I just finished reading the updated version of Matthew Fox’s Confessions: The Making of a Postdenominational Priest. I read the original when it was published back in 1997 and was excited to see additions to the story.
I was especially interested in the chapter about the Cosmic Mass – one of my best discoveries when I moved to the Bay Area. Back then, as recounted in the book, TCM was held monthly at the Historic Sweet’s Ballroom in Oakland. There I was introduced to the spiritual paths of creation spirituality, drawn from the traditions of the mystics: via positiva, via negativa, via creativa, and via transformativa.
I was just beginning my doctoral work in matters of interfaith and intrafaith, so TCM was a mind-blowing example of how a traditionally Christian ritual (a mass that includes Communion) could be expanded to be inclusive of all people, all traditions, and even all of creation.
When I became the pastor of First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco, I began to incorporate these ideas into our own rituals. Even though my attempt to have the congregation enter into the via negativa didn’t work as well in our setting, I did discover that many people remembered my explanations of the four paths (maybe it worked better than I think!).
This month, I was finally able to attend one of the Cosmic Masses now being held in different locations in the area. And I am so glad that I did! The theme was “Embracing Darkness and Light” and altars had been created around the room: one for the Christian Christmas story (with the addition of a Qur’an, which includes the story of the birth of Jesus), one for Kwanza, one for Hanukkah, and one for the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice.
As we entered into the via creativa, the blessing and distribution of the bread and wine of Communion, I realized just how brilliantly Matthew Fox has transformed what has been an exclusive in-house ritual into a radically inclusive one. TCM is theologically and liturgically grounded, yet reaches out into new ways of expressing ancient wisdom and truth.
I fully intend to continue bringing ideas from TCM into my own preaching, teaching, and worship planning. Not that we’ll ever be able to recreate what Matthew Fox and his team are able to do. But I believe that it’s important to adapt the wisdom we learn from others into our own settings.
Which brings me to Christmas. I’ve come to the realization that the myth of the birth of Jesus is an archetypal story that can appeal to a wider audience than just Christians. It can even appeal to those Christians who can’t subscribe to the orthodox teachings of the Church or to a literal reading of the gospel stories.
But if we’re going to appeal to people of other traditions, and to the “church alumni association” (as Bishop John Shelby Spong calls those who have left), and to the “spiritual but not religious,” and to the people in our own congregations who just don’t buy all the things they were taught they had to believe – then we’re going to have to make some changes in the way we present the story. This is the intrafaith work of which I am so fond. And I have to say that this work has enabled me, after many years of liturgical Scrooginess, to reclaim the Christmas story.
And one of the best resources for seeing how it can be done -and is being done – is to go and experience a Cosmic Mass. And read Matthew Fox’s book!
The entire book is, of course, well worth reading and inspires more ideas for this blog. Another post might be the implications of changing our baptism liturgies to reflect a theology of original blessing rather than original sin. Although – back to Christmas – we changed the first scripture readings in the traditional Service of Lessons & Carols from the ones that set up the story of “The Fall” as the reason for “God sending Jesus to save us from our sins” to one of original blessing.
Speaking as a parish pastor, down here in the trenches, there are ways, great and small, that we can change the Church.
And as we do so, in the tradition of TCM, may we dance! Have a very Cosmic Christmas!
pictures from http://thecosmicmass.com