Church for the 21st century: an oral and aural buffet we can all savor
An Episcopal priest comes to the realization that what we have labelled God is actually ”absolute intelligence” expressed via humans
BY DAVID RICKEY — Recently two events have changed my center of gravity. First, attending the Parliament for the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia in December of 2009 and then going to Haiti for the first time in June of 2010 and, at the same time, reading “The God Theory” by Bernard Haisch.
The Parliament gave me the opportunity to experience people from an amazing variety of spiritual perspectives, all talking and sharing in a way that opened my eyes further to the truth of the “interfaith” reality of TRUTH.
My trip to Haiti was my first encounter with incredible poverty as well as the resilience of the human spirit that I could see in the faces of the Haitian people. My reading “The God Theory” gave “solidity” to my own questions and emerging answers about this amazing mystery I call God.
To work backwards through that, it now seems clear to me that God is nothing less than “absolute intelligence” seeking to express itself and to experience this infinite possibility, especially, from a human point of view, through humans!
Taking this as my starting point, the world’s religions and spiritual paths then are the variety of ways in which human beings have tried to express their emerging awareness of this incredible wisdom, energy, presence, and creativity.
How we’ve made “God” work for us
We human beings, especially the sages among us, intuit this divine reality and then express it in whatever images and stories work for us. But the stories and images are limited to the level of awareness and the available images of the time they are formulated. And therefore, human development is reflected in the stories, really much more so than “ultimate truth”. This is not to say the stories are wrong, or not of value, but that they are limited, and perhaps their value is relatively short-lived.
On the other hand, the resilience of the human spirit, as experienced in the Haitian people, is a testament to the vast creative potential that lies “behind” all life, especially all human life. My experience of being among these wonderful people, especially the children, brought into sharp focus the amazing potential for creativity and responsiveness that is available to us.
How did all this shift my center of gravity? In “The God Theory” Dr. Haisch says that God doesn’t need anything from us. If God is infinite possibility and intelligence, what could we possible offer? There is no “ego” in God that wants adoration or worship, there is no judgement and hence no punishment. There is only creative energy always moving forward in vast realms of possibility, almost playing with multiple possibilities to see how they go. What freedom!
The problem is, I’m an Episcopal Priest, who now feels saddled with a set of texts that, although proclaiming unconditional love, in fact announce a whole series of conditions which, if not met, will reap unspeakable wrath. One Sunday, as I was setting up the Altar for Communion, I said outloud to myself: “What am I doing this for?” but that quickly shifted to “What am I doing this for?”
The answer is a challenging one
Human beings seem to have a need for ritual, especially communal ritual. You can see it in Church, but you could also see it at the recent World Cup Games in South Africa. We have a need for worship of something that we experience as so much bigger than ourselves. It began as a need to tame and appease what seemed like forces that threatened to overwhelm us.
But it continues as a need to be drawn out of our individual selves into an experience of something larger and beckoning to something greater. We see this in the ecstacy of drugs, but this is short-lived. We see it “better” in moments of “ekstasis” which are the goals of ritual and worship.
God doesn’t need this, but we do. It serves two purposes. The first is to give us an experience of connecting to something larger, to overcome the sense of “puniness” that borders on loneliness and, ultimately, meaninglessness for so many people. The second is to call us to a higher level of awareness and tune us into this vast reservoir of intelligence that can feed and nurture our creative possibilities.
We worship because we need to create, to make a mark on the larger canvas of life, and we need to be empowered to do that. Some may still worship because it gives them the illusion of “placating” this power we sense behind it all; but after that, we worship because it reminds us of — or brings to mind —the deepest reality that supports and empowers us.
The challenge now is to put this all together.
If there isn’t a God who needs us to worship and obey, but there is a human need to worship and experience the ecstacy of awe, how do we create contexts that are empowering and not diminishing? If there isn’t “one way” that is true but a multiplicity of human expressions, and especially as we live in ever-increasing awareness of this “Varieties of Religious Experience”, to borrow William James’ book title, is there a 21st Century way to do this?
There are two human “truths”
We all need to eat and most of us like to tell stories. Twenty-first century “Church” could be places/events where we gather to share a meal and share stories. Places where we could experience each other’s cuisines and each other’s histories. Our souls can be nurtured by both.
The cuisines of different cultures express the manifold creativity and possibility of this planet. By sharing different types of food we celebrate that wonderful human creativity. By sharing stories, especially “spiritual stories” as found in each of our ancient texts, we celebrate the multi-dimensional experience of this mystery we (most of us) call God and the way it had played out in human lives.
The sharing, then, honors the richness of human creativity without the judgment of “us versus them” — it celebrates unity and diversity at the same time. Like any good buffet, there is something for everyone, while no one has to eat anything. And everyone has the possibility of trying something new that they might actually like!
This may be grandiose, but this could bring about world peace!
David Rickey is an Episcopal priest, Soul’s Code co-founder, and counselor in San Francisco who holds a weekly ministry at a residence for the elderly in northern California.