that gears us up to return to the world stronger and more enabled to fight for social transformation).
In an ecumenical era, those of us who come from the Western tradition ought to be digging more deeply into our roots for the beauty and power that are there and retool them for a post-modern mindset and an era of Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism. “Deep Ecumenism” is a word I coined in my book on The Coming of the Cosmic Christ some 30 years ago, and as I explained then, it came to me after learning from Buddhist scholar and environmental activist Joanna Macy about “deep ecology.” Deep Ecology is different from the Ecological movement itself insofar as it puts the ecological struggle in a more spiritual context, taking it deeper than ecology alone, which can so easily stay at the surface, waging political and economic battles without penetrating the psychological and spiritual dimensions of the ecological disaster and social change. Deep Ecology resets the ecological struggle into a Sacred context.
Global Interfaith Ritual
I think the same can be true of the term “interfaith” movement. Sometimes it can just mean reading theological position papers to one another; or signing tried but tired petitions; or listening to one another’s talks. These are not bad things, but in a time of humanitarian and planetary crisis, a time of near apocalyptic happenings occurring on the planet by climate change and more, it is not enough just to talk. We must travel deep into our own souls and into the signs of our times and organize and work for justice together. We must also find forms of worship and meditation we can all engage in together – practices that calm the out of control reptilian brain and arouse our shared moral outrage and teach us to channel it into effective creativity and action.
The TCM is an effort to invite people to worship together by employing global art forms, including drawing from some of the genius of rave culture. I remember a Cosmic Mass we celebrated in the University of Colorado campus ball room in Boulder several years ago, where 1400 people participated. While only 28 years old, our DJ had led raves in Johannesburg, Sydney, Paris, London, Berlin, New York, Los Angles, Tokyo, and then Boulder. The rave movement is global, as is the DJ vocation. Why not invite such post-modern art forms (VJ and rap as well) into worship? That is what we do in our Cosmic Masses.
The TCM is Western in its way (it follows for example the four-path template of the Western Liturgy as spelled out above), but it is ecumenical and interfaith as well. Over the year we have sponsored themes with TCM that were consciously interfaith. For example, following 9/11 we hosted a Cosmic Mass with the theme of Rumi and we invited an Iman to do the 8-minute “teaching” that we usually include. This proved to be very valuable in helping tamper locally the surge in Islamophobia that occurred as a result of 9/11. Not only the Muslim community, but many other community members were grateful for that.
We have sponsored a “Kabbalah” themed Mass to honor the Jewish tradition and a “Celtic Cosmic Mass” to honor people from Celtic lineage. At our Masses people of various backgrounds invariably show up whether Jewish or Buddhist, Indigenous, Hindu, Sufi, goddess, Christian, as well as atheists.
We have celebrated “Black Diaspora” and also “Black Madonna” Masses on several occasions, and honored the depth of experiences of various cultures. At our most recent TCM in Washington, DC, themed “Healing Racism,” many local artists contributed to the teaching and music and dance.
Our Sacred Earth in Toronto
For the World Parliament in November we are proposing “Our Sacred Earth” as the theme of the Cosmic Mass. What, after all is more “ecumenical” and universal than the Earth we all share? What is neither exclusively Christian or Buddhist, Jewish or Muslim, Hindu or Atheist? Just our common home, the sacred Earth. As I wrote in my book on the Cosmic Christ, there is no such thing as a Roman Catholic rainforest, a Buddhist ocean, a Sufi river, a Lutheran sun, a Baptist moon, or an atheist cornfield. Our Mother Earth is home to all and owned by none.
“The Promise of Inclusion, The Power of Love” is the theme of the November conference, and surely Mother Earth is a model of inclusion. Surely our love response to the Earth for mothering us is an opportunity for all to gather in thanks and to activate hope. Love is not meant to be anthropocentric (or “narcissistic,” in Pope Francis’ words) – it includes our love of the Earth, especially at this time of denial by many in power (one thinks of President Trump and the entire Republican Party and much of the media). The horrendous attacks on Earth and therefore future generations not only of humans but of all the species on this planet call us to both contemplation and action.
How can we claim to love others if we exclude healthy soil and air, waters and trees, and the animals with whom we share this endangered planet and with whom we live so interdependently? As Thomas Berry put it in a Forward to Kathleen Deignan’s fine book When the Trees Say Nothing: Thomas Merton Writings on Nature, “An absence of a sense of the sacred is the basic flaw in many of our efforts at ecologically or environmentally adjusting our human presence to the natural world. It has been said, ‘We will not save what do not love.’ It is also true that we will neither love nor save what we do not experience as sacred.” Thus our theme, “Our Sacred Earth.”
The Dali Lama insisted that Westerners should journey more deeply into their own tradition rather than just flee to the East for their spirituality. Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Liturgy of the West as we do in the Cosmic Mass does just that. We are reinventing Western Liturgy in a cosmic, ecological, and interfaith context. Yet we should remind ourselves that a “Mass” is not just a Christian or Roman Catholic thing. Leonard Bernstein, whose centennial we celebrate this year, composed a powerful “Mass” and he was Jewish. Bach, who was Lutheran, wrote a Mass. To reinvent the Mass is fully appropriate.
Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hahn understood the power of Mass when it is set in a cosmic context. In Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, he speaks of Jesus' words at the Last Supper in a cosmic context:
“Take, my friends, this is my flesh, this is my blood”…Can there be any more drastic language in order to wake you up? What could Jesus have said that is better than that?...This piece of bread is the body of the whole cosmos. If Christ is the body of God, which he is, then the bread he offers is also the body of the cosmos. Look deeply and you notice the sunshine in the bread, the blue sky in the bread, the cloud and the great earth in the bread. Can you tell me what is not in a piece of bread? The whole cosmos has come together in order to bring to you this piece of bread. You eat it in such a way that you come alive, truly alive.
Teilhard de Chardin also emphasized the cosmic dimension of worship when he wrote in Hymn of the Universe that the “cosmos itself” and “the entire realm of matter” are affected by the sacredness of the Eucharistic act. Teilhard goes further, relating the act of the Eucharist to the “divinizing of the entire universe.” This language corresponds to the theology of redemption in the Eastern Christian Church where redemption does not mean the saving of the individual soul from hell but, the divinizing of the universe (theosis).
Our chosen theme for this Mass, “Our Sacred Earth,” echoes a new and deeply ecumenical (interfaith) movement happening in our time, namely the launching of the new Order of the Sacred Earth. This Order is a spiritual, not religious, Order, meaning it is not beholden to any one religious headquarters or tradition, but is meant to draw people from all spiritual traditions (and no tradition at all). The one vow is this: “I promise to be the best lover of Earth and the best defender of Earth that I can be.” The co-directors are currently a 28-year-old woman, Jen Listig, and a 33-year-old man, Skylar Wilson. They along with myself and about 15 collaborators have written a book with short essays telling about the Order of the Sacred Earth. Spiritual practice including group worship is part of the vision along with action and intergenerational wisdom.
There is much to celebrate and much to learn from a Cosmic Mass at the World Parliament this season.
Header Photo: Miquel González, C.c. 2.0 nc nd