First Church of Common Mysteries Now Open

Every human society is an enterprise of world-building. Religion occupies a distinctive place in this enterprise…All socially constructed worlds are inherently precarious. Supported by human activity, they are constantly threatened by the human facts of self-interest and stupidity. — Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2018/01/16/first-church-common-mysteries-now-open

Rudolf Otto’s concern with experiencing the numinous also gave rise to experimenting with new forms of liturgy designed to give urgency and vividness to such experiences in Protestant services of worship. He employed a “Sacrament of Silence” as a culminating phase, a time of waiting comparable to the Quaker moment of silence, which he acknowledged to have been the stimulus to his own innovation. Simon and Garfunkel speak to this in their ballad “Sounds of Silence”.
ello darkness, my old friend
_ I’ve come to talk with you again

_ Because a vision softly creeping_
_ Left it’s seeds while I was sleeping_
_ And the vision that was planted_
_ In my brain still remains_
_ Within the sound of silence_
In restless dreams I walked alone
_ Narrow streets of cobblestone_
_ 'Neath the halo of a street lamp_
_ I turned my collar to the cold and damp_
_ When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of_
_ A neon light that split the night_
_ And touched the sound of silence._

Otto also warned us about confusing aesthetics and religion when he said:
“But aesthetics is not religion, and the origins of religion lie somewhere completely different. They lie anyway, these roses smell too sweet and the deep roar of the breaking waves is too splendid, to do justice to such weighty matters now” 1996). “Autobiographical and Social Essays”, p.73, by Walter de Gruyter

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Otto’s vision has guided me since I first came across a reference to him in one of C. S. Lewis’ books back in college. I find it compelling, but elusive. I take your warning (and his) about confusing aesthetics and religion; the substitution of worship of nature for the worship of God doesn’t do right by either one. But nature can provide us with a perceptual portal to God, as can other forms of art. I’m still working on clarifying the distinctions between religion and spirituality; this essay is a first attempt at that! Much more discussion and work to do. Your comments are helpful, as always. Thanks for the reference to the book by de Gruyter.

This is so true for no other reason than we share a common relationship we had first with our parents then our siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, mentors and spouses. When in our adulthood we find our parents to be not who we expected or wish, we try to duplicate the early phases of our lives to the set of parents who supplied our needs even before we can articulate them. This is the impetus that spurs us to religion and draws us together. From this point on, what differs is the attitude and approach we apply our wishes to our “Heavenly Father.”

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