So now let’s try deriving some practical stuff from these theories. How does all this stuff help to design events of meaning that are intense and possibly transcendent? I will try to resist theory in this post, so as to begin to build a sort of handbook or checklist. It won’t be helpful for some people. For many the established words, actions, practices and ideas of their existing choice of church is exactly what they want -- which is why they chose it. But if someone is wanting to add new ideas or is getting restless, this line of thought may be useful. I’m going to reflect on how to bring each of five steps into metaphorical play along this “map.”
First, claim the time and place. The accuracy and insight of what is named or gestured or sung for this specific group in this place and time will make all the difference.
Now I’m going to put a lot of energy into the very first step: making a circle of protection and identity. This could be a circle drawn with chalk or with dribbled salt or cornmeal or powdered stone. It could be a matter of light. At night or on a darkened stage, it’s possible to draw the campfire circle with a spotlight. One exercise for focusing is to sit in a chair imagining a circle of lamplight around one, then to imagine it shrinking, drawing in along with one’s attention, until it was just oneself.
If you are a group of one, put your arms out to the side and pivot slowly until your arms have made a circle around you. Now you can stand, sit, kneel -- composed, possibly with eyes shut or with hand together.
At the beginning or sometimes later in a ceremony, the Blackfeet would use circumambulation to define their space. In a Bundle Opening, the calumet or decorated pipestem might be carried out of the “lodge” (or house) and held up at each of the four compass points to present it and pray in its name. In the Horn Society ceremony, there is a point where the men who carry the decorated and crooked staffs will run around the whole camp circle. If they trip or even fall, it is considered a bad omen.
The Blackfeet stony dream-bed made for them a point of locus in contrast to the vast sky/cordillera of the high places exposed to wind and distance. Personally (and I’m not alone), the more meaningful geometric figure “map” is not the crosshairs of the Christian vision but rather the point in a circle, which in some formulations means that there is an unseen vertical in the center point, vertical seeming to be the inevitable direction to the Holy, unless it goes “down” into a cave. Then one has a kiva or a catacomb.
Some people will have a hard time imagining any distinction between ordinary life and a protected moment like prayer. Probably this relates to the earlier development of their brain connectome, or a lack of development of that state of mind -- so that it will take work to develop it. But maybe they have another point of access to holiness. Other people have such a tight circle of awareness -- possibly out of defensive necessity -- that they can barely make themselves aware of other people nearby.
Some enclosures are set up to protect the people outside (bull ring, rodeo ampitheatre, boxing ring, cage fight). Other are meant to shelter people on the inside. Grassy depressions in the Bears Paw Mountains are left from the holes dug by Chief Joseph and his men -- at great effort -- to protect their women and children from the howitzers of the Cavalry. Not so known as a fort palisade. Is a foxhole inside a battleground a protection and then is a battleground a territorially defined “enclosure” that exposes to danger? Confinement is a part of ordeals but so is exposure; a wall can be a protection for the sacred (monastery) but does that expose the people inside to a far more dangerous exposure to “God”?
Real world phenomena like a crime tape put up to keep people out of a murder scene, can be acted out in reverse, like the churches who wrap tape around their building and claim it is a nuclear free zone. Boundaries like these probably go back to reptile life, early territory brain.
Though edges and barriers are psychological and implied rather than directly observed, they may also be imposed by a culture, like gender roles or cursing. The metaphors of the culture must be coordinated with the psychological. The success of doing that will create the liminality of the central experience. Both dimensions will have invitations to “enter,” but then give warnings.
One goes up high steps to the important spaces in impressive buildings, passing between pillars and pushing open huge doors. One sits in the auditorium while the orchestra tunes. The seating lights dim and the stage lights brighten or a curtain opens. At the time for church a bell rings. Sometimes the priest or minister will stand at the door, naming and greeting people as they come in.
This corresponds to the “call to worship.” An invitation to cross the threshold, the limen.
Establish the skin/membrane/dome/enclosure that defines us and our protection.
What makes us come here?
Who are we? What unites us? (It might not be what you assume.)
The following ideas are a little corny, but perhaps suggestive. This sort of thing is good to do in a small group, brainstorming.
* * *
“We gather as a community of friends and family in this familiar and embowered garden in order to celebrate the marriage of our two beloved people. Our hands, joined in a circle, are a wreath blooming with love for these two.”
* * *
“Our congregation has built this place to be a home for our thoughts, our dreams, and our songs every Sunday. We keep precious things here but they are not of jewels and gold. Rather they are hopes and memories.” (The congregation may spontaneously name them.)
* * *
“We crouch here at the entrance to this culvert because we have no other place. So we claim this place as ours, our shelter, our cave, our place to be together. We name this dirt, OUR dirt, and this debris, OUR debris.”
* * *
“This grand cathedral was built by many and now we come humbly to add our selves to those who have gone before and those who will come in procession after us.”
* * *
“This rainy day we stand under our umbrellas, their silken domes not protecting us from the tears running down our faces as we mourn the death of our loved one on this beach. We have gathered to release his ashes to the wind and surf, the primordial place we all came from.”
This step corresponds to the “confession of sins” and the “assurance of pardon.” It also relates to human awareness of limitation and inevitable death. How directly this is confronted and what the source of pardon might be must be adjusted to the persons present.
Throw out the excrement/ashes and call in our nourishment. The congregation may spontaneously name them (maybe examples of hatred, resentment, envy, greed -- and then joy, laughter, friendship and beauty) or the leader might frame it as a prayer.
* * *
A fairly popular New Year’s Day ceremony is writing on slips of paper all the things one wants to put into the past and then burning the papers.
* * *
What are our deepest beliefs? Are they valid? What sources of reflection can we use and what do they tell us? Normally this is a matter of scripture and sermon, which could be a reflection or a rational argument or a dissection of the “scripture.” The scripture might not be script -- not writing. It might be a photo, a sculpture, music, etc.
What should we do to be saved?
(To be expanded.)
Song: Christian Father/Son Metaphor