The Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, and Dialectical Mystery

Column by Dr. Carl Krieg on 14 September 2023 0 Comments

The transition from a Medieval to an Enlightenment way of thinking does not come easily. When I was a kid in the Norwegian American Lutheran Church, a bigger-than-life portrait of Jesus praying in Gethsemane was stationed over the altar, a Sunday reminder that his all-important death, soon to come, was our salvation. Jesus loved us, this we knew because the Bible told us so. And the Bible did not lie.

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I love my church, but it is very traditional in how it approaches Sunday services.  What are some small ways churches can change the worship experience without being too disruptive to the members who like it just fine the way it is?


Dear Samantha,

It is interesting to receive your question just this morning because tomorrow I leave for the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, where I will be celebrating our “Cosmic Mass” for what we expect will be around 700 people.  There we replace sitting in pews and reading prayers and being read to with dancing (a spiral dance and dj dancing) with images (vj).  The response to our Cosmic Masses over the years (we have celebrated over 115 in numerous cities and churches in North America) has been stunning.

I know you asked about “some small ways” that churches can enliven their worship service, and I am talking about a rather “big way”—but there are lessons to take from our Cosmic Masses that can be translated to the local scene also.

One thing we do is replace the often overly rote “Our Father” translation (which in many ways is a mis-translation) with the Aramaic translation. I recommend Neil Douglas Klotz’s book Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus, published by HarperSanFrancisco back in 1990.  (Transparency note: I wrote the Forward to the book.)  I find it scandalous how many churches ignore this huge improvement on the “Our Father” prayer.  Jesus spoke Aramaic, after all, and Aramaic is an indigenous and playful language so Klotz actually lays out 8 different (but valid) translations for each of the phrases of the prayer.  Everyone of them is far more mystical, cosmic and alive than the standard version and always when I share this version in the TCM or elsewhere, people get energized by it. A VERY easy thing to do!

I share just 3 opening phrases here: “O Birther!  Father-Mother of the cosmos, you create all that moves in light.

Focus your light within us—make it useful: as the rays of a beacon, show the way.

Create your reign of unity now—through our fiery hearts and willing hands.”  Etc.

I lay out six principles for renewing ritual in the final chapter of my book The Reinvention of Work called “The Reenchantment of Ritual.”  They are these:

1. Reset all worship in a cosmological context.

2. Bring the body back.

3. Bring play back.

4. Make room for the via negativa—darkness, silence, grieving.

5. Awaken and nurture the prophet.

6. Bring participation back.

To substitute a grieving practice for the “confession of sins” is absolutely primary.  A grieving practice such as we do in all our Cosmic Masses ought to be bodily. I say there are two kinds of people in the world today—those who know they are grieving and those who don’t.  If we don’t have grieving practices, we are locking up our creativity—which is after all our primary way to exit destructive habits and change our ways.  Grieving practices are super important today when all people are grieving the reality of climate change and devastations it brings with it and war and so much more..

A contemplative and emptying meditation practice is useful too.

And chanting mantra-style a short phrase from a scripture reading of the day.

I hope this helps.

~ Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox




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