Googling along in search of threads about ritual or liturgy or worship, I find huge categories of ideas and points of view that were NEVER mentioned in seminary (’78-’82). It’s possible that they were not perceptible in that time period, but it’s far more likely that they were never perceived because no one wanted to look. The idea was to keep everyone focused on the founding assumptions of the cluster of seminaries. It worked best on the faculty.
Sliding up and down one spectrum of rites-of-passage, I see “high” church traditions as in defined religions and at the other end a kind of prosperity-based social event as epitomized by the very nice Australian lady on this website, a little more than wedding planner but a little less than ordained clergy: http://ritualdesign.com.au/home/aboutme There’s something Edwardian about it, with a New Age vibe on the side. Strange that it should crop up on a continent that is the home of one of the most mystical and ascetic people on the planet, the Australian aboriginals.
This “lady” sort of thing is all very civilized and pleasant -- even efficient, particularly since it dodges all the hard questions. It’s the sort of attitude that thinks putting a teddy bear on each child’s desk (same desk but in a building down the road that has been redecorated to look exactly like the scene of massacre BEFORE the massacre) is a mental health intervention, an assurance of safety, when in fact it is the same denial that led to the tragedy in the first place. In my most savage moods, I think the people of New Town should have been marched past the actual grisly remains of the massacre in the same spirit as Eisenhower requiring the people of Germany to come witness the concentration camps. (In this case, any persons who themselves had previously shot a child with a high-powered rifle should be excused since they were probably military. I suppose ghetto child-killers generally use 9 millimeter handgun.) THEN ask for mental health funding commensurate with the need in the community. Witnessing is an important religious function.
England seems to be full of websites about ritual, ranging from those who celebrate their successful return, after a long period of rather unsuccessful experimentation, back to the Book of Common Prayer -- to a group of Wiccan nature-worshipers bemoaning the shallowness and lack of daring in their ceremonies. (I suppose the edge has worn off naked dancing in the night now that it's in so many movies.) Most appear to be reaching back to former times when either things were safely settled and reassuring -- or by contrast, full of the excitement of discovery. I suspect both are reactions to the pressing changes of mixed demographics from elsewhere in the Commonwealth, uneasy felt differences.
A friend sent me a link to an online magazine called Aeon http://www.aeonmagazine.com. It’s packed with restated old ideas. ("We do what those around us do"; "intense terrifying experiences cause identity fusion." See Harvey Whitehouse’s article about “Human Rites”.) And as well, ideas so new as to be almost incomprehensible except to those initiated, like Will Wiles on the New Aesthetic. To me both ideas are relevant to the Bone Chalice. Although I’m not Martine Batchelder, a Frenchwoman who writes about becoming a Buddhist meditating monk in Korea. And though I enjoyed Bella Bathurst’s vivid evocation of wood chopping as meditation, I don’t DO it.
I travel alone. Not that I don’t dip into memory with old friends and even a few relatives, and not that the work of Alvina Krause isn’t a source of inspiration and insight (but also a painful example of the times turning away from one’s life achievement), and not that I don’t have a source of energy and inspiration who travels parallel, never touching, never directing. But that I get up every morning and go to my keyboard. It’s not an altar -- it’s a door that opens the world. A way of being with other people.
Is it genetic that my sympathies tend to react to a Brit online mag more than the glossy products of American elitist nature-mongers? The whole category of “Nature & Cosmos” in Aeon tells me more than the endless economy-based wrestling matches over the perfect laws, the proper boundaries, the most deserving beings, the cost-benefit analyses. All day I’m pleased to live on long dry rising plains near mountains, but then in the evening I gravitate to the River Tyne where they produce all those glamorous English scenery mystery tales full of stone fences, brushy lanes, and brick houses with thatched roofs. Claustrophobic, infested with relentlessly embellished lampshades and class snobbery -- intended to be creepy in a domestic sort of way. Like some people’s churches. The ones I grew up in, full of power-plays and tricks of rhetoric. Things that couldn’t be changed -- they thought.
The “purest” ceremony I’ve found is the one designed by an experimental artist whose name I can’t find in my papers at the moment. The idea is that you go into a closed room where an oscillating fan is blowing. Sit down in front of a big sheet of chilled glass and lean forward to breathe on it. Your lung-air, laden with the moisture of your deep interior, creates a cloud. Lean back. The cloud disappears. Repeat while considering your nature as a mortal living process of exchanges and participations. This can be done as a shared exercise if someone else will sit on the other side of the chilled glass (existence). Take turns: contemplate the exhalations of each other.
In Aeon Whitehorse hinges his essay on the phenomenon of primitive tribal South Sea island communities, excluded from our considerations, who extend compassion to the victims of modern Middle Eastern cities destroyed by rebellion. They go so far as to send money to help refugees, though they have few sources of income. They have a lot of heart. Their own hardships have made them more generous, not more guarded. What need do they have for teddy bears when they have actual parents on hand?
The people of “Tanna” believe in a cult that claims some day all the black people will peel off their dark skins to become prosperous, educated white people. Someone sponsored a trip to England where leaders met with their ideal type: Prince Philip. They were thrilled and came back to tell wonderful stories. The anthro reports: “There was, however, one theme that kept recurring in these stories that caused the islanders evident sadness. That was the phenomenon of homelessness: people destitute on the streets, ignored by passers-by as if they were not really human beings at all. It is hard to convey how distressing this spectacle was for my friends from Tanna. It was one of the main reasons why they politely offered us a message of kindness: they thought we needed it.”
They were our witnesses. I hope they pray for us.