According to the calendar we have entered a new year, but that doesn’t always signal a new season. In the life of our spiritual communities it takes something more than a calendar change to engage the transformational hope that often accompanies a new year. As we consider the potential that this new year brings, I have begun to consider the role of religion in society and the opportunity for spirituality to be transformational amid the toxicity of a consumer driven -market based economy. I am convinced that spirituality humanizes us and is the antidote to the ways in which personhood is assaulted daily in a culture of thingification.
Regardless of faith tradition, at its heart, all spirituality is the articulation of a system of meaning making. Those meaning making systems are based in core human mythology. Our liturgical expressions are ritualization of deep mythology. Our spiritualities search through the ages for truth, meaning, and significance. The mythos that comes up around them allow us to understand our story, cope with our sense of the eternal, and rationalize the passage from birth through life, and then death. While many cling to the idea of sacred text as literal, infallible, inerrant truth, there is a way that all sacred text points to the larger human condition from the center of the human condition that ought not be quickly dismissed. Our holy writ and sacred books open the world to the dimension of mystery and paint for us a picture of perfection. They are cosmological in that they show the shape of the universe. We look to our scripture to serve the sociological function of supporting and validating social order, and ask them to be pedagogical and teach us how to live an authentically human life. In this way, all of our sacred texts belong to the world of myth (Campbell 1991).
This new year provides each religious community an opportunity to reimagine the power of the liturgy. To see liturgy as responsible to interpret the best of our deep mythologies toward a more just and humane global family. If humanity is in crisis responding to the devastating effects of multinational corporate greed, empire, patriarchy and every ism imaginable, then there is a powerful potential in volunteer gatherings of diverse people in local communities enacting shared vision that has public and communal meaning to combat the deleterious effects of individualism (Tocqueville 1956). As we embark on a new twelve-month cycle, what if each local congregation, temple, synagogue, mosque, etc. would insist that each liturgical opportunity would be a visualsonic resistance to the imposition of nonbeing that has formed the story of our global experiences (Sharpe 2016)? Rather than being divided by the particulars of our systems, what if we dare to think about the universal implications of our particular mythology so that what is good and true at the heart of our sacred story is embodied in our coming together in life giving and affirming ways?
I am convinced that the opportunity of this year for spiritual communities is to show the world that the best of religion calls all people to develop their sense of reason enough to understand themselves and their relationship to all other people, while identifying their role in the universe. The highest spirituality is to develop the ability to love the Divine and the self and from that self-love to love all people (Fromm 1950). It doesn’t stop with reason. The best of spirituality acknowledges the mystery of mysticism and makes room for the Divine to work in and through persons and all living things. If we can capture in our liturgies these simple truths then religion can save the world.
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Campbell, Joseph. 1991. The Power of Myth. Edited by Betty Sue Flowers. New York: Anchor Books.
Fromm, Erich. 1950. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
Sharpe, Christina. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham and London: Duke Univeristy Press.
Tocqueville, Alexis de. 1956. Democracy in America . Edited by Richard D. Heffner. New York: New American Library.