Prayer and Liturgy - Neil Darragh
This journey of prayer, for those who have been willing to travel it, has taken us into adventures with God beyond comfort or expectation. Most of us began this journey by imitating the timings and wordings of our parents and religious mentors, those travellers from other times and often from other places who lifted us aboard their own journeys. But for new generations the regularities of daily and weekly timings sometimes faltered and we had to wait for new rhythms. And the wordings sometimes felt like poor substitutes for silence.
Yet we travel with companions. We did not travel alone. There were communities of pilgrims on this journey. The image of the People of God, a pilgrim church, people travelling together, influenced the spirituality of many Christians in the late twentieth century. A pilgrimage is a journey towards a shrine. The shrine may be a real concrete place, or it may be a future hope whose place is not yet known. Whether the shrine is reached or not, the journey itself has the power to change and renew the pilgrim.
Our liturgies are the openness to God that we practice together, not just in the interior of our souls, but with our bodies – eyes seeing other eyes, ears hearing others speak, hands touching other hands giving and receiving, the feelings of postures and movements together, enclosing and distancing people in the same place with shared beliefs. Here is where we travel together, buffeted and supported, irritated and inspired by the activities of other travellers brushing and bumping against us.
Our journeys in personal prayer changed many of us over a period of a few years. But our journeys in liturgical prayer have proven more difficult and longer term. This journey advances slowly, staggered by quick surges and disappointing reversals. It is a journey on which we have to learn to be still, to be open, to be silent. But it is also one on which we are learning how to participate, to value our own contributions.
Participation in liturgical prayer uncovers the diversity and fragility of people travelling together: those travelling in and those travelling out, the confident and the desperate, the traditionalists and the futurists, the creative craftspeople and the tired practitioners, the power players and the dispossessed, the diversity of cultures and the distress of prejudice, the struggle for and against gender equality, the communication styles of youth and the shaky securities of the late middle-aged. It seems that this journey of participation with its interplay of diversity is still just at its beginning. This particular pilgrimage is turning out to be longer than we thought.
Yet there are other travellers too. As God became intimate within our personal journeys and the diversity of God appeared in our liturgical journeys, so we became conscious of another divine journey full of travellers flowing around us and through us. Rather than a path we walk along, this journey has begun to look more like a river that carries us along on its own journey through places we had never thought could be. The images of God that guide our journey now encompass images from land, sea and air. Openness to God means appreciation of the divine revelations in wind and air, darkness and light, mountain, forest, bush, sea, sand, sky, star and the minute symmetry of flower or leaf or insect. The creatures around us have become the mirrors and windows that filter light into the baroque architecture of our souls. Some of this is the revelation of beauty, but some too impresses on us the harder realities of suffering and transience.
The prayer journey, whether personal or liturgical, has become more awesome and often bewildering and can hit us into shocked wonder. The hymn of the Earth has turned out to be a prayer both of thanksgiving and of lament. Prayer of petition, it seems, is something only humans do. So here we are, a little lost, but caught up in the prayers of thanksgiving and lament of the travellers around us, and adding our own prayers of petition, yet thankful too for those human ancestors and the Incarnate One who felt the restless journeying of the Creator Spirit and have shown us where we too can take our own part in it.
Neil Darragh is a theologian with a special interest in Liturgy and the environment. He is parish priest of Glen Innes, Auckland
Intelligent design who says we are descended from monkeys?
In the US far more people go to church than in any other part of the Western world. Some 40 percent of Americans also believe that the Creation story in Genesis should be taken literally. These include President George Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This belief is articulated in the so-called Intelligent Design theory of the origins of life.
Recently a protagonist of this school came to New Zealand from the United States to lecture on Intelligent Design. Tui Motu went along to listen.
Some years ago I was part of a group visiting the Mormon College in Hamilton. It was a very impressive place and a choir of senior pupils entertained us. Afterwards, returning to base by bus, I found myself sitting next to the then Principal of St Kentigern’s College, a Scotsman with a wicked wit. “Ye have to admire their zeal,” he said to me, “but how anyone can swallow all that rubbish about Joseph Smith is beyond belief!”
Recently I attended a talk given by an advocate of the Intelligent Design theory of Creation. After an hour of indoctrination I felt just like my Scots friend. We were subjected to a lengthy lecture involving very selective quotes from church documents – totally out of context, some very poor science and even poorer Scripture scholarship. I admired the lecturer’s zeal but remained totally unconvinced.
Once upon a time there was real tension between Christian theologians – especially Catholic ones – and evolutionists, especially Darwinians. For centuries religious tradition had settled for an overly literal interpretation of the Scriptures, and it was not only the Anglican Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) who held that the world was created in six 24-hour days in 4004 B.C. God had revealed to Moses exactly how the world was created – and that was that.
But critical Biblical scholarship has moved a long way since Ussher and brought us to a quite different way of understanding the sacred writings. The Catholic Church for a long time was reluctant to acknowledge the validity of this scholarship. But since Pius XII issued his Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu in 1943, Catholics have been able to explore the scientific orthodoxy of organic evolution and are free to accept that it in no way conflicts with the way they interpret Genesis.
For instance the Pontifical Biblical Commission wrote from Rome in 1948 that the first 11 chapters of Genesis “relate in simple and figurative language, adapted to the understanding of a less developed people, the fundamental truths presupposed for the economy of salvation, as well as the popular description of the origin of the human race and of the chosen people.” (Cath. Encyclopaedia 6.329).
What are those ‘fundamental truths’? Simply, that everything is created by God, that creation is ‘good’, that the human race has a common origin, that male and female are made equal and that all humans sin. The fundamental truths remain; but in the story details Genesis describes creation in terms remarkably like the Creation myths of other peoples, including the Maori.
On his last visit to New Zealand the eminent Catholic Biblical scholar, Raymond Brown, urged that it was incumbent on preachers to teach their congregations that it is quite wrong and contrary to church teaching to say that the opening chapters of Genesis are to be taken literally. Brown was speaking from the viewpoint of an American, familiar with the powerful fundamentalist lobby in the United States, especially among the Religious Right. We should be aware that this school of thought is also alive and well here, even among Catholics.
Intelligent Design is bad science
When Charles Darwin proposed the theory of organic evolution in his Origin of Species (1859), the principle evidence he offered came from the fossil record. The science of geology had advanced rapidly in the early part of the 19th Century, and well before Darwin it had become evident that sedimentary rocks were laid down over very long periods of time but in a recognisable sequence. One way of observing the sequence was by the fossils found in particular strata. The older the strata, the more primitive were the forms of life found fossilised there. What soon became obvious was that the process had taken far far longer than 6000 years.
Darwin presented several other lines of argument to support his thesis that present animal and plant species had evolved from primitive, common ancestors, and that during the process very many species like dinosaurs died out altogether. But his trump card was always the fossil record. So, if Darwin were to be believed, what about Genesis? What about Bishop Ussher’s dating? What about Adam and Eve?
If we were to read Genesis literally, does that imply that when God created the world and all its living inhabitants in Six Days, God also created the fossils in the rocks exactly as we discover them? Some advocates of Intelligent Design say precisely that. Dick Dowden refers to this conflict of ideas in his article Science, Truth and God (Tui Motu February pp 12-14). He says: “If the Book (of Genesis) clearly stated that God created the Earth in 4000 BC along with all the evidence to the contrary, then belief in the Book is belief that God is a liar.” In other words the literal interpretation of Genesis and the findings of science are in absolute contradiction. The solution offered by the literalists is patently absurd.
Dick Dowden also points out that ultimately there can be no conflict between science and theology when both are investigating the same creation fashioned by the same God. There can, he concludes, be only one truth – not Divine, ‘revealed truth’ and secular ‘universal truth’.
Ever since Darwin the scientific evidence in favour of evolution has steadily grown until now it is simply overwhelming. But, as we pointed out above, Biblical scholars have also proposed a way of interpreting ancient texts which acknowledges that the sacred authors freely used myths and legends to tell the story of God’s dealings with humankind.
Nevertheless, many at the time queried – and continue to query – Darwin’s insistence on natural selection as the mechanism of evolution. Do the neo-Darwinists mean that the natural world as we experience it has come about by pure chance? Are we as humans simply the outcome of a sort of cosmic lottery?
Dick Dowden again: “Ultimately what we are seeking is the complete plan and explanation of the entire Universe. Think of it as the entire ‘software’ of the Universe. It had to exist before the Big Bang. In whatever way matter (the ‘hardware’) comes together to form stars by chance and according to the laws of physics, how could the infinitely complex software come to be by chance? The simplest way out to a scientist is to postulate God.(op.cit p13)”
Dowden’s model using the language of computers can be equally applied to biology. When a new species evolves, whether by natural selection or some other process, the potential to arrive at a new species is determined by combinations of genes. In other words the ‘software’ is already in existence. The potential to evolve into an elephant is already present in an amoeba!
Or put it in another way: the possibility for any new species existed in the mind of the Creator before the first living cell ever came to be. The pattern of evolution may be predetermined, it may come about partly by chance, or it may guided by divine Providence. But what the Book of Genesis states unequivocally is that God made it all and that God saw it was good. Science seeks to tell us HOW it all came about. Theology tells us WHY. There is no conflict.
A static or a dynamic world
Let us stand back a moment and note the pattern of the process of creation. What Intelligent Design is presenting us with is a static universe. God made it complete, exactly as it is, like an off-the-peg suit. Yet this is at variance with the way we experience God in practically every other respect.
The history of salvation described in the two Testaments is precisely a HISTORY. It is an evolving drama of God dealing with God’s people. And the drama goes on. Likewise with the story of each human life. We are always growing, learning, discovering, sinning, repenting. In faith we see it as an ongoing story: nothing ready-to-wear about us. Clearly we are ‘custom made’, and we take a lot of responsibility for the way we design our lives and our world.
So when we come to look at Creation itself, would we not expect it to be also an ever-unfolding process, a story with a beginning and an end, with a destiny in the future and a pedigree in the past we can investigate – rather like the way we might research our genealogy?
So why do people believe in Intelligent Design?
A hundred years ago a Catholic writer, Friedrich von Hügel, wrote a book entitled The Mystical Element of Religion (1908). In it he suggests that just as humans progress from infancy, through adolescence, to adulthood, so in our religious experience there are three basic elements corresponding to stages of faith development: an institutional, a critical and a mystical phase.
Institutional faith simply accepts a religious statement on trust – on the authority of parent or church. Critical faith seeks to understand how the statement fits, whether it squares with one’s experience of life. Mystical faith longs to meet the Mind behind the dogma: it is a knowledge based on love more than on argument or authority. Religion, asserts von Hügel, must contain the three elements in balance. His theory is described at some length in Gerard Hughes’ book on spirituality God of Surprises, in Chapter 2.
Hughes notes there is always a danger that one element is overstressed or one is underdeveloped. “The danger in the institutional element”, he says, “ is that we never advance beyond a religious infantilism”. We look for clear teaching: what is right and what is wrong. We want the church to tell us what to do. We resent anything that looks like criticism. (Hughes also notes that if we get stuck in the critical phase we will be equally in trouble: we become rationalists who can be just as dogmatic as anyone enslaved to an institution).
I think this is where the Intelligent Design school has come unstuck. They seem to suspend their critical faculty. They have ‘the truth’. The Word of God provides them with the literal answers. Why endanger their eternal salvation by going further? And of course, they may easily move from using the Bible to date the Day of Creation to predicting with the same exactitude and infallibility the Day of Judgment. If God has told us when it all started, He will tell us when it is due to end – and what we must do to be prepared – and who is saved and who is damned... and so on.
This is an abuse of the Word of God, and the church in criticising fundamentalism is clearly warning us against this mindset. The Word of God, properly prayed over and with the guidance of the church, helps us learn how to live now, today, in this world. It is not a blueprint for a certain future. Nor is it a timetable for a far too recent past. We need to name Intelligent Design for what it is: a serious intellectual aberration which conflicts with the teachings of the Catholic church.
– Michael Hill
Celebrating a Dominican Jubilee
Prayer and Liturgy are central to the Dominican vocation. Two experienced believers – not Dominicans – explore the prayer journey which is everyone’s vocation
– Joy Cowley
Prayer is a long and beautiful road where the scenery changes at every turn, as does the means of travel. Remember when praying was all about our effort? It was largely concerned with personal discipline. We had special times of the day when we made offerings of reverence and praise in ritualistic language. We held requests out towards God in some distant place called Heaven. The kind of words we used, were very important. Was that really prayer? Yes, of course it was. Often we felt a response that we could not name, a sense of peace, the touch of some goodness that came to fill us and bring reassurance.
Yet there was more. As we travelled on the prayer journey, our awareness increased. God seemed much closer. Our Father in Heaven was also the loving companion on the road, with whom we could chat and share our innermost thoughts without concerning ourselves too much with formal language. This was quite a breakthrough for us, although, paradoxically, now that God was much closer, we were less able to describe God. Even Meister Eckhart’s word “Isness” seemed too small. But we did try, using a variety of images, and prayer rose spontaneously out of moments in the day. There was a sharing of our experience that is usual in a good friendship, and we felt, in that, unconditional acceptance. We were being guided on the journey by the Divine hand. We saw clear evidence of this. The path seemed much easier and lit with love.
Yet there was more. God the companion and guide came even closer so that the boundary between us was lost. We realised that the loving Presence was within us, and the voice of Guidance spoke from the depth of our being. Our first reaction to this could have been fear, perhaps even terror. The discovery of God within oneself may appear to contradict everything we’ve been taught. We may see it as worse than blasphemy. With that discovery comes the knowledge that we belong totally to God, and the responsibility involved is overwhelming.
But again there is more. Awareness expands and we can laugh at ourselves for putting exclusive interpretation on our discovery. The truth is that God is in everyone and everything and all creation is a manifestation of the Creator. The Love that made us for Itself, has always been a part of us. The great Light of the Universe has placed in each of us a small spark of its brightness. That core of Love and Light within us gets buried in the wrappings of incarnation but it so longs for its Source that is creates a hunger and thirst within us, and our response is this pilgrimage of prayer.
It seems to us now, at this stage of the journey, that the experience of prayer is all around us, wherever we have eyes to see or ears to hear. Prayer is not so much about our giving, as our receiving. It’s found in listening into silence and stillness and being open to the abundance that is being poured into us. It is about sharing that abundance freely with others. It’s about seeing past human error to the beauty of God in every soul. Prayer is something that is constantly happening within us, as St Paul discovered. It is our birthright.
St Paul lists the eight gifts of the Holy Spirit and while we recognize their beauty, we realize that most are gifts that have to be earned through effort – patience, kindness, self-control and so forth. But there is a ninth gift that comes in prayer, a gift that comes unearned and unbidden, that floods our being with delight and awe and sometimes brings tears of wonder. There is no name for this gift but in attempt to describe it, I call it “sweetness”. It is as though the hungry soul has tastebuds made for this gift and this alone. You will know it. It comes in unguarded moments when we encounter God in beauty, music, prayer, liturgy, the Sacraments, the miracles of birth and death. Our open hearts are filled to overflowing with something a psalmist described as “Sweeter than the honey from the honey-comb” and we know the truth of our relationship with the Divine.
The mechanics of day-to-day existence may not get easier. We are still faced with challenge, hardship, pain, difficult decisions, all the exams we expect of life school; but the way we view them changes. We also have a different understanding of the structural prayers of our early journey. Now worship is not something we “do.” We experience liturgy as an open door through which flows food and drink for our journey.
All we need do on the path of prayer, is to enlarge our capacity to receive. The rest is done for us.
Joy Cowley is a writer and spiritual director, living with her husband, Terry, in Wellington