Tag Archives: ritual

Rediscovered C.S. Lewis Christmas Sermon: ‘we shall have to set about becoming true Pagans’


While researching for her PhD thesis, Stephanie L. Derrick uncovered a forgotten C.S. Lewis article—forgotten in the sense that it that had not appeared in scholarly bibliographies of his work. Entitled “A Christmas Sermon for Pagans,” it reads in part:

“A universe of colourless electrons (which is presently going to run down and annihilate all organic life everywhere and forever) is, perhaps, a little dreary compared with the earth-mother and the sky-father, the wood nymphs and the water nymphs, chaste Diana riding the night sky and homely Vesta flickering on the hearth. But one can’t have everything, and there are always the flicks and the radio: if the new view is correct, it has very solid advantages.”

And then later:

“It looks to me, neighbours, as though we shall have to set about becoming true Pagans if only as a preliminary to becoming Christians. … For (in a sense) all that Christianity adds to Paganism is the cure. It confirms the old belief that in this universe we are up against Living Power: that there is a real Right and that we have failed to obey it: that existence is beautiful and terrifying. It adds a wonder of which Paganism had not distinctly heard—that the Mighty One has come down to help us, to remove our guilt, to reconcile us.”

Read Derrick’s article about unearthing this C.S. Lewis sermon along with an unlikely article he apparently wrote about cricket (under his pseudonym).

By the way, Derrick is turning her thesis into an upcoming book: The Fame of C. S. Lewis: A Controversialist’s Reception in Britain and America, to be published by Oxford University Press in July 2018 (that release date according to Amazon.com).

And while we’re talking Christmas, see what C.S. Lewis had to say about ritual, which included some thoughts about the holiday season.

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Ancient Mystery Religions Prefigured, Possibly Shaped, Elements of Christianity


Ancient mystery religions and other pagan religious practices prefigured and might have even shaped elements of Christianity. Four sources and brief book excerpts support the claim:

(Boldfacing was added to the following excerpts. Italicized sections appear in the originals.)

Meyer & ‘The Ancient Mysteries’

The late Dr. Marvin W. Meyer of Chapman College, writing in the introduction to a 1987 book he edited, The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook — Sacred Texts of the Mystery Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean World:

“The mysteries were secret religious groups composed of individuals who decided, through personal choice, to be initiated into the profound realities of one deity or another….

“The word mystery (mysterion in Greek) derives from the Greek verb myein, ‘to close,’ referring to the closing of the lips or the eyes….

“Closed eyes brought darkness to the prospective initiate both literally and metaphorically, and the opening of the eyes was an act of enlightenment. Just as one of a baby’s first responses to the world is the discovery of light through the opening of the eyes, so the initiate, sometimes described as one reborn, also saw the light….

“The development of early agrarian or fertility festivals into the mystery religions involved, first and foremost, the conviction on the part of the worshipers that the cycle of nature related directly to human life. Plants and animals participated in a cycle of death and life, and so also did human beings. Death came to all the divine forces of nature — Kore, Dionysos, Adonis, Attis, Osiris, the Mithraic bull — but finally life was victorious. Kore returned from the realm of Hades; Dionysos vivified his devotees; Adonis rose from the dead; Attis gave an intimation of new life; Osiris reigned as king of the underworld; and the bull provided life for the world

“Ordinarily the mystai [initiates] partook of food and drink in the ritual celebrations, and sometimes they may have become one with the divine by participating in a sacramental meal analogous to the Christian Eucharist….”

MacMullen & Lane: Paganism as mother

In the preface to the 1992 book Paganism and Christianity 100-425 C.E.: A Sourcebook, editors Ramsay MacMullen of Yale University and Eugene Lane of the University of Missouri say:

“The emergence of Christianity from the tangled mass of older religious beliefs, eventually to a position of unchallenged superiority, is surely one of the most important single phenomenon that can be discerned in the closing centuries of the ancient world.”

They go on to say, however, little attention is given to “the body in which Christianity grew.”

They ask, “How about the mother? Will she not help determine the manner in which the child enters the world and, to some extent, its shape and nature?”

Then MacMullen and Lane give this illustration:

“In most regions of St. Paul’s or St. Augustine’s world, attendance at holy places on religious anniversaries was a time for friends and family together to enjoy the meal that followed the sacrifice. That was how reverence was paid to the sanctuaries of saints in the fourth century — not because those attending were still ‘pagan’ (they would have indignantly rejected any such label) but because the ceremony still lacked any distinctively Christian form.”

Placher

William C. Placher, professor at Wabash College, in his 1983 book A History of Christian Theology:

“The mystery cults — some imported, some homegrown in Greece — offered something many Greeks found spiritually more satisfying. Those who joined a mystery cult underwent a secret initiation. There they learned the story of a deity who had died but then risen to new life; and they became somehow united with that deity, so that they too would rise to new life after death. The mysteries offered a personal connection with a deity and a hope beyond death, and the emphasis on membership gave people a sense of belonging in a society where many traditional institutions had collapsed. All this provided Christians with an obvious analogy. Join our fellowship, they could say, and become one with Christ, participating in ceremonies of baptism and the sharing of bread and wine, and you, like Christ, will be raised from the dead.”

Hinson

E. Glenn Hinson of Baptist Theological Seminary in his 1996 book The Early Church:

“Numerous oriental religions thrived in the West when Christianity put in its appearances. The Mysteries of Eleusis, originating several centuries before the Christian era, were patronized by emperors from Octavian on. They used the planting of seed as a symbol of the promise of life that lies beyond death….

“The cult of the Great Mother, a fertility goddess connected with agricultural rites, enjoyed wide currency in the ancient world as far west as the British Isles. Acknowledged in Rome as a legitimate foreign cult in 205 B.C.E., by the time of Augustus it had gained immense popularity. Originally a wild and enthusiastic cult, involving even human sacrifices, it was modified by combination with the cult of Attis. The mythology of a dying and rising god replaced earlier orgiastic rites. A colorful pageantry combined with the promise of immortality to attract many. In time Cybele adopted the taurobolium, a bath in bull’s blood, popularized by Mithra. Symbolically ‘buried’ in a pit covered by a lattice-work of boards, the devotee was said to be purified of sins and raised to new life.

“Isis and Osiris, an ancient Egyptian cult, was introduced to the West by the Ptolemies. Soldiers, sailors, slaves, and popular writers disseminated it all over the empire. Its most attractive features were the myth of a dying and rising god and an appealing liturgy….

“Mithra, a Persian sect that grew out of Zoroastrianism, advanced westward by way of the Roman army during the Flavian era (68-96). Remarkably similar to Christianity in many respects, it turned out to be the strongest competitor, though limited by the fact that the cult excluded women. Like Judaism and Christianity, Mithraism emphasized morality. It viewed life as a perpetual struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, the gods and demons. Mithra, one of the lesser deities in the Zoroastrian hierarchy, identified with human beings in their struggle. Mithraic altars depicted Mithra astride the back of a powerful bull, hurling his dagger into its side as a serpent twines around one of the bull’s legs to lap up the blood spurting from the wound. To underline the importance of morality, Mithraism emphasized judgment. At death anyone stained with evil would be dragged by the emissaries of Ahriman to the depths of hell to suffer indescribable tortures, whereas the pure would ascend to the celestial realm, where the supreme god Ormuzd ruled. En route, Mithra himself would serve as the guide past the seven planetary spheres guarded over by angels. After a general resurrection, Mithra would judge all humanity once and for all and cause fire to consume all wicked spirits. Mithraism developed rites and organization similar to Christianity’s, but, since they were of late origin, most were probably borrowed. The most important rite was the taurobolium, which promised immortality.”

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Again, boldfacing was added to the above excerpts. Italics belong to the originals.

‘Value in Ritual and Ceremony’


Writing in his Abstract Notions blog, Utne Reader editor Christian Williams recently posted a short piece entitled, “Finding Value in Ritual and Ceremony.” Here’s an excerpt that touched on topics frequently mentioned on my blog:

I became reacquainted with ritual and ceremony this past October when my wife and I spent a week in Spain. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey outside of Barcelona. We went in the evening specifically for Vespers, which features Gregorian chant by the Benedictine monks who live there. It’d been a while since I’d spent time in a church, and watching the evening prayer service unfold reminded me of what I missed most about the faith of my youth: the familiarity and comfort of the liturgy, the feeling of singing in unison, and the opportunity for contemplation that being in a church provided. Above all, I remembered how those aspects of ritual and ceremony were essential in preparing my mind and body for the spiritual experience I was there to have. They served to establish my intent, clear my mind of distraction, and help me remain in the moment.

Read the full post here: http://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/finding-the-value-in-ritual-and-ceremony.aspx#ixzz3NRN1XzCp

Revitalizing liturgical worship: Stephen R. Holmes on history and location


“Because of the doctrine of creation, historical locatedness is something good. The tradition we inherit is part of our location in history, and so in doing theology it is necessary to relate to the tradition.” — Stephen R. Holmes in Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology

Notice the assumptions in the title of the book: Theology is somewhat abstract and intellectual, while tradition is somewhat tangible and embodied.

Also, consider what Holmes is saying, and I’ll put my own interpretative spin on it: even if you don’t believe in “sacred spaces,” you can appreciate that many people have worshipped within a certain place, and you can appreciate that all the symbolism within a place points to Christ or to the Trinity, and you can appreciate that someone, whether the craftsman or just the purchaser, cared that tangible things would be symbols for God, for Christ, and for the glory of God. After all, in Christian belief, the printed word “Jesus” is not the Incarnated God, yet the word stands as a symbol for the Incarnated God. If words can refer to God, than other symbols can, too, and a place with many symbols can be considered special without being considered idolatrous. We don’t fix a flood with a drought, as Thomas Howard said in a quotation I posted the other day.

Revitalizing liturgical worship: Loren Mead on fads and worship


“When the new way is considered the only way, there is no continuity, fads become the new Gospel and in Paul’s words, the church is ‘blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine’.” — Loren Mead, in The Once and Future Church

The historical continuity and connections have meant the most the me, regardless of changes in the liturgy over time. The changes within various liturgies are no where near as radical as the changes in approaches to worship. As Mead suggests, emotional highs have taken the place of both the solemnity and the education within the liturgical worship services.

One should ask why emotional highs are important to God, why emotional highs are important to individual spiritual growth, and why (for many churches) worship has become inextricably tangled with emotional highs.

Why is my rock concert experience worth duplicating in church? Why is my Super Bowl experience worth duplicating in church? Our emotions ebb and flow but God remains constant.

Revitalizing liturgical worship: Thomas Howard on idolatry and worship


“The eye that sees the dangers of idolatry is a true one. But to correct a flood, one does not want a drought…. It is false to pit the visible world of solid objects against faith. We never do this in other realms of our experience. Indeed, we cannot, since we are physical creatures and not angels.” — Thomas Howard, in Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament

 

Liturgy, ritual, imagination, and worship


Thoughts about ritual worship, shared with my friend Danny on Facebook, with updates (and paragraphing !):

As for ritual worship: I used to go to churches with two parts to the services: sing songs and then listen to the sermon. Since I’ve joined Trinity, I’ve been able to memorize portions of the liturgy because they are repeated week after week. These phrases from Scripture and our godly heritage have come back to me in difficult moments and sustained me.

Furthermore, I think the less-liturgical and less-ritualized services ignore the full human being. Our lives are run more by our emotions and our imaginations than by our rational, cognitive faculties.

By imaginations, I don’t mean daydreams but I mean the unique image-based structures of our thoughts and feelings [memories and expectations tend to be associated not with abstract thought but with sensory impressions, whether visual, auditory, smell, taste, touch].

Protestant worship, as noted elsewhere by Thomas Howard, tends to focus on the sermon because of the abstract, cognitive orientation of evangelicalism. The unstated message is, God is for the mind, reality is essentially Mind, and spiritual living is mind over matter. Get the ideas right and, supposedly, everything else will follow. This seems much like Descartes’ famous conclusions following his sensory-deprivation experiment.

When I was at L’Abri Fellowship, surely an evangelical outfit if there ever was one, Descartes took punches for too radically dividing the human being. God made humans as creatures within a Creation, and any part of our Protestant heritage that delegitimizes that doctrine ought to be left in the past. We are promised resurrected bodies, not glowing orbs of souls that float upward to heaven.

So, people try to *will* themselves into good Christian living and worshipful lives, but their feelings and imaginations are saturated with popular movies, music, TV and the never-ending bombardment of marketing and advertising prompts (which in many cases do more to create our assumptions of reality than anything else).

Much worship today imitates mass media instead of providing a counterpoint to it.

The stories of Scripture and sermons can help the imagination enormously, but unfortunately, our short-attention-span culture does not provide meditative time to soak these stories into our “hearts.” The regular ritual helps the meditative process by working good words and good images into our feelings and imaginations. There is really nothing else like it available.

Of course, ritual delivers content — some specific kind of content and meaning, so ritual should be focused around good things: at Christmas, maybe great-grandmother’s recipe; in church, around the Risen God.

All in all, the more I learn about current brain research and breakthroughs in neuroscience, the more I think our liturgical worship is best. Changes in liturgies don’t matter so much as their historical antecedents and the content delivered by the liturgical rituals. The brain makes connections in certain ways. Liturgical rituals correspond to the brain better than rock concert-style worship.