Acts of Worship

“Human beings have a great need for rituals. We go in for uniforms and pageants. Our rituals tend to be militaristic or religious.”  –  Opher Goodwin

Opher and I have been talking about this for a while and we agree that it would be good to write some secular rituals that acknowledge the wonder of life: rituals that don’t require belief, religion or celebrate violence. He suggested we look back over past posts for writing that might fit this description. Here are a few things I found, starting with a moment of secular epiphany exclusively available to the blog community!

A few days ago I read three WordPress posts back-to-back whose mutual connections set my head spinning.

The first called for sustainability to become the new religion, dedicated to our offspring, where blasphemy would be conspicuous consumption and the failure to recycle.

The second described how university scientists have determined the best technology to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and try to reverse global warming. It turns out to be trees.

The third spoke of a spirit of inquiry which forgets previous knowledge, questions without agenda, listens with openness and curiosity … and suggested tree-climbing as an example of natural investigation teeming with insight and revelation.

These three ideas are fascinating, although I’d be inclined to put the phrase ‘new religion’ in inverted commas to show it was a metaphor. And my partner observed that a mass outbreak of tree-climbing might damage rapidly-depleting woodlands – sensibly suggesting artificial climbing-walls as an alternative – though she took my point that such leisure opportunities would abound with a concerted push to ‘re-wild’ the environment.

But what excited me most was the conjunction of ideas. Each of them appeared to correspond with one of Buddhism’s Higher Worlds – Compassion, Learning, Realisation. Now I’m no expert but I’ve heard that these three activities, practised side by side, can lead to enlightenment or nirvana. This, I understand, is a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth.

I’m not a magical thinker so would want to interpret this in psychological and, therefore, social terms. Not so much I, then, more I & I – the two that is one. My thoughts go back to the good friend who told me how his depression lifted once he realised he was more like other people than unlike them. Instead of focusing on differences, he concluded, it helps to seek common ground.

A paradox here is that variety is the spice of life. Living with paradox is a condition of life and nothing to be ashamed of, as the poet Walt Whitman memorably observed:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.”

Poets celebrate and, yes, sing the praises of life in all its rich diversity. Appreciating the full breadth of earthly existence enriches our shared experience. Only connect and we come to see the beauty of our mutual ‘heaven on earth’.

So to speak. Which is where the search for new ways to communicate comes in. Someone – perhaps Salvation Army founder William Booth, perhaps not – once asked Why should the devil have all the best tunes? Well, I wonder, has the time has come to ask Why should organised religion have a monopoly on the language of celebration? Common ground, for me, is hallowed ground. An indivisible sense of life as sacred is our common birth-right and therefore sacrosanct from all attempts to brand any part of life as sacrilegious. Without contraries, said the poet William Blake, there is no progression.

To become enlightened, perhaps, is to understand how time can be both finite and forever. The poet John Keats, acutely aware of the likelihood that he would die at a young age, concluded that life was a process of soul-building. By ‘soul’, he didn’t mean something separate or separable from our flesh and bones – much as modern science makes no significant distinction between mind and body.

Time to Keats was precious. The friend I mentioned earlier would have appreciated this verse from Ode On Melancholy:

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
       Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
       And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
       Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
               Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
       Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
               And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water. This is the inscription on John Keats’ gravestone, dictated by him on his deathbed. He needn’t have worried. He is gone but his words live on forever. He is also remembered for his notion of ‘negative capability’, a quality he saw in Shakespeare, evident ‘when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’.

In other words, open the doors of perception. Perhaps we serve (and save) time best by indulging our natural love of serendipity. And things being various, let our legacy be to keep them that way …

… here endeth the lesson!

Phew! Thanks for bearing with me thus far – and here are those previously-promised past-post poems, including some acrostics. The final piece was composed together with other bloggers.

I doubt if any fall into the bags of hymn or psalm – too personal, probably – but they might encourage further attempts by me or anyone else who fancies a go. Please share if you know of others who might want to contribute.

Songs, poems, prose and links all welcome …

 

o Gaia hold us rapt within your arms
that life be one with love and one with all
let sense be always open to your charms
and spirit never falter at your call
o Gaia keep our step upon the way
that leads to wild places sacred shrines
where pilgrims catch a glimpse of yesterday
and dream of leaving children cryptic signs
o Gaia turn our thoughts to simple joys
and tune our hearts to nature’s steady beat
that we might hear the hush beneath our noise
and feel the dance begin to move our feet
for only celebration stirs the blood
enough to build an ark against this flood

 

S top the clock & turn back time to
O nce Upon when world was green &
I nnocent of crime we lived by
L etting well enough alone.

 

G o through, bold wanderer, no lock prevents your
A ccess to a world of open wonder. Do not
T ake your burden of passing years. Wear your
E xperience lightly. Look again through child eyes.

 

A child discovers wonders every day
And paints a golden picture of his world,
As stepping-stones to island haunts make way
For archipelagos and tales untold.
O where can he belong who seeks from birth
The answers to all questions – keys of mind
To treasure-chests of truths – but here on Earth
In free and equal friendship with his kind?
Though walls arise imagination soars
Beyond their shadow to a sunlit land
Where smiles greet strangers, sorrow opens doors
And dreams come true by popular demand.
The child I was once painted this in gold
And will not let me rest now I am old.

 

listen to the band play guitar
people come from very far
standing in a crowd you can’t hide
and your joy is multiplied

open up your eyes
this is no surprise
don’t look to the skies
just see it
in their eyes

an old man stumbles in the street
all he can hear is the passing feet
go up to him and hold his hand
feel his life running out like sand

open up your eyes
this is no surprise
don’t look to the skies
just see it
in his eyes

live your life just for yourself
line your nest and count your wealth
build your walls as high as the skies
you can’t buy a mirror that will tell you lies

open up your eyes
this is no surprise
don’t look to the skies
just see it
in your eyes

 

to expect nothing
is to keep a door open
to pleasant surprise

 

S ome things, you say,
A re blessed and some are
C ursed. But my
R eligion worships
E ach and every
D ifference with rapture.

 

H ere’s to the unsung lives
O f you, our countless forebears, unknown
M akers of our hearts
A nd minds.  May we
G race the world that once you walked,
E ver mindful of those who are still to come.

 

Each life bears upon
Or else ought to bear upon
The lives of others

Symbiosis of the web
A spider spins intricate

In shoots of fine silk
Like the pearl net of Indra
Interconnected                                                                 Christine Valentor

Connections breed fair patterns
Of symmetry and fractals

All bound together
Universal complexities
Nature can breed life                                                        dave ply

Sun, moon and seas sing in tune
A chorus to greet each dawn

Falling on the earth
Within white flesh, five ripe seeds
The fragrant orchard                                                         cathum

Arachne weaves worldwide webs
Eight wise fingers feel the pulse

High wire artist
Show how to nurture nature
Help us spin it out

 

Image result for cobweb with dew

 

Image: Pinterest

13 thoughts on “Acts of Worship

  1. Wow Dave this is good! I pronounce you guardian of the magic words. Each one unlocks a universe of thought!!
    Could you put all the stuff in a folder and keep it safe?? Do you have my secular psalms? We can add to it and knock it into shape and when we have sufficient we can put it out as a magic book!! It will change the world!!
    (Well at least it will be fun!)

    1. I accept with gratitude and humility – when do I get the keys to my Lear jet? Oh sorry, wrong religion … 😉 … Yes, I’ll keep everything in a Word Document & on a memory stick, including any of yours – so far, the one I reblogged, How Wondrous.

      Fun indeed!

  2. Lots of good stuff, Dave. I don’t think I would ever discourage kids from climbing trees, however. Few things capture their imagination as much. And trees are tough. The ones I roared up and down in my youth still stand, or they have passed on from old age. –Curt

  3. maybe not climbing but why not a ritual of planting? with maybe an alternative ritual of grafting — in case your backyard or your pots on your balcony are full of trees. These would be special once a year ritual (like xmas, planting instead of cutting). Even in a small apartment, a person can grow a mini tree if that’s all the space they have. A daily morning (or sunset) ritual would be sitting with or near the tree, breathing together — it breathes your carbon monoxide (or is it dioxide?) and you breathe it’s oxygen. “Just Breathe”. And some people have replaced the word “religion” with “spirituality” because spirituality can be deist or not deist-centered depending on one’s beliefs. Anyways reading what you wrote , made me think about this.

    1. Some excellent ideas here for getting in tune with nature. It’s all about hearts and minds, isn’t it? The old cyclical rhythms have faded and we are rootless and rather lost unless we can develop deeper connections with our environment. Spirituality is a good word because, as you say, it doesn’t exclude people – unless they exclude themselves by demeaning or belittling life in favour of hypothetical hereafters …

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